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The Ensemblist is an inside look at the experience of being a Broadway performer- from the first rehearsal through performing eight shows a week and beyond. Whether you’re an experienced theatre professional or a passionate fan, The Ensemblist will give you the opportunity to get to know new performers and the great work they do onstage, while also shedding light on some of the hidden innerworkings of the Broadway experience. Created and hosted by Mo Brady (The Addams Family, SMASH) and Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Chicago, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), The Ensemblist is the only podcast that shows you Broadway from the inside out. 

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Blog

A Week on the Road with Kendal Hartse

Jackson Cline

Friend of the podcast Kendal Hartse (On a Clear Day You Can See ForeverCinderella) gives us a look at a typical week on the road with Cabaret in the second installment of her three-part blog series.


A Week on the Road

Kendal Hartse

Kendal Hartse

I thought it might be fun, as we enter the last few weeks of the Cabaret tour, to do a little look back on what a typical week on tour looks like. Things vary from city to city, but the general structure remains the same. This sort of “schedule non-schedule” is helpful in finding some kind of routine. While the theatres and hotels and walks to and from change, I like that there is enough that stays the same to help get into a groove and not feel too scattered as the weeks go by. The crew has a different schedule than the cast when it comes to travel and loading in/out, but here I'll be focusing on what the cast experiences.

MONDAY

Monday, unless we are in a city for more than a week, is the designated day off/travel day. On a SETA contract, these are one in the same. Depending on the distance, we either bus or take a flight. Monday morning, anywhere between 9am-12pm, the cast gets onto a bus and heads to the airport or to our new destination. Airport days can be a little easier on the body, but bus days tend to be easier on the brain. You don't have to make sure your bag is under 50 pounds, you can carry snacks and extras in as many little bags as you want, and you can play games and watch movies on the bus. I had the pleasure of taking several between city road trips with my cast mate Chris Kotera, who had his car for one leg of tour. This was my favorite way to travel since it gave us the opportunity to pull over and take hikes, or check out local restaurants in the cities we drove through. Monday nights are always a great time to have one really lovely meal in a nice restaurant since the rest of the nights in town we are working.

TUESDAY

Tuesday is a great grocery shopping/get yourself oriented in the new city day. Hotels with just a mini fridge make it a little harder to save money by buying groceries and not eating every meal out. Hotels with a mini fridge and a microwave are a step up. Extended stay hotels or Airbnb means FULL KITCHEN. This is a huge plus in feeling like home and also saving $$$ on food. Our call to the theatre on Tuesdays is usually 5:30 for a company meeting in the house to discuss the ins and outs of the new space, and then we do a soundcheck. For Cabaret, this means orchestra as well as vocals, and we play through several numbers on the bandstand so sound can find levels for the theatre we're in for the week. In some cities, there will be an opening night party hosted by the presenter. It's always fun when there's a party and an excuse to dress up a little. Our company cleans up well.

WEDNESDAY

Kendal Hartse in her Cabaret onesie

Kendal Hartse in her Cabaret onesie

On the road, it's rare to have a Wednesday matinee. There will occasionally be a brush-up rehearsal or an understudy rehearsal on Wednesday. If there's a rehearsal, it's typically at 1pm until about 5pm. Since I understudy both Sally Bowles and Fraulein Kost, my Wednesday morning is usually spent reviewing over breakfast. I like to get to the theatre early to go over choreography in the space or get a few extras minutes practicing the accordion. I like to grab a light dinner in between rehearsal and show call and maybe even squeeze in a quick nap. Some people like the Equity cot, I often choose the floor. The purchase of a cozy fleece onesie makes these naps even better. Wednesday night, people will sometimes go out if there's no rehearsal on Thursday.

THURSDAY

Kendal Hartse as Niagara Falls

Kendal Hartse as Niagara Falls

Thursday is a lot like Wednesday. It's at the mercy of a rehearsal schedule. If there's nothing scheduled, I like to use the free afternoon to take in a little local culture and check out what makes the city unique. Thursdays can be great tourist days. I had the opportunity to use these free afternoons to go to Niagara Falls in Buffalo, check out the Pike Place Market in Seattle, ride the roller coasters at Busch Gardens in Tampa, explore Faneuil Hall in Boston, visit the St. Louis Zoo, and the Rose Gardens in Portland. Thursday nights after the show, I like to grab a late dinner and a drink since Fridays are almost always free.

FRIDAY

Kendal Hartse in Muir Woods

Kendal Hartse in Muir Woods

The show keeps me very physically active. Different company members take more/less advantage of our gym deals on the road. Since I have a pretty busy track, I don't hit up the gym as often. If I go, it's often on a Friday since we only have one show and plenty of free time during the day. Personally, I'm a fan of the stair master, but if I can, I like to find a reformer Pilates class instead. This kills two birds with one stone; get in a workout, and strengthen and stabilize in a physical therapy way. Fridays are also an ideal day trip day. With an 8pm show, there's plenty of time to rent a car and explore. A few cast mates and I took some Friday trips to Sanibel Island near Naples, Florida, drove to Vermont to get some maple syrup and see a Revolutionary War monument when in Schenectady, went to Mt. St. Helen's when in Portland, and spent the afternoon in Muir Woods while in San Jose. Fridays are also a terrific time to practice some self-care and go to a spa or get a massage. This is hugely important while on the road. Friday night at the theatre, we have Dollar Friday, where we all put our names on a dollar, throw them in a box, and the person with their name on the dollar drawn from the box gets to keep it all!

THE WEEKEND

SATURDAY

Saturday means two shows and not much else (except bagels - we get bagels on Saturdays!). I try to get up at least two hours before call time so my body has enough time to wake up for the 2pm matinee. For whatever reason, this is always my hardest show of the week (wherever I am, not just the road). Because of this, I like to eat a good breakfast and take my time walking to the theatre to get my head in the game. Post matinee, there is physical therapy (also on Thursdays, we are lucky to have in-house PT twice a week). In each show, a different body part usually needs attention. For me, Cabaret means neck and shoulders since I play the violin in the show. I often stay near the theatre on Saturdays, grabbing a bite somewhere close, maybe doing a little window shopping, terrifying the residents of any given city with my show makeup that I keep on between shows to save time. It's fun. Double show days are a great time to get in a little extra instrument practice as well. Saturday night usually means a great audience. The high energy of the show can be hard to come down off of, but there's often an early matinee on Sunday, so I like to watch a movie on Saturday nights.

SUNDAY

Kendal Hartse backstage at Cabaret

Kendal Hartse backstage at Cabaret

Sunday means the dreaded 1PM matinee in most cities. It might not sound much worse than 2PM, but that extra hour makes a huge difference. My Sunday matinee warm up is always more intense because my body has such a hard time waking up. I've recently incorporated jumping rope before the show, and it really helps get my heart rate going before an early show. The turn around between Sunday shows is usually tighter than Saturdays. I like to grab a bite and then start getting organized for load out. This means packing up my dressing station, putting away makeup, and making sure my trunk is packed. Often, a tour will provide a large trunk to company members that travel on the show trucks. Mine is mostly full of extra shoes and books, things that make my suitcase too heavy for the airlines. The final show on Sunday has a unique energy as things are being packed up once they're not being used. Costume pieces go back into wardrobe, props get packed away, company management packs up the coffee maker and toasters. Once we have packed up our makeup, costumes, and instruments, the girls ensemble likes to open a bottle of champagne and toast to another successful week. Then start all over again.

"Be a SHERO"

Mo Brady

Lisa K. Bryant, Producing Artistic Director at Flat Rock Playhouse, shares inspiration for her theatre's new "Be a SHERO" campaign. 

Lisa K. Bryant

Lisa K. Bryant

As Flat Rock Playhouse (FRP)’s fourth Artistic Director, and one who began on the boards as a student-actress over 20 years ago, my greatest takeaway then, as now, is the Farquhar's legacy of love that launched the Playhouse 80 years ago. And, as I am tasked now to successfully launch the Playhouse into the next 80 years, it is the mission and collective vision of all of us Vagabonds to preserve this legacy of love for anyone who comes through our doors.

I’m proud to lead an amazing staff of women and men. All of them smart, creative, dedicated, and without question exceptionally good looking. But most importantly, all of them committed to working as a team to make sure that we remain a home away from home for Vagabonds anywhere who simply want to do what they were born to do. Make art and Entertain! Together.

As we brainstormed and researched this year about how we wanted to approach our fundraising efforts we realized something pretty remarkable. What we saw is that Flat Rock Playhouse is an organization where women lead the way. At FRP, we are shattering all national statistics for women leading in the arts. We are a team of women AND men, championing opportunities for women in an industry that otherwise lags significantly behind in its efforts to change the status quo.

THEATRE INDUSTRY STATISTICS

  • Women have never held more than 27% of leadership positions in American non-profit theatre.

  • Women make up only 14.6% of Executive Officers, though they hold almost 52% of all professional-level jobs.

  • There were only 15 women who served as artistic directors, or held the combined Artistic Director/CEO position in the 74 LORT theatres in 2013.

  • 33% of Directors are Female.

  • 22-36% of Set Designers are Female.

  • 8-16% of Lighting Designers are Female.

  • 14-22% of Sound Designers are Female.

  • 61-79% of Costume Designers are Female.

  • Women make up 12.3% of U.S. Corporate Boards & hold around 19% of Board Seats.

The power of women uniting is not a new concept. In fact, it’s because we know how much good can come from women leaning in to affect positive change that we are seeking support from our fellow artistic community and Vagabonds everywhere! Further, Flat Rock Playhouse is partnering with United Way’s Women United, Pardee Hospital’s Women Helping Women, and BreastCancer.org to increase awareness. A percentage of all "Be a SHERO" donations will go directly to these nonprofits, who are making great strides to empower women in the their communities and support women in the ARTS!

FLAT ROCK PLAYHOUSE STATISTICS

  • 1st Female Producing Artistic Director in 80 year history, making FRP one of the few U.S. professional theatres being led by a Female Executive Officer.
  • 52% of Total Staff are Women:
  • Females make up 48% of Full-Time Staff
  • Females make up 59% of Seasonal Staff
  • In 2017, 78% of Main Stage Shows will be directed by Female Directors
  • 63% of 2017 Season will be choreographed by women
  • 5 out of 8 female-choreographed productions
  • Females hold 48% of production (lighting, sound, scene shop, costumes, etc.) positions.
  • Females hold 62% of Administrative Positions
  • Female Board President leading a 30% female Board
Flat Rock Playhouse

Flat Rock Playhouse

From the mountains of North Carolina, we offer our best wishes to every artist out there working to make a difference in your communities and for following your passion!

You can donate $5 to Flat Rock Playhouse's campaign by texting the word SHERO to 20222. And to learn more about "Be a SHERO," visit the Flat Rock Playhouse website.

Revisiting Punxsutawney (or Groundhog Day, again)

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

Mo Brady (right, with Andy Karl) (...just kidding, it's a photograph of Andy Karl.)

Mo Brady (right, with Andy Karl) (...just kidding, it's a photograph of Andy Karl.)

Ok, I’ll admit it. After seeing Groundhog Day for the first time, I walked out of the August Wilson Theatre with a feeling of “meh.” It was this past April and I had been seeing a lot of shows. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations. But for whatever reason, the show didn’t “land with me.”

I don’t mean there weren’t things to appreciate about the show. Perhaps the most interesting was the diversity of the cast, not just in terms of ethnicity but size and age as well. That success was detailed beautifully in this feature on onstageblog.com by Chris Petersen (which you should read if you haven’t - it’s very well done). In addition to the casting, I was impressed with other aspects: the technical spectacle, the wit of the show. But I thought that Groundhog Day “wasn’t for me.”

Then, a few things happened. First, a trusted friend told me it was his favorite show of the season. In a year stacked with chamber musicals like Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away, he thought that Groundhog Day was the big, fun production that audiences were looking for. Second, I read Jesse Green’s review of the Broadway season’s cast albums where he detailed his opinion of the score changing from initial dismissal to eventual appreciation.

And I thought to myself, maybe I missed something.

Luckily, the nice folks at Groundhog Day offered me the chance to see the show a second time. And afterwards, I found myself much like Phil Connors, the story’s love-to-hate protagonist, appreciating the residents of Punxsutawney much more upon a second viewing.

The company of Groundhog Day

The company of Groundhog Day

Granted, there are some challenges with falling in love with the ensemble of this show. The opening scenes set them up as overly chipper and grating, as a living antithesis to the story’s leading man. That dichotomy makes it hard to fall in love with the town itself for the first 20 minutes of the show. Which is just enough time to dismiss them as fake and unremarkable. We see the ensemble actors as individuals, but we aren’t asked to fall in love with them.

But if you look closely in those first 20 minutes, you can see hints of the fully fleshed-out humans these characters will become to Phil (and, by proxy, to us in the audience). The actors have been encouraged to have complicated opinions about the show’s proceedings, which you can see with the conversations and asides the characters have long after they’ve finished standing in the spotlight with leading man Andy Karl.

As I followed Phil and Rita (Barrett Doss) through the show, I found moments of appreciation for the show’s smaller characters as well, from the perfect musical comedy of Joelle (Jenna Rubaii) to the heartfelt sincerity of the Chubby Man (Michael Fatica).

Also, the Groundhog Day ensemble is as funny as hell. This cast made me laugh with sharp, perfectly performed repetition of one liners, from Josh Lamon’s “In’t he cute?” to Travis Waldschmidt’s “Jeepers, Debbie.” A special shout out has to go to Lamon, Tari Kelly, Gerald Canonico, Rheaume Crenshaw, Sean Montgomery and Joseph Medeiros, who in the song “Stuck” play LOL-inducing characters attempting to diagnose Phil with Reiki, Homeopathy, Cow Psychiatry, Scientology, the 12 Step Program and Jesus, respectively.

The company of Groundhog Day

The company of Groundhog Day

By the show’s finale, I was utterly charmed by the show’s cast. I found myself rooting for Larry (played with subtle wit by Vishal Vaidya) in his burgeoning love for Nancy. I was moved by Tari Kelly’s Piano Teacher, and how she balances her role perfectly between humor and heart.

But perhaps the moment that hit me the most was something I had completely missed when I saw the show the first time. In “Seeing You,” Phil and Rita are surrounded by couples pairing off to slow dance. Just out of the spotlight, Waldschmidt as Jeff, the town diner’s waiter, connects with Medeiros as Hank, Punxsutawney’s Deputy. This time, I sat raptured as these two characters began slow dancing.

As a gay man, I don’t often see truthful romance that I can relate to conveyed onstage. But in that moment, I watched Jeff and Hank transition from awkward dance partners to the beginnings of a connection. I felt myself transported back to slow dancing with a boyfriend for the first time in public, and how terrifying and exhilarating that can be.

I realized in this second viewing that the success of Groundhog Day lies in its relatability. In two acts of subtle interactions between complex characters, Punxsutawney is a rich and vibrant place. Yes, I appreciated the score more upon a second viewing. Yes, I was even more enchanted by the show’s technical feats. Yes, I found myself guffawing at the ridiculous comedy. But, in catching the small moments played between the show’s 21 actors, Groundhog Day became a heartwarming piece of theatre as well.

Mo Brady is co-creator and host of The Ensemblist podcast.

"I am the Luckiest Mayor in the World."

Mo Brady

This week, we've teamed up with the folks at Groundhog Day for our "Creating Punxsutawney" week at The Ensemblist. Everyday this week, we will bring you an insider look at how the talented ensemble of the show developed their characters. To close out the week, podcast guest Josh Lamon (Finding Neverland, Hair) shares his take on playing Punxsutawney's mayor.

Josh Lamon

Josh Lamon

I play ‘Buster’, the Mayor of Punxsutawney and the head honcho of the Groundhog Day. Buster has a heart of gold and represents what Punxsutawney is. A town with an enormous heart that welcomes anyone and everyone. I always imagined him as your girlfriend/boyfriend’s jolly and loving Dad who tells terrible jokes and laughs at them louder than anyone else. Or everyones favorite uncle that drinks too much at thanksgiving and tells you the same story over and over again. 

When I start working on a character the first thing that I do is work on their voice. Some people are visual learners or are dancers and can grasp the physicality first, but for some reason I learn best with sounds. Not to state the obvious, but I repeat my lines over and over again. So I started with different word pitches and played around with the rhythms of each sentence memorizing exactly how I said and annunciated everything so it would match every repeat perfectly. The challenge with this show is somedays you say something a little differently, or you make a movement you never did before and now you have to repeat that. It can get a little tricky.

My favorite thing about this production is how diverse everyone is. You have 24 people giving you completely different characters that create this beautiful and hilarious town that we live in. We are all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, sexual orientations and we represent what a real town in America looks like. And I love that. We have created a functioning city with real relationships and I think I am the luckiest mayor in the world. 

Josh Lamon (as Buster, outside the August Wilson Theatre)

Josh Lamon (as Buster, outside the August Wilson Theatre)

"Coloring" Groundhog Day

Mo Brady

This week, we've teamed up with the folks at Groundhog Day for our "Creating Punxsutawney" week at The Ensemblist. Everyday this week, we will bring you an insider look at how the talented ensemble of the show developed their characters. Today, friend of the podcast Vishal Vaidya shares how he fleshed out his roles in the show over time.

Vishal Vaidya

Vishal Vaidya

I think of doing a long running show like coloring in a coloring book.  We spend rehearsals “drawing”, figuring out what the blocking and choreography and music are, how a character moves, et cetera.  Each night we get to pull out that drawing and color.  The more you do it the more you discover what works, what doesn’t work, and where you have the most freedom.  Rehearsing for Groundhog Day was really hard because there were so many lines. Because the show is about time, it is blocked and choreographed very specifically, and it took me a long time to get that in my body to the point that I could focus on the “coloring” of it all.  

I play a few different ensemble characters in the show and I see them very differently.  My main feature is playing Larry, the cameraman who travels to Punxatawney with Phil Connors to film the Groundhog Day ceremony. I think of Larry as being dry and sarcastic as a defense for his insecurities, but overall a pretty nice guy.  Preparing Larry was fun because I had the source material of Chris Elliott’s hilarious performance in the movie.  The musical actually gives Larry quite a different journey than the movie, which is nice.

Vishal Vaidya backstage at Groundhog Day

Vishal Vaidya backstage at Groundhog Day

For me, the environment and given circumstances of the scene were most important for Larry. He’s cold and tired, it’s early, and he’s been carrying around heavy camera equipment all morning.  As far as relationships, he know Phil Connors enough to know that he doesn’t like Phil that much, and he has just met his producer, Rita Hanson. As the actor I try to start there every time and see where the “day” takes me. The tired part is easy because this show is a marathon! By the time I make my first entrance as Larry I’ve already made three costume changes.

For my other characters, the creation was mostly just about getting the choreography right! One of the characters I play is a cymbal player in the town marching band. I’ve named him Gary, and there are two things that have helped me bring him to life.  Our choreographer Ellen Kane kept telling us that the movement needed to be sharp and joyous.  For sharpness, I referred to wind up toys, specifically the Chinese cymbal playing monkey toys, which were actually the inspiration for our choreography.  As for the joy, I was struggling for a long time until I realized how childlike and pure the joy was.  As an exercise I pretended that the character was two years old, and that the cymbals were actually pot lids.  It was very silly but really helped it all click for me.  

I have so much fun doing this show because the cast of Groundhog Day is so insanely talented. Everyone is such a good actor and the script beautifully gives each person a purpose and a journey.  When I get to watch the scenes from offstage I’m amazed out how detailed and real and present everyone is.  In many ways the show is about the beauty of community, and I feel lucky that I’m in this community of hard-working, funny, smart actors.  I hope you’ll come see the show if you haven’t already, or come back again if you have.  Cheers!

Vishal Vaidya in Groundhog Day  

Vishal Vaidya in Groundhog Day

 

"From L.A. to Punxsutawney"

Mo Brady

This week, we've teamed up with the folks at Groundhog Day for our "Creating Punxsutawney" week at The Ensemblist. Everyday this week, we will bring you an insider look at how the talented ensemble of the show developed their characters. Today, friend of the podcast Heather Ayers (On A Clear Day You Can See Forever) shares how her own mother inspired her role in the show.

Heather Ayers

Heather Ayers

Last September, I was happily living with my boyfriend in LA while unhappily not finding much work. During said down time, I started a project to help feed my creative side: I taped myself reading actual emails from my Mom as my Mom. My sister Becca and I have always done impressions of her because she consistently has such a cheery outlook on absolutely everything which we find both baffling and hilarious. I called the series “Good Morning Dear” because that’s how she opens every email to us. (Maybe to everyone - she’s that sunny!) Little did I know, as I was cultivating my Mother character, I was also creating my Mrs. Lancaster.

I received an email from my agents asking me to submit an audition tape for the musical version of Groundhog Day. I had been cast by Jim Carnahan in the revival of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever starring Harry Connick Jr. and Jessie Mueller. Plus the sides resonated with me. The tape was recorded, emailed and forgotten - a technique I have honed as I have been known to plan out my entire future on the sheer excitement of a possible opportunity. But this time, a callback! Which isn’t crazy, except when you live on the opposite side of the country. I’ve made that flight many times, and the pressure of the price tag mixed with jet lag is not an ideal audition cocktail. But you gotta go, right!?!

Upon arrival, I found myself “learning” three dance combinations containing steps with names like, “I’m cold!” “Over here!” and, my personal favorite, “M’boot’s stuck!” Believe me when I say they wanted to feel all those exclamation points in the execution. Good news: they gave us a day to practice at home. Bad news: I’d have to survive a Peter Darling dance call before I could sing and read! So this actor/singer/mover pushed aside her sister Becca’s coffee table, rolled the rug up and “repetition, repetition repetition.” Big apologies go out to her downstairs neighbor for that tap combo...

I was grateful for the time to get my body and brain on the same page so, on the day, I wouldn’t feel like a huge asshole, just a tiny pucker. (I can say “asshole” because our writer Danny Rubin uses it in the script. “Pucker” you’re just gonna have to relax and deal with.)

Day of: I’m workin’ it. My confidence wilts when, to really seal the deal, they throw a fourth combination at us to see how we handle it on the spot. Hope fades. But I cling to the wisdom I was taught by Karyl Morrison, my first elementary school dance teacher: “distract ‘em with lots of teeth.” And I’m singing! Out comes my favorite Pat Benatar! I’m reading the sides!

Well, my Mom is. Oh, side note, I’m wearing my latest thrift store treasure: a cardigan embroidered with women in long dresses riding horses and playing croquet. When director Matthew Warchus comments on my fashion choice, I blithely inform him that these are the sports that women are allowed to play. Maybe that’s why I wound up with the old lady part...

A year ago, Broadway and NYC seemed so far away. Today, I am laughing every day with this amazing cast which truly is an ensemble. I only wish I’d been warned how much the aging women of Punxsutawney actually dance!

"It Has Been Unforgettable To Be Part Of A Legacy."

Mo Brady

Friend of the podcast Ricky Ubeda (On The Town) shares his feelings on leaving the Broadway company of Cats. 

Ricky Ubeda

Ricky Ubeda

This weekend, I took my final bow as Mr. Mistoffelees in Cats. I'm sure you've heard, or can imagine, how hard doing this show is. Easily one of the hardest and most demanding things I've done in my lifetime. But bigger than that and what kept me going throughout my year, was that unexplainable relationship you create with the work. That through this thing, you are able to inspire and change lives by the thousands. That is a love like no other.

It has been unforgettable to be a part of a legacy, meet and work alongside some of the kookiest and colorful people I've ever met, and play a god damn cat that does an 8 min jazz solo on Broadway. I will be processing last night and this last year for a while, but I am certain that I have grown immensely as a human and artist because of it.

Ricky Ubeda (backstage at Cats with Ahmad Simmons)

Ricky Ubeda (backstage at Cats with Ahmad Simmons)

"We're All A Little Weird."

Mo Brady

This week, we've teamed up with the folks at Groundhog Day for our "Creating Punxsutawney" week at The Ensemblist. Everyday this week, we will bring you an insider look at how the talented ensemble of the show developed their characters. Today, friend of the podcast Rheaume Crenshaw shares how she's created her three characters in the show.

I play Doris, a band member (Clarinet) and the Scientologist in Groundhog Day on Broadway. I'm having an awesome time working at the August Wilson Theater, playing such fun characters.  Groundhog Day isn't my first time play multiple characters in a production.  I played three characters in The Family Resemblance at Bingham Camp Theater Retreat and five-six characters in the Working Theatre's Alternating Currents.  It's always an adventure and a welcomed challenge to playing multiple characters.  In Groundhog Day it's been particularly fun because we're a cast of character actors who love to play.  We're all a little weird in our own awesome way... Thank goodness!  So with that said, let's get into it!

First up:  The Scientologist

   I was given the frame work, by director Matthew Warchus, that being a Scientology recruiter isn't her main job. She's not the "real deal" when it comes to this belief, that she's from Punxsutawney, and that Phil has come to her by way of a recommendation.  I decided that she's a little off center.  She's loud but thinks she's somewhat internal with her thoughts and physically standing up completely straight happens very rarely. She shows up to introduce an option of treatment for Phil's problems.  In preparation I did watch a documentary on Scientology.  I think that I her costume helped me a lot with this character.  Rob Howell got everything right, as the Scientologist I even wear actual symbols of Scientology:  the lapel pin and the pendant on the necklace.  And prop wise, besides the Dianetics book, there is an actual E-Meter on her cart! 

Band member

 The clarinet playing band member isn't very distinguishable from the other band members.  The frame work was much tighter for this character.  The direction for what the band should be was more choreography driven.  The choreographers, Ellen Kane and Peter Darling, wanted the band to be extremely energetic and referenced a wind-up toy band.  With each entrance the excitement we have has to grow and become more and more annoying to the Phil character.  We'd all been told as a cast that Groundhog Day is a huge event in this town.  So I felt that the band probably practices year round for this once a year event.  So for them the excitement has been growing even in anticipation of the GHD celebration.  Also… though the days seem to exactly repeat, the band choreography is different every single day that they enter the stage (within the show of course).

Doris (whose last name, in my head, is Jenkins)

Rheaume Crenshaw in Groundhog Day

Rheaume Crenshaw in Groundhog Day

In the movie Groundhog Day, Doris wasn't a flushed out character.  We don't learn anything about her story or background.  I'd never seen the London performance of GHD and no definitive decision had been made for who Doris is except mainly her occupation. In sitting down for an overview of all the characters in the musical, the Director wasn't sure if he saw her as a "tough cookie" or not.  The tokens of insight that I was given were:  Her diner is the heart of the town, the diner isn't everything she wants out of life, and she has dreams of being something more.  I was also told that she likely opens the diner at 5am for breakfast and closes her doors on GHD until after the celebration when members of the community start heading over to hang out and eat. 

 With Doris, I made a conscious decision that I didn't want her to fall into any stereotypes.  I wanted her to be able to easily fit into this community of genuine people that are very happy.  People that even with problems still find the joy in everyday life.   I think she's hopeful, sweet, and maybe a little nosey - not for gossip sake but just to be "in the know."  As much as Doris wants to be a singer, she can't really sing.  She's dreamt of being a singer for a very long time and wholeheartedly believes that "One day I'll (she'll) learn how to sing." A hopeful, bright, and playful quality is what I aim for in Doris.  I've heard that sometimes the wardrobe team likes to read some of the fun things that Doris writes on her order pad.  Wonder if they are naughty or nice?!

"It's all about storytelling."

Jackson Cline

This week, we've teamed up with the folks at Groundhog Day for our "Creating Punxsutawney" week at The Ensemblist. Everyday this week, we will bring you an insider look at how the talented ensemble of the show developed their characters. First up, friend of the podcast Michael Fatica (NewsiesShe Loves Me, Matilda) discusses the process of creating the role of The Chubby Man.


Michael Fatica

Michael Fatica

Hello, Ensemblist readers and listeners! Michael Fatica here, fellow Ensemblist fan and currently playing The Chubby Man in Groundhog Day on Broadway. I’d like to quickly shout out some thanks to the gang at the podcast for their love and interest in both our show and its many quirky townsfolk. It’s a blast to get to do what we do every night, and I am thrilled to share a bit of insight into its creation with you here!

Firstly, a bit of background on The Chubby Guy (aka, Jonathan or Chubs): he is a sweet, energetic, excitable, and naively positive resident of nearby Punxsutawney, PA, here to soak up every moment of the year’s Groundhog Day festivities. He’s staying at the same B&B as the central character Phil (played by the incomparable Andy Karl), which is run by his Aunt Mabel Lancaster (spitfire Heather Ayers). On the day of February 2nd, as Phil leaves his bedroom and heads down the hall to the Parlor, Chubs passes him while deep in the throes of a crossword puzzle, but of course takes a moment to say an emphatic “Good Morning!” and spark up some GhD conversation about the Groundhog and such. Of course, because we get to see Phil wake up multiple times during the show, we also see this exchange happen 5 times. Phil’s reaction to Chubby is a real barometer for the audience as to how this version of the day is about to go. Day One: annoyed and bothered. Day two: thrown and confused. Day Three: Manic. And so on. He get’s the brunt of Phil’s unedited reaction to his circumstances.

During our first week of rehearsal, our director, Matthew Warchus, sat us in a circle and spent a few hours talking to each of us about whatever he knew and felt was important for us to know about our characters in order to get started, ranging from professions to relationships, etc. The image that stuck with me the most about Chubs was that he was a sort of “Welcome Sign” to Punxsutawney; he should remain unfazed by negativity, always remaining that picture of a REALLY happy guy waving and encouraging visitors to the town. This sort of one-dimensional description is an example of the challenge with a show like this: how to make these characters actual people and not solely archetypes. We were definitely given the same challenge with the movement, which I’ll get to. Matthew then gave us the stencil of each scene… the blocking, the timing with the music, the tone he’d like to set, and then we were free to create inside that. He is a genius in the world of timing and would adjust many a pause or line pickup throughout the rehearsal process. That sort of detail is so important with a show as stylized as this, and it’s nearly impossible to see how your cog fits in the giant clock without outside perspective.  

Michael Fatica outside the August Wilson Theatre

Michael Fatica outside the August Wilson Theatre

Speaking of stylized, the choreography in GhD created an even more specific stencil to live inside for each person. We were given planned gestures, speeds, and relationships solely based on how Peter Darling and Ellen Kane (our beautiful choreographers) previously mapped it out for us. For instance, the Chubby Guy LOVES a double finger point. Something that wouldn’t have naturally crept into my physicality for him, but after doing about ten of them before the opening number is finished, I knew it would have to become a part of his physical vocabulary. It is genius, though: what’s more annoyingly friendly than not one, but TWO finger points at once?? He’s also besties with BeachBall Girl (Taylor Jones) and Nancy (Rebecca Faulkenberry), runs around with incredible agility in contrast to his size, and is REALLY REALLY excited to see the Groundhog. These were all part of the givens based on proximity and direction within the choreography. Our intention was also very specifically suggested. When Chubby takes 5 counts during the ceremony to imitate the groundhog, it has to be sharp and buoyant at the same time, which reads as EXCITED and URGENT. It’s also masked within what is supposed to look like general crowd movement, which is why each character has been so specifically choreographed and considered. We all must exist both as complete individuals that make up one group of people, a group that is either creating atmosphere for Phil or for the audience. It’s all about storytelling. 

The most exciting part of the “homework” process for this show for me was trying to justify each of these “givens” and making them a part of one character that I could connect to. It’s so rare that we are given such an amount of material from the creatives that we are required to use, and it’s a real challenge as an actor not to let that strip of you individual choices. Because most of my “givens” were related to happiness and only that, I found it useful to think through was does actually upset this guy and why he chooses to let it roll of his shoulder. Think Kenneth from 30 Rock. Does he LIKE being called a “pork chop?" No, but, maybe it was meant as a term of endearment? Maybe Phil’s just trying to jeer him a little as a joke… maybe they’re meant to be friends! You get it.

Michael Fatica as The Chubby Man in front of the August Wilson Theatre

Michael Fatica as The Chubby Man in front of the August Wilson Theatre

I’ve also been given the joy and burden of the body suit that helps create the curves of the Chubby Man. After months of learning material in my own body, I had to learn to do it all over again in the suit, which is almost double my own size. It’s not particularly heavy or constricting, but I was amazed to feel how differently I stood and how I started to lean back and walk from the hips rather than the shoulders (my default). I had tried not to affect my physicality in the rehearsal room only because I knew the suit would help me, and it absolutely did. The charm of Chubby also lies in the fact that he doesn’t let the weight distract him; he dances and runs around with as much verve as the rest of the town. Emotional height outweighs his physical constraints.

Playing Jonathan, The Chubby Man, is a JOY. It’s honestly some of the most fun I’ve had as a character in any show I’ve done. He’s a guy who completely embraces the community aspect of Groundhog Day (the holiday), and as an actor, helps me embrace the community aspect of doing a show with a group as lovely and insanely talented as this. It’s absolutely NOT without its challenges (I mean, we’re wearing actual winter wear and it’s 85 degrees outside………. I’ve never sweat like this), and feeling joy to this extreme can be hard to find on that 7th show of the week, but the rewards outweigh them ten fold. Come see Chubs and the rest of the gang celebrate Groundhog Day over and over and over again!


Listen to our Creating Characters episode here.

"I finally feel like I've come home."

Jackson Cline

Podcast guest & original In the Heights cast member Stephanie Klemons discusses re-visiting the show 10 years later as Vanessa in Pittsburgh CLO's 2017 production.


Stephanie Klemons

Stephanie Klemons

10 years later….

The last time I was in Pittsburgh, I was on the first national tour of Bombay Dreams, making my Equity Debut. Later that year, on a day off from Bombay Dreams, I auditioned for a little workshop called In the Heights about a latino neighborhood uptown written by a guy no one had ever heard of, Lin-Manuel Miranda. A friend on tour, Jeremy Leiner, knew someone interning Lin’s literary agency, and so I had heard a demo on one of our bus and truck days. One of the songs stuck with me… it was “96,000." A year later, I’d be sitting in a rehearsal room with Andy Blankenbuehler, Tommy Kail, Alex Lacamoire, Bill Sherman and Lin-Manuel creating what we all know today as “96K." I had no idea what I had gotten myself into, I just knew it was special and like nothing else I had seen before. I felt like this was my forte, all of it, the dance, the look, the people; it was like finding home.

One day downtown, as we affectionately refer to our Off-Broadway run at the then 37 Arts (now Baryshnikov Center), my agents called me and said they wanted to add a Dance Captain to the roster. Michael Balderrama at the time was the only Dance Captain, and there was NO precedent for an “Assistant Dance Captain” or 2nd dance captain on an Off-Broadway contract. I fought for $150, my agents backed out of the fight at $75, and so I walked away with an agent-less raise, a new title, and big responsibility I knew little to nothing about.

I had no idea back then what adding “Dance Captain” to my resume would do for my career. I had already spent lots of time in the studio with Andy, Luis Salgado, and Joey Dowling helping to shape and create the moves we all now know as gospel in In the Heights, but I never fancied myself anything more than a performer. I had choreographed some musicals back in camp, and one of my two college degrees was Modern Dance and Choreography, but I was a performer.

Fast forward, I ended up serving as Associate Choreographer of the First National Tour of Heights, just by nature of my role with the Broadway show as Co-Dance Captain. At that same time, I found myself in a really interesting position with Andy. We loved working together, we were both unapologetic about how hard we worked and allergic to the satisfaction of finishing something before it was precisely sorted out. He was developing a new show at the time, Bring It On. A few months before we started the Heights tour at the unveiling of one of Lin’s faces at one of the Times Square restaurants (I mean who could keep track at this point?), Andy said, “This tour is your job interview for Associate Choreographing Bring it On with me, I hope it works out, for both of us.” We went on to create Bring It On and Hamilton together, as well as a few lesser known projects like “Fly," associate choreographed by Rickey Tripp in its Dallas run, “Only Gold,” a gorgeous piece conceived by Andy, and “Zelda” aka “Waiting for the Moon,” which was revived at Flatrock Playhouse. I choreographed the new numbers we created with Frank Wildhorn, and Jennifer Jancuska reset Andy’s other original numbers. (Michael Balderrama, Rickey Tripp and Jennifer Jancuska are all HamFam now… keep your friends close, and your really talented friends closer. :) When Andy accepted his Fred Astaire Award for choreographing Hamilton, he said something to the effect of me having single-handedly been one of the greatest influences on his career and art; well, obviously, it’s mutual.

So where did the performer go?

Back when I was a swing in Heights, I made that mean something. Being a swing that is…. I thought being a swing meant I was good, but just not as good as the people in the show. Now that I spend all my time hiring swings and ensemble members, I know that isn’t true. Back then, however, I also was not confident in using my voice. I just always had a fear of singing in front of people, which is kind of hard to face when you’re standing along on a Broadway stage ready to open your mouth for a solo. I always assumed being a principal was out of my reach. In fact, my first show as Carla on Broadway, (I understudied her once Asmeret Ghebremichael left to do Legally Blonde) Lin finishes his line, “on a 747 boarding JFK”… I was supposed to say, “the hydrants are open….” and nothing came out. Literally nothing, like the air had been sucked down through the basement of the Rodgers and off to another planet. I swear I could feel the hairs on the back of Lin’s neck stand-up, as I cross about a foot in front of him on that line. The generous and masterful Andrea Burns entered early and finished my line and then began to sing her harmony as written. I think I spent at least 5 years getting over that moment, so any time I nailed a vocal audition, I thought, this is great, but what if that happens again.

When I booked If/Then and my agents told me I’d be not only singing solo lines in the show, but understudying the beltress herself, Jenn Colella, I nearly dropped my cell phone. 

Singing love duets with LaChanze, and four part harmonies with Idina and Tamika Lawrence…. were they kidding… again, I was proud of what I learned there, but not a show went by of all 400 where I didn’t have to talk myself off a ledge every single time I opened my mouth to sing alone.

How did she recover?

A few months ago I got a call about Heights coming to PCLO, a theater I’ve dreamt of performing at for years since my first time in Pittsburgh back before I booked Heights. I have spent so much time since If/Then making myself sing at cabarets and in front of others to really work on conquering the fear. So this was my chance to really try it out. If you can sing Vanessa in a 7-show weekend, for 3000 people, including your peers, then surely you will prove that fear is mental and you can do anything you put your mind to. So I set out to do that. I got myself back in some dance classes, which are always scary when a large portion of NY dance scene knows you as the one who runs the auditions, not the one who messes up a step in class, and I had a friend “plunk” the entire Vanessa portion of the Heights score so I could spend a few months practicing.

Any time a student asks me for advice, I say I don’t really have advice, our roads are all different, and surely I know that to be true, but I also know it to be true that there can be no substitute for PREPARATION. I prepped and was set to “do my best” in Pittsburgh, and I had to know that it would be enough. When friends who had done the show with me previously heard about my playing Vanessa, they tell me they thought, “Can she do that?”. A little voice inside me knew I could, but I had just never committed or seen myself do it. This time, I was not throwing away my shot.

Proof is in the Putting…

During intermission of our last studio run before we moved to the stage on July 6th, (that was 18 hours before we opened), the Assistant Director, Liz Kimball said to me, “you have to speak like you want to be heard.” I immediately burst into tears. My whole life, even as a child, I felt that when I spoke it was as if no one could hear me. She assured me that as the International Dance Supervisor for Hamilton and the Associate Choreographer with multiple Broadway credits, who runs that size ship, surely I had that skill somewhere, I just needed to apply it to the thing that made me most nervous, singing in front of people. 

Left: Stephanie Klemons as Vanessa in Pittsburgh CLO's In the Heights, July 15, 2017. Right: Stephanie Klemons in the ensemble of Off-Broadway's In the Heights, July 15, 2007.

Left: Stephanie Klemons as Vanessa in Pittsburgh CLO's In the Heights, July 15, 2017. Right: Stephanie Klemons in the ensemble of Off-Broadway's In the Heights, July 15, 2007.

So, I tried it for ACT 2. I FELT CRAZY, but then something happened. I started to speak up. Let’s just say last week, I found my outside voice, and I don’t intend on locking it up again any time soon. I don’t know what the “return to the stage” means for Hamilton or my career, but I know in life, In The Heights, has been the gift that keeps on giving. Even now, 10 years later, I found something new in that old closet that I had never seen there before. I can honestly say as a woman, an artist, and a creator, I finally feel like I’ve come home.

And I can’t wait to see where it brings me next.


Listen to Stephanie on our Dance Captains episode.

"Captured by the Muny Magic"

Jackson Cline

Friend of the podcast Drew Redington (Holiday Inn) breaks down the process of rehearsing a production at The Muny in the first of his three-part series on this year's summer season.


Drew Redington

Drew Redington

There’s something very rewarding about putting up show in 12 days, which is exactly what happens at The Muny seven times a year. I've never really thought about how daunting that task is because I’ve grown up here my entire life. It just seemed like a normal thing to do. Being from St. Louis, The Muny was a wonderful place to have right in my own backyard, and it’s something I have grown to appreciate more and more now that I live in NYC. There’s nothing like it. Even now, when I return home to St. Louis and show up on the first day of rehearsal, the excitement hasn’t diminished over the years, but has actually gotten stronger. I’ve been working at The Muny since I was eight years old, and since then have been apart of over 30 shows here. Looking back on it, The Muny has really shaped my entire life.

            The Muny was the first place where I saw a musical. Now, why my parents thought it would be a good idea to take a 4-year-old to see My Fair Lady is beyond me, but I was captured by the “Muny Magic." When I was old enough, I auditioned for their children's program, then moved up to their teen program, and eventually got my first Equity contract my freshmen year of college. One of the best things about growing up at The Muny has been the amount of exposure I’ve had with working with different people. Seven shows a summer means, seven different directors, choreographers, music directors, ensembles, etc. In a way, you could say growing up at The Muny has been a giant master class for me on learning how to work with different people. Even though each individual show’s process is short, I feel like every time I do a show here, I walk away having learned so much.

So, what does it take to put up a show in twelve days?

Usually the first day of rehearsal is used for the cast to learn all of the music in the show. Also, it’s normally the last day for any type of music rehearsal to even happen due to limited time. So making sure you’re going over your homework overnight is a real necessity here. The next few days are spent blocking and choreographing everything in the show. Most of the time, we spend rehearsals outside on two rehearsal platforms. It’s pretty cool getting to rehearse outside in the middle of a park as opposed to a rehearsal studio. There is something so freeing about it, and it’s also nice to get used to the heat. Doing dance numbers in one hundred plus-degree heat is no joke. Once we reach day eight, we have a designer run-through where all of the designers of our show (lighting, sound, costumes, etc.), who have already been prepping for the show for months, have one chance to sit down and watch what the cast has created in the past week. At times, this is also the first time the cast even gets the chance to run the show.

Drew Redington at The Muny

Drew Redington at The Muny

On day ten, the show gets one tech rehearsal. However, I would say that it is better described as a tech-through. Normally tech is a stop-and-start kind of deal, but at The Muny, we do the show straight through as if it’s an actual show, only stopping in case there is a huge emergency. Now, the Muny schedule used to be set up where each show would open the day after another closed. So that meant the only time a show could tech would be after a show finished at night, making tech from midnight to five AM. I was always a fan of that just because I thought it was cool to be in Forrest Park in the middle of the night. However, now The Muny has spaced the shows out enough where we get to come in from seven to midnight, making life a little bit easier for everyone.

The next day is a sitzprobe (rehearsal with the orchestra), where the cast gets to hear the orchestra for the first time. I think this is my favorite day just because we only get to work with a piano during rehearsal, so it’s exciting to hear a full orchestra and see everyone get excited. Finally, we reach day twelve, where there is a dry tech (what The Muny calls “Sweat Tech”) on stage in the summer sun with the orchestra, sound, and the set. However, the cast isn’t in costume, but in hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. After, there is a short dinner break, then everyone buckles their seat belts and gets ready for a wild ride. Opening night is always crazy in a good way. It’s the first time all of the elements of the show come together (Lights, sound, orchestra, etc.). So when the audience sees it for the first time, it’s actually the first time we see it as well.

What I think is so crazy unique about the Muny process is that they have it down to a science. It has been the same process for almost a hundred years, and it always amazes me how fast everything comes together. If anything, The Muny has taught me to be prepared for anything and that, at times, you just have to go for it.

Broadway Softball League All-star Games - An Insider Look

Mo Brady

Friend of the podcast Andrew Can (Aladdin) gives us the inside scoop about the Broadway Softball League All-star Game, which was hosted today at Central Park's Heckscher Ballfields.

Andrew Cao

Andrew Cao

The All-Star game is a lot of fun. I've played on it in the past. Every team in the league gets to send a guy and a gal of their choosing. Sometimes the teams take a vote. Sometimes a team's manager will just select two people to go. There's no rule that I'm aware of. Usually, the people chosen tend to be good players and good people who are positive representations of their team and their show.

There are 3 games on All-Star day: "The Legends Game," which is for the older players; "The Women's Game," which is pretty self-explanatory; and "The Co-Ed All-Star Game," which is errbody in the club.

All-Star Day usually ends up being a bit more intense than regular season, if only because most of the All-Star players have a bit more experience and a stronger grasp of the game and the rules. It's fun, though, and neat in the fact that you get to meet and play on a team with players against whom you've been competing all season. Whether it's regular season, play-offs, or All-Star Day, it's always special time out in the sun with family and friends of the Broadway community.

Listen to our episode on Broadway Sports Leagues here.

"Live All the Life You Can."

Mo Brady

Podcast guest Rashidra Scott shares her secrets for staying joyful and engaged during her nearly four years in Beautiful: the Carole King Musical on Broadway.


Rashidra Scott  

Rashidra Scott

 

As someone who was a part of three show closings in a nine-month time period, I used to pray and dream for a “government job.” I got my first sense of it with 16 months at Sister Act and it was an absolute blast. Being in the ensemble can get stale at times because of the repetition, but there were enough places where we nuns could make each other giggle or spice things up. It also helped that I understudied a principal so my version of the show changed depending on which track I was in, but I also was constantly in “study” mode. Understudying an Olivier and Tony-nominee opens one up to a world of choices from which to borrow and are inspiring. 

I thought Sister Act was my “government job,” then along came Beautiful. Between August 12, 2013 and July 2, 2017 I have no idea how many performances I personally did, but I have a newfound respect for those who can manage to constantly find contentment for years in ensemble tracks. What I learned about myself in the last (almost) four years is that I need to constantly keep myself creatively challenged. I've always understudied when in the ensemble and that’s kept me on my toes and fulfilled in ways I didn't realize until there was no one for me to understudy- there was no point in time when my show changed… and that slowly left me feeling more and more unsatisfied. 

Don't get me wrong, I loved going to work. We were a family at that theatre and that made coming in such a joy. But it became abundantly clear that my creative spirit needed to be fed and I was starving it. So I took (was graciously granted) a leave of absence to re-visit Deloris van Cartier- the joy was back. I also finally got to watch the Broadway show I'd been a part of from the beginning. The fire and passion was re-ignited and I thought I'd go back to Beautiful refreshed and renewed. It was a slightly short lived spark. 

Rashidra Scott backstage at Beautiful: the Carole King Musical

Rashidra Scott backstage at Beautiful: the Carole King Musical

Then I got the chance to do another leave of absence for a role I never dreamed of getting a chance to play- Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes (Danny Goldstein, what were you thinking?? Thank you)! I grew up as a member of a competition dance studio… I don't remember the last time I got to show off my dance skills as much as my vocal chops on Broadway. Playing Reno was an unrealized dream come true. I got to belt out some classic Cole Porter tunes, act in a genre completely new to me, and dance some amazing choreography (thank you Kelli Barclay!) And while I was always grateful for the paycheck and stability, coming back gnawed at my creative happiness even quicker than the first time.

I don't claim to know all about how to last in a long-running show, but a few things I learned are:

  • Keep yourself challenged any and every way possible; take acting, dance, and voice lessons to constantly keep your mind working and spirit fulfilled.
  • Find your passion outside of your eight show/six days week; do you like to write? Do that. Do you like doing readings/workshops/labs? Do that Have you been toying with the idea of creating your own show, whether for yourself or others? Stop making excuses and do that (I'm speaking to myself here, too). Been interested in learning an instrument just because? Do that. Keep the creative flame burning in whatever way possible.

At the end of the day, we are humans executing repetition in a way that can drive any sane person crazy - no matter how many approaches you give yourself to freshen up your performance. For me, the key is balance. Live all the life you can outside of the theatre (as long as you can still do your show. Most importantly, know when it's time to walk away. It's not quitting if leaving fulfills your soul. At the end of the day, if our creative wells aren't replenished we're left to fetch water from dust. And there's nothing fresh about that.

Listen to our episode about Long Runs on Broadway here.

Creating "Smoke and Mirrors"

Mo Brady

Friend of the podcast Stanley Martin (Aladdin) shares the thought behind creating his second cabaret coming up called “Smoke and Mirrors” at The Metropolitan Room on August 28.

Stanley Martin

Stanley Martin

My first show was this year and the New York Times said  “they weren't there”. Hopefully I'll get that second chance where they still won't show up. Fingers crossed.

There are many reasons why I wanted to do this show: to express myself artistically, to showcase my and my friends’ and family’s talents, and court-ordered community service. Like I said before, there are many reasons.

This particular show is about my 20-year career in this business, showcasing some of the highs but mostly lows in musical theatre. It deals with overcoming adversity, self worth, and heartbreak. So basically it's a laugh riot.

The show is being musically directed by Patrick Burns and features the talents of Patricia Krzywonos (my mother) , Marty Krzywonos (my father), Ajah Krzywonos (she-devil/sister), Kathryn Allison (that girl), and Justin Gonzalez ( he hits the high notes). We're like the Vonn Trapp family meets the United Colors of Benetton. The songs range from musical theatre, standards, and diva songs originally sung by women. It's basically every cabaret ever but with an interracial twist, and that's where I come in. I hope everyone and anyone can make it and if you’re not anyone, become someone and still show up, I'm not picky. Thank you. 

"A Strong Ensemble Creates a Feeling of Unity."

Mo Brady

Student and actor Ian Hayes from Buffalo, New York shares what it felt like to win the Best Performance in an Ensemble Award at the 2017 Jimmy Awards.

Ian Hayes

Ian Hayes

On Monday, June 26, the Jimmy Awards took place.  This was a very special night for me because this ceremony featured 74 of the best high school actors in the country, and it brought them all to New York City to make their Broadway debut.  I will never forget the feeling of stepping out on the stage of a sold out show on Broadway, nor will I forget the joy of hanging out backstage in the dressing room with Ben Platt and 36 of the most talented guys in the country.

I also had the privilege of working with Adam Kantor all week on my audition songs.  All of this was part of my amazing week long experience that led to my acceptance of the Best Performance in an Ensemble Award. 

During the ceremony, I performed in the opening and closing, as well as the production number, which was a tribute to James M. Nederlander.  It is because of my participation in these specific numbers that I received my award. I am so thankful for my Jimmy award, and it has given me the ability to further appreciate the role of an ensemble in a Broadway show. 

Receiving this award speaks to my ability to work well with others, which I feel is very important in the performance business and definitely gives me more confidence. This confidence is something which I believe will follow me into my professional career, and I am very thankful for that. This also demonstrates to me that my ability to work well with others has not gone unnoticed. The award is given to the person who works hard, creates a positive environment, follows directions well, and works well with others.  The qualities of this award say a lot about an actor and a person in general, which is why I am so honored to be this year's recipient.  As I strive to be a respectful cast member who is willing and able to take direction, it is now clear that these qualities are pivotal in a well rounded performer. 

Ian Hayes (left, with Grace Auer)

Ian Hayes (left, with Grace Auer)

An ensemble is one of the most important parts of any show.  Yes, leads do get almost all of the fame and credit, but the ensemble is what I consider to be the “meat” of the show.  Most of the time, the majority of a cast is in the ensemble which gives them the power to make or break a show.  Along with that power comes a strong sense of community which, when made positive, can bring about a happy, high-energy cast. 

For me, being in an ensemble means that I can create a hospitable, friendly, and supportive relationship with my cast members, and I know others will share this same experience. A friendly, healthy cast cannot help but improve the overall quality of a show. Also, there is nothing like the feeling of putting so many hours of hard work into a musical number with your fellow cast mates, and then performing it live in total synchronization.

A strong ensemble creates an overall feeling of unity which can be the most fun and impressive parts of a show. With that in mind, receiving the award for Best Performance in an Ensemble has been a huge honor and definitely the highlight of my theatrical career thus far.

Demographics of Broadway Ensemblists 2016-2017 (part 3 of 3)

Mo Brady

The Ensemblist co-creator Mo Brady dives into the demographics of performers from the 2016-2017 Broadway season.


In this final installment in "Mo Brady's Nerd Dive into Broadway," let's delve deeper into the metrics of the 878 ensemblists that worked on Broadway between July 2016 and June 2017.

While the gender gap is not closed, it certainly is close. 45% of working Broadway ensemblists this year are women (or people that present as cisgendered women). That's 394 ladies vs. 484 gentlemen.

If you want to know what American newborns were being named in the 1980s and 1990s, look no further than these 874 artists. 15 of the guys are named a variation of "John" (that includes Jon, John, Jonathan and one Johnny Stellard). On the ladies side, 10 are named a variation of "Jennifer." A remarkable eight women are named "Emily."

Johnny Stellard (remarkably the only "Johnny" on Broadway this year.)

Johnny Stellard (remarkably the only "Johnny" on Broadway this year.)

I was tempted to delve into the demographics of ethnicity among these performers, but who am I to guess the racial background of 878 individuals. Maybe that's something to discuss in future years, but I'm choosing to shy away from the conversation today.

Of the 878, 49% (428) originated at least one of the tracks they played on Broadway this year. 42 of them are Gypsy Robe recipients. And 82 of them have been podcast guests on The Ensemblist!

Let's end with a shout out to the 210 actors who worked as swings on Broadway this year. 24% of the ensemblists working on Broadway this year were not part of the performing company each night. Let's do what we can to teach the next generation of Broadway artists and audiences that it's just as much of an accomplishment to be a Broadway swing as it is to be a Broadway principal!

What'd I miss? What'd I get wrong? Let me know - leave a comment below with your thoughts, or shout me a message on social media @mo_brady. Let's get nerdy together.

Demographics of Broadway Ensemblists 2016-2017 (part 2 of 3)

Mo Brady

The Ensemblist co-creator Mo Brady dives into the demographics of performers from the 2016-2017 Broadway season.


In my last blog post, I shared some information about the 878 actors working as Broadway ensemblists between July 2016 and June 2017. As I said before, many of those performers worked on multiple Broadway productions during the season. But exactly how many? And in which shows? Let's dive in.

76 actors worked on more than one Broadway show as an ensemblist this year. 47 of that 76 are men (or people that publicly present as cisgender men). Most of those actors originated tracks: 62 of those actors were original cast members in at least one of the productions, which means 14 replaced in both productions.

It should come to no surprise to anybody that pays attention to cast announcements that 18 of the 76 double-contract ensemblists are in Hello, Dolly! I mean, there's only ensemblist in the company making his Broadway debut (Hello, Michael Hartung! We see you!)

Even more impressively, three actors worked as ensemblists in three Broadway musicals this year: Kevin Worley (podcast guest and recipient of a 2016 Ensemblist Award), Jenifer Foote (podcast guest from our most recent season) and Michael Fatica (who is sure to be a future podcast guest, considering his track record.

Michael Fatica - you haven't been on the podcast yet, but we shall get you sooner or later (insert evil laugh)

Michael Fatica - you haven't been on the podcast yet, but we shall get you sooner or later (insert evil laugh)

Special shout out to Will Burton and Tally Sessions, who each worked on three Broadway shows this year, but two of them as an ensemblist and one of them as a principal. (Although Will plays Ambrose Kemper, who has eight lines in the show - I should know, I played that part in the regions a decade ago - and Tally was a standby in Falsettos.)

We've said time and again on the podcast that swings are the most valuable members of our company. Turns out, the actors that swing are also some of the most frequently hired: 19 out of 76 double-employed ensemblists were a swing in at least one of the shows. Eight were swings in at least two shows: Mindy Wallace, Christopher Messina, Dustin Layton, Robin Masella, Jenifer Foote, Elizabeth Earley, Celia Mei Rubin and Barry Busby.

Finally, let's look at where the 76 actors came from. Is there some show that employed more currently working ensemblists than others? (Yes, there is.) While alumni of Finding Neverland, Matilda and Something Rotten! have been busy this season, it's An American in Paris that has an impressive 12 of its former cast members currently treading the boards in other shows.

However, let's not forget actors who mounted more than one Broadway show this year: Eight alumni of Holiday Inn found new work as Broadway ensemblists this spring, while four Cats moved on to another show. Paloma Garcia-Lee was the one cast member of ...The Great Comet who moved onto another Broadway show (going across 46th Street to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.)

Demographics of Broadway Ensemblists 2016-2017 (part 1 of 3)

Mo Brady

The Ensemblist co-creator Mo Brady dives into the demographics of performers from the 2016-2017 Broadway season.


Here we are, theatre lovers. Welcome to life post-Awards Season. We made it. Done are the hurried months of opening nights, nominations and ceremonies to keep track of. During the summer, both theatre artists and theatre lovers can turn off their brains and coast for a couple of months.

Unless you're like me, of course. I can spend approximately 35 minutes turning my brain off before it starts brewing grandiose plans. For example, on my recent vacation to Washington State it didn't take more than an hour of looking at idyllic mountains before I started thinking "I wonder what percentage of Broadway ensemble contracts are given to swings..."

So as I sat on a balcony overlooking the rugged wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, I compiled some analytics about ensemblists in the 2016-2017 Broadway season. And if you're like me, you'll enjoy reading these insights as much as I enjoyed compiling them.

Before we begin, a few caveats:
1. These statistics are for performers in a Broadway show between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017. I know that's not actually the official time period of the Broadway season, but it was easier for me to keep track of.
2. These metrics don't include Paramour, because they didn't use a Playbill in their theatre and, therefore, weren't supplying information to Playbill on their cast. It's not fair, I know.
3. THESE ARE NOT EXACT STATISTICS. This is just me, Google Sheets and Playbill Vault after a glass of bourbon. I'm sure I've made mistakes. I'm sure I left somebody out. So rather than using these metrics as precise facts, let's view them as "informed generalizations."

And, with that, let's dive in:

There were 878 people working as Broadway Ensemblists between July 2016 and June 2017. That's not the number of contracts, but the number of real humans that worked as ensemblists or swings. It doesn't include standbys, and it doesn't include people on principal contracts that work as an ensemble. So while that number includes the ensemble of Amélie, it does not include the cast of Come From Away.

To be honest: 878 is a larger number than I had imagined. I have often thrown around the number 500 in referring to the size of the theatre community currently employed on Broadway, both leads and ensemblists. So by that standard, I was off. Way off.

Broadway musicals opening between July and June provided 330 jobs for ensemblists, while "existing shows" (ones that opened before July 2016) provided 647 jobs for ensemblists. Now that number doesn't equal 874, and I'll tell you why. Because some people worked more than one ensemble job on Broadway this year. I'll dive into that in my next blog post.

330 jobs in new shows vs. 647 in existing shows. That ratio also surprised me. With so many musicals opening on Broadway each year, I figured the split would be closer to 50/50. But it turns out that 66% of Broadway ensemblists weren't part of these new productions.

Which shows employed the most ensemblists? Let's look at the new musicals first. Again, in this case "new musicals" refers to both revivals and new shows that opened between July and June. Of the 15 new musicals, Cats employed more ensemblists than any new production on Broadway hands down. 43 individuals worked as ensemblists in Cats this year. And that makes sense if you've noticed how many swings the production employs. Plus, since it has been open for almost a full calendar year, many original cast members have already left the show and/or moved on to other jobs.


 

Which show is keeping more ensemblists employed this season than any other? (Hint: it's features a junkyard full of these beauties).

Which show is keeping more ensemblists employed this season than any other? (Hint: it's features a junkyard full of these beauties).

Second place goes to Miss Saigon, which employed 34 ensemblists this season. Beyond that, many shows had rosters in the high 20s, but none close to the numbers employed at the Neil Simon and Broadway Theatres.

All that being said, it's the 22 long running musicals that employ the largest rosters of ensemblists. The Lion King had an impressive 47 ensemblists grace its stage this year, followed by Wicked (44) and The Phantom of the Opera (41). Turns out those long running musicals are a big part of what keep working ensemblists working.  
 

"Capturing the sense of home on the road can be a challenge."

Jackson Cline

Kendal Hartse, currently playing Texas on the national tour of Cabaret, joins us for the first of a three-part series of blog posts about life on the road:


Kendal Hartse

Kendal Hartse

"Hello from the road! Kendal Hartse here, coming to you from Seattle, WA! I'm currently playing Texas and understudying Sally Bowles and Fr. Kost in the Roundabout Theatre production of Cabaret on tourI've been with the show since January and am loving life on the road."

"My only previous tour experience was the non-union bus and truck tour of CATS in 2007, and I have to say I've never appreciated Actors' Equity more in my life than when I compare the two experiences. After doing split weeks and one-night engagements with CATS, where we would sometimes bus directly to the theatre and dance for 2.5 hours after sitting for 6... this contract is a welcome change. I am so grateful for the union protections we have when it comes to travel and the length of a stay in any given city - and so is my body!"

"Touring in any show is not without it's challenges. When you're performing a show on Broadway, you have the bonus of going to sleep and waking up in your own bed, in your own apartment, on your own schedule. You're home. On the road, you have travel call every Monday morning (every other, if you're lucky), you're in a new bed, a new hotel, and at a new theatre every week. There's no decorating a permanent spot in the dressing room when you have to pack it all up and load out on Sunday nights. Even though union tours can't travel and perform on the same day, traveling is still hard on the body. I've learned to stretch before/after getting on a bus or a plane and make sure to get physical therapy and massage often to work out the travel day kinks. While on the road, there's also the added bonus of acclimating to new weather and new allergens each week (indoors and out). One thing that I've been loving when in a dusty room or a hotel with allergens is running an essential oil diffuser. I can purify the air, do my sinuses a favor, and make my room smell delicious (ask my cast mates, my hotel room always smells divine). Little things like that help your health and also help you feel at home and comfortable when you're always somewhere new. A favorite pillow, blanket, candle, picture - these little touches make a big difference and can make your room feel a little more homey and a little less lonely. Capturing the sense of “home” on the road can be a challenge."

"I feel very lucky that the cast of Cabaret is full of wonderful people who feel like family. When you're in NYC, you really only have to see your cast at work. On the road, you work and live with the same people. This can be stressful, even when you all love and respect each other. Learning when to take time to be alone, to have your own space, is a lifesaver. Then you can show up at the theatre (or the bar!) refreshed and ready to be part of the team again. One of the great joys of this contract has been the friendships I'm making. Cabaret is full of people with a unique skill set (We sing! We dance! We act! We play a million instruments!) and having that in common bonded us all very quickly. I've rarely felt as supported by a company as I do with this cast, due to the vulnerability of doing such highly specialized and challenging work. We all recognize how difficult our job is and are doubly encouraging of one another. I've had to step so far out of my comfort zone during this contract (hello, learning the play the accordion in front of people), but have never felt as though anyone around me is giving me anything less than unconditional love and support. These close friendships make the road more like home."

"The Pieces Are Never As Great As The Whole."

Mo Brady

2nd Vice President of Actors' Equity Association Rebecca Kim Jordan shares the impetus for creating the union's ACCA Award for Outstanding Broadway Chorus.

R. Kim Jordan

R. Kim Jordan

Eleven years ago, the Advisory Committee on Chorus Affairs at Actors’ Equity Association created an award to bring recognition to an important and largely overlooked segment of our industry – the Chorus. At the time I was a Vice Chair of the Committee and spoke adamantly about the intentions of the award: it needed to look beyond the caliber of the choreography, or the music and lyrics, and it needed to not be clouded by the dazzling special effects, or most impressive costumes and sets. This award was meant to look at the actual contribution that each chorus makes to the overall production, and showcase just how much better the show was with the actors present in the chorus. Most of all, I was worried it would wind up being a best choreography award by default.

We all know that the chorus is the lifeblood of a show. This award had to look at ALL of the many complicated feats these actors were directed to do, and even more importantly, it needed to be voted on by their peers. For these are the very people who do this work and understand what it takes, from top to bottom from stage right to stage left.

Due to these reservations, from the day we established the award, up to the day we awarded it, I was cautious about the award itself.

One event that cemented it for me was the SAG Awards The year we started a discussion about this award both "Mad Men" and "30 Rock" won for Best Ensemble for Drama and Comedy. As the actors were speaking one by one, the joy with which they spoke about being in an ensemble piece stayed with me. Yes, there were “stars” among them, as there are in all of our casts, but these actors were all so thrilled to be awarded for the chemistry that being a part of something brings. From television to live theatre, it was so clear how the pieces are never as great as the whole.

The first Broadway Chorus to receive the ACCA Award was Legally Blonde. Amazingly, it turned out the event was so thrilling, with actually calling these actors up to hold a tangible award, that it became apparent just how important this was to the actors.

During the following years, the ACCA Award has gone to In The Heights, West Side Story, FELA!, The Scottsboro Boys, Newsies, Pippin, Beautiful - The Carole King Musical, An American in Paris, Shuffle Along and this year to Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. 

Awards are wonderful to receive, but this one is different. It is voted on solely from a selection of peers who understand the enormity of this job, and have seen all chorus musicals. As it is an award that comes from the heart of your fellow actors and contemporaries who really understand the job, it is just that much sweeter.

As we start to see how important and necessary this celebration of the Chorus is to our fellow actors and to the industry, ACCA will continue to petition the Tony committee to see clear to establishing an award at the Tonys as well.

Listen to our episode on Actors' Equity Association here.

The ensemble of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 receiving the 2017 Outstanding Broadway Chorus award.

The ensemble of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 receiving the 2017 Outstanding Broadway Chorus award.