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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

"Let's Not Taint A Beautiful Tradition."

Mo Brady

 Kristen Martin

Kristen Martin

Cameo, a mobile app connecting celebrities and fans through personalized shoutouts, is growing more and more popular within the Broadway community. All in all I think the app is great when used with grace, honesty and humility.

However, there has been a bit of controversy in regards to the way that this app is being utilized.

Get paid to make a personalized vid for your fans? Awesome; it’s great way for actors to make some extra cash whilst making a fan’s day.

Make a video for a fan and forwarding all proceeds to charity? Amazing that is using your popularity for a good cause; that should be celebrated!

Actors announcing that they will no longer be visiting the stage door after shows but rather offer a paid video message to fans via the app? Not cool.

Visiting the stage door after performances has never been mandatory. But to me, using Cameo in place of the stage door is a clear manipulation to a system that has been in place for decades. I find this to be incredibly upsetting. But it seemed to just get worse from there.

I saw that social anxiety had been used as an excuse for offering paid videos over the optional stage door visit. I am a firm believer that it’s good to share and spread awareness about these conditions. But to use mental illness for self serving monetary gains is troubling.

I’ve also seen women’s rights being used to justify this unfair trade. Taking any social injustice out of context to gain sympathy for your morally disputable actions should not be rewarded. I mean, isn’t that a perfect example of privilege in itself? That is asserting the role of manipulator, not activist.

If you sit atop a thriving social platform, then you need to be aware of just how powerful your words and actions are.  I think that having such access to these growing fan bases has done a number on our egos. It’s become, who we like to think we are vs. who we really are.

Cameo just sheds some light on this bigger issue. That to me is what defines the stage door. It’s not self serving, and is not supposed to be. Let’s not taint a beautiful tradition that dates back far beyond most of our professional acting careers.  

 Kristen Martin in  Wicked

Kristen Martin in Wicked

A Lustful, Loving Journey

Mo Brady

Head Over Heels at the Hudson Theatre

by Mo Brady

A show doesn’t have to be deep if it’s fun. Think of The Producers or Something Rotten! Or, Head Over Heels, the new Broadway musical recently opened at the Hudson Theatre. Thriving on its fast pace and high energy, the result is one of the most cohesive, enjoyable musicals brought to Broadway this year.

 Justin Prescott

Justin Prescott

With the opening strains of “We Got The Beat,” the strong and sexy cast invites the audience to join them in their revelry. Spencer Liff’s choreography combines classical technique, voguing and rhythmics to create a movement language that is both playful and strong. This musical staging is a big part of what keeps the show fun without getting frothy.

Head Over Heels uses its ensemble heavily throughout the show’s proceedings, from crossovers to large production numbers. Throughout each, they bring a consistent energy that comments on the action while still being a part of it. Imagine the knowing guidance the ensemble of Pippin, placed into the madcap mythological adventures of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.

So often at The Ensemblist, we talk about the importance of a populating with fully fleshed-out characters. Last season’s Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants each benefit from ensembles that realistically populate the worlds of North Shore High School and Bikini Bottom (respectively, obviously.)

 Amber Ardolino

Amber Ardolino

The ensemble of Head Over Heels is not that specific in their characterizations. Yet, with such a small group (four men and four women on stage), they are no less important for populating the world of the show. Yes, they play occasionally small roles like owls and sheep, but those roles are merely costumes for these players to don. More often, they seem like fun actors you’d love to spend a night out dancing with.

With only eight ensemble members onstage, there is ample opportunity to find your favorite ones. My eye kept being drawn to Amber Ardolino and Justin Prescott, who combined flirtatiousness with ferocious precision of movement. But the same characteristics could be applied to each of the eight ensemblists. With such a bevy of fun personalities, you’d be hard pressed not to join them on their lustful, loving journey.

  Head Over Heels

Head Over Heels

Stage Dooring and Cameo

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

Cameo is a marketplace where users can receive personalized video shoutouts from their favorite people. With a quick digital payment by credit card or through apple pay, fans can request a video sent to them. These videos can then be downloaded from the app and shared across social media.

Cameo is a popular platform for talent in many industries, from Real Housewives to Instagram comedians. Some of the platform’s most famous users include Todrick Hall, Perez Hilton and Kathy Griffin. In recent months, Cameo has become popular with theatre performers as well. Broadway actors currently on Cameo include Laura Osnes, Barrett Wilbert Weed, Desi Oakley and Hailey Kilgore. The costs for these video shouts with Broadway talent range from $2-$40 per video.

I don’t see a problem with Cameo. The issue is not when an actor decides to charge for appearances - virtual or otherwise. Some actors may choose to donate the funds to charity, others may choose to keep the funds themselves. If there’s a market for personalized videos, anyone should be available to take advantage of them, whether they have 1,000 followers or 1,000,000.

The problem is when Cameo is billed as an alternative to stage dooring. This tradition of theatre actors meeting and greeting show attendees ebbs and wanes depending on the show and actors’ popularity. But at its core, this has always been a free experience.

I’ll admit that the stage door is not always a civil landscape. In recent years, exiting some Broadway theatres has turned into a war zone. Throngs of people will crowd around barricades looking for a selfie to post online. There are a few bad eggs out there who will harass actors or require more than is culturally appropriate.

Actors have the right to stage door or not stage door. That’s a decision they can make whenever they want, and they don’t have to provide an excuse for it. They have been employed by the production to come to work and perform in a show. They haven’t been employed to greet fans afterwards.

However, using Cameo as a paid alternative to stage dooring sets a dangerous precedent. When we deny audiences the chance to meet us for free - and instead charge them as an alternative - where does this line of thinking end?

"I Will Miss that Exploration of Imagination..."

Mo Brady

by James Brown III

Part of our 'Why I Left" Series

 James Brown III

James Brown III

It felt like the right time to leave Frozen, for a couple of reasons. The biggest reason was I was given another opportunity that I couldn’t pass up and an opportunity I am have been working towards for a few years. I was cast in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway in a principal contract (#KeepTheSecrets), which would mark my Broadway play debut as well as my principal debut on Broadway. It would have been hard to pass up a show that is arguably more successful and more magical than Frozen and a show that gives me an opportunity to focus more on acting.

I will always find a home at Disney, Tom Schumacher and the team have been so loyal and supportive of my career for the last 15 years, but my journey with Frozen felt complete. I had been with the show for over a year, I had an amazing time helping create the show and the role of “King Agnarr," but artistically it was time to continue to grow somewhere else. I’ve been singing and dancing on Broadway for 17 years now. I was cast in The Lion King in 2001 and since then it’s been a blessing of big Broadway musicals, and while I am happy to still be able to dance, I would like to leave that skill in my back pocket for now.

I am going to miss my little ones at the show, my daughters and my Queen. One of my favorite pre-show rituals on this show was “family time” at the places call on stage with Ann Sanders (My Queen), Zoe, Mattea, Mimi, and Ayla (Young Anna/Young Elsa), and Lauren Hirsch (Forfin/Child Wrangler). It started organically and became an important part to grounding myself in the show and with them before the show started. We started singing songs and creating bits that we did everyday, they are a funny royal family. But these little shared moments really made my time at Frozen special. It was so amazing to see those kids still doing kid stuff and not just growing up quickly because they were surrounded by adults. They continued to be creative and dream despite already being on Broadway living their dreams. For a month, every Saturday one of them would throw a huge wedding where they got married to life-size printouts of a celebrity’s head on a stick. They would decorate their dressing room, invite some of the cast with gorgeous handmade invitations, throw a celebration specific to each groom, and all while wearing individually designed couture wedding dresses. As the King and their Father, I got to give each bride away, just so ridiculous and so fun. It was so amazing and beautiful, I will definitely miss that exploration of imagination, take it with me as I start my new journey. I will also miss my older daughters Caissie Levy and Patti Murin, both of them are such shining examples of humble, talented, giving, loving human beings...true princesses in my eyes.

I am looking forward to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, obviously! This show is even more magical than I could have expected. It’s unbelievable, and I am so excited to join the Hogwarts Express. I’ve been so lucky in my career to be a part of literal “magical” shows and this one tops them all, it’s a phenomenon no doubt. I’m also excited to have Mondays and Tuesdays off, the end!

 James Brown III in  Frozen

James Brown III in Frozen

An Open Letter to the Future Leaders of Broadway

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

  Be More Chill

Be More Chill

Do you want to change the future of theatre? Here’s a piece of advice:

Excel at talking to old people.

Let me explain.

You are important. Right now, you are the trendsetters. Online, you have ignored Facebook and email to embrace Snapchat and Instagram, steering the future of social media. In the theatre, you have turned shows like Heathers and Be More Chill from cult favorites into viable commercial properties. You can’t be stopped. But your ascent can be assisted.

In just a few decades, you will be steering our beloved industry into the future. From writing shows to producing to theatrical management to directing, you’ll be the next set of voices creating Broadway phenomenons and winning Tony Awards. This passing of the torch is inevitable, as more old white guys retire from their positions of power, making way for you beautiful leaders of every gender, ethnicity and background. It’s gonna be great.

However, this transition will take time. Not because you aren’t ready to lead, but because you don’t have control. And control comes from two sources: working for it or getting someone else who worked for it to give it to you. If you’d rather not wait decades to be leading the conversation on Broadway, learn how to communicate to the people who have control now.

How do those gatekeepers communicate? Not by building Instagram followings or YouTube subscribers. Not in the theatre, at least, where we hold tightly to our traditions. In the theatre industry, the leaders communication the new old-fashioned way: on websites and via email.

I see so many passionate young theatre lovers online sharing their ideas and opinions in mediums that have no sustainability. The ephemeral nature of platforms like Instagram stories and Snapchat have allowed a freedom from “the internet is forever” mentality. However, the flip side of ephemerality is that you have nothing to show for your work.

Here’s a personal example: two years ago, I was covering a New York theatre awards show red carpet for The Ensemblist. Using Instagram Live, we created an hour of content, engaging with the theatre community on the carpet and fans at home. But this engagement didn’t mean much to the award show’s press reps because there wasn’t any content they could direct their producers to after the fact.

Don’t let your quality content and smart ideas about theatre disappear into the ether of the internet. Put them in a place where they can easily viewed and (more importantly) easily shared. Launch a website. Start an e-newsletter. Post links to them on Facebook.

If you create content you think Broadway audiences will love, don’t post it in a place that deletes it a day later. If you champion a floundering musical, your Instagram story or Tumblr blog isn’t going to do squat to save it from closing. Because that's not where the gatekeepers look. Many of them probably don’t even know what Tumblr is and have never used Instagram.

If you want your voice to be heard, post it somewhere with a good old-fashioned URL. Eventually, you won’t have to pander to us old people. But if you want to make change now, post your idea somewhere your grandpa could find. Because the leaders of our industry ARE grandpas (and a few grandmas, but let’s be honest: mostly grandpas).

 

"...I'm Just Looking to Enjoy the Adventure."

Mo Brady

by Eloise Kropp

Last year, I met up in a coffee shop with my friend Tanya. We had both just been on whirlwind adventures and were exchanging stories. I had just been out of the country for the first time to Spain, Italy, and France! She had just finished leading a yoga retreat in Italy. Our lives connected in the small warm up room during On The Town but our friendship and sisterhood has lasted far beyond that.

 Eloise Kropp (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Eloise Kropp (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

I told her in that coffee shop last year that I wanted to go on the retreat with her one year. It sounded incredible. Yoga in a small village led by one of my friends who I’ve seen blossom into a wonderful teacher, public speaker, and miracle maker. I’m not sure she knows this, but she inspired me in that coffee shop, by the way she just had released her life to the universe, she had no plans, just intention. But it was crystal clear she was doing something right because of all the abundance she was receiving back. She was a magnet, living a life better than she could of ever dreamed up.

Real Talk. Honestly, the past year I’ve worked less that I have in the past four. I was burned out after Cats, truly I was burned out after Dames at Sea but didn’t take the time because I didn’t know how, or think I could. Physically and emotionally, I was so weak. My body was injured and couldn’t dance the way I remembered, but I was scared to stop moving. I was struggling mentally with many insecurities that I had just hidden behind a cat face for a year. I knew I needed time away, but I was scared to take it. The idea of stepping away scared me so much, because much of my success has been because I’m such a “go getter."

After working a job in the fall, I decided I needed to change my focus. I needed to rebuild myself, I felt like I had nothing to offer. I shifted my focus on family, teaching, and only doing projects I was passionate about. I wasn’t auditioning. I couldn’t force myself into those rooms. Mentally I wasn’t strong enough to go in and deliver. I decided in order to keep doing what I was doing, something had to change. And that needed to be me.

This year I had my first Thanksgiving off in four years. I was home for Christmas, I took a ski trip with my dad, I was home for my niece's first two weeks of life... and so much more. Don’t get me wrong. I was also doing the work. A lot of work! Any of my close friends know I’ve worked my freaking butt off this year. But the main focus was on me and the things I had put on the back-burner since I moved to New York City. I was only taking the projects that were falling into my lap, and trust me. I am so thankful I had projects that fell into my lap.

 Eloise Kropp (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Eloise Kropp (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Cut to... March 2018. I am at home with my sister, my nephew, and my newborn niece. Tanya posted about the yoga retreat on her Facebook, I don’t usually comment or respond much on social media... but I decided to respond to it, saying “I wish I could go." She immediately texted me the information and was like you have to try and come it would be SO incredible to have you there. I looked at the dates and cost, and just told her “I wish I could afford this, but I’ve not been working this year like I have in the past." She then informed me they had a scholarship program... and the deadline was the next day. So off to work I went. I wrote a whole essay about why I would be a good “candidate” for the scholarship program and why I wanted to go on the retreat. I was madly typing away and made my mother edit it, just like she did my papers back in high school. Some things never change.

I found out a week later I got a scholarship to go.

And I said yes.

Last year was my first time leaving the country, and when I was in Spain by myself I made a vow. I promised myself I would leave the country once a year. Just working wasn’t going to cut it, I needed life experience, I needed travel and if work wasn’t going to bring it I would give it to myself. Now after this whirlwind year, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it happen and in the blink of an eye, it was a reality. I was buying a plane ticket to Italy. In April, I decided I would save money and sublet my apartment all summer and spend the summer between Texas and Oklahoma with family. I’ve spent many summers in New York and I figured summer by the pool being a “sister wife” to my sister and her kids sounded amazing since I only had two things in my agenda; a show in Arizona and then the trip to Italy.

I was wrong. The summer ended up providing me with four incredible shows, and they all included paychecks. Each of the shows has been fulfilling, challenging, and allowed me to meet some of the most wonderful new friends that I know will be in my life for many many years. I’m now on my way to Italy smiling the silliest grin. I know most people celebrate their birthdays as milestones, but this year my August anniversary “traveling out of the country” is my milestone. I’ve made some crazy decisions this year but I feel alive again, happier, and more supported than ever. I remember how I felt about Tanya last year when we were in the coffee shop. How I wanted what she had. I can honestly say I no longer need to want what she had, I have it. I surrendered this year to regaining my happiness, getting my confidence back, and enjoying my friends and family more. I have experienced miracles every single day, and more abundance than I ever thought possible. The place I was last year leaving Cats for a trip out of the country for the first time and the place I find myself in this year are completely different. Last year I was looking for an escape... this year I’m just looking to enjoy the adventure.

Miracles can only happen when you get rid of the concept impossible and allow yourself to experience the magic of knowing
— -Dr. Wayne Dyer

Covering a Loverly Leading Lady

Mo Brady

by Marialena Rago

 Kerstin Anderson

Kerstin Anderson

Covering a leading role on Broadway is exhilarating and stressful at the same time. When that role is also a beloved musical icon and you have other roles to remember, the stress can be mounting but the payoff is 'loverly.'

That is what life is like for Kerstin Anderson who understudies Eliza Doolittle in the Lincoln Center Theater revival of My Fair Lady. Anderson covers Lauren Ambrose’s role on Sundays and during the week she takes on a number of ensemble roles. “I am a flower girl in Covent Garden, a Maid in Higgins' House (fun fact: Fellow ensemblist Cameron Adams and I are the singing maids in 'I Could Have Danced All Night'), an aristocrat in Ascot, a repeat flower girl on Wimpole Street (I sell Freddy a flower and then give him side eye when he starts singing), a ball go-er at the Embassy Ball, and finally a reveler in 'Get Me to The Church on Time.'” 

The musical has a special place in Broadway and musical history. Lerner and Loewe’s tale of a flower girl turned lady has had a number of famous leading ladies as Eliza. Two of the most famous actresses are Audrey Hepburn in the movie musical and Julie Andrews in the original Broadway and London productions. Anderson has her own special ties to the show. “We definitely had the DVD, possibly the VHS as well, of My Fair Lady, and 'Wouldn't It Be Loverly' was a lullaby my parents sang to me before bed. I also played a maid in a production at The Forestburgh Playhouse.” 

 Kerstin Anderson with Harry Hadden-Paton and the company of  My Fair Lady.  Photo byJoan Marcus.

Kerstin Anderson with Harry Hadden-Paton and the company of My Fair Lady. Photo byJoan Marcus.

Knowing the musical definitely prepared her for her first night as Eliza, since she only found out a few hours before taking the stage that she would be going on! Anderson describes that day as “one of the craziest days of my life.” 

“It was before the Tony Awards, and we had only made it to the Embassy Ball in understudy rehearsals. I didn't have my own costumes yet, I had never sung with the orchestra, and I had never run the show before. I got to the theater early, and just took some time to breath in the beautiful Vivian Beaumont Theater before the madness began. I ran through the quick changes, walked through a scene with Norbert we hadn't touched in the rehearsal, and ran the two fight choreography bits with Harry. We have the most supportive cast, everyone was so supportive both backstage and on stage. I am eternally grateful for the flexibility and generosity of the fellow principals; they all just jumped on the train and went with me wherever I went. I don't remember too much from that day, but I do recall making my quick change and running up the stairs with enough time for Harry to say under his breath, "Well done." before continuing with the scene, "three...four... five marbles..." (I also got to do it the following day May 20, otherwise known as Eliza Doolittle Day, which was lots of fun!).” 

The role of Eliza is a demanding one. The actresses playing the lead role have to have her iconic cockney accent and then transition into speaking like a proper lady. Not to mention all the beautiful but challenging songs they have to perform. As an understudy, Anderson understands that she has to make sure all the other actors around her are comfortable with her performance, but she can also make the part her own. “My job, the way I see it, as an understudy is twofold,” she says. “It is to fill the gap when Lauren is out; I have to fit the mold that she created so as to not disrupt my fellow cast mates' shows and to make everything run smoothly. But it's also my job to tell the audience our story. If I’m going on, the audience needs me to be Eliza; not Lauren. By the simple fact that I am me, it becomes mine. Lauren and I bring very different things to the table, but if I may be so bold, I think both make for interesting and unique Elizas!” 

To take on the role and to become her own Eliza, Anderson tried to observe Ambrose, but she also did her own work to make sure she was prepared to go on at any moment. “Rehearsing can be a vulnerable thing, and extra bodies in the room watching you isn't always the best environment for creation. But I did a lot of work on the role despite not being able to observe. I took the songs to my voice teacher, ran lines with my fellow understudies, and once we were in previews I would watch the show any moment I wasn't on stage or changing my costume.” 

Let’s not forget that Anderson is covering Eliza and doing her usual track as an ensemble member, but she didn’t find balancing both challenging. “I think that's probably because by the time I had to rehearse and play Eliza I was fairly comfortable in my ensemble track. My ensemble track does interact with Eliza often which is actually quite helpful. It gives me check-in points.” 

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges to being an ensemble member and a leading lady in the same show. “What I do find tricky is the time in-between each go of Eliza. I've had about 100+ shows in my Flower Girl track; it's become second nature. But as Eliza, I've done less than ten, and every time I have a week before I get to try it again. The learning process is much slower. But I'm trying to have patience, learn as much as I can, and enjoy the process of getting to know Eliza!” 

 

 

 

"I'm So Proud to Have Been Part of This Protest."

Mo Brady

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Just a little over a week ago, Seth Rudetsky contacted me asking if I would like to participate in a protest at the White House. Rosie O’Donnell was chartering a bus full of Broadway folk to go down to DC and sing in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, as part of the nightly protests that started a few weeks ago, tagged #KremlinAnnex, which started right after our president met with Putin in Helsinki, or the “Treason Summit." This ongoing protest sprung up spontaneously, but has gained traction and notoriety, which Rosie wanted to bring attention to. 

Seth sent sheet music for us to learn on our own, which included “America the Beautiful," “Brand New Day," “Climb Every Mountain," “Do You Hear the People Sing," and “Let the Sunshine In." We all met the bus in midtown at 1 pm, where Rosie made sure to introduce herself personally and shake hands with everyone. I only knew one or two of the other performers and got to know the rest on the way, including Christopher Sieber and Richard Kind, who were there to lend their voices. We filled the entire 60-seat bus, including three awesome accordionists, a guitarist, bassist, and drummer, as well as two wonderful stage managers to coordinate the whole day. We rehearsed the songs during the four-hour ride, including running through the material at a rest stop in Delaware, and once more in a hotel lobby once we reached DC. 

 Kris Roberts

Kris Roberts

As we were being transferred to Lafayette Park, we were encouraged to walk powerfully and with purpose as we were entering, making sure to stick together and protect each other, including Rosie. At this point, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the past two years, as we’ve seen terrible headline after terrible headline, I have felt saddened and helpless to make any sort of difference. I have never previously been to a protest, because it seems as though they tend to be angry and tumultuous events, and I am by nature a much more peaceful person - more about togetherness than divisiveness. I have always been far too intimidated to attend rallies, but also frustrated and a little guilty that I haven’t been able to find a way to make myself heard. When I was asked to participate in this protest, I was a bit nervous, but the prospect of singing peaceful, uplifting, and joyous songs seemed like the perfect way to spread a little love among all the hate. 

We entered the rally platform, wearing matching T-shirts commissioned by Rosie from artist Scooter LaForge, surrounded on all sides by cheering faces and clever signs, stopping in front of a wall of cameras from ABC, CNN, and many other social media outlets. Rosie made a brief speech and we were graced with short speeches by James Obergefell, whose landmark court case was key in legalizing same-sex marriage in our country three years ago, and Kristin Mink, who virally confronted EPA head Scott Pruitt in a restaurant last month. Perhaps the most poignant moment of the entire rally, for me, was one that might not have been shown on cameras. During Kristin Mink’s speech, a small boy wandered through the crowd crying because he had lost his mother. We stopped the speeches to announce the lost boy, and his mother quickly called out from the other side of the crowd. When all was well, Kristin resumed, saying, “See, after 5 seconds without his mother, this boy was in a panic. How much more for the immigrant children ripped from their parents?” and we began a chant of “Kids Need Parents!” at which point, I started to tear up. The point was starkly and smartly made. I love children and am always an advocate for their care, and the entire immigrant separation has been much of a last straw for me, probably what has most spurred me into action as of late. 

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After what seemed like less than 20 minutes, we made our way triumphantly back to the bus, rallying around Rosie as she was being bombarded by the media wanting interviews, while singing the refrain of “Let the Sunshine In." We settled in for the immediate four hour return ride, the mood jovial, as people passed around trays of homemade brownies and fudge for the occasion, as well as packs of homemade sandwiches from our fearless and caring leader, Rosie. We arrived back in the city at 1 am, the day well spent. 

I’m so proud to have been a part of this protest. I think it was important for the world to see the Broadway community using our prominence to spread love and conscientious dissent, while lifting spirits and preaching inclusivity. Comments I saw afterward said that this performance gave the tireless protesters who have been showing up for days on end “a shot in the arm to keep going." This was the perfect demonstration for those of us who don’t consider ourselves radical disrupters, but want to raise our voices to encourage so many others who are doing such good work. We really can all use our individual gifts to make a difference. 

 

"When Broadway Called" feat. King Kong

Mo Brady

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

 Ashley Andrews

Ashley Andrews

Ashley Andrews (Dance Captain)

Hometown: Shrewsbury, Shropshire -  UK

"I was walking through Covent Garden with a friend who I was working with at the time. We were in between shows on An American in Paris on the West End, where I played Mr Z. My agent called me and said “OK, so an offer has come in.” I replied, “What offer?” as I hadn’t auditioned for anything recently. They then went on to say how it would be dance captain, starting in July with some pre-pro dates. I still didn’t know what offer. I finally stopped my agent and said 'Sorry, what job is this?' She replied 'King Kong, Broadway!'

"I’m not quite sure what happened in the next five minutes to follow... I hadn’t auditioned for the show and I had no idea at all that an offer was coming my way. I was totally and utterly overwhelmed, excited, surprised, nervous, happy and I’m pretty sure I screamed and said a lot of swear words! Sorry, mum!  

"I think the thing I am most looking forward to working on Broadway, which still feels like a complete dream and at any moment I am going to wake up from, is the feeling of a new adventure both professionally and personally. 

"This next adventure gives me a sense of a new start, a new lease of life and new determination. Being in a place where no one knows me yet allows me to set my own bar. I can push myself creatively. I’m totally open to everything that Broadway has to teach me and I can’t wait to learn."

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Rhaamell Burke-Missouri (Ensemble)

Hometown: Far Rockaway, Queens

"I was actually on my way home after another audition when I got the call. I was walking from the station and completely broke down and cried on the street. It was a bad day, so hearing that not only made my day better but it brought my spirit up too. 

"Honestly, I’m excited for it all. I have dreamt of this moment for years and now that it’s here, I don’t want to miss any part of it. This cast is so diverse when it comes to what we can do so there is not other option but to learn from everyone."

 

 Leroy Church

Leroy Church

Leroy Church (Ensemble)

Hometown: Baltimore, MD

"The way I found out I booked King Kong was really interesting. I auditioned in June of 2017. It was at my birthday party when my agent called to let me know I was on “hold.” I had no idea what this “hold” meant. Fast forward to  October...still no word. I saw there were EPAs for King Kong. I went to the call and sang.

"After I finished, I was in the lobby getting myself together to leave and casting came out to talk with me. “Why are you here, you didn’t talk to your agent?” My agent had called me two days before to let me know that I had booked. I missed that call. When I called back, I spoke to a different agent about another gig. Lol.

"I'm most excited to share this amazing story of 'being the other,' an idea that resonates so deeply within me, through Drew McOnie’s genius lens, is what I look to most about my experience on Broadway... and performing on the Tonys wouldn’t hurt."

 Khadija Griffith

Khadija Griffith

Khadija Griffith (Ensemble)

Hometown: Berlin, Germany

I had found out while I was on a first date! That was a little over a year ago and both the job and the relationship have grown into something beautiful. What I am looking forward to most about my experience on Broadway is getting to share what we’re working so hard on with the people that have helped me get here."

 Gabe Hyman

Gabe Hyman

 

Gabe Hyman (Ensemble)

Hometown: Chesapeake, VA

"I found out that I had booked the part over the phone while on my way to my third audition that week. I was actually running late and  sprinting toward the train station when I received the call and stopped to catch my breath thinking it was my part-time job calling me into work that evening.

"It was actually Tara Rubin Casting telling me that I should be expecting an offer soon for the role. I could not believe what I just heard. I stood in front of the subway entrance frozen and shaking with my phone in my hand pressed against my face for about five minutes in disbelief, blocking passengers from entering the station. I got off the phone and realized that I was going to be making my Broadway debut the following fall! What in the world?! It was certainly a moment that I will never forget.

"I am looking forward to being able to tell this newly reinvented, inspiring and timeless story eight times a week on Broadway! Ahh! I am also excited and honored to share the stage with some of the most diverse, talented and all around incredible human beings and artists that I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with."

 Roberto Olvera

Roberto Olvera

Roberto Olvera (Ensemble)

Hometown: Chicago, IL

"I found after my audition via email... I knew I nailed that audition. This was my first audition in years. I had been waiting for this show for five years when I first heard about. 

"I'm looking forward to bringing Kong to life for the Broadway world to see! He will leave you speechless!"

 

 

 David Yijae

David Yijae

David Yijae (Ensemble)

Hometown: Staten Island, NY

“The crazy thing is two months prior to King Kong auditions, I was on tour with The Illusionists and had told people in my cast I didn't want to be on tour anymore and be on a show, whether it be on Broadway or Off, but at home.  

“When I finished my tour about two weeks later my agent got me an audition for King Kong. It was a few days of auditioning and stressful as any other, but for once I felt good about how my auditions went. Then over the weekend I found out i had booked through my agent! She called and kept saying “David.. David..” and I kept saying, “Yes? Yes?”  And then she told me I booked...

“I spoke it into existence! It really was a surreal moment. The excitement is crazy and I'm still in shock that I'm going to be on Broadway! It really is a dream come true! 

“I'm looking forward to being able to spread the love of what I do. I can't wait to see everyone's faces light up."

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"Our Voices are Powerful."

Mo Brady

by Kristy Cates

 Kristy Cates

Kristy Cates

When Seth Rudetsky, our glorious music director, reached out to taking a bus to Washington DC with a huge group of Broadway singers, I knew I had to take part. So many of us, at least I do, spend our days with a giant ball of emotions swirling inside of us - as a result of our current political climate. I feel this way less for myself as Kristy the performer/teacher and more for myself as Kristy the mom. When I can do something, especially something positive like a peaceful protest through song, I feel like I am called to do it. 

So here I am on a bus chartered by Rosie O'Donnell, with the likes of Chris Seiber, Bonnie Mulligan, Richard Kind, Marty Thomas, Liz Larsen and even Rosie herself. headed to sing our hearts out in peaceful protest outside the current home of DJT (who is, of course, on vacation). It’s so crazy because my last bus trip to DC was in 2015 with some of my castmates from Finding Neverland. We were invited to sing inside that time as part of Broadway at The White House. What a difference three years can make.

Our group is part of the 22nd consecutive night of peaceful protests outside the White House. The Kremlin Annex was started after the Helsinki Summit by Adam Parkhomenko: “Our ongoing anti-Trump protests at the Kremlin Annex (formerly known as the White House) first started on July 16 in response to Donald Trump's total capitulation to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki Summit.” We are singing songs such as "America The Beautiful,"" Everybody Rejoice" and "Do You Hear The People Sing?". 

So what am I protesting? I think we are all here for different yet complimentary reasons. So many haters like to say, “Shut up about politics and stick to singing”. Well guess what? We can do both at once. Our voices are powerful. Our hearts want inclusiveness and for all Americans to feel safe and important. No matter what your color, race or gender identity, you are valuable to this world. You matter. 

"It's Like Breaking the Fourth Wall Every Day."

Mo Brady

by Marialena Rago

 Natalia Gomez

Natalia Gomez

Times Square has performers at every turn - it could be a street performer or it could be a theatreMAMA street team member. You’ve seen them around in costume passing out forms for different Broadway shows like Chicago and Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular. theatreMAMA is an experiential marketing and living media company that helps promote Broadway shows, but it isn’t like regular marketing companies. Their marketing practices allow performers to really hone their talents like dancing, acting and improve. “I love that I get to work on my acting skills, such as accents. Also working on physicality and voice,” says Natalia Gomez of South Florida. 

Gomez is an actress and model who works with theatreMAMA. She has been in TV commercials and print ads for companies like Bud Light, Chase and Marriott, to name a few. She has also been on stage and in a short film. Gomez isn’t the only actress and performer working at theatreMAMA; Jacqueline Maxi has been a part of theatreMAMA for two years and hopes to be on Broadway singing, acting and dancing eight times a week.

 Jacqueline Maxi

Jacqueline Maxi

Maxi, like Broadway performers, has a routine when she is getting ready for a typical day working for theatreMAMA. “Since I know what promo I'm working that day, I'll always listen to the cast album or music related that will start getting me in character,” she says. “Once I've arrived at the office, I'll put on my costume and check in with the manager on duty. I'll go over my talking points and my three favorite sound bites, warming up my voice. Once out on the field, I dance, sing, strike poses, and interact with people from all over the world.” 

Working on their craft is why a lot of the street team members get involved in theatreMAMA, but they stay for the interactions with different people; especially kids. Tatiana Birenbaum is from Sao Paulo, Brazil and says that seeing the kids get excited is the most fun. “I love when they want to sing and dance with me and say, ’Look mom, she is a dancer!'” 

Birenbaum also says that working on different characters each day makes it feel like the streets are her stage. “It’s like breaking the fourth wall every day and it makes me so happy.” 

 Tatiana Birenbaum

Tatiana Birenbaum

"I am Still a Human Being."

Mo Brady

by Ali Ewoldt

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After receiving the message in the image above on Facebook, Broadway actor Ali Ewoldt responded with the following statement. The following is reposted from Ali Ewoldt's Instagram with her permission.

My response:
Dear Ms. _____,

Hello. I appreciate you coming to see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and am sorry that my performance did not meet your expectations.

 However, I found your message to be unnecessarily cruel. I feel compelled to tell you this because I believe that there is too much meanness on the internet and in real life right now. Just a few months ago, I attended the heartbreaking funeral of an 11 year old boy who chose to take his own life because he was being bullied. 

 Ali Ewoldt

Ali Ewoldt

Obviously there are many differences between me and this boy: I am an adult; I have chosen to be a performer and thus am continually putting myself and my craft out in the world for others to judge. I have even gone so far as to create a FB fan page for myself which is where you messaged me. However, I am still a human being. And your words hurt me deeply. Because our words are incredibly powerful, particularly the negative ones. Our brains are hardwired to retain negative or hurtful information because we once used this to survive. As soon as I read them, your words began a continual loop in my head and I am sure they will always be present somewhere in my mind for the rest of my time at Phantom if not my entire career. 

I do not know you. I can see from the internet that: you are an adult, you are a patron of the opera, you posted a picture of the quote “always stay humble and kind” on your twitter page. I can infer from these things that you care about the arts and about people. And this compels me to tell you that your message did nothing to help either of those things. They did not inspire me to perform in a “better” manner. I already aspire to continually improve my performance, holding myself to the highest standard and criticizing every mistake I make. And tonight, instead of focusing on the story of Phantom, part of my brain was lost in the new seeds of self-doubt and shame you planted. 

I do not imagine my words will change the way you choose to behave. But I do hope that they will inspire others to treat each other with more compassion and kindness. Because we truly are all in this world together.

Sincerely,
Ali Ewoldt

 Ali Ewoldt in  T  he Phantom of the Opera

Ali Ewoldt in The Phantom of the Opera

Performative Simplicity

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

It takes a lot of work to be simple in a musical. Between the grandiose production values, loud orchestras and large houses, simplicity can get lost in the shuffle. With so much spectacle around you, actors can feel the need to “play to the back of the house” in every moment.

 Jennifer Sanchez

Jennifer Sanchez

This challenge is only magnified for actors in ensemble roles. While principal players receive downstage blocking and lighting specials to accentuate their moments of truth, ensemble actors must bring similar reality while upstage. In a blue light. Half way behind a set piece.

Interesting ensemble work happens when background characters are fully-fleshed and realistic. Whether they are ship workers, cartoon sea creatures or high school students, ensembles are charged with grounding the principal characters in their circumstances. But how can those situations feel real if the ensemble isn’t really invested in the stakes of the plot?

Pretty Woman: The Musical’s Jennifer Sanchez has used performative simplicity to bring truth to ensemble roles in seven Broadway shows. From her memorable turn as Rosalia in West Side Story to her recent bow as the Nurse in Sunday in the Park With George, she performs with a laser focus on truth. Plus, she has a way of getting the audience to laugh in any situation.

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In Pretty Woman, Sanchez plays multiple ensemble roles from polo match attendees to street workers. With each character, she finds an ease that simultaneously plays to the back of the mezzanine. Alongside Ellyn Marie Marsh as fellow shopkeeper Amanda, her turn as saleswoman Erica is a masterclass at how to let an audience come to you.

There’s a scene in the 1997 film Waiting for Guffman that is iconic for theatre ensemblists. In it, Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara play actors in the musical within a movie “Red, White and Blaine.” When they asked to comment on the action, they say to each other with hushed excitement:

“Peas and carrots. Peas and carrots. Peas and carrots.”

Peas and carrots.

Watermelon, mushroom.

Popsicle rhubarb.

These phrases are well-known among background actors as acceptable onstage conversation. Rather than having realistic, truthful conversations about the circumstances of a scene, directors will encourage the use of these plosive phrases. It’s a tradition that’s often taught in amateur theatre but never curtailed when those actors move onto more professional productions.

Sanchez and others like her bring a centered groundedness to their ensemble work. Rather than giving too much (or too little), they find a performative simplicity that projects from the stage without feeling hammy. It’s a rare talent to walk the tightrope between overacting and disengagement. But when an actor discovers it, their performances are a gift to audiences.

Broadway's Unofficial Repertory Companies

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

 Jerry Mitchell and the cast of  Pretty Woman: The Musical

Jerry Mitchell and the cast of Pretty Woman: The Musical

Scanning the stage of Broadway’s Pretty Woman: The Musical, I saw a host a familiar faces among the denizens of Hollywood and Vine. Among the onstage cast of 21 are many performers familiar to New York theatre audiences. From Lauren Lim Jackson to Alan Wiggins, the cast is chock full of Broadway stalwarts with handful of Mainstem credits to their names.

However, many of these actors are not only Broadway regulars but frequent collaborators of director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell as well. Andy Karl and Orfeh both famously worked with Mitchell on Legally Blonde, originating the roles of Paulette and UPS Guy. Jennifer Sanchez is a veteran of his On Your Feet! while Matthew Stocke collaborated with him as an original swing on Broadway’s The Full Monty. Both Ellyn Marie Marsh and Jake Odmark are longtime cast members of his current hit Kinky Boots.

 Jake Odmark

Jake Odmark

However, this kind of repertory acting company is nothing new. For a large part of the 20th century, repertory theatre companies were a mainstay of American theatre. Acting companies would present multiple productions “in rep,” either in a single location or while touring to multiple locales. While this practice had been around for decades, it thrived in the mid-20th century when “Repertory Theatres” sprung up in cities across the country from Seattle to Kansas City.

Today, the practice of repertory acting companies has mostly waned. The Shakespeare festivals in Stratford and Oregon notwithstanding, most Rep theatres are repertory in name only, producing shows one at a time with different actors in each. However, the practice of using a repertory acting company continues in Broadway theatre under a different guise.

It’s been said that “people like working with people they like working with.” This is true in any profession, but particularly in theatre where contracts are limited and new jobs are constantly being vied for. In both commercial and non-profit theatre, directors and choreographers find actors that they trust, admire and want to support. When those directors and choreographers work on new productions, they bring along some of the performers who have helped them in the past to facilitate new visions.

 Samantha Sturm

Samantha Sturm

Pretty Woman is not unique on Broadway for this repertory-style casting. Look to the cast of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, where choreographer Sergio Trujillo assembled women from A Bronx Tale The Musical, Jersey Boys, Dirty Dancing and Flashdance to create his ensemble. The original Broadway cast of Something Rotten! was practically picked from Casey Nicolaw’s resume of Spamalot, Aladdin, The Drowsy Chaperone and The Book of Mormon.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Actors should be rewarded for being reliable, talented and easy to work with. Regardless of your talents, acting is a tough enough business that performers should be able to rely on their colleagues and collaborates for job security.

For audiences, this style of repertory casting is also a boon. We get to see talented ensemblists showing their skills in multiple scenarios. Thanks to Rob Ashford, we’ve seen Adam Perry strut his stuff from the swinging 60s in Promises, Promises to Arendelle in Frozen. Samantha Sturm has followed Christopher Gattelli from In Your Arms at the Old Globe to Broadway’s My Fair Lady. By championing ensemblists, Broadway directors and choreographers give us the opportunity to champion those artists as audiences.

"It's What They Love"

Mo Brady

by Nicolette Navarro

  Legally Blonde   at Canisius College Little Theatre

Legally Blonde  at Canisius College Little Theatre

I have always been a lover of theatre. I went to my first Broadway show when I was five and saw Beauty and the Beast. I was mesmerized by the Beast’s transformation and have wanted to do or be involved with theatre since. Theatre was my safe haven in school. It’s the place where I met my friends, felt inspiration, and found my tribe. I have acted, stage managed, run lights, but nothing has made me feel as great as directing a musical for adults or for children.

I am an English teacher who directs on the side. When directing a show I want everyone to feel included and have a chance to shine, and get one step closer to their own dreams. Even though I’m a sucker for a good classical musical, I tend to do contemporary Broadway shows. It’s what my students like to do, and audiences can see something new and see a show that their child loves. I directed Legally Blonde. It was my most challenging show, but it was extremely satisfying.

The auditions and callbacks were grueling. We had students singing, dancing, acting, and jump-roping for parts. Everyone wanted Elle Woods, but my favorite thing about this show is everyone has a chance to shine. I do not cast based on seniority, I truly believe that whoever fits the role best should get the part. When the cast list came out, I had several angry students who wanted Elle or Emmett or who were upset because I didn’t give students the part they wanted because they were a senior. I want my students to understand that sometimes life isn’t fair and you don’t always get exactly what you want, but to make the most out of what you have.

Rehearsals were a different story, when students realize that each of them has a special moment in the show be it a dance spotlight, a solo, a few lines. Students came around and really embraced their parts. I tried to direct the show to be fun, and let students be in numbers that made sense for them to be in. I also wanted students to bring their ideas to the table about their characters. My favorite difference from the Broadway staging to my production was the number “Blood in the Water” became a tap number because the student playing Callahan was a tap dancer and he was really into it. I said yes, and it turned into one of the best numbers of the show. I want my students to be creative and really show off their personality in whatever show they are in.

These are skills that are important in theatre and also in life. To my students, theatre is everything. It’s what they love, and as an educator it is my job make sure to tie life lessons into what they love.

 Nicolette Navarro

Nicolette Navarro

Seeking Out Representation

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

My friends in the theatre community and I love BroadwayBox.com’s “Dancing Through My Resume” series. Who could blame us? Started in 2016, it’s one of the most inventive, educational and well-produced video series on the subject of Broadway. In the constant din of theatre news available to us through social media, the series is a shining light. Every time I see a new one published, I make sure to watch.

If you haven’t seen one of these videos, you should. They feature ensemble actors with multiple main stem credits under their belt performing snippets of choreography from each of their Broadway shows. The most recent to be published features Jess LeProtto performing choreography from every Broadway show he’s performed in from Bye, Bye Birdie to Carousel.

It’s a unique view into the breadth and depth of talent ensemble actors possess. Rarely do we get to see ensemblists like Shina Ann Morris and Charlie Sutton as the main focus of a video. In this series, theatre lovers get to see their talents and their artistry, not to mention their sweat and exuberance.

But there’s an issue.

The problem is a lack of representation. Of the ten videos created for this series so far, 70% of them have featured men, but only 30% have featured women. In addition, two have featured people of color, while the performers in the other eight are White.

I mean, who knows? There could be an easy explanation for this ratio. It could be as simple as the creators saying “these people are friends from college” or “these are the first ten people we found email addresses for.” Maybe the creators reached out to a bunch of actors and these are the ones that responded.

Yet, the problem that occurs when we don’t purposefully choose to pursue and present diverse stories is that we aren’t accurately representing the Broadway experience.

It’s not the case that there aren’t female ensemblists out there to feature. In The Ensemblist’s recent State of the Ensemblist Report for 2017-2018, we showed that 44% of Broadway ensemblists are women. If a series like this is to represent this the talented artists working on Broadway, shouldn’t at least four (and a half) of the artists included be women?

In addition to gender, it’s not as though there aren’t Broadway ensemblists of color with similar numbers of Broadway credits. Where is J. Elaine Marcos’ video? Or James Brown III’s? Or Nina Lafarga’s?

Across the Broadway media, the demographics of featured performers simply do not reflect the demographics of our artistic community, so in no way is this an issue that solely affects Broadway Box. But as champions of artists, we have a responsibility to seek out and share stories that will reflect people of all ethnicities and genders. In doing so, we will have a hand in making the future of Broadway more diverse and inclusive.

"When You're a Theatre Teacher"

Mo Brady

  The Addams Family  at West Hartford Summer Arts Festival (Photo: Rob Kavaler of RDK photography)

The Addams Family at West Hartford Summer Arts Festival (Photo: Rob Kavaler of RDK photography)

As theatre educators, many of us feel a deep responsibility to present classic work to our students. We are compelled to remember our roots and pay homage to the greats: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin, Bernstein, Sondheim, Kander and Ebb. Though the 20th century musical theatre canon is wonderful, young people tend to gravitate toward 21st century story telling. While we will continue to teach the classics, mixing in a contemporary show every few years can help grab the attention of the students on stage and audiences as well. I have co-directed and choreographed the West Hartford Summer Arts Festival in West Hartford, Connecticut since 2010.  This year we had a strong group of character actors and fewer overall students than our average summer. It was the right year for a contemporary comedy and we chose The Addams Family.

Presenting a show that was written for a Broadway house and a multi million-dollar budget in a high school auditorium with… well, lets just say LESS than a million dollars, can be a daunting task. A professional theatre will have fly space and the ability to motorize turn-tables and tracks. While our facility is well-kept and updated, it does not have a fly loft nor does it have ample wing space. Scenery has to be minimal and mostly on wagons or lateral tracks. In order to keep the changes clean and swift, our cast of “Ancestors” moved all the pieces. Our concept was that the Addams’ house moved magically at the hands of the Ancestors (kinda like Hogwarts) so our students were motivated to stay in character as they made the changes. We used light to isolate locations and changed the set upstage during solo numbers which were often set downstage in tight light.

  The Addams Family  at West Hartford Summer Arts Festival (Photo: Rob Kavaler of RDK photography)

The Addams Family at West Hartford Summer Arts Festival (Photo: Rob Kavaler of RDK photography)

Casting The Addams Family was pretty straightforward, though we had to be creative in a few areas. We added a gargoyle to the ensemble who blended in with the gates to the house and then served to be a house pet for the Addams Family. This actor did scene changes, got props on and off stage in creative ways, and watched much of the action from a little perch built into the gate. She later doubled as “Cousin ITT” for the wedding scene. The role of Pugsley is written for a younger boy with an unchanged voice. The age range of our program is 13 to 25 and currently all of our male actors’ voices have changed. We auditioned both men and women for the role. Ultimately, Pugsley was played by an 18 year old tenor, so we contacted the licensing company to use a lower key for his tunes.

In addition to the principal characters, there were a total of 14 students in the ancestor ensemble. Three women sang the “trio” parts and we cast six women as featured dancers. Those students danced in Morticia’s songs and were generally featured in the production numbers. Our ensemble was almost entirely female, so when we set the tango scene in “Live Before We Die,” we didn’t pair up men and women as dance partners as they did in the Broadway production. Instead, Gomez and Morticia danced the tango while the dancers framed them in jazz and flamenco style choreography.  We also threw in a little feature for Lurch in the tango, which got a great response from the audience.

That brings me to the LAUGHS. In all my years directing educational theatre, I have never heard an audience belly laugh the way they did for this show. The script quips along like an updated version of the source material sitcom. Our cast did an amazing job playing off one another and embracing the campy dark comedy. One of our jobs as theatre educators is to teach our students to entertain. To that end, there is no better teaching tool than a funny script. The business of educational theatre is akin to herding cats. Limited resources, teenage energy and late nights will have you tearing your hair out if you let the stress take over. A great piece of musical comedy like The Addams Family keeps the work FUN by appealing to the adults who remember the original television program and a whole new audience of kids who just want to laugh.


 Kate Morran

Kate Morran

Kate Morran (Director/ Choreographer) has been a part of the West Hartford Summer Arts Festival family for 15 summers. Since 2004, Miss Kate has served as choreographer fand co-director of the Northwest Catholic High School Dramateurs, where she also works full-time in academic support. She has worked on productions with the Hartt School's Connecticut Children's Chorus, Park Road Playhouse, and Conard High School; taught yoga/dance at Watkinson School as a part of the middle school physical education program; and been on faculty with the Hartt School’s Summer Vocal Institute: Musical Theatre Intensive and the Middlesex Consortium's Broadway Bound Program. A 2012 graduate of the West Hartford Yoga teacher training program, Kate teaches the WHY Tween/Teen series, and offers private in-home instruction. Under the Artistic Direction of Dr. Stuart Younse, Kate is assistant director/ choreographer of  the Simsbury High School musical productions.

"Seven Weeks is Not Enough!"

Mo Brady

by Joshua Burrage

 Joshua Burrage

Joshua Burrage

What could be better than a summer in sunny California? Sacramento, California to be exact, the home to the Wells Fargo Pavilion, also known as Sacramento Music Circus (Broadway at Music Circus). This year I had the pleasure of performing in three of the six shows they do each summer, and let me tell you, seven weeks was not enough. Something about the environment, the casts, the crews of each show really felt so unique and special. It’s not an experience you have all the time. And with being in the crazy schedule of a two-week rehearsal/tech period into a week run of shows, having these kind, hardworking people all around makes all the difference. 

This year’s Music Circus summer show schedule included Singin' in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Disney’s Newsies, Gypsy, Mamma Mia!, and Little Shop of Horrors. Each show gets a two-week period that includes music or dance rehearsals, designer runs, dress rehearsals, and tech along the way before the third week, which is the week of full performances. As each show goes into performance mode, the next show of the season begins rehearsals. This is the time where many cast members go into double duty which includes learning a new show during the day, while performing another show at night. While this can sometimes be stressful at times, it also keeps you on your feet and the energy alive. What’s cool about Music Circus in particular, is that many of the cast members cross over into other shows, keeping that “we’re all in this together” excitement. 

 Joshua Burrage and the cast of  Singin' in the Rain

Joshua Burrage and the cast of Singin' in the Rain

Another special quality of Music Circus is that it is in the round. This means the circle stage that is in the center of the theatre is surrounded by a sea of seats connected by four main aisles. All entrances and exits are made at each of these aisles, and most costume changes and prop exchanges are done right outside each aisle in the circular lobby. I think a definite challenge for most people was figuring out which entrance or exit to take into scenes, because let me tell you, once the lights came down, the circle became very disorienting. Having each set very different from one another and the orchestra pit always in the same position though was very useful when trying to reorient yourself. As confusing as it could be at times, it did make for some good laughs along the way. 

What I think I loved the most about working at Music Circus this summer was the KIND, genuine people. There is nothing more important to me than being surrounded by people who are kind and respectful of one another. Working with creatives, cast members, and crew members who all treated each other with love and appreciation not only makes for a stellar show, but a beautiful environment. I believe Sacramento Music Circus makes a point to bring people together who they think will create a collaborative and respectful atmosphere, and that is so important in not only theatre, but life.

From watching the rain fall for the first time during Singin' in the Rain, to performing Patti Colombo’s INSANELY incredible and challenging choreography every night in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, to revisiting a show that means so much to me like Newsies, I can definitely say that this summer at Music Circus was one I’ll remember forever. Although a two-week rehearsal process may seem short, anything can be done when your surrounded by hard work and kindness. 

 Joshua Burrage in  Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Joshua Burrage in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

"Moments that Keep Your Show Alive."

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady and Alessia Salimbene

The current Lincoln Center Theater revival of My Fair Lady is a lush production, in part due to an ensemble of 22 onstage performers portraying the breadth and depth of London society. From upper-class elites to commonplace barflies, the ensemble expertly portrays the scope of English society due to heir nuanced performances. Working closely with director Bartlett Sher, who has helped them to delve into research and characters, each ensemble actor has undergone a personal process to crafting their different characters.

  My Fair Lady  at Lincoln Center Theater (Photo by Joan Marcus)

My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center Theater (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Rebecca Eichenberger plays four characters as a member of the show’s ensemble. Although not all of them are named in the script, she has given each of her roles a personality. Among the non-speaking roles she has created include a cavalcade of fantastically named characters, including Doodles Montgomery, Doris Delancy, and Becky Boxington.

In addition to playing Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, JoAnna Rhinehart chose to name her characters Ramona Odera, Queen Nefertiti of Mali and Setiva Lee Andersen. In order to make these varied characters specific, JoAnna worked with Liz Smith at The Juilliard School for dialect coaching. She also worked on the physicality of each role, specifically the characters’ posture: “The women are  pulled up and smaller contained steps for high status, wider stance and longer steps for lower status. The pace of the movement had to be specific to the individuals.”

An ensemble is just that, a group of people working together to create something greater. When it comes to creating such specific moments for their characters, ensemble members must also create specific moments between each other on stage. Rhinehart achieved this, “by being open to ‘living in the moment’ of the scene. The actors that I come in contact with on stage, are willing to improvise with me within the parameters set by our director.”

 JoAnna Rhinehart

JoAnna Rhinehart

In addition to guidance from Sher, a professor from the University of Maryland spoke to the cast about Edwardian and Victorian England. In exploring the difference in the classes, they learned what life was like for a high society socialite versus a cockney flower seller. 

In addition to the structured research built into the cast's rehearsal, many of the cast members did their own exploration of the show's setting. “To enrich and build the lives of my characters, I read the book 'Black Edwardians: Black People in Britain 1901-1914' by Jeffrey Green," noted Rhinehart. "To further grasp the essence of the extreme environmental elements affecting the sociological class distinctions, I watched the Netflix series The Frankenstein Chronicles."

Eichenberger’s featured role in the script is the high-status Lady Boxington in the Ascot Gavotte. While much of her performance was influence by research, she has also used her own creativity to flesh out the role. “Lady Boxington is so rich she’s bored with everything but she doesn’t dare go outside the rules of her social class," says Eichenberger. "She goes from one social engagement to another and one set of jewels to another. It’s all terribly boring.”

 Rebecca Eichenberger

Rebecca Eichenberger

Just like Rhinehart, Eichenberger touched on the importance of specificity, “An ensemble member has to find moments of specificity. Moments that make you tick and keep your show alive.” She also talked about other cast members who pushed her characters to provide more specificity to different scenes throughout the show. “I love bickering about the opera with Liz McCartney in the opening and sipping tea with Matt Wall. These are two pros that are so good at what they do.”

In addition to bringing a greater sense of realism, this willingness to play onstage keeps the ensemble engaged and in good spirits. "There are many secrets in Ascot," reveals Eichenberger. "Everyone has their own story and relationships with each other. Mine is I am trying to get my husband to slip the butler money to spike my tea. When my husband fails, then I flirt with the butler.

An incredible amount of research and hard work went into every ensemble members characters and backgrounds. Rhinehart says, “An ensemble member has to find moments of specificity. Moments that make you tick and keep your show alive.” And each member of this ensemble did just that in the Broadway cast of My Fair Lady creating new, specific moments for each character they play.

"There's Always Going to be Another Play."

Mo Brady

by Claybourne Elder

 Claybourne Elder (right, with husband Eric Rosen)

Claybourne Elder (right, with husband Eric Rosen)

Here's the thing: when Eric and I decided to get married, I was surprised by some of the response. No one questioned whether or not Eric and I were madly in love. At least I hope that was abundantly clear to them. But my then manager, who had been trying to get me to hide my sexuality for fear of it affecting my castability, flat out told me it was a bad idea. My then agents told me that spending any time away from NYC was a bad idea and marrying someone living in Kansas City was detrimental. 

Both of these companies fired me. 

I could say that there were probably many reasons that they decided to let me go, but no; both made it clear in our final conversation that my family situation was responsible. These are not bad people. I had very meaningful relationships with them. We were friends, and maybe they were right. Not in what they did, which I sometimes still struggle with being angry about. But maybe it did affect my career. Who cares? I sure don't. 

 Claybourne Elder

Claybourne Elder

I want to tell you this: don't let anyone tell you how to balance your life and career. That doesn't mean run out and get married because that's the only way to prove you have a life. Maybe don't get married! Ever! Just have meaningful relationships with things that require an offering of your time and energy. Maybe that's your plants, or pets, or as Maria Bamford puts it: "a trisexual stranger you met on petfinder.uk."

It's simple to say I'm choosing love over my career. That was easy for me. It's much harder when Broadway calls and asks you to postpone your wedding or miss the birth of your child. But do it then too. There's always going to be another play.