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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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"And Just Like That, We're Back!"

Mo Brady

Haley Bennett updates us on her work as part of the music team on the upcoming Broadway revival of Once on this Island.

Haley Bennett

Haley Bennett

And just like that, we’re back!

Once on this Island is officially in rehearsals for Broadway, and it is such an energizing feeling to be back in the rehearsal room with everyone. In my last post, I detailed my work process outside of the room – going through and editing our complex, sixteen-part vocal arrangements for our Broadway cast. Now that we’re back in the room, I get to hear out loud what, for many weeks, existed only on the page, and it’s thrilling.

We spent our first couple of days sitting in a giant circle and continuing to tweak and develop the harmonies and vocal textures of each song. It’s exhilarating to hear the unique and powerful voices of our cast come together, and each individual voice inspires Annmarie Milazzo, our amazing vocal orchestrator, to weave new lines and phrases into these songs by our incredible authors, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Also in the room is the brilliant Michael Starobin, who orchestrated the original production and is writing entirely new orchestrations for our revival! It’s a really neat opportunity to watch the person who originally orchestrated the show revisit the same songs with a new perspective, weaving instruments into the new vocal textures Annmarie has created, many of which are based on Michael’s original instrumental parts – very full circle! And, to top it all off, we have begun integrating newly-developed “instruments” crafted carefully out of trash and other found objects by John Bertles of Bash the Trash. These unique instruments add to the multitude of sonic textures that define our island. Hearing all of the musical elements come together is really exciting, and we are lucky to have the best leaders to guide us through it all - our Music Supervisor, Chris Fenwick, and our Music Director, Alvin Hough.

While we continue to explore the sounds of our show each day, one of the most exciting parts of being in the room now is watching our director, Michael Arden, build a world to match our sonic environment. Michael’s incredible vision for this production is at the heart of everything we are doing, and he sets a tone for the room that makes everyone excited to explore and collaborate. Because our show will be performed in the round (at Circle in the Square), even the rehearsal room becomes an immersive experience – the table where Starobin and I work is right in between the playing space and the percussion set-up (shout-out to the amazing Javier Diaz!), so as we work in our Finale files, we are surrounded by endless story-telling elements. Michael is a visionary in his creation of a fully-developed, empathy-infused world in which our show can live, and also in his creation of a family to inhabit that world, and I think I speak for everyone in the room when I say we’re so grateful to be on the island with him.

We can’t wait to begin sharing our island with you all in November!

Haley Bennett on a lunch break with cast and creative team members of Once on this Island

Haley Bennett on a lunch break with cast and creative team members of Once on this Island

"Watching That Magic Happen Has Been Really Exciting."

The Ensemblist

Escape to Margaritaville ensemblist Justin Mortelliti shares how the show has changed - and will continue to change - during its multiple pre-Broadway tryouts leading up to its New York City debut this winter.

Justin Mortelliti

Justin Mortelliti

Wastin’ away in Margaritaville has been nothing but a good time so far. I’ve been with Escape to Margaritaville since its initial production in La Jolla. It’s the first time I’ve experienced being part of a show from the start. Probably the coolest aspect has been watching the creative team of Christopher Ashley, Kelly Devine and Chris Jahnke work together with our cast and writers, Mike O’Malley and Greg Garcia, to form and mold this show into what it is, something we are all very, very excited about.

The changes that have been made since La Jolla are all-around. The vocal arrangements, story line and choreography have all been expanded upon and tightened up in a way that has set the show on fire. They’ve also been able to add some spectacular special effects and surprises. It was really awesome to have such a successful run in La Jolla (breaking all of their box office records) and to allow the audience reaction to feed these changes. Watching that magic happen from a cast member’s perspective has been really exciting. And speaking of the cast, they really got it right with this one. I know that this was such a difficult show for casting to put together because all of the characters in the show are very specific, and what they’ve come up with is an extremely diverse cast that is creative, interesting, talented, fun and FUNNY. We are just rolling around in laughter every day in rehearsal. It has been a blast so far, and I’m sure this fun is translating into the show 100%.

The Broadway company of Escape to Margaritaville

The Broadway company of Escape to Margaritaville

In my opinion, Jimmy Buffett’s music can best be described as ‘Americana.' Almost everyone has a memory chilling in a bar, at a BBQ or on a beach and hearing the song ‘Margaritaville’ in the background. He represents classic American music to me. This was why it was important to Jimmy and to our producers to share the show with America before bringing it to Broadway. With our pre-Broadway tour we are able to bring the show to the people. The cities of New Orleans, Houston and Chicago were very specifically chosen to kick off our show. Escape to Margaritaville is truly just that, an escape, and I can’t think of another point in my lifetime when the people of our country needed a little escape. This is what Jimmy’s brand has always been. Taking time to relax and enjoy life. Taking a step away from everything else and seeing the beauty around you. Celebrating island culture and the earth and sea. It will be really exciting to bring this show, this message and this escape to different cities in America. There are plans in all cities to raise money for Florida, Houston and Puerto Rico through the show, which is also something wonderful that we are going to get out of this Pre-Broadway tour.

he coolest part about having the La Jolla production followed by a 3 city tour is that by the time we open on Broadway we will be carrying the love and energy from audiences across the country with us which will be truly magic. I hear that our theater is already prepping the Margarita machines.

Justin Mortelliti (left, with company members from Escape to Margaritaville)  

Justin Mortelliti (left, with company members from Escape to Margaritaville)

 

Listen to our episode on Out of Town Tryouts here.

The “Starriest Ensembles” in Broadway History

The Ensemblist

by Mo Brady

It’s a well-known theatre adage that today’s Broadway ensembles employ tomorrow’s Broadway stars. Although it’s too soon to know which newsies or American revolutionaries will be tomorrow’s leading ladies and men, we can look back decades and see which Broadway ensembles featured the largest numbers of future theatre stars. Here are three original Broadway casts that featured a number of yet-to-be famous actors in their ensembles.

The Who’s TOMMY (1993)

The original Broadway cast of The Who's TOMMY

The original Broadway cast of The Who's TOMMY

Among the ensemblists in The Who's TOMMY were a couple of leading ladies in the making. Sherie Rene Scott made her Broadway debut as Act II standout Sally Simpson before originating roles like Amneris in Aida and Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Alice Ripley was in the ensemble and covered the role of Mrs. Walker before originating leading roles in Side Show, Sunset Boulevard and her Tony-winning take in Next to Normal.

Christian Hoff, a Tony Award winner for Jersey Boys, made his Broadway debut in the ensemble as one of the featured soloists in “Pinball Wizard” among other specialities. Other leading men who graced the show's original ensemble before making it big on Broadway include future Phantom of the Opera Norm Lewis and longtime Rent cast member (guest of The Ensemblist podcast) Michael McElroy.

 

Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002)

The original Broadway cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie

The original Broadway cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie

Two of Broadway’s most in-demand creators graced the ensemble of this beloved theatre hit. School of Rock and Disaster! choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter was once one of Broadway’s most in-demand hoofers in shows like Steel Pier and Kiss Me, Kate. (She is also credited as the original dance captain for Spring Awakening, a show she never performed in - you bet I wanna hear the story on THAT.)

The Millie ensemble also featured famed director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who now holds the record for directing the most shows playing concurrently on Broadway (Four: The Book of Mormon, Aladdin, Something Rotten! and Tuck Everlasting).

In addition to Broadway creators, the original ensemble of Millie included 2017 Tony Award nominee for Hello, Dolly! Kate Baldwin, Something Rotten! leading lady Catherine Brunell and Holiday Inn standout (and Chita Rivera Award winner) Megan Sikora.

 

Hairspray (2003)

The original Broadway cast of Hairspray  

The original Broadway cast of Hairspray

 

Of course, anyone who’s gone down a Hairspray YouTube spiral knows that the LOL-inducing Jackie Hoffman made her Broadway debut originating the role of Penny Pingleton and other ensemble features. But among the nicest kids in Baltimore included future Elphaba and recording artist Shoshana Bean and current School of Rock principal Jenn Gambatese.

Among of the show’s original swings was Emmy Award-winning choreographer Josh Bergasse. Today, he is one of Broadway’s most sought after choreographers, creating the musical staging for On The Town, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and off-Broadway’s Sweet Charity.

 

 

"The ensemble is the foundation."

Mo Brady

Learning to be a successful ensemblist is not only something you can do as a professional. Across the country, thousands of student actors learn the skills necessary to perform in ensembles in their school and youth theatre productions. We asked the ensemble of Orange County School of the Arts' production of The Drowsy Chaperone what they are learning from working on the show. Below are excerpts from some of their responses.

Orange County School of the Arts students

Orange County School of the Arts students

Katherine Cotter

Katherine Cotter

"When I found out I got into the ensemble of The Drowsy Chaperone, I was really excited, not only because it is such a fun musical, but because I realized that I had never actually been ensemble in a show before. I thought that it would be a really good challenge for me, getting to create my own character from scratch and pushing me to be more creative. Luckily our director, Mr. Barnhardt, led us through some exercises to help us discover our individual characters while working as a whole cast. Since this musical is a show within a show, the character building has an extra layer, because each cast member has to develop their actor character, as well as the role the actor is playing. We answered questions that give us insight on our characters’ backgrounds, and I loved having the freedom of being able to completely invent my own character’s story."

- Katherine Cotter

Natalie Laderer

Natalie Laderer

"The best thing I learned, I learned very quickly. Productive Optimism. I have always been an optimistic person. It is easy for me to see the glass half full. But being an ensemble member taught me how to use that optimism to better my performance, my self, and my life, both inside and outside of the show I was working on. And just that opened up a world of possibilities for me. Instead of moping around my house upset that I didn’t get to sing any solos, I poured my heart into learning my harmonies, because I was so lucky to be able to eventually sing them on stage. Instead of sitting around backstage grumpy and bitter that I wasn’t on singing that awesome solo, I was able to spend my time doing positive things, such as building friendships. I am able to spend my rehearsal time becoming a part of a whole, which gives me a wonderful place in a family, where I am using my talents to better the group as an ensemble."

- Natalie Laderer

Ava McDonald

Ava McDonald

"The show is like a lego set: the ensemble is the foundation, it creates the atmosphere necessary for a believable time period and location. Only then can you start adding the supporting characters and the principals and by the end you have a beautiful sparkling castle of a show. But without the base layer the castle, no matter how much hard work was put into the decorations, will crash. The ensemble is essential in order to build the finished product.

"Once and actor learns how to thrive in an ensemble they can thrive in anything. You learn how to work as a team and sacrifice the ideal of "stardom" for the good of the show. It is quite easy to fall into fraudulent performance. You slap on a phony smile and proceed to have nonsensical pantomime conversations with the equally inauthentic ensemble member next to you whenever there is a lull in the scene in focus.

"Yet true ensemblists know the freedom in using your imagination to create a new character entirely your own. Every show is a new opportunity for bold choices, imagined relationships, and ludicrous backstories! Ensemble acting is still acting. Plus, nothing is better than creating quirky onstage moments with your fellow cast mates: little inside jokes that not one audience member is likely to notice but are loads of fun."

Ava McDonald

5 Debut Questions - Meet Tug Watson

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome Cats ensemblist Tug Watson to Broadway. Learn about his journey to the Great White Way:

Tug Watson

Tug Watson

What's your name and hometown? Tug Watson from Fredericksburg, VA.

What is your role/track in your Broadway debut?  I am currently a Swing for the vocal tracks and covering Old Deuteronomy and Gus in Cats.

How did you find out you had booked the part? So I was up for Cats when TRC was casting for the revival... I was also accepted into grad school in the MFA program at San Diego State University. I had done a ton of tours, never performed on Broadway, and was looking at all of my options for the future. Grad school and teaching were something I was really excited about, so after getting passed on for Cats, I accepted my position at SDSU. Last Christmas, Kristen Blodgette, the Music Supervisor, reached out and asked if I were free to do a few weeks singing the tenor line in the booth. The singers in the booth at Cats are cast members comprised of traditional swings, and understudies. They were down a tenor, so I readily accepted. I happened to be on the East coast and the contract did not conflict with second semester. So there I was... on Winter break working on Broadway after leaving NY behind for what I had thought would be at least 5 years. This current contract was offered to me early this past summer. Only now instead of being contracted as "Cats Chorus" I am a swing and covering OD and Gus! Such a thrill. I am here through October, back to school in November, and back to Cats in December... So, Broadway/writing a thesis :)

What’s been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show? Like many, Cats is the show that made me want to perform. I have loved it since childhood when we lived in England. I saw the original production in its final weeks, and subsequently toured as Munkustrap 2008-2010. So, it's a huge part of me. The most surprising thing about preparing for this isn't necessarily preparing for the show itself, but just the preparation for the "moment." What I mean by that, is that we all have different paths on how we achieve our goals. I'm 33... which isn't old, but I have been around the biz a while now. I am a terrible waiter, so the idea of survival jobs was becoming a non-option for me. I am, however, really passionate about education. So I took the next step; teaching. To my greatest surprise, leaving NY has only opened doors for me in ways I never thought possible. I got my undergrad in 2006 from Syracuse, and have been working my ass off since. I never lost faith, but I did begin to evaluate what I measured success and happiness to be. Thats been the biggest surprise, my perspective changing for the best. 

What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway? I am most looking forward to seeing whats next. I would of course love a career on Broadway, but I also want to be your professor that simply loves helping you achieve your goals. I get a rush of excitement whenever I turn the corner on 52nd street and see the marquee... so the show queen in me absolutely exists. But I am just mainly happy for the moment. I'm very lucky and I just love what we do... so much. 

Listen to our podcast episode on Broadway Debuts here.

 

When "Musical Theatre" Actors Do Straight Plays

The Ensemblist

by Mo Brady

What happens when you let musical theatre actors do straight plays?

Good things, it turns out.

This week, I got the chance to see The Play That Goes Wrong on Broadway. This was my first time at the show, having missed it during its preview period and the season leading up to the Tonys. I knew going into the theatre that much of the original cast was from the U.K., and that much of that original cast had been replaced by American actors just weeks ago.

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What I didn’t know going into the theatre was how many of these replacement actors have musical theatre pedigrees. Mark Evans, the show-within-show’s director, spent years touring the country as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon before taking a recent turn as Bert in Mary Poppins at Paper Mill Playhouse. Another cast member, Clifton Duncan, played the Balladeer in last summer’s Encores! production of Assassins. Preston Truman Boyd, one of the show’s understudies, is a frequent hoofer in Broadway musicals.

Of course, this is not the first time that actors have crossed between musicals and non-musicals on Broadway. Celia Keenan-Bolger comes to mind, as does Katie Finneran, Nathan Lane and numerous other theatre luminaries. But more often than not, it’s a privilege given to stars and principal actors, not to people in more minor roles.

What is the reason for that? Although it’s obviously not a black-and-white issue, I have some ideas as to why. First and foremost, there are *so many actors* in New York City. Every year, more and more fresh faced graduates of BFA programs come to the Big Apple to pursue their dreams of making it on Broadway. One of the easiest ways for “the business” to figure out “who you are” is by putting actors into metaphorical boxes: dancer, singer, character actor, belter, etc. Many performers embrace being put into these boxes, not only because it can increase their likelihood of getting called in to audition for roles but because it allows them to focus on strengthening their skills in specific areas.

Christopher Gurr

Christopher Gurr

However, these boxes are not always fulfilling to artists. Some people - most people - can do more than one thing well. Some women can both belt and sing coloratura soprano. Some dancers are also incredible comics. The list of examples is endless.

A couple of years ago, The Ensemblist produced a podcast episode called “Ensemblists in Plays,” in which we featured a trio of actors who have done both musicals and straight plays on Broadway: Nick Cearley, Christopher Gurr and Leah Hofmann. One of the reasons these performers pursue jobs in both musical theatre and straight plays is that they’re good at both. Each has unique skills and talents than help them succeed onstage, no matter what the style of the show is.

This kind of versatility can be seen nightly in Cats at the Neil Simon Theatre, where Gurr expertly takes on the dual roles of Bustopher Jones and Gus the Theatre Cat. His musicality combined with his incredibly humanity allow him to bring gravitas to roles that could easily be played as “silly.” His performances in Cats are truly a masterclass in how to bring truth to the circumstances of any character. Even feline ones.

Akron Watson

Akron Watson

Back at The Play That Goes Wrong, my favorite performance was Akron Watson as Trevor the stage manager. Two seasons ago, he made his Broadway debut in the ensemble of the profound Broadway revival of The Color Purple. Yet, in The Play That Goes Wrong, Watson plays an entirely different character, finding a perfect balance of genuine aloofness and over-the-top ridiculousness. In every one of his comic turns, you could sense a genuine warmth towards him from the audience. I found myself following Trevor’s story, even in times when he was silent, just to see how he would react next the play’s events.

Just as I hope diversity of race, gender and size continue to permeate Broadway casts, I hope that this cross-pollination between “musical theatre actors” and “straight play actors” continues as well. This diversity of skill sets can only provide audience with a more realistic reflection of society on stage.

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

 

 

 

 

5 Debut Questions - Meet Joshua Burrage

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome Cats ensemblist Joshua Burrage to Broadway. Learn about his journey to the Great White Way:

Joshua Burrage

Joshua Burrage

What's your name and hometown? Joshua Burrage, Westfield, MA

What is your role/track in your Broadway debut?  I'm a swing in Cats, covering 6 tracks. Plato/Macavity, Coricopat, Pouncival, Carbuckety, Tumblebrutus, and Alonzo. 

How did you find out you had booked the part? I was actually on vacation with my family when they called me in for the swing track. It's a show I've always been inspired by and wanted to do, so I really didn't want to miss out! My amazing parents got me to NYC from Maine two days later where we learned a few dances. I was called back in the following week to learn some more dances that we would perform for Andy later in the week. On the Thursday of that week, we danced for Andy (Blankenbuehler, choreographer of Cats). At that time, I had been teaching a dance camp back at home for the week so I went back home that night so I could teach the next day. The next day (Friday), I got a call from my agents that I booked it! I was so happy to be with my family when I got the news. They also told me I was starting the next day at 10 am so I had to pack up all my stuff and head back to NYC :)

What’s been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show? The most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show has probably been how helpful and supportive everyone has been. I had never joined a cast before, so I didn't know how much I would have to learn on my own or figure out by myself. But everyone has been so incredibly kind and made me feel so prepared to be onstage performing the show! I feel grateful for that!

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

What I am looking forward to most about my experience on Broadway is probably getting to work with such a talented, special cast and becoming familiar with each cat I will get to play. With being a swing, I get to perform a variety of characters which will be fun and definitely challenging. I'm super excited that I get to be apart of a show that's inspired me forever!

Joshua Burrage (with Emily Tate) in Cats

Joshua Burrage (with Emily Tate) in Cats

Listen to our podcast episode on Broadway Debuts here.

"There Are Times When The Stars Align."

The Ensemblist

As part of our Broadway at Every Stage season, we asked Broadway actors in their 20s to share how they define success at this point in their careers. First, we hear from Miss Saigon ensemblist Emily Bautista, who makes her Broadway debut in the production.

Emily Bautista

Emily Bautista

Broadway was a dream I was preparing to lay to rest. Throughout every actor’s career, a flood of self-doubt washes in and uses all its power to take you down. Rejection after rejection convinces you that you're not good enough. People will tell you to study other subjects, try a new field, and leave this dream behind. I admit it; I began to fall for it.  

I spent my senior year like most kids. College never left my mind. Where will I go? How will we pay for it? Who will accept me? All these questions were circling my mind 24/7, except for one: What will I study? I had studied theater all throughout high school, and I was sure I would spend the next four years living, eating, and breathing theater in a BFA musical theater program. So I got to work visiting colleges, sending in applications, working with teachers to put together the best audition package. Eight applications sent, eight prescreens filmed… seven rejection letters received. Every month I’d check the mail, and every month it was another letter telling me this wasn’t my calling, at least that’s what I heard. I started to believe seven colleges telling me “no” was a sign that I shouldn't be doing theater professionally, maybe not at all. That’s when I decided to go to Ithaca College for a B.A. in Theater Studies with the intent to explore other majors and career choices.  

In the first few months of school, I weaned myself off of performing, enrolling myself into new courses and distancing myself from anything theater-related. Maybe I need a clean slate, I thought. So from journalism to philosophy, to communications, management, and design, I struggled to find a major that would fill the hole where theater had been all my life. On top of that, I began to go crazy from not being able to sing whenever I felt like bursting into song, being surrounded by normal people who tend not to sing about everythingIt felt like I was being forced to listen to Lady Gaga, but wasn't allowed to sing along. A couple months into school, I cracked and I began to rent out studios just so I could spend a half hour belting everything from West Side Story to The Last Five Years. Every time I left a show, even a comedy, I was so sad.  I began to feel unsure of whether or not I made the right decision to leave theater behind. As first semester came to a close, I still struggled with my passion for theater and my self-doubt. I needed a sign to tell me whether I should leave it behind or to pursue it. That’s exactly what Saigon was.  

A little over a year prior, as I dealt with all the rejection letters, my dad had found an email relating to the Miss Saigon American Dream company and, without telling me, messaged them.  He vouched for my interest in theater and asked the possibility of being seen if they ever were to hold auditions. He believed in me when I didn’t. A year later, I received an email from Tara Rubin Casting Agency asking me for a headshot and resume, so I sent them in. A couple months passed, and, to my surprise, they emailed me again, setting up an appointment for January 25, 2016.  From then on, I was back and forth on a five-and-a-half hour bus ride from Ithaca, NY to New York City. I had never been so excited to sit on a bus for that long.  

In August of that year, I booked the show. I can’t even begin to explain the emotions I felt. I remember getting the email while I was on FaceTime with my boyfriend. My roommate was in the shower (it’s an important detail). I was speechless. I felt like if I said anything, the email would disappear. Finally, after about a minute, I told my boyfriend that they offered me the Kim Understudy/Female Ensemble and we both got so excited. I couldn't calm down; I ran into the bathroom where my roommate was showering, told her the news, and she got so excited that she gave me the biggest soapiest hug (while still in the shower). Pretty sure I had shampoo in my ear. Then I called my parents. Telling them was one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve ever felt; they were so proud.  

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Saigon has been a whirlwind; my whole life has changed. I’ve never felt more challenged or accomplished. I am forced to face my fears and doubts everyday. As an actor, I have grown in ways I had only dreamed of, and as a person, I have never felt more grounded. I still have my days when that self doubt creeps its way back in, but I talk to my friends in the business and they remind me they’ve all been there. I learn so much from this cast about myself, about theater, and I know there is still so much more to learn and achieve. I’m lucky to be apart of a cast that supports and teaches one another like this one. It’s humbling to be a part of something so special. They truly have become my second family.  

This year I turn 20, and one question I constantly get asked is, “Are you going back to school?” I reply, “No, not for a while.” I’ve been afforded an opportunity most people don’t get, especially at this age, and I want to take full advantage.  So for right now I’m going to keep auditioning, taking classes, and learning here in the city, whether that be through my peers, working on this show, or future projects. School will always be there, and maybe I will go back eventually, but when I do, it will be on my own time and with my own money.

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It’s a constant joke among people who come see me in the show that I should go to all the schools that rejected me and show them what I am doing now, but honestly, I’m not angry I got rejected. It was’t meant to be. I know a lot of getting this show was luck and timing, but I truly believe this is where I was meant to end up. I am more upset with myself for letting the rejection and self-doubt flood my mind. My family and friends helped me get back on my feet when I lost sight of what could be. I am so fortunate to have people who believe in me when I struggle to have faith in myself. 

I don’t know what’s going to happen after the show closes. I’ve never been good at that, not knowing what’s to come. I’ve spent so much time worrying about the future when really I should be enjoying every moment of the present. The past two years have taught me to let go. I’ve learned you don't always know where life is going to lead you. There’s times when you’ll be faced with challenges and opportunities you never would have expected and sometimes, when the stars align, you might just be faced with an opportunity you only thought possible in your dreams.

 

5 Debut Questions - Meet Lyrica Woodruff

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome Anastasia ensemblist Lyrica Woodruff to Broadway. Learn about her journey to the Great White Way:

Lyrica Woodruff

Lyrica Woodruff

What's your name and hometown? Lyrica Woodruff, from Oak Park, California. I moved here to NYC when I was 14 after getting a scholarship to the School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center (New York City Ballet's school). 

What is your role/track in your Broadway debut?  My debut role/track in Anastasia is Olga Romanov and "Odette" in our second act mini "Swan Lake". It's my favorite part, because I get to dance one of dream ballet roles since I was a kid. I also have two amazing partners who make it so much fun to perform every night. 

How did you find out you had booked the part? I found out I had booked the part on my way to a voice lesson on my phone from my agent. It also happened to be my mom's birthday that day, so it made it extra special all around. (: 

What’s been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show? I guess the most surprising thing about preparing for the show is how fast they taught me the track. We finished it in two days and then spent the next week or so just cleaning up little things here and there for blocking and partnering! Not to mention that everyone who is a part of the show are some of the most wonderful and kind people you'll ever meet. They make you look forward to going to work every day.

What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway? What I'm looking forward to most is getting the chance to perform every night and finding a new part of the story/role to uncover. As an artist you always want to be growing, and I always feel that the more time you get to do a role, the more you get to discover and develop it. 

Lyrica Woodruff in Anastasia

Lyrica Woodruff in Anastasia

"It Brings Us Joy."

Mo Brady

Friend of the podcast and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ensemblist Elliott Mattox shares the creation of his new podcast Equity One.

Elliott Mattox (right, with Caleb Dicke)

Elliott Mattox (right, with Caleb Dicke)

My best friend and college roommate (all four years, if you can believe it), Caleb Dicke, and I have always talked about doing something creative together. Many a web series idea came and fizzled over the years. Then this year, my boyfriend was witness to one of our Skype conversations while we were both working. We joked and laughed and had our usually back and forth. We left him laughing and smiling, and he suggested that we should have a podcast.

For some reason, that idea stuck. We kept thinking about it and bringing it up. The perfect name came our way for what we wanted to share: two friends catching up and laughing over a drink. Equity One was born! But we hadn’t taken the first step. It was still just an idea.

Then, this summer, I experienced some loss in my family. Being away from home was both a blessing and a difficulty. As happy and grateful as I am to be working on a show I love, it was difficult to mourn and deal with loss so far away from home. 

That’s what lit the fire to get Equity One going.

Caleb Dicke and Elliott Mattox in college

Caleb Dicke and Elliott Mattox in college

I purchased a microphone, Caleb returned from a summer gig, and we scheduled our first recording. We had no idea what we were doing, but we decided to go for it and learn from there.

Now, six episodes later, we have over 1,700 downloads of our podcast and listens in over 15 countries. We have amazing guests on the show that are so interesting and listeners that are interacting with us. Its become more than we ever could have imagined, even at its beginning stage.

As amazing as it is that anyone would care to listen to my friend and I gab over a cocktail, we would be doing it if only our moms were listening. We love talking to people in theatre that we find interesting. We wanted to do something on our own that we enjoyed doing, no matter the result! We do it because we enjoy it. It brings us joy. The fact that other people enjoy it as well is icing on our fulfillment cake.

And it’s delicious.

Caleb Dicke and Elliott Mattox

Caleb Dicke and Elliott Mattox

"This Experience was Out Of This World."

The Ensemblist

Friend of the podcast Kamille Upshaw (Mean Girls) reflects on spending two years in the company of Broadway's Hamilton: An American Musical. 

Kamille Upshaw

Kamille Upshaw

Let me just start by saying that this experience was OUT OF THIS WORLD! Not only did I get to make my Broadway debut in Hamilton: An American Musical, I also got to meet the most FAMOUS people. All of them, literally all of them, were so sweet and in such awe of what we did on that Richard Rodgers stage. Lets just say I had two years of never ending parties and lots of fun. 

Now lets get to the good stuff! I’ve had the pleasure of being with Hamilton for two years but have recently ended my journey with them.  Although I’m starting a new adventure I absorbed so much knowledge but I’d say one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is how to reinvent my show. This means every time I hit that Richard Rodgers stage I started the show as if I had never done it before. With an open mind and an even bigger heart, I always felt so fulfilled. This is a concept that was first presented to me in my years at Juilliard but being a first time swing at Hamilton, I learned that this was going to be a major key in how I survive the swing world. The fun part about being a swing was that I got to be FIVE different people. I got to see and hear things from all angles of the stage. Although it made my job terrifying, it was extremely exciting. I wouldn’t have changed my Hamilton experience if I could. Now I have such a great appreciation for swings and how much work they do to keep a show running. 

Kamille Upshaw (left, with Karla Puno Garcia)

Kamille Upshaw (left, with Karla Puno Garcia)

Learn more about Hamilton and Swings on our podcast.

"Seeing the Marquee Go Up Was Unreal!"

The Ensemblist

Last week, the marquee for the Broadway-bound musical Mean Girls went up at the August Wilson Theatre. We wanted to hear from three actors making their Broadway debuts in the show what it was like to see the marquee for the first time.

Stephanie Bissonnette in front of the August Wilson Theatre

Stephanie Bissonnette in front of the August Wilson Theatre

"On Friday September 29, the rehearsal room was buzzing that the Marquee for Mean Girls was on display! As soon as we were dismissed for lunch I quickly scurried over to the August Wilson. As I rounded the corner of 52nd Street and I saw our new home covered in pink and my heart beat accelerated through the roof. 

There were so many times in my career where this moment felt so far away. Unattainable. Impossible even... a never ending line of ECCs with little hope of a door opening soon. However when I stood under my Broadway Debut marquee for the first time I realized it was all worth it. I felt grateful for every success AND struggle that led me to this show. Looking at the Mean Girls marquee made me finally realize that dreams can come true and hard work pays off. I'll never forget that day! I can't wait to dance on that stage every night."

-Stephanie Bissonnette

Riza Takahashi in front of the August Wilson Theatre

Riza Takahashi in front of the August Wilson Theatre

"When I saw the marquee for the first time…oh gosh, lots of feelings. Any words aren’t going to be enough to describe how I felt seeing the theatre with the huge bright pink marquee knowing I’ll be making my Broadway debut in 2018. Just so surreal. 

While I was standing in front of the theatre, all I could think about was that I wanted to give a 16 year old Riza a pat on her back for deciding to leave Japan to pursue her dream even though it seemed impossible back then. When I left Japan 10 years ago, I had no idea how to communicate in English let alone do a musical in English. Fast forward to now, I'm standing in front of the Mean Girls marquee trying to process the fact I'll be performing on Broadway soon… I am just speechless. Life is crazy. In a real good way. I’m just so incredibly grateful for everything and everyone and I can’t wait to keep doing what I love!"

- Riza Takahashi

“Seeing the marquee go up was UNREAL! To me, this all still feels like a dream. At the present moment, I’m just focused on showing up to rehearsal every day, working hard, and producing the best work I know how to, but when I really think about it all, I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s still real. The marquee was a moment of 'Wow! This is really happening! This is REALITY!' I couldn’t be more astounded and grateful that this is all coming to fruition and that this is the show that I get to make my Broadway debut in!!!”

- Devon Hadsell

Cast members of Mean Girls in front of the August Wilson Theatre

Cast members of Mean Girls in front of the August Wilson Theatre

5 Debut Questions - Meet Salisha Thomas

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome Beautiful: the Carole King Musical ensemblist Salisha Thomas to Broadway. Learn about her journey to the Great White Way:

Salisha Thomas

Salisha Thomas

What's your name and hometown? Salisha Thomas / Fresno, CA

What is your role/track in your Broadway debut? I'm playing Lucille the Secretary and lead Shirelle singing "Will You Still Love Me."

How did you find out you had booked the part? My agent TEXTED me! (We laughed about it later.) I was in a tech rehearsal for Trevor the Musical and there was no service in the building but my messages were coming through (hence the text). The good news is that the director (Marc Bruni) and choreographer (Josh Prince) for Beautiful are the same for Trevor the Musical. They came over and gave me the biggest hug during our rehearsal after I'd found out. My heart just exploded!

What’s been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show? I get two days of rehearsal before going in. AND I CAN'T WAIT. I did the same track in the First National Tour of Beautiful, so it won't be totally foreign but still very different! Different people, different backstage layout, a slightly different set, different traffic patterns, etc. I hope I fit in. 

What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway! Getting this job as I was planning on moving back to New York and just being unemployed and getting reacclimated to the city. But this is way better! I finally get to be a part of this ground shaking legacy. And I can't wait to join the bowling league!

Salisha Thomas in Beautiful: the Carole King Musical

Salisha Thomas in Beautiful: the Carole King Musical

Listen to our podcast episode on Broadway Debuts here.

5 Debut Questions - Meet Jacob Haren

The Ensemblist

Today on our blog, we welcome The Book of Mormon ensemblist Jacob Haren to Broadway. Learn about his journey to the Great White Way:

Jacob Haren (photo credit: Tom Kordenbrock)

Jacob Haren (photo credit: Tom Kordenbrock)

What's your name and hometown? Jacob Haren / San Diego, CA

What is your role/track in your Broadway debut? I am the Elder White track! In the opening number, “Hello,” he speaks Spanish only to be sent to France in the very next number… ha! He also has fun cameos like a lovely orange jumpsuit wearing villain in Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.

How did you find out you had booked the part? I was in California driving to a friends to make an audition tape for another show, when my agent called me and told me that I’d be making my Broadway debut!

What’s been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show? Since I did The Book of Mormon tour for almost two years, I was actually surprised at how different a lot of things were. It’s sort of like scrambled eggs in my brain trying to undo what I had been doing. Sometimes it’s little things like the way the actual Book of Mormon is held in your hand, and then other things like reversing the choreography completely cause I was on the other side! But it’s been a blast. 

What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway! Getting this job has been my first official move to NYC! So I’m most looking forward to finally becoming a New Yorker and experiencing the city, especially spending time with my sister’s family including my two nieces and nephew. But being a newcomer, I’m excited to learn about all of the experiences that come with being in a Broadway show that I don’t even know about yet!

Jacob Haren in The Book of Mormon

Jacob Haren in The Book of Mormon

Listen to our podcast episode on Broadway Debuts here.

"My Story Begins with Natasha."

Mo Brady

Broadway Babysitters has created an album through their sister company, Broadway Lullabies, Non-Profit. Proceeds from the album will go to benefit TDF Autism Initiative, Ramapo for Children and Broadway Babysitter's audition drop-off center.  We asked Broadway Babysitters and podcast guest Vasthy Mompoint (SpongeBob SquarePants) why she felt compelled to create the album.

Vasthy Mompoint

Vasthy Mompoint

I created Broadway Lullabies to support causes that mean the most to me.

With that, my story begins with Natasha.

Natasha was a summer babysitting job that turned into one of the most important relationships I have ever had. 18 years later, I am still with her. Working with her has inspired me to dedicate my life to not only helping children on the spectrum but to help the parents of those on the spectrum have an easier life. 

Through her, I have learned patience. Through the parents, I have learned true love and both have made me incredibly humble and grateful for the life I have. I couldn't think of a better person to dedicate this album to then my Natasha. 

Two of the organizations we are giving to are some my favorite organizations that support this cause.

TDF Autism Initiative is a program that allows Broadway Shows to strip down costumes, lights, and effects to make Broadway Shows Autism Friendly. In 2011, The Lion King was the first show to participate, and shows such as Mary Poppins, Spider-Man, Wicked, Matilda, The Phantom of the Opera and Aladdin have joined the rank of providing children and their families with a friendly, supportive environment for families and friends with children or adults who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensitivity issues. The productions reduce jarring sounds or strobe lights focused into the audience. In the lobby, they provide quiet activity areas that are staffed with autism specialists just in case the child has to leave their seats during the performance. TDF even produced a video social narrative that describes how best to navigate Times Square and a downloadable social narrative with pictures of the theatres and productions for the families before the performance. I just think they are the coolest. 

We are also donating to Ramapo for Children, a summer camp for children with special needs located in Rhinebeck NY. I have been there for the past 2 summers and it is a beautiful/special place. Our funds will help their arts programs and help provide scholarships to children who can not afford to attend. We would also like to get Artists out to the Camp and teach improv, dance, singing and more! 

The other cause that means a lot to me is helping artists who are struggling with childcare. We will be using the proceeds from this album to help to qualify unemployed artists with child care. We also hope to funds our Audition drop-off center. Auditions are one of the biggest burdens for Artist Parents. We will be able to provide a consistent space, where parents will be able to drop their little ones with us while they head to auditions or class! Broadway Babysitters will be able to staff the Center with qualified Child Caregivers in a safe environment while they book away! 

I believe artists make amazing parents. Unfortunately, most cannot afford to have them. We hope to help.

Listen to the Broadway Lullabies album on CDBaby, iTunes and Spotify.

FIVE BROADWAY LEAD ROLES THAT ARE ALSO ENSEMBLISTS

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

On this list, you won't see roles that allow actors to languish in their dressing rooms with offstage breaks long enough to watch TV shows. While each of these roles give actors ample chance to shine in the spotlight, they also ask performers to be part of a team vocally and physically.

Donna McKechnie as Cassie in A Chorus Line

Donna McKechnie as Cassie in A Chorus Line

Cassie (A Chorus Line)

Right from the very start, Cassie tells us she's a dancer (and that a dancer dances). She may get dinged by Zach for popping the head and other moments of star quality, but Cassie’s goal is to be a part of the chorus line. Just as the other fifteen characters auditioning for the unnamed show in A Chorus Line, actors playing Cassie spend most of the performance onstage. Together, they provide commentary on the characters’ stories, backups for the vocals and dance behind them in their solos. From singing with Morales about “What She Did For Love” to supporting Richie’s breakout moment in “Hello 12, Hello 13, Hello Love,” Cassie and the rest of the onstage characters work both a ensemblists and as principals.

 

LaChanze as Ti Moune in Once on this Island

LaChanze as Ti Moune in Once on this Island

Ti Moune (Once on this Island)

All of the actors on this show are storytellers, working together to take the audience on a journey. While the actor playing Ti Moune is highlighted as the audience’s surrogate, her energy is essential to the unified journey of the cast. From creating the physical space of the show to providing the aural environment for the audience, all of the actors, including Ti Moune, have a hand in telling the story.

 

 

John Gallagher Jr. as Johnny in American Idiot

John Gallagher Jr. as Johnny in American Idiot

 

Johnny (American Idiot)

A thrilling, exhausting role in a thrilling exhausting show. Johnny spend the majority of the show on stage, whether it be starting off the high-energy show who's opening number, toppling down a tower as it becomes a bus to take him away from Jingletown or or excitedly becoming a disciple of St. Jimmy. This high-octane show warily has a moment of respite for any of its performers, especially for the actor playing Johnny.

Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray

Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray

 

 

Tracy Turnblad (Hairspray)

Tracy can do it all: she sings, she dances, she integrates TV shows. In auditioning for the musical’s Corny Collins show, she has to prove she can keep up with the tight harmonies and energetic moves of Hairspray’s ensemble. In doing so, she shows the audience she can move and shake as hard as an ensemblist - but also do it downstage center on a passerelle. If there is an ensemble number at the television studio, the record shop, or in a jail cell, Tracy is there and she's leading at all.

 

Patina Miller as Leading Player in Pippin

Patina Miller as Leading Player in Pippin

 

Leading Player (Pippin)

In this show, every actor other than the title role is a player. The Leading Player is just that, leading: dancing of the spoils of war in the Manson Trio and vocally praising the rise of things to come in “Morning Glow.” While, her (or his) presence allows the audience to focus on a specific antagonist, the entire company of players work together to steer Pippin on the right track.

 

 

 

Listen to our episode on ensemble musicals here.

"It Will Feel Like A New and Fresh Show."

The Ensemblist

Friend of the podcast Max Chernin (Sunday in the Park with George) shares the surprises of rejoining the original creative team of Broadway's Bright Star for their production at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre.

Max Chernin

Max Chernin

This will be the fourth time I've staged/re-staged Bright Star, and it's certainly a mind-fuck. We're lucky to still be working in the warm, generous room that our original creatives-- Josh Rhodes, Rob Berman and Walter Bobbie-- have always maintained.

The hambone in "Whoa, Mama" caught me by surprise. I was SO sure I had it down, but there were little things that I blanked out on. I "went to the white room" as some may say.

I was surprised at how nuanced some of our set moves are. Counts, numbers and spikes provide a map, but we have a lot of other variables... as you'd imagine when there is a giant spinning house on stage.

Josh, along with Lee Wilkins and dance captain Richard Gatta, are staging rockstars. Their charts and notes are meticulous and have made the process of putting new people (and old people who can't remember anything... ME) really painless. We have a few new moments we've refined and I think it will feel like a new and fresh show when we open here in LA. 

West Coast, come check us out!

Playing Hurt

Jackson Cline

Frequent blogger Kendal Hartse (CinderellaOn a Clear Day You Can See Forever) discusses the importance of proper healing and support when recovering from dance-related injuries.


Kendal Hartse

Kendal Hartse

When I was on the national tour of Cats, I sustained what was nearly a career-ending injury. I was thrilled to be playing Demeter on the road straight out of college. I took my job even a little too seriously, never going out after performances and obsessing over keeping my body safe. I was 21, in amazing shape, and for five months I was able to sustain eight shows a week even through a tour that was all split-weeks (a full eight-show week that spreads time over two or more cities) and one-nighters (going to a new city for one show). Sometimes we'd spend hours on the bus in the mornings and afternoons and pull directly into a theater to do a show in the evening. But five months into the contract, a complicated lift I did every night went horribly wrong.

My usual partner was out, so we had a lift call with the dance captain before the show. Both my new partner and I struggled to perfect the complex sequence where he was required to throw me backward and to catch the small of my back on his shoulder. I then had to swing down into his arms where another dancer grabbed my legs and a third dancer moved underneath my unsupported torso to carry me offstage in a full press, all the way over his head.

I remember with perfect clarity jumping as hard as I could while my partner threw as hard as he could so we wouldn't come up short. This time, we overshot it. I ended up with my legs over his shoulder, my back bending, unsupported, at an extreme angle. Then I bounced. Then I twisted. I knew something was wrong right away, but adrenaline kicked in and I was determined to finish the show. It seemed okay until the finale when I spun to stand on one leg and it buckled underneath me, unable to support my weight. Limping, I called out of the second show and waited to see a doctor in NYC since we were heading into a layoff. And thank god we were.

I brushed it off at first. I was right out of my BFA program, and I wanted to appear strong and professional. I was optimistic and lighthearted about how quickly I was sure to recover. But later, I learned that this injury was potentially catastrophic. My SI joint was badly locked, I had damaged all of the ligaments connecting my spine and pelvis, and worst of all, I had fractured my spine. It was bad. I didn't know how bad until the treatments my doctor suggested didn't work, the physical therapist he had working with me pushed me to do exercises I was in no way ready for, and an idiotic chiropractor gave my broken spine an adjustment. Thanks to poor medical treatment and advice, what I thought was going to be three weeks off from the show turned into three months, then the tour closed, and it would be six months before I could tie my shoes without pain and a full calendar year with physical therapy three times a week before I could take a basic ballet barre. I didn't think I'd ever dance again. And I felt completely alone.

Something we don't talk about enough is the support dancers need when they have been injured. If they're lucky, they have an understanding company, stage managers, and colleagues who get that the thing the injured dancer wants more than anything in the world is to come back to work and start dancing again. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In mine, I had no union support and had to hire an attorney to represent me to Workers' Compensation. Having just been back on a national tour for the first time since my injury this past year, the contrast between a company with AEA protections and rules and a non-Equity tour is night and day. The debates about the union and tour are not just about wages, but about making sure that actors, singers, and dancers' future careers are protected from these kinds of devastating accidents that can happen in a flash. In dealing with workers' comp while non-union, a series of anonymous claim adjusters handed me off to new adjusters, the longer my injury took to heal. In an attempt to save their company money, they tried to tell me that I couldn't possibly be that hurt. I had to take a bus at 4am to Baltimore to see a quack doctor paid by the insurance company or I would be denied treatment. He measured my calves, asked me to stand on my toes, and filed a report that said I was fine when my spine was literally still fractured and I couldn't bend forward to put on pants. To add further insult to injury, a small group of my cast mates blatantly accused me of lying about my injury to get out of my contract. It was devastating.

This is not new or rare. I have heard countless times the same trope of "it can't be that bad" when a cast member is out of a show with an injury for an extended period of time. I cannot stress enough just how damaging this is. Already feeling isolated by being unable to do the thing they love most, an injured dancer needs to be given permission to take the time to heal at their own pace. To make sure they return to work when they and ONLY they feel comfortable and confident. This will look different for each individual and our job as fellow artists and compassionate people is to give that time.

America as a whole has a problem with a "workaholic" complex. It's weak to call in sick. It's weak to take time off. It's weak to rest when your body or brain need a break. This is damaging in all vocations, but wildly so for an actor or dancer. Being encouraged not to miss shows means actors show up sick, thinking they can "push through" and then that sickness slowly spreads through the cast taking people out. I'm of the firm belief that actors should be encouraged by management to STAY HOME when they're obviously contagious. On that note, management should also never push an injured performer to go on. More than once in my career, I have tried to call out of a show only to be pressured to come in anyway. Because of the severity of the injury I sustained on Cats, I am always firm when I call out, but many younger or less experienced dancers are persuaded and end up endangering themselves and their partners.

Saying no is hard. We all want to be reliable and resilient, someone who can be counted on to deliver. To that end, when you show up to work, show up. If I am at work, I am always giving 100%. Part of what contributes to the myth of "fake injuries" or people not really being sick are the small number of individuals who take advantage of being able to call out or mark when they don't have to. Phoning it in can be seriously damaging to a company.

Know your body and own it. Athletes learn to "play hurt." You won't always be at your physical peak, you can't possibly be at your physical peak every performance 8 shows a week, but there's a difference between "playing hurt" and hurting yourself. Learn your limits. Learn to pace yourself. Learn what you can get away with in your off time. Don't take advantage of your company or put anyone in danger. Safety and health always have to come first. I will call out of a show rather than go on in a situation where I don't feel safe.

Prevention is more than half the battle. While the Broadway and touring communities have access to excellent doctors and physical therapists, non-union dancers and regional companies don't always have the resources for physical therapy or the money for adequate understudies and covers. This is a huge concern when it comes to performers pushing themselves to dance hurt. They have no way of recovering and no one to step in for them if they need time to heal. I would love for there to be more discussions about injury prevention in training programs, as well as more union resources for dancers dealing with injury.

One resource that is sorely lacking is any information on mental health and injury. The isolation and fear a dancer faces when they are forced to take time off from performing or leave a show to heal a serious injury can be crippling. As I previously mentioned, a lack of support or belief in the severity of the injury is part of this problem. Another huge aspect is the fear of re-injury. The mental blocks I had surrounding my injury took even longer to heal than the physical ones. It took years before I was able to dance, partner, and physically perform at my peak once again, and thankfully I was given the opportunity to do so and prove to myself that I could. But it took almost ten years after my initial injury that I finally started to see a mental health professional to unpack some of the damaging and traumatic mental attitudes that were wrought by my injury and the struggle I went through in dealing with it. The incredible healing I have been able to do through this therapy has helped me in my daily life as well as when I'm dancing. Physical therapy and mental therapy should go hand in hand.

I hope that we can continue to have discussions about keeping dancers safe and healthy both mentally and physically. I think it starts with trusting each other and listening when someone tells you they are hurt. Believe a dancer who says they need time to heal. Support dancers who need to call out and trust that they need it or wouldn't be doing it. Most importantly, it starts with dancers valuing their physical and mental health enough to slow down, practice self-care, and keep our bodies healthy enough to have long, thriving careers. 

"It's Just How I Wanted To Draw Them."

Mo Brady

Today on the blog, Broadway fan and artist Kendylll Romine gives us an inside look at some of her favorite creations in her Ladies of Theatre series.

Kendylll Romine

Kendylll Romine

I spent 2016 drawing a different female musical theatre character every day. Sometimes I would draw them as they looked in a certain production, but most of the time I stuck to my own interpretation of how I wanted that character to look that day. For certain ladies, that meant drawing them differently than how they looked in the original version. Folks would ask me why I drew a character a certain way, but mostly the answer was, “It's just how I wanted to draw them."

Despite the fact that theatre is always evolving and changing– and one production of a show can be vastly different from the last– I've found that the first production most people see is the standard of how all other productions should look or be performed in their minds. In the first show I ever performed in, playing an orphan in Annie, I was so confused as to why our Grace Farrell was played by a girl who was white; I was even more confused later when I saw the 1982 film and again, Grace was white. Prior to doing the show, my only point of reference was the 1999 TV movie, where Grace was played by Audra McDonald. I had automatically assumed the character was written as being black, despite the fact that nowhere is it mentioned in the script what ethnicity the character is. When I realized this, it quickly put my perspective in check: why couldn't a character be played by any ethnicity, as long as ethnicity was not an integral part of the character's narrative?

tumblr_oiio3nOV8J1rtkqclo1_1280.jpg

So often we see the original Broadway or movie version of a character, and because that's the only version we've seen, in our minds that is the only version that exists. Part of doing Ladies of Theatre was exploring different ways well-known characters could look, sometimes intentionally seeing past my own perceptions of them to try and see something new. I found it so reassuring when many people responded positively, saying their perceptions were changed as well. Many talked about how they were grateful for an interpretation that represented their own background and helped them see themselves in a role they might not have before. While Broadway productions and live TV events certainly reach a wider audience, I think it's important as well for regional theaters and fan artists like myself to think beyond the typical perceptions of roles and work harder at being open to different versions of characters. The more places we can find diverse representation, the more it can actually become the norm rather than the exception.

"I'm Still Gagged By It All."

The Ensemblist

Podcast guest Stephen Carrasco recently got to perform a role he understudies in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for many of his closest family and friends. He shares what the experience was like with us today.

Stephen Carrasco

Stephen Carrasco

After I get the egotistical stuff out of the way, I’ll tell you a quick story. It doesn’t have much of a point though, so reader beware. Maybe it does. Who knows...

My ten plus years in show business have been incredible. I’ve performed in six Broadway Shows, numerous national tours, and on TV. I’ve been in all kinds of shows. Some good ones, and some not so good ones. I’ve experienced about 90% of what a career in NY Theater has to offer. Some good things,  and some not so good things. There isn’t much that can shock me anymore. But no matter how jaded I get, one thing still remains the same: I get to head to a theater on Broadway every night and do what I love more than anything in the world. That certainly doesn’t suck.

Stephen Carrasco (right, with Stephanie Gibson)

Stephen Carrasco (right, with Stephanie Gibson)

So here I am, 33 years old, swinging a show that hasn’t been super well-received by NYC critics, but that I couldn’t love more if I wanted to, and understudying two principal roles. Last week, my mom flew here from mid-Michigan to see me go on for one of those roles. My husband and best friends were there that night as well. As I waited in the wings for my first entrance, I was completely overcome with so many thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Nerves had taken over. Even after all these years, and all the times I’ve performed for hundreds of thousands of strangers, I’m a WRECK when my family is in the audience. My heart races, I start to sweat PROFUSELY before even lifting a finger, and anxiety consumes me as I picture myself screwing up in front of the people I love most.

Stephen Carrasco (back, with. Halli TOland, Kristin Piro and Amy Quanbeck - behind the camera!)

Stephen Carrasco (back, with. Halli TOland, Kristin Piro and Amy Quanbeck - behind the camera!)

But I didn’t screw up! At the end of the night, I said the lines and no one died. I even sang a song almost entirely by myself (to which I even remembered all the words!) and didn’t sound horrible. After the show, my mom was beaming backstage. She said (as all mothers do about their children) that I was SO good and she LOVED it. I alway think I’m completely mediocre, but she really seemed to like this performance. It was in that moment that I had to stop and FULLY take stock of what just occurred. How many parents can say they saw their children IN a Broadway show, LET ALONE saw them play a principal role with a song?! HOW IS THIS MY LIFE? Fifteen-year-old Stephen would be FREAKING OUT. If you had asked me when I was 15 if this would be my life, I would’ve said “Well, probably not, but that would be really cool.” AND THEN IT WAS MY LIFE. WTF?! How did this happen?! I say nothing surprises me,  but this felt unbelievably special, and a week later I’m still gagged by it all.

Sometimes life isn’t the greatest. But every now and then, if you look up from your phone and take stock of the moment, it’s really fucking cool.

Listen to Stephen on The Ensemblist here.