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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

When Broadway Called, feat. The Prom

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome some of the ensemblists from the new musical The Prom to Broadway and learn about their journeys to the Great White Way.

 Gabi Campo

Gabi Campo

GABI CAMPO (ENSEMBLE)

HOMETOWN: GLENDALE, CA

"It was my final semester of college at Pace University, and we were just about to go on winter break. I had gotten a call from the head of my department to go to her office immediately. When I was in her office, I got the call that I was going to be on Broadway. I was in complete shock... it honestly didn't feel real. We celebrated, and as I was leaving her office and started walking down the stairs, I called my parents. That's when it really hit me. I couldn't even say it... ‘Mom, Dad,  I...got....The Prom. I'm..... going to...’ I burst into tears and truly couldn't believe my dreams were actually coming true. I squatted down in the stairwell and was sobbing as they were screaming and crying on the phone all the way from California, ‘SAY IT! SAY IT, GABI!!!’ ‘I'M GOING TO BE ON BROADWAY!!’ We cried and screamed and thanked God. It was the most surreal moment in my life. I'm sure the only thing to top it now is when I make my debut, with my family in the audience.

”Growing up, Broadway and Theater was my safe haven. I was lucky enough to grow up in the age of YouTube, and when I was watching YouTube videos of all my favorite performers and actors, it gave me a sense of belonging- a place where I felt safe, wanted, loved, and included. There are so many things I'm looking forward to about my Broadway experience- but I think the main thing is being fortunate enough to be in an amazing show like The Prom, to make sure other kids and adults alike feel as though they belong. It was immeasurable to me growing up, and now I get to be a little part of the same cloth that helped me grow as a human being, which is mind-blowing.”

 Jerusha Cavazos

Jerusha Cavazos

JERUSHA CAVAZOS (ENSEMBLE)

HOMETOWN: CELEBRATION, FL

“I went to the open Equity chorus call on a whim. I had actually booked a flight to go home that day for Thanksgiving and thought to myself, ‘I'll just go and try and then fly straight home.’ I had heard a lot of buzz about the show and was a bit nervous to want it too bad. When I got off the plane, I had an email with an appointment to go back in for the show.

“The very next day I had to fly out of New York again to start shooting at TV show in Atlanta. The week went on and I found out that I had received a callback. There was no way I could make it. Our days on set were lasting 12-14 hours. So, I woke up at 5 am and filmed a self-tape callback and crossed my fingers when I pressed send. The next day I found out that I received a final callback and really needed to be seen in the room. (I had one day off from shooting.) So, I booked the first flight I saw (which nearly broke my credit card) and flew back up. I was so nervous the entire flight but when I got in the room that all went away. I just thought, ‘I really have to book this. There just isn't any other option right now.’

“The next Monday my manager called saying I was on hold. I called my parents immediately and began to pray with them. A couple hours later she called back with the offer. I'll never forget it.

“Being a part of an original cast has been a dream of mine for a long time. I am going to have the opportunity to experience a bunch of ‘firsts’ with some amazing people. The first time we see the theatre, the costumes, hear the orchestra, record the album, etc. There are a lot of Broadway debuts in this cast. We are all so excited to see this dream of ours come true, the energy is electric.”

 Shelby Finnie

Shelby Finnie

SHELBY FINNIE (ENSEMBLE)

HOMETOWN: GREENSBORO, NC

“I attended a dancer ECC in the spring of 2015 for ‘Untitled Prom Musical.’ I got a call a few days later notifying me that I had been cast in the developmental lab for this new musical, and I was just ecstatic. It was such a memorable moment for me because it was the first musical theater job I had booked as an adult living in NYC (I was dancing in a ballet company previously) and I remember thinking, ‘Ok maybe I can do this!’ I could have only dreamed that three years later I would be making my Broadway debut with the same show. I feel so fortunate to have been brought back through every phase of The Prom over the years. I get to make my Broadway debut with a show that is not only incredibly special to me and but also a show that I helped create. It’s a dream come true.

”I am really just looking forward to finally sharing this show with people. It is a show about acceptance and being yourself and taking a stand for what you believe in. I’m very proud to be a part of it. It’s also so full of joy! I can’t wait to share that with audiences.”

 Fernell Hogan

Fernell Hogan

FERNELL HOGAN (ENSEMBLE)

HOMETOWN: HOUSTON, TX

“I was teaching a class in Austin, Texas when I got the call from the company manager. I actually missed the call, so I got the news over voicemail. Since this is my professional and Broadway debut, I am looking forward to the thrills and challenges that eight shows a week will bring.”

 Joomin Hwang

Joomin Hwang

JOOMIN HWANG (ENSEMBLE)

HOMETOWN: ANYANG CITY, SOUTH KOREA

“I remember everything so vividly. I was on the bed trying to wake up because I couldn't sleep well the night before. I got a phone call around 11 am. I probably answered it like, ‘Ah---- Heleeu’ with sleepy voice. Soon, I found out it was from Foresight Theatrical LLC. I jumped out of the bed and saying, ‘Excuse me, sir - what? Did I just hear Bbbbb...Broadway?’ My wife was already crying. I was crying. I called my parents in Korea right away. Surprisingly, they didn't cry. It was a dramatic morning for sure, that I will never forget.

”I came to the United States five years ago without knowing any English. I literally used Google Translator to communicate with people. That Korean boy, who dreamed of Broadway 6,892 miles away in Korea watching shows like Smash and the Tony Awards on YouTube, is making his dream come true. This is absolutely a overwhelming happiness. I am already in love with our incredibly talented casts and crew. Also, I can't wait to meet the audiences. Especially, people who are dreaming about Broadway. I can't wait to give them so much love, courage, hugs, and saying ‘dream big!’"

 Becca Lee

Becca Lee

BECCA LEE (ENSEMBLE)

HOMETOWN: INDIANAPOLIS, IN

“I have been lucky enough to be a part of this show since the first lab in 2015. We did the out-of-town tryout in Atlanta in 2016 and we all hoped the show would come to Broadway shortly after that. I had given up hope for the Broadway transfer after waiting for over a year when my agent called me out of the blue and said I had an offer for Broadway!
Best. Day. Ever.

If I had to choose one thing I am looking forward to most it would be having my mom see me perform on Broadway for the first time. We've been on this journey together and I wouldn't be here without her constant support and encouragement so that will be very special.”

 Wayne “Juice” Matkins

Wayne “Juice” Matkins

WAYNE “JUICE” MATKINS (ENSEMBLE)

HOMETOWN: LOS ANGELES, CA

“ I received and email from my agents that I had booked the lab at the same time that I was cast in Fordham’s Mainstage of Macbeth. After the lab with the promotional stuff, it was stated that we were officially cast in the Broadway rendition of The Prom.

“I’m looking forward to mostly performing in a new space with new things demanded of me, amongst new and thrilling artistic colleagues. Furthermore, I want to expand my pallet or capacity for things that I can handle.  Looking forward to being a part of a process and production that spreads love. Love through any medium of expression and the significance of identity and the lack of identification.”

 Anthony Norman

Anthony Norman

ANTHONY NORMAN (ENSEMBLE)

HOMETOWN: CHICAGO, IL

“I was taking a nap and woke up up a voicemail from my agent. It's crazy how fast it all was. I went in on a Monday, had a callback on Tuesday, got the call on Wednesday.

I’m looking forward to working with some of the best and funniest people in the business. Being able to call these amazing artists co-workers. That still blows my mind.”

 Jack Sippel

Jack Sippel

JACK SIPPEL (DANCE CAPTAIN, SWING)

HOMETOWN: ST. LOUIS, MO

“I found out that I booked the show by my agent tricking me... She called me to let me know that there was a piece of fan mail that was delivered to her office and that she was asking me to come pick it up. So when I went to go pick it up, she handed it to me and I went to go just put it in my backpack, but she stopped me and insisted that I open it that second. I was confused as to why she wanted to see it so bad. I opened the envelope and inside was actually a flyer she had made telling me I was going to be making my debut with The Prom! I was in complete shock and simply couldn’t believe that it was actually going to be happening. They fooled me alright.

“I think I am most looking forward to simply putting up a new ORIGINAL musical and being part of the history of it all. This is an incredibly special creative team and cast that I am beyond honored to be working alongside. I also just can’t wait for people to see the show. This show is truly special with an extremely relevant story that people need to hear. This one is an absolute must see.”

 Brittany Zeinstra

Brittany Zeinstra

BRITTANY ZEINSTRA (ENSEMBLE)

HOMETOWN: BOULDER, CO

“I was on the national tour of Disney’s The Little Mermaid as female swing and flight captain. We were in Dayton, Ohio for the week, and I hadn’t gone on in ages (thankfully we were in a brief spell of health, but it made my job a little less exciting). There wasn’t much to do in town, so I was in my hotel room when I saw a call from a New York number, I didn’t even make the connection.
Half an hour later, I call the number back. Turns out, it was one of my agents whom I hadn’t met yet, and he was calling me to tell me I had an offer. I stopped short, asked, ‘Are you serious?’ even though he had no reason to be joking, and then screamed and called my mother. She and my dad jumped around the room in Colorado while I jumped in Dayton. I felt so lucky to have parents as excited as I was.

”I feel especially grateful to be entering the community of Broadway artists who made me fall in love with the art form in the first place. This cast of The Prom is truly special - grounded, giving, hilarious people - and I can’t wait for us to share (so many of our) first Broadway experiences! We’re ready for the world to see this bright new show.”

Jack Sippel

Remembering Marin Mazzie

Mo Brady

Broadway Ensemblists Share Their Memories of Performing with Marin Mazzie

 Marin Mazzie with Beth Johnson Nicely, Brittany Marcin and Lenny Wolpe

Marin Mazzie with Beth Johnson Nicely, Brittany Marcin and Lenny Wolpe

“I’ll never forget the day I met Marin Mazzie. I was rehearsing Curtains with her husband Jason and she came right before lunchtime to meet him. John Kander rushed over to greet her like a giddy school boy. Marin walked up to each and every member of the company and introduced herself. I immediately felt her warmth and kind presence. 

“Years later I was beyond excited when I found out Marin was going to be in Bullets Over Broadway with me. To be able to watch her every day was a true master class. In life she was the opposite of her character Helen Sinclair in Bullets, but it was thrilling to see her embody that character.  Marin never took herself too seriously. In fact, we had quite a few laughs about a theater patron who very loudly kept pronouncing her name incorrectly. We even wrote it that way on her dressing room door. She was always one of the girls and had the ensemble ladies in her dressing room for a chat or a hangout. She would take time to do our annoying “Saturday Night on Broadway” pics when I’m sure she had more important things to do. 

“One of my greatest gifts in theater was seeing Marin in her closing show for The King and I. Beth Nicely and I went together and sat there filled with emotions and crying during curtain call. Marin was captivating and strong. We both said we could only imagine how much she was going through physically and emotionally. As usual, she was so gracious with her time at her closing show and made sure to see us and catch up on our lives. I still can’t believe that was her last show on Broadway. 

“There will never be another Marin. While her talent and beauty were unmatchable, they weren’t even the best part of her. Her heart was really what drew people closer. That and her incredible laugh. They just don’t make stars like Marin. But I know she is somewhere more peaceful with her glorious light still shining.”

-Brittany Marcin (Bullets Over Broadway, Anything Goes)

 Marin Mazzie in  Spamalot

Marin Mazzie in Spamalot

“Marin played a 10-week return engagement as the Lady of the Lake in Spamalot in 2008. I made my Broadway debut there earlier that year. As an admirer of her work, this was a big deal to me! She didn’t make her entrance until about 20 minutes into the show, but she always came to the stage to gather with the company at the places call. A three-time Tony nominee, revered performer and beloved human just hanging out before the show in her wig prep, robe and slippers. She was simply one of us. I just loved this about her. And always so kind, generous, fun and funny. Such a joy to have in the company.

”A few years ago I was doing Chicago and Jason came in to play Billy Flynn. Because of that, I had the opportunity to reconnect with Marin. I don’t think I had seen her since Spamalot. She was so lovely and gracious when I reminded her that we had performed together at the Shubert. Our working together may have been brief but I will forever count myself lucky to have had those 10 weeks.”

-Andrew Fitch (Spamalot, Waitress)

 Marin Mazzie in  Bullets Over Broadway

Marin Mazzie in Bullets Over Broadway


“Marin Mazzie was a true force of nature. I first met her in 1995 when I was swinging/dance captaining the Canadian premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Music of the Night. Marin was one of the three principals. At the time I had just moved to NYC a year ago and had only one Broadway show under my belt. I remember begin starstruck watching Marin every night and marveling at her incredible presence and talent. She could sing absolutely ANYTHING… ”Memory,” “With One Look,” “Tell Me On A Sunday….” and the list goes on. She would stand on stage in her black velvet dress with the orchestra and a spotlight and she commanded every moment. You could not take your eyes off of her. And it wasn’t just her glorious voice that drew you in, it was her emotion and investment in every second of the song. I don’t think I ever saw or heard Marin mark anything.

”I had the privilege of working with Marin again on Spamalot when she joined the company as the Lady of the Lake. Once again she was a complete joy to work with and she gave 100% at all times. Marin had that amazing combination of talent and grace, strength and sensuality, elegance and bawdiness. And she was equally glorious off stage. She was strong, kind, funny, humble, and always, above else, generous. She was so full of life that it is hard to imagine she is gone. But the memory of her performances and her work will live on in my heart. She will always be a shining example of all that is wonderful about the Broadway stage.”

-Emily Hsu (Spamalot, Elf)

 Marin Mazzie and Beth Johnson Nicely

Marin Mazzie and Beth Johnson Nicely

“Marin was a light. I did two Broadway shows with her, Spamalot and Bullets Over Broadway. She became a dear friend, even coming to my wedding with Jason. I remember them dancing the night away. Every night at the end of Spamalot, Marin, The Lady of the Lake, tossed a bouquet out to the audience. The show ended with her wedding to King Arthur. The night before my wedding, I was dancing behind her in the ensemble, and she turned and tossed the bouquet to me, instead of the audience. That was Marin. She made you feel so special. 

“I will never forget that night and her kindness. I was so excited to get to do another show with her when Bullets came around. I ended up playing her maid, Josette. She was the most incredible Helen Sinclair and made my small part into something important to her character. She was always beyond generous to her fellow actors. Apart from the show, she wanted to build relationships with everyone. She even had the idea to help me host a "Bullets Girls" night at my apartment. No one on stage mattered more than anyone else and she treated everyone like they mattered.”

-Beth Johnson Nicely (Bullets Over Broadway, Chicago)

“I’ll never forget walking into the first day of rehearsal for Bullets Over Broadway. Most of the cast had done workshop a few months before so they all were old friends. As a swing, I joined for the Broadway company and didn’t know many people. As I stood in the overcrowded room, somewhat overwhelmed, I felt a tap on my shoulder: ‘Hi there! I’m Marin, I don’t think we’ve met yet!’ The musical theatre nerd inside me was freaking out. OF COURSE I knew she was ‘Marin.’ What I would soon learn was how incredibly kind, generous and supportive she was. She would become much more than a role model. She would become a friend.

“Marin was one of those people who seemed completely oblivious to the fact that she was theatre royalty. She treated each and every person in our cast with respect and compassion. The first time I went on for one of my understudies, she stopped by my dressing room before the show, gave me a huge hug, and simply said “You’re going to nail this.” To her, It didn’t matter if you were the star of the show, an understudy, or a member of the ensemble. She wanted to see you succeed, and celebrated with you when you did.

“I learned so much from Marin. I watched her performances, and learned valuable lessons as an actor. I observed her genuine kindness, and learned what true class was. Most of all, I learned that you never give up without a fight. She fought. She fought hard. She was loved, and she loved hard. She will be missed.”

-Synthia Link (Bullets Over Broadway, Frozen)

 Marin Mazzie in  Kiss Me, Kate

Marin Mazzie in Kiss Me, Kate

“I can not even begin to explain how sad and empty I feel. And I know that everybody she touched feels there is now a missing piece of love in our world. My memories of her and Kiss Me Kate are full. Laughter, laughter, laughter, a few tears... laughter.  Her sitting naked as naked could be while she picked her Secret Santa out of one the the “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” guy’s hats. Not sure if it was Michael or Lee’s hat... guessing Michael’s because Lee could be a grouch-a-moe.

”When I saw her at a Pump Boys and Dinettes reunion concert with Jason, I so wanted to go up to her and tell her how I have always admired her, always!  But instead, I chickened out for stupid reasons. I was afraid, I did not want to bother her, I felt I was imposing... stupid, stupid reasons.

“She will forever be one of my most favorite humans that I have been lucky enough to encounter and play with. Where ever you may be out there in the universe, please rest Marin and then get up and show those young’ins how its done.”

- JoAnn M. Hunter (Kiss Me Kate, School of Rock - The Musical)


In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions for Marin Mazzie can be made to the Cancer Support Community, The Actors Fund or the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance.




"Kindness Goes A Long Way."

Mo Brady

by Amber Ardolino

When a performance is over, I like the chance to meet audiences at the theatre’s stage door. Much of that positive association comes from my own memories of seeing shows. When I was a kid, I remember being so excited to meet the cast after a performance. It didn’t matter to me if the actors were playing leading roles or chorus parts. I know that it means a lot to people.

 Amber Ardolino

Amber Ardolino

This weekend, I had an interaction at the Head Over Heels stage door that took me aback. When I went down the line to sign audiences’ Playbills, I noticed a man rolling his eyes at me. When I went to sign his Playbill, he pulled it away. I was in shock. Was it because I was in the ensemble? Did he not want my signature?

I waited to see what would happen if one of our show’s leads came out. Low and behold, he started cheering. The man who had just pulled his Playbill away from me is now asking for the principal’s signatures.

I’m one of just four women in the ensemble of Head Over Heels. I’m also a cover for one of the lead characters, Mopsa. The show is very demanding, with the eight member ensemble dancing, singing and acting non-stop for two and a half hours. No matter if you’re the star or an ensemble member like me, you’re working very hard.

This interaction at the stage door left me frustrated and a bit sad. Not only because of this man’s behavior, but because I let the situation get to me.

Not all exchanges at the stage door are positive. Last year, I was an ensemble member in Hamilton both on Broadway and in Chicago. In addition to being onstage in the ensemble, I occasionally went on as an understudy for Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds. Conversations I had with people at the stage door for Hamilton include:

  • “How is it being an extra?” (referring to the ensemble)

  • “I was so sad an understudy was on for Peggy today, but you were actually really good!”

  • “Which one were you?” - Woman. “I was in the ensemble,” - Me. “Oh! I didn’t watch you guys as much.” - Woman

The ensemble of any show is filled with hardworking and talented performers. I hope one day audiences will recognize that. If they don’t, we move on. We keep on practicing our craft and bettering ourselves. We should never dwell on negative words or opinions. At the end of the day, if we take time to come to the stage door and meet you, it would be nice if you treated us with respect. My mom always said “treat people how you want to be treated.” Kindness goes a long way.

 Amber Ardolino (right) and the cast of  Head Over Heels

Amber Ardolino (right) and the cast of Head Over Heels

More Than a Hashtag.

Mo Brady

How to Find #Gratitude When One Door Is Closing and Another Has Yet to Open

by Amy Ruggiero

 Amy Ruggiero (Photo by Justin Patterson)

Amy Ruggiero (Photo by Justin Patterson)

As performers, we train every day to be present and “in the moment” onstage. But it can be tough, if not impossible, to sit still in this business. Even if you are lucky enough to book a job on Broadway, part of your eight-show week will inevitably be set aside for dance classes, voice lessons, audition appointments, open calls, and maybe even “double duty” rehearsals for other projects. It can be hard to truly value what you have in the moment when you are constantly looking ahead, coveting future opportunities, seeking some promise of stability within a volatile industry.

For me, expressing #gratitude is something I have to remind myself to do to stay focused on the good stuff I am living in any given moment. You can’t find gratitude once and hold onto it forever. It has to be rediscovered over and over again, whenever you are facing new challenges, and especially when you are about to be #notbookedbutstillblessed.

As I just finished up my last week as a vacation swing for Carousel, I was presented with this question: “How do you find gratitude when your show is closing? How do the things you are grateful for balance with the sadness you are feeling as well?” I was fortunate enough to join the company while the show was still in previews in March, seeing it through its opening night in April, all the way to the Tony awards, and back for six weeks scattered throughout the summer.

 Amy Ruggiero with Amy Justman, Halli Toland, Yesenia Ayala, Skye Mattox, Erica Spyres, Leigh-Ann Esty and Craig Salstein.

Amy Ruggiero with Amy Justman, Halli Toland, Yesenia Ayala, Skye Mattox, Erica Spyres, Leigh-Ann Esty and Craig Salstein.

When the show announced in early August that it would be closing on September 16, I of course felt disappointed. I had hoped the show would live a long and healthy life, perhaps opening up a permanent position for me at some point. Instead, I would never get to go onstage for all of the eight tracks I had learned and labored over. I would stop rehearsing and performing Justin Peck’s choreography, a dream-come-true for someone like me who started out as a ballet dancer. It was all very sad, mostly because Carousel is gorgeous and filled with so much talent, but selfishly because I felt like my personal journey with the show was just getting started. Much of the cast had been with the production from the development labs and being onstage with everyone still felt new, exciting, terrifying and wonderful to me. I had more that I wanted to learn and to soak in from the experience.

All of that being said, if I wallowed in my feelings of disappointment, I would be doing myself and my last days with the production a disservice. The first thing I needed to be grateful for was the fact that I had gotten this job opportunity to begin with. We live in a world with an incredible number of talented people and no position is guaranteed. I received my offer to join Carousel almost a year after I had auditioned; it was crazy and unexpected and such exciting news. It would be my Broadway debut.

I also had to be grateful for the fact that the show was set to close after I would return for my final weeks in September. As a result, I would still get to be onstage in two different tracks for eight more shows. I was being given the chance to really take in and appreciate every moment. It would have been much harder to find my own closure if the show was set to play its last days during the break between my contracts. Finding gratitude in tough situations is really all about perspective. Look for the “good,” and that is what you will see.

 Amy Ruggiero (with Colin Bradbury) Photo: Matthew Murphy for Broadway.com

Amy Ruggiero (with Colin Bradbury) Photo: Matthew Murphy for Broadway.com

It strikes me how similar a show’s closing is to the rejection we face as artists on a daily basis. In both cases, we are forced to deal with uncertainty and doubt for the future. But we are all forever students of this business, should we choose to be, and learning to accept the unknowns, face the rejections, trust in the path, and take pride in the moment are all constants of the curriculum. Sometimes a door closes because we need the space to open others.

Looking back, I’ve seen the evidence for this so many times. My first job opportunity out of college was as an apprentice with a ballet company. I thought I would spend the entirety of my career with that company and when I was not offered a full position after two years, I was certain my dancing days were over. If only I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self to be grateful for the solid years of training and experience that would in fact carry me forward into new opportunities, jobs I could not have planned for or even dreamt of. All we can ever do is show up, do the work, continue growing and be open to the possibilities around every corner.

 Amy Ruggiero onstage at  Carousel

Amy Ruggiero onstage at Carousel

The company of Carousel had known the show was going to close for almost a month when I returned to the Imperial Theatre at the start of September. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of morale. Would people be upset, disgruntled, or perhaps just “over it”? Watching the 8-minute, dance-filled Prologue from the top of the theatre’s mezzanine steps on the Tuesday after Labor Day, my heart overflowed with love for my friends onstage. They were of course as generous, energized, and welcoming as ever. They filled the space with the same beauty and wonder and magic that they had on opening night. They were radiating gratitude for the work, for each other. And I was grateful for them.

Sure, this singular moment in time was outnumbered by the many occasions of rejection, uncertainty and doubt I have experienced thus far in my career—the failed auditions, the closecall callbacks, the could-have-been shows, cancelled productions and more. But the fleeting instances of actual achievement are what make every disappointment worthwhile. And, listen, I’m no pro at this having gratitude thing. If you’re like me, you will have to find ways to constantly remind yourself to look for it in both the best and toughest of situations. I try to meditate, I journal. I spend time with people I love. The means are always evolving. All I can say is, no success is too small an inspiration for real #gratitude. Own it and it will carry you from one door to the inevitable next.

It has to, because people always talk about doors closing and doors opening. No one ever talks about being stuck in a hallway. Just saying.

Building Confidence in Myself

Mo Brady

by Taylor Iman Jones

 Taylor Iman Jones

Taylor Iman Jones

I moved to New York in September of 2016. I had been performing as much as possible in the Bay Area, making my way through as many companies and different types of productions as I could. I was commuting four hours a day, working a full time job during the day and performing at night, all in the hopes that it would pay off one day.

Although there are many performing opportunities in the Bay Area, very few of them pay enough to sustain a life, and there are limited amounts of equity contracts to go around. I felt like I had exhausted my choices, and worked as much as I could. I always planned to move to New York, so once I joined the union and found myself with representation, I knew it was time to go.

When I made to jump and moved to the Big Apple, I was terrified. I got a waitressing job through a couple of friends at a Five Napkin Burger. This was it, I knew this restaurant would be my new home for a while. I was preparing my mind for years and years of dedication to this place, but those years never came into fruition.

Two months in, one of the many auditions I attended was for Groundhog Day the Musical. I went through three rounds of callbacks, ending with a solo two hour dance call (my nightmare). I got a phone call a few days later saying I didn’t get the job. I had accepted my defeat and was a ready to move on, when another call came a week later and, to my surprise, I was in! I don’t know what happened to make them change their minds, but I am eternally grateful.

Even before I began, Broadway was already showing me how complicated it can be and that there will be MANY ups and downs. Shortly after, I was making my Broadway debut with this beautiful company. GHD did not have a lengthy life but it was incredibly meaningful to so many people. Once it closed, I was scared that my time on Broadway had been a fluke. It happened too quickly, surely it was a fun and exciting mistake. But I knew this career is unforgiving and only gets harder as you go. So I hit the ground auditioning for everything. Doing as many readings and workshops as possible.

Until one day mid-December, I went in for Head Over Heels. The sides were in verse, which was so intimidating, I never thought I was going to get it. I was going in for Michael Mayer, someone who I’ve always looked up to, and I was VERY nervous. But funny enough, it was one of the quickest audition experiences I’ve ever had. I only had one other callback, and found out I booked it that day. So crazy.

Now I’m finding and building confidence in myself, and feeling more secure in my place on Broadway. But that takes a lot of work. I’m fully aware the carpet can be pulled and all of my hard work can disappear at any time. But I also know this job will have unbelievable rewards if I continue to believe in myself and stick with it.

 

The Power of a Close-Up

Jackson Cline

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS IN CINEMAS

BY JACKSON CLINE

 The ensemble of  An American in Paris

The ensemble of An American in Paris

In the second act of An American in Paris, leading lady Lise Dassin remarks on her inability to dance with passion. The company of An American in Paris, filmed live on the West End and hitting cinemas this month, need not have similar worries.  

At the screening I attended on Thursday, the passionate energy of the ensemble easily seeped through the screen and into the audience’s hearts. In fact, I felt more of a connection to the company on screen than I did when I saw the Broadway production live in 2015. This is in part due to the film medium’s ability to isolate intimate moments with close-ups while still allowing the production numbers to pop. Close-ups were particularly helpful for the book scenes, as I felt that many were swallowed by the vast stage and large house of New York’s Palace Theatre.

Throughout much of An American in Paris — particularly during transitional moments — the show’s 31-member ensemble becomes a physical manifestation of the energy of Paris. Their job is much more about creating a mood than populating the world with unique individuals. When not lifting the audience from one moment to the next, the ensemble has many opportunities to play ballet performers, wowing the audience with their dance technique and artistry.

Because the camera is able to better focus scenes and the general use of the ensemble is so atmospheric, the few step-out moments that ensemblists have are all the more exciting. In particular, I loved Julia Nagle’s grand turn as ballet mistress Olga, complete with all the mugging you could possibly want from a character ensemble track, and Julian Forsyth’s touching performance as Monsieur Baurel.

However, my favorite ensemble feature lasted but a few seconds and was over within the first five minutes of the film. A beggar woman, played by Katie Deacon, falls at Lise’s feet and is given some bread. Katie communicated the story of her character’s (and much of Paris’) devastating experiences during wartime so clearly with her physical choices, beautifully establishing the world in which the show begins. I felt her pain, desperation, dreams and so much more in this small moment, made all the more powerful onscreen.

An American in Paris will be screened in the United States and Canada on September 20 & 23. Information and tickets available at anamericaninpariscinema.com.

 The cast of  An American in Paris

The cast of An American in Paris

THE 5 UNDERSTUDY REHEARSAL COMMANDMENTS

Mo Brady

by Kenny Francoeur

 Kenny Francoeur

Kenny Francoeur

Like the Batu Caves of Malaysia or Milan’s Duomo, understudy rehearsal is a sacred space. Having been a swing with The Book of Mormon, I’ve attended my fair share of rehearsals. My body instinctually enters the stage door every other Thursday afternoon like highway hypnosis; vocalizing without awareness like a nearly comatose Florence Foster Jenkins. Once arrived, I participate in the greatest pleasure of my job; performing an entire show with less than half the necessary actors sans set, costumes, or orchestra; a minimalism wet dream. Our bodies and the materials are our only tools.  

As dance captain, I’m particular in my approach to understudy rehearsals. While others have vastly different expectations of these most holy occasions, here are a list of Commandments that I pass on to every swing and standby in our show. Although not all companies will adhere to, or care about, these instructions, I believe heeding them makes us better, more considerate, swings/standbys/people.

1.     THOU SHALT KNOW THINE NUMBERS AND DEPTHS.

It’s the LEAST you can do to meet proficiency in your job. This is a visual business and, regardless of your awe-inducing abilities, if you can’t stand in the right place than you’re as useful as a blind caricaturist. Although integral to all actors, I get particularly incensed at swings and standbys unconcerned with these details. Your safety, and the safety of those around you, is jeopardized when you don’t know where to stand, dance, or which traffic pattern to take. I depend on my swings and standbys as dance captain missionaries: while spacing in a long running show can tend to morph based on individual actors’ habits and adlibs, I need my swings to go in and stand their ground on numbers and depths they were taught so I can clearly see when something may have adjusted slightly over time. Even if the “picture” is still intact, eventually someone’s going to make their way out of the light and I, as well as their mother, will be displeased.

 Actual photograph of Moses receiving The 5 Understudy Rehearsal Commandments from on high

Actual photograph of Moses receiving The 5 Understudy Rehearsal Commandments from on high

2.     THOU SHALT KNOW WHO THE REHEARSAL IS FOR AND HONOR THEM   

In most situations, the rehearsal is about giving the swings and standbys an opportunity to run the show and receive notes. But in a long running production, understudy rehearsals can have distinct purposes. Is a new cast member here as a trial run before their put-in? Is a new understudy doing their first run? Is a producer or creative at the rehearsal to observe a standby? The rehearsal is then about that actor. This is not to say you aren’t valuable at these specific rehearsals. The opposite is true. Whoever the rehearsal is about needs your support and focus. If you cover eight tracks, please choose to be the one that partners with the new company member and not the one that gets to lounge by the water cooler on stage left during the production number. Which leads me to the next commandment on the notepad of stone I brought down from the mountain…

3.     IF THOU BE A SWING, SPEAKETH ALL LINES FOR TRACKS YOU COVER.

At Mormon, we have six swings, half of which cover principals. This means there may only be one swing to cover specific tracks if their counterpart is rehearsing a principal role. It’s the responsibility of that lone swing, in my opinion, to cover ALL their roles for that rehearsal. While some productions have stage management read lines of missing characters, I think it impedes our ability to fully master our jobs. I’ve performed more split tracks than I’d care to admit. Sometimes planned with a few hours, other times mid-show. A swing’s brain, once rehearsed and comfortably in the show, cannot see each individual track and block out the others. We must see the full picture and be able to step into any track at any moment. By freeing your brain from the “singular track cage”, you become better prepared for the reality of split tracks and mid-show swing-ons. Be the master of your tracks.

 Moses in a spacing rehearsal with the Red Sea

Moses in a spacing rehearsal with the Red Sea

4.     HONOR THY INNER ARTIST AND CREATE LIKE A MOFO.

Our job as swings and standbys isn’t to imitate the actors we cover. Our job is to play their roles. Until you are instructed to copy another actor, an abhorrible instruction no one worth their weight in Epsom salts would give, don’t. If we set the precedent that swings and standbys are theatrical robots hired to “fill a spot” then it’s all that will be expected of us and the artistry required for these jobs goes out the window. Use understudy rehearsal as a gift. Continue working on your craft. Your ability to progress and perform at your highest level in these rehearsals is not only beneficial for your personal artistic growth. It is in these rehearsals that you earn the trust of your stage managers. Since they get to make decisions about who goes on when someone calls out, showing them you take these rehearsals seriously can correlate to the opportunities you are given to perform.

5.     THOU SHALT NOT BE A LOSER. TRY AND HAVE SOME FUN.

You are one of a small militia of clowns who are performing a show meant for three times as many people. The nature of this rehearsal is, in a sense, absurd. Embrace it. These rehearsals are my favorite part of my job, both as an observant and as a participant. The rest of your coworkers are enjoying their day of freedom, you should foster an environment of joy for your few hours “at the office.”. Nothing sucks the energy out of a 10-person version of a 30-person show than one miserable wet blanket. You got into this business to perform. Here’s your chance. An audience is not necessary. Tell the story for each other. Tell the story for yourself. At understudy rehearsal, we create fresh performances that can bring new life into our company’s show each time we are reintroduced to the stage. I believe that what is created in this sacred space is the very reason you and I were called to this lifestyle.

AMEN.






5 Debut Questions - Meet Summer's Judith Franklin

Mo Brady

This week on our blog, we welcome Summer: The Donna Summer Musical’s newest ensemblist, Judith Franklin, to Broadway and find out about her journey to the Great White Way.

 Judith Franklin

Judith Franklin

1. What is your name and hometown?

Judith Franklin from Houston, TX.

2. What is your role/track in your Broadway debut? 

I am a swing and understudy. That means I cover four ensemble tracks as a swing and understudy the Diva Donna track. I also have 13 chorus understudy specialties. 

3. How did you find out you had booked the part? 

My agent called with the wonderful news as I was ending my shift at my temp job. 

4. What's been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show? 

The most surprising thing about preparing for this show was the process of developing “swing brain,” which helped me realize that the amount of information the human brain can learn and retain is boundless. I’m experiencing so much for the first time from being cast mid-run to working simultaneously as a swing and understudy. Much respect to my fellow swings and understudies around the world. It is a true litmus test of mental endurance, but it’s one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far. I’ll never watch this show the same way again. #SwingNation 


5. What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway? 

A performer’s experience on Broadway is multi-dimensional. There are so many moving parts that we are exposed to every day. From the coordination of the creative team to the relationships we build within the cast to the rehearsal process, there’s no way we can avoid learning and growing. It’s my dream to have a long-term career on Broadway. I’m excited about all the ways I will learn and grow.

#DimforMarin - Why Traditions Matter

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

 Marin Mazzie

Marin Mazzie


This week, the New York theatre community lost one of its greatest. Marin Mazzie, three-time Tony nominee passed away after a long battle with Ovarian Cancer.

Every contemporary theatre lover has a story about how Marin’s performance affected them. Her revolutionary performance as Mother in Ragtime ushered one of the greatest modern Broadway roles into the musical theatre canon. I had the pleasure of seeing her twice on Broadway, as Diana in Next to Normal and Anna in The King and I. In both shows, she struck me with the amount of pathos brought her roles. Each felt lived in and remarkably human.

One of the Broadway community’s most beautiful traditions is the dimming of marquee lights. In the minutes prior to a show’s evening performance, the lights outside the theatre will go dark as a communal sense of mourning. Along with the Legacy Robe and stage dooring, this is one of our longest lasting and most beloved traditions.

At the time I am writing this, seven Broadway theatres have committed to dimming their lights on September 19 in honor of Mazzie: the Broadhurst, Gershwin, Hirschfeld, Lyric, Nederlander, Schoenfeld and St. James. While each theatre and theater owner has the right to make their own decision about the dimming of theatre lights, I ask the question: “Why not?”

We as a community dealt with this question a few years ago after the passing of Joan Rivers. Some felt that she was not worthy of this honor, while others felt she was. The discussion continued online and in person, until the Broadway League announced that all Broadway theatres would dim their lights for Rivers.

The tradition of dimming marquee lights is not weakened by its use. In fact, it could be argued that the tradition becomes stronger the more often it is employed. For a community that celebrates its traditions so fiercely, we should take the opportunity to honor a great contemporary artist.

The theatre community is stronger when we support each other. Whether it be celebrating each others’ success or supporting each other in mourning, we are a better community when we lean into our compassionate nature. Let’s support each other by coming together on September 19 in honor of Mazzie.

Schvitzing Over Yiddish Fiddler

Mo Brady

by James Monroe Stevko

Unknown.jpeg

In an unassuming space in the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park, it’s impossible not to see how easily the audience is moved by our production of Fiddler on the Roof. Tissues fly as full houses blot their eyes and blow their noses, even at something as simple as out Ben Liebert’s “Miracle of Miracles,” or in Yiddish - “Nisimlekh, venifleoys.”

Our Jewish audience, the most predictable of fans, all claiming to not even require the English supertitles to follow along to a story they know so well. My biggest concern from the beginning wasn’t the idea of appealing Jews, but to goys like me, non-Jewish folk who aren’t familiar with the story and also have never heard Yiddish! Having performed in many an opera, reading along to a translation was often the first bone of contention, often the first bone of contention when trying to lure family and friends into an opera house. Once I started getting requests to see this show though, I was overjoyed to hear immediately afterwards that “the Yiddish wasn’t an issue.” All quickly and happily acclimated to the foreign land of Anatevka, and adding that this is one of the best productions, on or off-Broadway, they’ve seen.

The original writers of the show avoided Yiddish, at the cost of appearing ‘too ethnic’ and never getting off the ground. What they thought would run for a year or 2 ended up running for 7 and has been revived 5 times. But the depth that this now Yiddish translation adds is visceral. A complete 180 turn from appearing ‘too ethnic’ to being COMPLETELY ethnic, as the audience feels they are flies on Tevye’s milk cart, watching the real village, or shtetl, conversing in their mother tongue.

Our original Mordkha, Michael Yashinsky, goes on to add that, “Friedman (the translator) brings the musical back home, in a way: back to the stories of Sholem Aleichem, which he mines for their specific wordplays and store of linguistic riches; back to the Yiddish language, the mame-loshn of the characters themselves; and to the traditional Judaism of Tevye and his family, a religious specificity left out of the original musical in favor of universal comprehensibility and appeal, but restored in Friedman's text.”

Regardless of an alleged ‘eyes on Broadway’ run, the effect of the show on the world is palpable. Besides an outpouring of letters to the theater from over the world, I can’t leave the city without talking about our intimate Yiddish play, and I couldn’t be happier. The cast and crew really have formed our misphoke, or family, and the heart we’ve poured into the show is what shines through. Put up a three-hour musical in an obscure foreign language and you can’t help but grow closer and laugh about your trials you’ve been through.

 James Monroe Stevko and the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene production of  Fiddler on the Roof

James Monroe Stevko and the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene production of Fiddler on the Roof

"It Translates Seamlessly To Our Cast."

Mo Brady

by Rashaan James II

 Rashaan James II

Rashaan James II

I’ve been lucky enough to perform in three productions of Oklahoma! Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music and this story has always resonated with me in a very real way. In one of those productions, I was also fortunate enough to do the original Agnes DeMille choreography set by the late Gemze De Lappe in Atlanta. The Denver Center Theatre Company production that I’m currently working on is different because our director Chris Coleman has made the choice to cast this traditionally Caucasian show with an all-Black cast.   

The words on the page of this play gain a new and powerful meaning when spoken by a group of African-Americans.  One would expect the material to be severely affected by having an all-Black cast. This is true, but not in the way that you expect it to. It translates seamlessly to our cast. Not only does it translate to us, it brings to light the actual history that our culture simply doesn’t teach. In 1906, the year that the story of Oklahoma! is set, there were 50 all-Black towns in Oklahoma. The 137,000 African-Americans residing in these Black towns were clenching on to the same American dream that the neighboring white towns did. There is a misconception that the play is simply a White man’s story. That’s absolutely not true. Our production brings to light that there were plenty of African-Americans who were chasing the  “American Dream;” the dream to have your piece of the American pie.

TC-Oklahoma-1819-600x600.jpg

Being in the ensemble of this all-Black cast is a very different experience than I’ve had in past productions. As an actor, I get to really dive in in a way that I haven’t with other productions. With those productions, I have to deal with the idea of the anachronism that a Black man wouldn’t be standing next to a White man in 1906. There wouldn’t be a Black cowboy fraternizing with the White cowboys in that way. That’s a very confusing obstacle for an actor. The real part of history is that one third of the cowboys in that time were in fact African-American. We really got into the history of these African-American cowboys like Nat Love and Bill Pickett who invented “bulldogging.” I’d bet that most of the actors who play Curly don’t even know that Bill Pickett ever existed or that a black man invented “bulldogging.” It finally feels like something real instead of just an idea.

I’m extremely excited for audiences to experience this new production. In this political climate, I find it important for audiences to take in this story in a new way. These faces that they don’t necessarily associate with these stories will hopefully resonate in the heads and hearts of our audiences.  

 Rashaan James II and the Denver Center Theatre company of  Oklahoma!

Rashaan James II and the Denver Center Theatre company of Oklahoma!

"I Get To Pay It Forward."

Mo Brady

by Robert Hartwell

I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, about 504 miles away from the theatre district in New York City. My first dance teacher was Ms. Kirstie Spadie.

 Robert Hartwell teaching for Broadway Collective

Robert Hartwell teaching for Broadway Collective

I walked into Kirstie’s studio for the very first time when I was nine years old. I told her I wanted to be on Broadway by the time I was twenty-eight. She smiled and told me, “We’re going to make sure that happens by the time you’re twenty-three.”

At twenty-three, right on the dot, as Kirstie had predicted, I made my Broadway debut. She flew up from Raleigh to be there, and… of course, we both cried.

Kirstie is one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had, and she’s part of my life to this day. She taught me how to dance with correct technique. She helped me get into a top BFA college program, which helped launch my career. But on a deeper and more important level, she taught me the importance of simply showing up and doing the work with heart. She taught me that a positive attitude, punctuality, professionalism, and a kind, generous spirit are qualities that will unlock so many doors in life.

It was Kirstie, in fact, who first encouraged me to start teaching, and then later, to start running my own company. Before I joined the Dreamgirls National Tour out of college, when I off-handedly mentioned that I might want to start teaching “a few classes here and there” for kids, she strongly urged me to do it.

 Kirstie Spadie and Robert Hartwell

Kirstie Spadie and Robert Hartwell

She told me, “Robert, if you’re going to teach, here’s what you must do. You will treat every single student with dignity and respect. You will look each person in the eye. You will show them that they are safe in your classroom. It doesn’t matter if they’re headed for Broadway or not. Your job is to make sure that each student walks out of your class feeling a little more confident than before, feeling a little more possibility and hope.”

I promised her I would do that. I never forgot what she told me. Her words echo in my ears and follow me around everywhere I go.

For the last two years, I’ve been the Founder and Artistic Director of a company called The Broadway Collective. We have dance, voice, and acting classes for students, ages 10-20, who aspire to be on Broadway. We have online classes, a summer program in NYC, and we do an annual tour offering day-long classes in 12 cities around the country.

With all these different programs, we reach a lot of kids in a lot of different locations. And every single week, often at 2am or 3am in the morning, I get emails from students telling me, “My dance teacher asked me what I’ve been eating all summer. She says I’m too heavy and I’m freaking out…” or telling me, “The bullying at school is becoming unbearable. I don’t know what to do.”

These emails break my heart. Kids these days are dealing with so much stress and pain. Bullies at school. Bullies online. Pressure at school. Pressure at home. Self-imposed pressure and perfectionism, too. The ever-looming threat of school shootings. And in the midst of all this, your hormones are haywire and your body is changing into something you don’t recognize anymore. There’s almost nowhere that feels safe. Even your own body feels like a stranger. It’s a lot for a sweet, tender kid or teenager to carry on their shoulders.

And so, when a kid steps into my classroom — whether it’s our virtual classroom online, or a traditional studio with four walls and a mirror — right away, I want that child to know, “For the time that you’re here… You are safe. You belong. You are welcome. You are family. Come as you are. I don’t care if you can if you’ve been the lead in your school musical… or if you’re the best singer in your state… or if you’re destined for Broadway… or not. All I care about is… You made it here. You showed up. So let’s grow. Let’s move and sing and act and discover and sweat and shake off some stress and try new things and make something beautiful dreams come true together.”

I have the best job in the world, because I get to watch transformations happen every single day, and I get to touch people’s lives in the same way that Kirstie touched mine. I get to pay it forward.

I often watch students come into the classroom looking defeated — sometimes with their eyes down and glued to their phone, shoulders slumped, hoodie sweater zipped up. And then I watch that same student leave with a little bit of their shine back — feeling just a little more confident than before, feeling like their goals and dreams are achievable, whatever those dreams may be.

To see that moment — and every teacher knows the exact moment I’m talking about — when a little spark ignites in a student’s eyes, and they stand up a little straighter, or they raise their hand in the air and speak up for the first time, and you can see their inner confidence tank go from half-empty to full — I live for that moment.

That’s what Kirstie taught me… and that’s why I teach.

Lovers, Fighters and Artists… Welcome.

Mo Brady

by Vince Oddo

 Vince Oddo

Vince Oddo

It's late July 2015 and the beginning of Act Two of the new Broadway musical Amazing Grace. I am on for the lead role, one I have done countless times. As directed, I take the prop Bible that has just been thrown to me and slam it in indignation after reading a passage—SNAP! The adrenaline kicks in, the pain follows and I look down at my left index finger which is most definitely broken and bent sideways. We finish the scene, I snap my finger back in place, grab some medical tape, and wrap my finger up because I am going to finish my story. I understand that I may never have an opportunity like this ever again. My name is Vince Oddo and this is a little bit of my journey as an Ensemblist.

I moved to New York, far less connected since I didn’t go to one of the ‘Top Schools.' But one thing I did have on everyone else (secret time) was that I simply did not accept NO for an answer. I have kicked down every door that’s been in front of me because I know that there aren’t many willing to crack it open. I fight everyday for what I believe in, work every day on my craft in one way or another, and I HATE doing things that I don’t believe in.

Post Amazing Grace, there were plenty of opportunities to hop into new shows that needed someone like me. I chose not to, for a multitude of reasons: I didn’t like the opportunity, I didn’t like how I was being pigeon holed into a specific type, and I really didn’t want to be in a show just to have a job and feel like scenery. So, I got a job as a waiter, and I kept waiting for opportunities that spoke to me. I only accepted auditions from creative teams that I knew were well respected, not because of the projects they had done, but because of who they were as people, artists, and how I could contribute to the room. I want to be happy, challenged, and be respected as a fellow artist. 

It was the hardest decision I have ever made, and I struggle with it everyday still.

The rare occasion came with Jesus Christ Superstar Live on NBC. I was to audition for the ensemble, have a song to prepare and one of my own. A quick audition process and boom we are in first day of rehearsal; twelve hand picked actors by director David Leveaux to work with John Legend in pre production. At the top of rehearsal David said to our small group, “Many of you in this room may think you’ve been looked over, that you are waiting to step into the light, that you’re waiting to show the world what you can do. To me, you all already shine, have talents in the light, and for that reason, you are here to bring your gifts.” 

I most definitely cried, understood that sometimes decisions are tough, and for that rare moment, I found what I was looking for.

 Vince Oddo and the cast of  Jesus Christ Superstar Live

Vince Oddo and the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar Live

"You Gotta Be In It To Win It."

Mo Brady

by Jody Reynard

 Jody Reynard

Jody Reynard

The other day I got a knock at my door.  It was a candidate for state senate. I was shocked, appalled and impressed at the same time! He actually came to my apartment door; I got a home visit! Brace yourselves… I’m gonna get political. 

And my message is: WE MUST GO OUT AND VOTE! I know it’s the same old diatribe repeated over and over again. It’s said on multiple platforms from books to Tony nominees saying that we must project our voice. I am getting tired of hearing it myself! Every four years, countless ads bombard my mail, my TV and my phone with candidates presenting themselves with their own solutions to today’s problems and their want of my vote. Ironically, it is vital that we listen.

Voting is a privilege. A rite of passage that we are granted. It should almost evoke feelings equal to that of finally getting an AEA card or stepping onto a Broadway stage for the first time. What we do at the polls is just as life-changing… especially in today’s political climate. We have the power to enact change, but we have to show up at the voting booth.

Regardless of your preferences on the political spectrum, everyone has the right to vote and should. But one party (which is currently in charge of the government) has tendencies towards the taking away of civil rights AND the cutting of arts funding. We as ensemblists and artists have to do something about this. This type of governing endangers our way of life. It marginalizes large numbers of people and we must act by going to the polls!

If not simply to enact change, we should vote for the right to complain. Complaining too, seems to be a rite of passage… and we all do it... but like Dollar Friday, you gotta be in it to win it. So, care enough to support your complaints with a registered choice. Rag on DC all you want, just show up at the polls!  

I think I might sound like one of those exasperating ads I mentioned earlier, but truly I’ve taken voting for granted. I always did it myself, but I never advocated for others to do so. The small percentages of how much of the country actually votes are staggering! We cannot throw our hands up in frustration. We can make it better. We have to take those first steps toward actual change. Use your right this November. Make that choice to vote. Know that your one vote can and will make a difference. Enact change in our government… and also at our next AEA elections!

Who is Broadway's Busiest Ensemble?

Mo Brady

An in-depth look at the tracks of ensemble actors in eleven Broadway musicals

by Mo Brady

Ensemble actors are often called the unsung heroes of Broadway. While their leading actor counterparts stand in the spotlight, get larger dressing rooms on lower floors and aren’t called for understudy rehearsals, the men and women of Broadway ensembles often spend more time working in and out of performances to keep their shows sharp and entertaining.

  Lauren Boyd, Kaleigh Cronin, Blair Goldberg, Molly Hager, Lizzie Klemperer, Kimberly Marable, Ellyn Marie Marsh, Lauralyn McClelland, Beth Johnson Nicely, Jonalyn Saxer and Katie Terza

Lauren Boyd, Kaleigh Cronin, Blair Goldberg, Molly Hager, Lizzie Klemperer, Kimberly Marable, Ellyn Marie Marsh, Lauralyn McClelland, Beth Johnson Nicely, Jonalyn Saxer and Katie Terza

But are some ensembles harder to be in then others? Surely, there’s a difference between performing in a 90-minute musical versus a three-hour musical. Or a difference between an ensemble-led show like Newsies versus a leading role-led show like Gypsy. But in that case, is there even such a thing as Broadway’s busiest ensemble?

That’s what I tried to figure out when I reached out to female ensemble members in eleven Broadway musicals: Aladdin, Chicago, Hamilton, Kinky Boots, The Lion King, Mean Girls, Pretty Woman, School of Rock, SpongeBob SquarePants, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical and Waitress. I asked these eleven actors to use the stopwatch on their phones during a performance to track when they were “working” and when they were “on break.”

Here’s the catch: “Working” does not necessarily mean just when these actors were onstage performing. I also asked them to keep track of when they were changing costumes, moving sets or singing offstage. Anytime where they were doing an assigned duty as part of the show’s performance, I asked them to count as “on the clock.”

Starting their stopwatch when the stage manager called places, the actors would press “lap” the first time they had a break long enough to check their phones. Then, they would press “lap” again when they had something to do (such as go onstage, a wig change, etc.). They repeated this process until the performance was over. Afterwards, they each sent screenshots of all the different lengths of the laps. The number of laps varied from seven to 13, depending on the show.

 Here is one of the screenshots I received from  Mean Girls'  Jonalyn Saxer.

Here is one of the screenshots I received from Mean Girls' Jonalyn Saxer.

It should be noted that not every ensemble track in any particular show is onstage as long every other. So the information given by any show’s actor doesn’t necessarily reflect the busyness of her counterparts. Also, I would be remiss to note that a show’s female tracks may have much different requirements than a show’s male tracks. And I only received timings from ensemblists in eleven of Broadway's 22 currently-running musicals with ensembles. Like I said: this is not a scientific study, simply a casual (if highly nerdy) inquiry.

Let’s move past the explanations and onto the findings. Who is Broadway’s busiest ensemble?

From the standpoint of who is onstage the most during their show, it's almost a tie between Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants. The actors who timed their performances from each clocked more than 130 minutes of "working" time during their shows. As the running time of SpongeBob is about seven minutes shorter than Mean Girls, this would make the residents of Bikini Bottom Broadway's busiest ensemble - but not by much.

However if you look at the percentage of the show in which they are working (and of course I did), the ladies of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical take the metaphorical cake. In a show that runs for just over 100 minutes, ensemblist Kaleigh Cronin is working for more than 95% of those minutes. There are less than ten minutes of the show during which she isn't dancing onstage, singing offstage, or changing costume. Talk about an ensemble of "Bad Girls."

However, it should be noted that all eleven of the women who submitted timings are working for more than half of their show. None of them are performing show-related duties for less than 84 minutes of each performance (which doesn't include any wig or fight calls prior to their places calls). The average for these women was an incredible 74% of their show's running times during which they were working.

In regards to costume and wig changes, the ladies of Aladdin, Hamilton, Mean Girls, SpongeBob, Summer, The Lion King and Waitress all perform more than ten costume changes during each performance. And while the ensemble women of Hamilton perform in an astonishing 40 musical numbers, the women of Aladdin, Mean Girls, Pretty Woman SpongeBob, Summer, The Lion King and Waitress also perform in more than a dozen songs each show.

If I had to pick one female ensemble to take the crown for Broadway's busiest ensemble, the scales are tipped by the number of set changes they are involved in. While SpongeBob's Lauralyn McClelland reported performing five set changes each show, Mean Girls' Jonalyn Saxer reported twice as many as part of her track. 

Now it's time to ask Broadway's male ensemblists to weigh in. Any takers? :)

 A portion of the tracking provided by each of the eleven ensemble actors

A portion of the tracking provided by each of the eleven ensemble actors

Many thanks to Lauren Boyd, Kaleigh Cronin, Blair Goldberg, Molly Hager, Lizzie Klemperer, Kimberly Marable, Ellyn Marie Marsh, Lauralyn McClelland, Beth Johnson Nicely, Jonalyn Saxer and Katie Terza for helping me make this happen. You made my nerd brain very happy.

"We Can Drive Hope Among The Discouraged."

Mo Brady

by Voltaire Wade-Greene

 Voltaire Wade-Greene

Voltaire Wade-Greene

If you asked me what I thought my experience was going to be before we started the process for When Change Comes for Mark Stuart Dance Theatre and compared it to what it is now I would tell you that it’s the same as comparing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Star Wars. Sure, it’s fun to replay that Saturday morning from your childhood where you enjoy a huge bowl of cereal while enjoying the “turtles In a half shell” theme song, knowing that our mutated friends are going to save the day and come out on top!  

The same could be said about most rehearsal processes. In the usual rehearsal environment, you come in to a studio to warm up and stretch so you don’t pull that hammy. You might even do a few sit ups and pushups to burn that dinner last night followed by dessert or a few drinks. The rehearsal hour begins and you’re learning choreography and spacing. Once it’s all done, there are adjustments made followed by the usual “run it agains” until everything is clean, clear and our heroes have saved the day from Shredder and his sidekicks Bebop and Rocksteady. 

Not here. Like Star Wars, there is a “force-like” energy present. The moment you walk into the space you feel something different. Usually the room has mood lighting accompanied by ethereal instrumental music. The room is highlighted by beautiful plants that the amazing Jaime Verazin (IG: @broadwaybotanist) picked for the space. My favorite part is the very center of the room. There lies a poster of When Change Comes with a plant on the left of it, a harmony block and a series of Post-it notes with goals and words of affirmation on them surrounding the poster. This is known as our Trust Circle. Think of it like a Jedi training ground. Of course without the lightsabers, sweet flips and everyone’s favorite green guy, Yoda.  It’s a designated space that allows us to let our guard down to talk about difficult situations and realities in search of the best way to tell these stories. Which is altogether something entirely new for any rehearsal I’ve been part of. 

5b50b22d8411da145517c42c_When Change Comes copya-p-800.png

As performers, we rarely get an opportunity to be in a show that touches on social issues that affect us daily. The refreshing aspect about this is the approach we are taking and I am excited to share that with people. It’s not your typical dance show. Sure, there are steps and sequences with a few ball changes and jazz hands, but the story is the driver of the show. If the narrative progresses, so does the movement! It’s all about energy. The approach to telling each act is unique because it avoids that “beating the dead horse” analogy that we all fear. As collaborators, we have the opportunity to pull from our own experiences and let them out on stage. Choreographer Mark Stuart, like Yoda, has a unique way of guiding the narrative by asking us non-leading, neutral questions like; what can do?  How can we help? What would we do next? How do we stand in front of a complete stranger and just see them for who they are?  

One great lesson from this experience so far is the simple act of “having a conversation." It sounds easy, but to be truly present with someone with an opposite opinion or life experience is tough. This is where the Trust Circle becomes our Jedi training ground. Can we have a conversation where instead of trying to prove a point, we just listen?  It hasn’t been easy and we’re continuing the talks. I really hope folks come out to see the show and stay for the talkbacks. This is a new element, for me, where our job as performers is to open the door for conversation. Can we defeat the dark side that is hate and ignorance and continue to fight for the good of the galaxy? No one knows how the story will play out and maybe we’re not as cool as the Jedis. What if we’re the rebels that help Skywalker blow up the Death Star? We could be that beacon of light that continues to drive hope among the discouraged.

5 Debut Questions - Meet SpongeBob's Phil Sloves

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome SpongeBob SquarePants swing Phil Sloves to Broadway and learn about his journey to the Great White Way:

 Phil Sloves in  SpongeBob SquarePants

Phil Sloves in SpongeBob SquarePants

1. What's your name and hometown?

Phil Sloves from Fair Lawn, NJ

2. What is your role/track in your Broadway debut?

I am a swing and understudy Mr. Krabs and Patrick Star!

3. How did you find out you had booked the part?

I got a call from my agent only four days before I started rehearsals! I was moving my friend into an apartment. 

4. What's been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show?

The most surprising thing has been how much you are expected to learn as a swing. Some of our swings cover 9+ roles in the ensemble WHILE understudying a principal role. 

5. What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway?

My favorite moments have been my debut! My first week, I played Mr. Krabs for a two-show day. Then the next day, I went on for Patrick. Then the following day, I was back to Mr Krabs. It was the most thrilling experience of my life to share that stage with such incredible talent in a BEST MUSICAL! It’s a dream come true and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

 Phil Sloves in  SpongeBob SquarePants

Phil Sloves in SpongeBob SquarePants

How to Become Broadway's Busiest Chorus Boy (Without Being a Ballerina).

Mo Brady

or, A Character Actor’s Dream Season.

by Jacob Keith Watson

 Jacob Keith Watson (Photo: Andy Henderson

Jacob Keith Watson (Photo: Andy Henderson

This past season, I was fortunate enough to have joined the Broadway casts of Hello, Dolly!, The Phantom of the Opera, and Carousel, as well as takeover my first principal role on Broadway. It has been such a marvelous blur, but now that Carousel is in its last few weeks, this is as good as time as any to look back and process what this year has truly meant for me, as a student of theatre, an artist and as a human.

In the spring of 2017, I was performing in the Broadway production of Amélie at the Walter Kerr. Sitting backstage with fellow ensemblists Destinee Rea, Trey Ellett and Emily Afton, the announcement for the Broadway revival of Carousel was released on Playbill. I remember telling them Carousel was going to be the next show for me. There was something about it that just felt right and Enoch Snow had always been a dream role of mine. I wanted it so badly that I told myself to go to the ECC, because if I wasn’t able to get an audition for this show, I would be kicking myself. The ECC came, I attended and performed 32 bars of my go to legit song, “Lonely House”. Cut to a couple of weeks down the road in a voice lesson with my voice teacher Mike Ruckles. We were chatting about the upcoming Carousel revival, and I asked if he knew anyone involved…he did. He told me to hold on for a minute, sent a couple of text messages and we got back to our voice lesson. I checked back in with him later to see if he had heard anything and he mentioned that a Carousel appointment was already in the works before his text, but there may be something else on its way.

 Jacob Keith Watson in  Hello, Dolly!

Jacob Keith Watson in Hello, Dolly!

Next thing I know, I got a self-tape request from my agent to be a vacation swing in Hello, Dolly! So my wife and I set up our makeshift self-tape studio in the living room of our apartment and went to work. We sent the tape in on Friday and the offer came in Monday. Unfortunately, the dates conflicted with dates I had already verbally agreed to perform at The Phantom of the Opera. My agents and I chatted, and decided to just ask the wonderful people at Phantom if this could be worked out. The worse they could say is “no” and I still have a job in a Broadway show. However, graciously Phantom released me from my agreement and even asked for my Dolly schedule to see if I could join them when I wasn’t with Dolly. In the midst of all of this back and forth, I was going through my rounds of auditions for Carousel. The offer comes in for Carousel which includes a workshop in that fall, which landed in the middle my time with Dolly and Phantom. It was just one more exciting challenge to undertake.

Moving out of the excitement of actually receiving these offers then working out the kinks of the scheduling and moving into the rehearsal processes was an entirely new challenge. The year before I had my first go at the infamous and awesome “double duty” while performing Phantom at night and rehearsing for the out of town tryout of Amélie. It turned out be only a small taste of what was to come for fall 2017. Rehearsals began for my first track in Hello, Dolly! on a Wednesday, there was a mini spacing put-in rehearsal with the full ensemble on Friday and my first performance was the next Tuesday. The Thursday of my first week with Dolly, I started learning the other tracks I would be performing down the road throughout the fall. I was in and out with Dolly for a few weeks, then the workshop of Carousel begins. There was, luckily, only a couple of weeks where I was performing with Dolly during the Carousel workshop. However, I needed to find a time to learn a new track over at Phantom because I was set to begin performances on the Monday after our workshop of Carousel finished. The stage management found some time at night after the workshop rehearsals to teach me the new role with the dance captain at Ripley Grier. Carousel rehearsals went on hiatus at this point until official rehearsals began in January, and this is where my back and forth with Dolly and Phantom really took off.

 Jacob Keith Watson in  Hello, Dolly!

Jacob Keith Watson in Hello, Dolly!

For a month and a half, I performed a couple of weeks with Phantom, went back for a week at Dolly then back to Phantom, etc. My contract with Dolly finished and I was full time with Phantom only at that point. However, on one Sunday (which is Phantom’s day off,) I was walking out of church with my wife and I received a text from Dolly stage management saying something along the lines of “Hey! Any way you could be at the theatre by 1:30?” I hopped on the subway and performed what was my final performance as well as my only split track with Hello, Dolly! From there, I was with Phantom through the holidays and the first two weeks of rehearsals for Carousel. The craziness of my brain processing multiple shows had been replaced with the creative process of creating a new production of Carousel.

Looking back, it truly was an incredible time in my career. Not only for my resume but largely because of the things I learned and the magical people I met. You never know what you are capable of until you push yourself to the limits. However, in times like these, you learn to really need people. This wasn’t about me. It was about all of the people along the way who showed me grace, flexibility, support and strength. The lessons I learned directly reflect the people I met and have in my life. There were a lot of skills I considered strengths that were tested, as well as skills I considered weaknesses that grew exponentially. Time management, being able to shift my focus and creative abilities quickly from one project/character to another, attention to detail, learning to give yourself over to the moment rather than a pursuit of perfection, these are all things that were tested and grew during this season.

Some areas of my life that caused growing pains were self care, being present in my life outside of performances, patience…when you’re moving so fast between projects it becomes incredibly difficult to take a day off. Any time I had at home, I was working. It preyed on the workaholic in me. Days off, never felt like days off. Thankfully, my incredible superstar of a wife and human Elisabeth showed me more grace and patience than anyone along the way. She was my rock during this incredible and challenging time. And we have, over time, worked together to find our ways of turning off from these busy work weeks. Days off have now become sacred to us.

 Jacob Keith Watson in  Carousel

Jacob Keith Watson in Carousel

As I write this, the answer to the question “How to become Broadway's busiest chorus boy without being a ballerina” seems to have answered itself. It requires hard work, diligence, and foot forwardness. However, there is so much more than that. First and foremost you have to surround yourself with the right people. The kind of people who will tell you the forever true clichés of “you’ve got this” and even “you have to slow down, it’s a marathon not a sprint.”  People who will stick their necks out for you because they believe wholeheartedly in you. Those people make you who you are.

Secondly, you have to understand that 99% of what we do in this business is out of our control. The only thing you can do is show up with a strong work ethic, the abilities you have available in that moment, and try to learn as much as you can along the way. Finally, learning to be grateful. When things get tough, when you are exhausted from multiple rehearsals in a day, or even simply doing eight shows that week, you have to remain grateful. It really is the key to pushing through those times where you feel overwhelmed or insecure. Stop, and sit in that gratefulness for what has been and for what’s to come. Ultimately, I’m still not sure I really know what I did to deserve such a special moment in my career, but I do know that I will cherish the past season forever.

And, by the way, I’m totally a ballerina.

 

"Something Exciting Happens When Chances Are Given."

Mo Brady

 Anna, Billy Bigelow, Lon Smith, Grace Farrell, Kristoff, Elsa, Laurey, Jenna, Curly. 

Anna, Billy Bigelow, Lon Smith, Grace Farrell, Kristoff, Elsa, Laurey, Jenna, Curly. 

This doesn’t only apply to Black actors in “non traditionally” cast Principal Roles. But I wanted to celebrate a few of my friends that had the opportunity to step into these non traditional roles this year. Either as the role itself, or as the understudy. 

When these opportunities are given, it usually excites people to see the different takes on these characters. Different point of views and experiences can often be very exciting to witness as well as create. This extends beyond the stage actor. But also to the directors, choreographers, the costumers, the stage managers etc. 

Just think of how much untapped talent there is waiting to be witnessed if only given “the chance."

 Nettie, Aldonza, Cornelius, Damian, Ted, Karen, Captain Walker

Nettie, Aldonza, Cornelius, Damian, Ted, Karen, Captain Walker

5 Debut Questions - Meet Frozen's Kate Bailey

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome Frozen's newest ensemblist, Kate Bailey, to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Great White Way:

 Kate Bailey in  Frozen

Kate Bailey in Frozen

1. What's your name and hometown?

Kate Bailey from Rochester, MI.

2. What is your role/track in your Broadway debut?

Ensemble in Frozen.

3. How did you find out you had booked the part?

I was working on another project outside of the city and my agent called with the news that I needed to fly back to NYC the next morning! I went straight from the airport to the St. James Theatre!

4. What's been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show?

I think when you work so hard for something and you finally make it there, it is hard not to have expectations about how it will unfold. I have to say, the magic of my first show on Broadway exceeded my expectations of what that night would feel like. I had the time of my life, and the love and support I felt was amazing. I know that is so cheesy, but it is true and I feel so lucky.  

5. What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway?

I think I am most excited and grateful to be a part of a new Broadway family. I love as actors when we start new projects we extend and grow our community and family each time! How lucky is that!? And with Frozen, not only have they been so wonderful welcoming me into their family, but I have some dear, dear friends from years ago that I get to share my Broadway Debut with and that is very special.  

 Kate Bailey

Kate Bailey