I think the story starts when my agents sent me the appointment to audition for Elsa in Broadway's Frozen. Because I'm black, I was pretty shocked and I wrote back- you mean... the iconic BLONDE one? I was pretty sure someone had made a mistake somewhere, but they insisted, so I went in to audition. I immediately felt a connection to "Let It Go." To me, the song is about self-love and empowerment, which is something I can relate to struggling with especially BECAUSE I'm a minority and because of my bisexuality. It's a song that touched the entire country, and I think that's because it begins with a lot of shame and repression and self-hatred for being different, and then you watch her put an end to that and make a decision to embrace herself fully. Once she does that - she's unstoppable. She's literally magic. It's incredibly liberating no matter who you are, and after auditioning with that song I realized that, although I'm not a blonde, I relate deeply and very personally to the message.
I practiced Elsa for about a year on my own before my date came to go onstage. Often, between shows I like to go to Ripley-Grier or one of the open studios in midtown, just to sing through her songs and work on scene work. I wanted to be as prepared as possible so when the surprise moment ever came to go on, I could trust that my voice was as used to the role as if I performed it every night.
But even with as much preparation as I could think of to do, when the overture started at my first performance for Elsa, I had a moment of complete terror. From the Elsa dressing room, I listened to the ensemble singing the opening number that I normally sing each night and felt completely alien; in the wrong place. What if I couldn't do it? What if I blanked?? I sat down on the couch and tried to coach myself into a state of relaxation. That's the hardest part for me, the moment where you have to STOP working, where you have to relax and trust that the work is there. There were many people in the audience that I didn't want to blow it in front of. And the biggest struggle of being an understudy is; you must be as confident as if you do it every night -- but how, when don't even know if you can do it, yourself?
I guess the answer is... you put an end to the self-doubt and tell yourself you're ready, that those hours of private preparation are there. You take a deep breath, open up to the luxury of performing something you deeply relate to.... and you leap.
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