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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

I Was Broken, but I Am Vasthy

Angela Tricarico

By Vasthy Mompoint

I broke.

About three weeks ago, I found out my body was dying. Like, actually dying. Fibroid tumors, tumors that grow in Fibroids, also known as uterine myomas, leiomyomas, or fibromas. They are firm, compact tumors that are made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue that develop in the uterus. More than 99 percent that are found are non life-threatening (ucla.edu). Ah, finally, for once I am in the the 1%.

Before I went into my surgery, they told me my body was shutting down. My organs were failing. Weeks before I found out, I was going through a very sudden very intense depression. I would wake up crying. I would trudge through my day, and I would fall asleep crying. My body was telling me. It was warning me. Sadly, this was not my first warning.

It has been a year full of supplements, drugs and acupuncture. My iron levels were so low (I was at a 4 and 12-16 is a healthy range) that I would go to iron infusions then do two shows after. It’s been a year since I’ve had gluten, dairy, beef, chicken, soy, or caffeine. I do my show, I go home. The hormones have done a number on my sanity and my voice, and I have lost almost 20 pounds, as I will go through days with no appetite.

And the pain. Oh, the pain. The tumors were pushing my organs all around and and it would often stop me in my tracks. Sleeping was such a joke that just stepping into my bedroom gave me heart-humoring anxiety. I had extreme case anemia which left me feeling like I was constantly in ice. My white blood cell count was so low that I caught any cold within arm’s reach. I even suffered a small seizure after the Tony Awards. My brain could not retain information. I was losing my hair. I constantly felt like I had just been Dementor’s Kissed. One day on the train, my skirt literally just fell off. Still, I did not stop.

There are many parts to my story, too many to tell here. Too many to tell it all in one go. For today, I will not write about my anger at lack of research when it comes to women’s health... especially Black women’s health. I will not discuss the power of food, or the toxins in things marketed to women since birth: makeup, perfumed products and both diet food and drinks. That disability is $174 a week, or what happens when you are forced to face your demons in stillness without wine, drugs, instaworthy-pat-yourself-on-the-back-look-what-I-accomplished selfies, or constant motion. Those will come, but not right now.

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Today, I want to tell you how I broke. Let me tell you, I share my story as I am still trudging through the thick of it. This article will not end with Rocky fighting Apollo Creed. The Mighty Ducks have yet defeat the Hawks, and the first Jamaican bobsled still doesn’t work. One of my favorite authors Brene Brown speaks about the danger of not telling that story in between.

We like to hear the shortened comeback underdog story: I was face down in the dirt and I fixed it and look how great I am now. But rarely to do we hear (or want to hear) about the most important part, that uncomfortable, terrifying, dark part between having your face in the dirt to fighting and exploring your way back into the sunshine.

We live in a culture that tells us we are not enough. A lion could attack you, you could fight him off with your bare hands. You’ll stand there with blood and dirt in you hair and on your skin, sweat dripping down your chin yet if you open Instagram see that someone else fought two lions that day and you figure what you did was not enough...

I have accomplished so much in my life, yet it is never enough. I base my worth on how many jobs I book, things I can accomplish, temporary visitors I want to impress and I collect and hoard ‘yes’-es from strangers behind a table like precious lifelines. When I miss friends, I tag them in posts, send selfies or mostly think about them without reaching out.

I don’t return calls. I miss parties. I do not listen when people speak. I make lists upon lists upon lists, all of which were impossible to complete. I kiss my husband in passing, not fully enjoying the pure existence of him and the love we are both so fortunate to have. I have not had a good night sleep in years. I had a miscarriage and went to work a few hours later.

When they told me a few weeks ago that my MRI had some abnormalities and I needed to come back right away, I told them I couldn't come in because I had a eyelash appointment and a callback. Even as I write this, I wonder how it could affect my career. “I. Was. Broken. But I am Vasthy.” I am the strongest, I am funny. Best not show them anything else.

I stumbled upon the the “on this day” section on Instagram today and a smiley picture of my friend Lauralyn and I from last year came up. I remember that day so well. I was being swung out of SpongeBob for the first time. It was the first night I’d had off in as long as I could remember. That was the day. The day I realized I hadn't been hungry in weeks and that my clothes were starting to feel loose. When I look back, what breaks my heart the most is that it took me so long to see.

I wish they taught self care, meditation and stillness in school. I wish they expressed how integral it is to the work you do as an artist and how the American Dream is an exhausting one. How important connection is, especially the connection with yourself. I mean, isn’t that how you create the best art anyways?

I am told I have two choices right now. Stay the same and have a short life, or change the way I have been operating since I was 13. If I’m completely honest, they are both equally terrifying.

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For now I’ll say this, my dear artists (especially the ones who have been doing this for awhile amd have forgotten how far we have come): We decided to leave home and all that was comforting to us and move to one of the most expensive,  intimidating cities in the world... to be an artist.  That is some brave shit.

You are brave. We are brave. You are enough. We have to say that every day. We have to take care of ourselves every day, mentally and physically. We have to be proud everyday, especially when people or the business break your heart, and they will. We have to check in every day with why we moved here in the first place and why we are still here. My recommendation is to love and connect with the people around you. It’s all so short and in the end you will not remember who said no, how many likes that selfie got, or who saw your Insta Story.

You’ll remember the journey, the love and the connections. Because if you break, and you see who shows up, it all becomes very clear. I do not wish for anyone to break. It’s messy in here, but I plan to survive and I plan to write and use it all to create. I hope it helps my fellow strong broken ones.

 

5 Debut Questions: Meet Nicholas Edwards

Angela Tricarico

Today on our blog, we welcome Frozen ensemblist Nicholas Edwards to Broadway and learn about his journey to the Great White Way:

Nicholas Edwards

Nicholas Edwards

1.  What’s your name and hometown?

My name is Nicholas Edwards, and I was born in Trenton, NJ, but grew up in Hamilton and Bordentown, NJ.

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

I am in the ensemble and understudy both Kristoff and Pabbie.

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

At 12:01AM on my birthday, I received the email from my agent. Of course, I immediately called her (and then my mom). She had mentioned during auditions how great it would be if she could give me a special birthday gift. I don’t think I’ll ever have a birthday that will top this one.

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

How fast I learned everything! Immediately after watching the show for the first time, I was terrified. It’s a huge show with a lot of choreography, costumes and technical elements. But as we continued to rehearse, things started to click. After my first rehearsal onstage with the cast (who are incredibly supportive), I finally felt like could do this. Then my put-in came and went, and now I’m finally in the show. It was three weeks of Frozen boot camp.

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

Working with and meeting people who I’ve idolized and looked up to. The Broadway community is so inspiring, and I hope that the future brings more opportunities like this one.

The Black is Beautiful Project

Mo Brady

by Daniel Torres

The Cast of  Beautiful: The Carole King Musical  (Photo by Kai Ravelson)

The Cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Photo by Kai Ravelson)

One of the greatest things about being in the cast of Beautiful for the past five years has been the opportunity to get to know and work with so many incredible black actors from the New York theatre community. Beautiful is by far the most diverse company I have ever had the honor of being a part of.  If you haven’t seen Beautiful you may be surprised to learn of the gender equality and beautiful diversity that makes up our show. Breaking Beautiful down by the numbers you’ll find 24 actors in the cast. That’s an even split of 12 men and 12 women.  And that’s 11 roles for black actors and 13 roles for Caucasian actors. I’m Latino so if we want to go there, that’s 12 people of color in our cast and 12 white. For me, those numbers have always been something to celebrate! And I can tell you there is real value and importance in having this level of representation in a company.

Gabrielle Elisabeth and Micahel Stiggers, Jr. of  Beautiful: The Carole King Musical  (Photo by Kai Ravelson)

Gabrielle Elisabeth and Micahel Stiggers, Jr. of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Photo by Kai Ravelson)

Just think back on the last five years and you’ll no doubt recall the racial and gender equality movements that we as a nation have been grappling with. Hearing their perspective first hand, being able to have those tough and important conversations in the dressing room and during rehearsals has been such an educational experience for me.  It’s not only helped me evolve as a human being but I think it actually makes me a better actor and certainly a better co-worker.

For five years we have heard audience members say, "I knew I was getting Carol King’s story but I had no idea I’d be hearing from The Shirelles and The Drifters too.” or my personal favorite “I didn’t know Carole King even wrote that music!” Indeed, learning the early music in King’s repertoire is one of the most thrilling parts of the show.

What’s interesting to me is that in our retelling of King’s true-life story, people are actually surprised to find that there are black people in our show. Sure Goffin & King and Mann & Weil wrote these timeless classics but it was legendary Black artists like The Shirelles, The Drifters, Little Eva, and Aretha Franklin who made their music famous! You cannot tell the coming of age story of Carole King without including these black artists and the show is all the better because of it.

Now since it’s Black History Month allow me to tell you a bit about the Black History that has been made at Beautiful. Beautiful has been a launching pad for black talent in New York City ever since we opened.

Look back at the alumni that have moved through our company and you will find Carly Hughes who now stars on American Housewife, Aisha Jackson: the first black actress to play Anna in Frozen, Brittney Johnson: the first black actress to play Glinda in Wicked, Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical writers Douglas Lyons and Melvin Tunstall, as well as countless current principals in The Lion King, Hamilton, and the soon to open Ain’t Too Proud. And that’s just naming a few. Beautiful has been a stepping-stone to the careers of some of the most successful and ground breaking black talent in New York City. And this Black History Month, I wanted to shine a big ol’ celebratory light on them.

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That brings us to The Black is Beautiful Project. In an effort to celebrate all of these incredible black artists both then and now and inform the wider community of the diversity in our cast, I asked my co-workers if I could produce a portrait series called “Black is Beautiful.” I told photographer Kai Ravelson about the project and she immediately jumped on board, generously volunteering her time and incredible talent. Darren Melchoirre, the Associate Director of Art and Design for Roundabout Theatre Company, enthusiastically agreed to create our graphic design.

Daniel Torres

Daniel Torres

We worked out a schedule and we had our sitting. I knew we were going to get some amazing pictures but what I didn’t know was how good being an active ally for my friends was going to feel. It hasn’t only been a fun project; it’s deepened mutual respect and friendships in ways I couldn’t have predicted.

Who knows where the “Black is Beautiful” project might be able to go from here. After all, representation matters and diversity should be celebrated! So in honor of this Black History Month the cast of Beautiful is here to proudly say… Beautiful is black. And Black is most certainly Beautiful.

When Good Girls Go Bad

Mo Brady

 We Are The Tigers at Theatre 80 St. Marks

by Mo Brady

We Are The Tigers (Photo by Mati Gelman)

We Are The Tigers (Photo by Mati Gelman)

In a world as fraught as ours, we consumers of culture always long to be entertained. And yet at the same time, we also want to connect with culture that feels authentic. Playing at Theater 80 St. Marks, the new off-Broadway musical We Are The Tigers strives to do both, but only with varying degrees of success.

The story of a high school cheerleading squad caught in a murder mystery is part romcom and part slasher thriller. It’s book, music and lyrics by Preston Max Allen are bright and cunning, creating nine distinct personalities among the squad’s members.

Both the plot and the show itself are led Lauren Zakrin as cheer captain Riley. A former Glinda in Wicked and Sherrie in Rock of Ages, she imbues her role with capable vocals and plenty of laughs. Zakrin is adept at mining humor from both the dialogue and circumstances, keeping the audience squarely on her side throughout the proceedings.

Zakrin is surrounded by a strong ensemble of women, including KPOP’s Cathy Ang as an incorrigible freshman and audience favorite Mimi Scardulla as a loveable mascot-turned-team member.

We Are The Tigers (Photo by Mati Gelman)

We Are The Tigers (Photo by Mati Gelman)

Fresh off her performance in Broadway’s Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, Wonu Ogunfowora brings her signature gravitas to role of of Cairo, Riley’s frienemy and right-hand woman. Newsies veteran Kaitlyn Frank also shines as Annleigh, a high-strung Christian balancing her faith with her more carnal desires.

There’s much to like about the plucky production, but what I longed for in the show was a distinct point of view. It could be delicious camp or it could also be a genuine story of loss at a young age. In trying to do both, it doesn’t really end up doing either as well as it could.

The show could use a healthy trim to its first act, as ballads often feel longer than the moment’s emotions call for. For any qualms audiences may have with the slow first act, the second act moves briskly as it entertains, and the twist at the end was one that I genuinely didn’t see coming until the penultimate scene.

All in all, We Are The Tigers is a murderific romp. It’s easy to imagine it being adopted into the canon of shows beloved by young theatre artists. With a few smart edits, it might just get there.

We Are The Tigers (Photo by Mati Gelman)

We Are The Tigers (Photo by Mati Gelman)

Staying Fit on Tour with The Lightning Thief

Angela Tricarico

by Sam Leicht


Sam Leicht

Sam Leicht

One of the great things our management on The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical’s national tour decided was that all the understudies would have a swing-in performance to really make sure we’re prepared. We are currently in Bethlehem, PA, where I had my put-in rehearsal for Percy this afternoon, and wow. I've been memorizing, and practicing fight choreo, and watching rehearsals for months, but nothing could fully prepare me for my put-in. Tons of little things went wrong and I'm glad. I learned so much about Percy from the mistakes, and that's what put-ins are for!

Two of the tracks have been swung in so far, and I'm excited to be the next! I'll be performing Percy on Saturday at the Kennedy Center in DC, and I'll let you know in next month’s post how it goes ;)

It almost seemed like a rule for understudies to be treated as second class citizens in college theatre, which kind of makes sense because the likelihood of a performer missing a performance on a ten show run is pretty slim. It definitely gave me an inaccurate perception of understudying professionally. The resources given to us—ample rehearsal time, swing-in performances, working with creatives—couldn’t be more generous. Everyone working on the show makes us feel like part of the team and it’s been a complete joy.

We're getting to the point in the tour where everything is clicking into place. I'm able to watch the show twice a week and run anything I need in the dressing rooms downstairs, and I feel confident that if James were to lose his voice or Chris were to puke onstage (this almost happened), I could pop into the show immediately.

The understudy nightmares have subsided, and I've been able to start pursuing another passion on the road.

Sam Leicht

Sam Leicht

I'm a personal trainer at a CrossFit gym in NYC and I wanted some way to stay motivated over the six months we'd be away. I created a blog—touringcrossfit.com—to journal about my experiences at all of the gyms I was going to be able to drop into across the country, and it has kind of blossomed into this amazing project that plays nicely with tour life. Writing has always made me uncomfortable and before the tour started I was hesitant about a blog being my means of tracking the journey. So, color me surprised to find that writing these posts has been super cathartic and fun. I'm able to stay busy and continue learning about fitness from the widest range of coaches, and I get to do this while on the road as an actor! Geez, it may sound cliché, but I really feel like the luckiest guy, and I don't plan on taking one day for granted.

I'm nervous as hell going into the show this weekend. I know I'm ready, but that little voice still likes to give a tug and ask, "Are you sure you're ready?"

Just like before my audition for The Lightning Thief, just like before I had my first personal training client, just like before my put-in, my response has and will be one of Percy's lines from the show: "Not at all. Let's go."

Check back next month for my next blog post on adapting workouts for the road! I'll go into detail on what equipment I travel with and how I get great workouts in even the shabbiest of hotel gyms. Stay tuned!





Sam Leicht

Sam Leicht

Why "Women Of Color on Broadway"

Angela Tricarico

by Alexia Sielo 

Alexia Sielo

Alexia Sielo

I remember being in school discussing the quantity and quality of theatrical roles for women of color versus others, especially men. While I thought one way, many of my peers (the majority who happened to be white) admitted to feeling threatened by the popularity of shows like Hamilton, The Color Purple, and Once On This Island for fear of not finding work.  However, what they failed to realize is that this trend won’t last forever, and women of color like myself will be type-cast into these same kinds of roles over and over again going forward.

A lot of them didn’t understand, so I did an experiment. I asked my classmates, “What kind of roles do you think I should pursue post-graduation?” I’ve gotten answers ranging from Joanne in RENT, to Celie in The Color Purple, even Schuyler sisters in Hamilton. It sounds flattering at first, given these are arguably the biggest musicals in recent history.  Then I asked my second question. “What about Lee, my best friend who migrated here from Africa to also study musical theater?”

They answered “Oh wow, she would be great in RENT as Joanne. I think she should pursue The Color Purple as well.”

I remained silent for almost 30 seconds, then I asked “What about Genesis?” (another close friend who is from the Dominican Republic)

They replied, “Oh, she should do Hamilton!”

The three of us are all talented, but immensely different. Still, we were told to go for the same roles.  While today’s Broadway may have various opportunities for women who look like me, we still face limitations. What is the next trend in Broadway storytelling? No one knows. There isn’t a vast catalog of musicals that I could draw upon as they can for continental or international work opportunities.

So why is there a need for an idea like Women of Color on Broadway (WOCoB)?  Once a tribute concert paying homage to some of the greatest performers of color in musical theater history, WOCoB has developed into a 3-part initiative honoring women of color who paved the way to cultural diversity on Broadway, as well as a forum to encourage young female performers, writers, producers, and directors who want to pursue a career in musical theater. It’s so much more than just a cabaret, it’s a movement to put women of color into positions of power so we can create and promote new works that will benefit everyone. 

Everything has a beginning… and that’s where we are today. Phase 1 of our initiative is the Women of Color on Broadway Tribute Cabaret at Feinstein's/54 Below in New York City. On Monday, Feb. 25th at 9:30pm, I, Alexia Sielo (We Are The Tigers & Cleopatra) will be performing in a concert with other talented individuals to trace our history through song.

“You can’t move forward unless you know where you came from,” - a proverb I truly believe.  

With the help of Music Director Kevin David Thomas, and Broadway’s next generation of musical theater superstars, including Aisha Jackson (Frozen), Alena Watters (The Cher Show), Arbender Robinson (The Book of Mormon), Majeste Pearson (Contestant of “The Four” on FOX), Genesis Collado (How The Westons Won), Felipe Joglar (Beauty and The Beast/regional), and Barbara Douglas (Int’l Recording Artist), we will go back to 1930s to present day to show some on the greatest contributions women of color has made to Broadway. Songs from Porgy & Bess to Hamilton and almost everything in between will be showcased. It’s going to be a great night of music. Come and see the start of something new!

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While I am the face of WOCoB, my sister Victoria Velazquez is the brainchild and the work-woman of this initiative. Besides the cabaret, there will be a college lecture series conducted by working minority female Broadway performers to speak about their truths in reaching their goals. They will also talk about behind-the-scenes careers such writing, producing, directing, designing, managing, etc. Finally, Victoria is developing a Broadway musical with an all female cast and creative team. She just wants to give a chance to those who may never have opportunities elsewhere.

WOCoB’s next steps are to gather more support, especially online, and sell tickets for our Women of Color on Broadway Cabaret at Feinstein's/54 Below, Monday, Feb. 25th. It’s hard and scary starting something new. Others have to hear and like the things you are doing and have a desire to support it.  So far, the response has been outstanding, especially from Women of Color currently working on Broadway like Christiani Pitts (King Kong), Kayla Davion (King Kong), Brittney Johnson (the first Black Glinda in Wicked on Broadway), Marisha Wallace (Waitress/West End), and the legendary Melba Moore (Hair & Purlie), who will be in attendance for the Women of Color on Broadway concert.   

So why did we produce this show and initiative?  The answer is… someone had to! Someone has to look into the future and encourage our young women of color to reach beyond established boundaries and create new outer limits that reaches as far as our dreams will take us.  


When Broadway Called - Feat. Tootsie

Mo Brady

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

Katerina Papacostas

Katerina Papacostas

Katerina Papacostas (Ensemble)

Hometown: Bedford, NY

“I found out the day after my 30th birthday!  To be honest, it came about a strange time.  I had just graduated from a coding bootcamp and was teaching software engineering online.  What was initially supposed to be just a new side hustle, was quickly becoming a passion.

“I’d been performing professionally for 10 years, had lots of tours and wonderful contracts, but was coming to terms with the idea that Broadway might not be in the cards, and programming was going to be my next big chapter. And for the first time in my life, that was exciting to me.  Sure enough, just as I’ve settled into my newly minted 30-something life plan, my agents call.  They started out with ‘We have some bad news,’ and despite my new found zen, my heart sank. They followed with You’re going to be very busy for the next year!’ I was speechless.  

“I have the feeling there are several ‘most exciting moments’ ahead over the next few months.  But as of right now, I’m most looking forward to our first day in the theatre.  Growing up seeing show after show, and even now as an adult always walking into Broadway houses as a patron, I think it will be quite surreal to walk in knowing the roles will be reversed and I’ll be the one up on that stage.”

 

Diana Vaden (Ensemble)

Hometown: Reno, NV

Diana Vaden

Diana Vaden

“It was opening night of The Sting at Paper Mill Playhouse and my agents from CESD met me at the stage door after the show. They acted super causal and normal, until they looked at each other and then back at me, and said, ‘We got an offer for you for Tootsie!’ ‘Wait, what?! Seriously?’ ‘Yeah, on Broadway, girl! We knew a couple days ago, but wanted to tell you in person!’ I almost started jumping for joy right then and there, but then I remembered my parents were at the show that night, so I had my agents tell them the news, too! It was pretty brilliant! The whole Vaden clan was jumping for joy. It was amazing to share that moment with my mom and dad, the ones who have supported this dream from day one.”

“I’m looking forward to working with the incredible cast I’m so blessed to be a part of. Each rehearsal will be a masterclass with talented artists who have such skill and experience I admire immensely. It’ll be like getting paid to go to grad school, 8 nights a week. I just want to soak it all in because I know I’m about to learn all the things!”

When Broadway Called- Hadestown's John Krause

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome one of the ensemblists from the new musical Hadestown to Broadway and learn about his journey to the Great White Way.

John Krause

John Krause

John Krause (Worker)

Hometown: Palos Verdes Estates, CA

“I find out I had booked the part because I woke up to a call from my agents. It was much better than most wake up calls! 

“What I’m looking forward to most is discovering this story and sharing it with the world. I’ve known and been obsessed with the album and Anaïs’ music since 2012 and I just can’t believe I get to help bring it to life.”

When Broadway Called - Feat. Ain't Too Proud

Angela Tricarico

Today on our blog, we welcome some of the ensemblists from the new musical Ain’t Too Proud to Broadway and learn how they found out they’d be making their Rialto debuts in the show.

Shawn Bowers

Shawn Bowers

SHAWN BOWERS (LAMONT WILLIAMS / ASSISTANT DANCE CAPTAIN)

HOMETOWN: SAINT LOUIS, MISSOURI

“I found out that I booked the role of Lamont from my agent the day after my final callback and right before the holidays, so it was definitely a nice way to bring in the new year. I was seen a total of seven times. I attended the Equity chorus call for singers and the following day for dancers. That lead to five invited calls where I read for multiple roles in the show, sang and danced for the creative team, casting, and producers. Since the workshop, I moved forward with the production and now I’m making my Broadway debut in what has been a two-year journey with the show. “

“I am looking forward to joining the Broadway community and continuing to enjoy the process and product of the work in which we do as artists. I have learned so much from my peers about the industry, and it has helped shape the type of artist that I aspire to be moving forward in my career. To tell this story with this group of talented and humble human beings is an honor. I cannot wait to share the story of The Temptations with the rest of the world!”

Taylor Simone Jackson

Taylor Simone Jackson

TAYLOR SIMONE JACKSON (JOHNNIE MAE AND MARY WILSON)

HOMETOWN: ATLANTA, GEORGIA

“Merri Sugarman from Tara Rubin sent me an email on my Birthday! It was the best present of all time!”

“I’m excited to share such an iconic story with the world on stage and am looking forward to seeing diverse faces in the audience! “

Christian Thompson

Christian Thompson

CHRISTIAN THOMPSON (SMOKEY ROBINSON AND DAMON HARRIS)

HOMETOWN: FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA

“My agent called me while I was still on the road with the 20th Anniversary of Rent, but at that point it was for the world premiere at Berkeley Rep. We found out we were going to Broadway as a cast on the Ahmanson Theatre stage in Los Angeles.”

“I’m most looking forward to sharing this story and this piece with as many people as possible! I’m also looking forward to having my mom, my teachers, and my support group over the years see this show and know that all of our hard work and sacrifice was worth it! We made it!”

A Chocolate Whirlwind

Mo Brady

by Colin Bradbury

Colin Bradbury

Colin Bradbury

There’s nothing better than hearing a speechless Jack O’Brien yell “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!” at the sight of you dashing across the lobby of the Omni Hotel in Pittsburgh. That was on Wednesday. Two days earlier, I awoke to an unexpected email from my agent asking if I would be interested in joining the National Tour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for a little while to cover an injury. By Saturday, I was making my debut in a new role.

Let me backtrack. In 2016, I took part in two Developmental Labs of Charlie to rework the show from its London engagement. The following year I originated my first ensemble track in the Broadway production, and I am so grateful to have been a part of the process. However, I never thought I would do the show again after we closed in New York. I developed a serious neck injury from the puppeteering and aggravated a previous injury to my lower back, so my body was ready to move on. 

What’s that they say though? “Time heals all wounds.” It certainly can.

When I got the call, they asked “Can you be here tomorrow?” I had to think about if I could uproot my life so quickly and leave my husband and two dogs with such short notice. However, after rescheduling and canceling some appointments I was on a plane and back on the road in less than 48 hours. I was brought out as a temporary swing primarily to cover one ensemble track when that actor is on for the leading role of the injured one. They were looking for someone who knew the show and could jump in quickly. Though it was not the role I originally played, the others who played or covered it were not available, so here I am.

Colin Bradbury

Colin Bradbury

In this business, we constantly battle two factors when offered a job: availability and interest. Sometimes you’re available for the job but you’re not always interested. I needed to quickly evaluate if this was something my body would allow me to do again, and ultimately the answer was “yes.” With the help of some amazing physical therapists and trainers I’m feeling stronger and more knowledgeable than ever.  Also, with my past swing and dance captain experience I knew this would be an exciting way to revisit a familiar production.

I was fortunate to observe two days of rehearsal with the entire creative team who were implementing some changes they’d recently discovered while setting the Australian company. The tour has a completely new scenic and video design as well as some new music, choreography, and rewrites. I think they’ve done a great job re-envisioning the show for the road and watching it again felt like riding a bike with new wheels and pedals. Therefore, despite already knowing the show intimately, I still had new things to learn. I had a private rehearsal with the dance captain and stage manager, quick costume and wig fittings, watched the show a couple of times and trailed backstage, then I was playing Grandpa George only three days after joining the tour.  

Not only was this a fast process for me, every department had to take time out of their already busy touring schedules to arrange for a new cast member: company management, stage management, dance captains, wardrobe and hair. They had to book last minute travel and housing, have costumes and wigs shipped, fitted and altered, rehearsals scheduled, and thousands of program inserts printed. This all happened within three days, at the same time the creatives were implementing changes into the production. It was a whirlwind week for everyone to get me quickly and seamlessly into the show.

I try to take every experience as a learning one and I’m grateful to be able to return to Charlie with the knowledge I have now. At the end of the day we’re doing theater and are here to entertain and spread a little joy. This show is doing just that and for me it’s been very rewarding to join the touring company. This business is full of stress and anxiety about what might or might not be around the corner, and this experience has been a reminder to just enjoy the ride.  You don’t always know where it’s going to lead and often times it doesn’t end where you might think, but those unexpected journeys can often be the sweetest.

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When Broadway Called - feat. Beetlejuice

Mo Brady

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

Eric Anthony Johnson

Eric Anthony Johnson

Eric Anthony Johnson (Swing)

Hometown: Essexville, MI

“I found out I had booked the part the same way most actors do.I auditioned, had some callbacks, and then pretended not to wait for the phone to ring! Truthfully, I got the call for Broadway while walking my dog, and the way I reacted made my dog start barking at me — I guess that shows my level of excitement!

“Honestly, I’m looking forward to every part of being on Broadway. Growing up, all I ever wanted to be was a performer on Broadway, and now I get to do that with this strange and unusual new musical!”

Mateo Melendez

Mateo Melendez

Mateo Melendez (Ensemble)

Hometown: South Windsor, CT

“When I got the call, I was just at home getting ready for the day. If I remember correctly, Alex Timbers, the director, was the one who made the call with the offer. So that was really cool. I was ecstatic to say the least. I couldn’t believe it.

“I have quite a few different roles in the show as an ensemble member. I’m a mourner in one scene and a goblin in the next. I dance in a big puppet type apparatus at one point. But one of the main reasons they hired me is because I’m a breakdancer and they wanted cool flips and tricks in the dance routines.

“One of my favorite things about being a performer is getting reactions out of people. I love entertaining. So being able to share my passion with so many people on such a big stage and being a part of such a fascinating production that is sure to get some amazing reactions out of people are some of the things I’m most excited about. I can’t wait to see what people say and what they’ll think about it. It’s a crazy and hilarious show, and I think people are going to really enjoy

Kim Sava

Kim Sava

Kim Sava (Miss Argentina/Ensemble)

Hometown: Grandforks, North Dakota

“What did I do when I found out I booked the part? I nearly wet myself! For both the DC and Broadway run I got the call from my agent, who put me on speaker phone because both his wife and new born baby wanted to say congratulations. It was a beautiful moment, one memory I’ll never forget.

”There is so much I am looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway. I think what I’m looking forward to the most is helping to create something new from the ground up with a literal group of comedians. I'm looking forward to laughing everyday!”



Seeing Myself in Melchior

Mo Brady

by Alex Grayson

Alex Grayson (in  Spring Awakening,  right and Leslie Odom, Jr. in  Hamilton , left)

Alex Grayson (in Spring Awakening, right and Leslie Odom, Jr. in Hamilton, left)

A reporter in Long Island asked me if there was any significance in my character (Melchior) being black. The question caught me off guard. I quickly responded, "No, it's not a play about race." But looking back in this context, I think I was wrong.

We have such a strong subconscious default to White Straight Male as the norm that anything else seems "edgy." That bias crept into my perception of what is available and accessible to me as an actor.

When I first moved to New York City, I felt like I was limited to three or four shows like The Book of Mormon or The Lion King, or wait for the next revival of Dreamgirls. Outside of that, I felt a subconscious need to constantly change minds in an audition room. Is the creative team going to risk casting a person of color in a historically White role? I was navigating anticipated casting bias within the already daunting gamble of auditioning. 

A storm of events brought Spring Awakening into the realm of possibility for me. My former director, Evan Pappas, was attached to the production as Artistic Director. More importantly, it was the end of a huge year for Black artists in theatre and film. I had just come back from an artist gathering in Vermont celebrating Black people in the arts. My pride was at full strength. I showed up at the ECC for Spring Awakening with an overwhelming feeling that all things were possible.

That feeling of possibility came from seeing faces that looked like mine. Leslie Odom, Jr., in particular, inspired me so much with his performance as Aaron Burr. I could SEE MYSELF in him. He blew me away. Lin-ManueI is the #GOAT for creating Hamilton and breaking all the rules. The racial landscape of casting is changing fast. I am truly grateful to the Argyle Theater for reimagining Spring Awakening and this incredible role, Melchior Gabor.

Alex Grayson

Alex Grayson

5 Debut Questions: Phantom's Kelly Loughran

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome The Phantom of the Opera ensemblist Kelly Loughran to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Great White Way:

Kelly Loughran

Kelly Loughran

1. What's your name and hometown?

My name is Kelly Loughran and I’m from “the sweetest place on Earth:” Hershey, PA.

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

I’m in the ensemble as one of the ballerinas in The Phantom of the Opera.

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

Oh this is a great story! I’ve been auditioning for this show for over three years, but I ended up booking it from a video submission. The Broadway company was having an ECC while I was working on a regional production of An American in Paris. I couldn’t attend because we were in shows, so, with the help of Polly Baird (our Lise in AAIP and the swing/dance captain of Phantom), I made a video submission. Roughly two days later, Polly pulled me aside and said “welcome to dressing room 17L at the Majestic Theater” … she continued and told me that in less than a month I would be making my Broadway debut. It felt like the most special way to find out that my dream was coming true! 

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

The most surprising thing is how normal it felt. Rehearsing for this show was just like every other show I’ve been fortunate to work on; this show just happens to be on Broadway!  Everything leading up to this point has prepared me so well, and I’m so grateful for that. The Phantom company also has a bullet-proof system for putting people into the show, so I was in very good hands. 

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

So far my favorite thing about this entire experience has been walking past the theater lights on my way to the stage door before every show. These moments are so special to me and something that I look forward to as soon as I wake up! Part of me is in utter disbelief that I get to perform in an incredible show every day in NYC. I want to marinate in that joy for as long as possible. Of course, I can’t wait to see what else unfolds, but for now I'm enjoying seeing those lights! 


Kelly Loughran

Kelly Loughran

Spring 2019 Ensemblist Preview

Mo Brady

Place your bets in your Legacy Robe recipient pools (is that not a thing?) with our advance look at the five incredible ensembles hitting Broadway this spring.

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Kiss Me, Kate

Opening Night: March 14, 2019

Talk about a cast of ensemblist all-stars. These 15 actors have a combined 74 Broadway credits to their names. Many of them are veterans of Warren Carlyle’s revivals: Rick Faugno and Erica Mansfield both danced for him in On The 20th Century, while both Will Burton and Sarah Meahl performed in Hello, Dolly!

Relative Broadway newcomer Christine Cornish Smith will be in her third original revival cast in three seasons, after playing Bombalurina in Cats and performing in Lincoln Center’s My Fair Lady. Both Tanya Haglund and Justin Prescott join the company after opening another musical - Head Over Heels - on Broadway earlier this season.

Kiss Me, Kate will be Erica Mansfield’s ninth Broadway show, but look to Ron Todorowski to walk away with the Legacy Robe for this - his tenth - show on the Main Stem.

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Ain’t Too Proud - The Life and Times of The Temptations

Opening Night: March 21, 2019

While they are the show’s stars, many of the leading men of Ain’t Too Proud have serious ensemblist cred. Portraying David Ruffin, Ephraim Sykes was the original George Eacker in Hamilton, in addition to performing in the ensembles of The Little Mermaid, Memphis, Newsies and Motown. After performing in five Broadway ensembles, James Harkness takes on the role of Paul Williams.

Harkness, along with Rashidra Scott, were both longtime company members of Beautiful, jumping across 7th Avenue to the Imperial. In fact, three other cast members have also played the Carole King Musical on the Main Stem. Company member Joshua Morgan returns home to the Imperial Theatre after making his debut there in Les Miserables.  

The company also features five Broadway debuts among its ensemblists. The Legacy Robe will likely go to E. Clayton Cornelious - while Ain’t Too Proud is his eighth Broadway show, this will be his first time receiving the honor.

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Hadestown

Opening Night: April 17, 2019

The ensemble of Hadestown is a small, but mighty crew. The five onstage ensemble members and four offstage swings have 39 Broadway credits between them. Out of those nine actors, four of them have already been in other Broadway shows this season.

Cast member Afra Hines is undoubtably one of Broadway’s most consummate ensemblists; she’s worked as both an original cast member and a replacement, both in onstage tracks and as a swing, and has been a dance captain three times on Broadway. Coming off of a spectacular performance in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical earlier this season, Hadestown will mark Hines’ eighth show on the Main Stem.

While Hadestown ensemblist Kimberly Marable has fewer Broadway credits on her resume, she by no means has less experience, as she has been performing in the ensemble of The Lion King on Broadway since 2014. Also, keep a look out for cast member Timothy Hughes (who is not hard to spot at a towering 6’6”) - he returns to ensemble work after originating the role of Pabbie in Frozen on Broadway.

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Tootsie

Opening Night: April 23, 2019

Like the cast of Kiss Me Kate, only two of Tootsie’s ensemblists are making their debuts: Katerina Papacostas and Diana Vaden. And just as is the case with Kiss Me, Kate, the show’s ensemble roster includes two veterans of Hello, Dolly! and four from On The 20th Century (Jenifer Foote has the distinction of having performed in both).  

One of those 20th Century alumnae, Paula Leggett Chase, made her Broadway debut in the original production of A Chorus Line covering Sheila, Kristine and Judy. She was also an original cast member of Crazy For You and Curtains, as well as many revivals.

Of the ensemble’s 77 combined Broadway credits - only one of them has performed at the Marquis Theatre before (Leslie Donna Flesner in the 2011 revival of Follies). The company has three Legacy Robe winners among it - Chase, Jenifer Foote and Shina Ann Morris. But look to Foote to take home a Legacy Robe to add to her collection (She already has received it three times - including twice in the 2016-2017 Broadway season).

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Beetlejuice

Opening Night: April 25, 2019

Compared to the other companies hitting the Rialto this spring, Beetlejuice is a cast of relative newbies. The 15 actors on chorus contracts share just 35 Broadway shows between them. Five ensemblists will be making their Broadway debuts in the show, and the presumed Legacy Robe winner Ryan Breslin has just four Broadway credits (as if four Broadway credits is anything to scoff at - you go, Ryan!).

Two cast members will feel at home at the Winter Garden, as Will Blum and Natalie Charle Ellis just closed its last tenant, School of Rock - The Musical. And while this is his first time working at the Winter Garden, Sean Montgomery has the distinction of working in a Broadway ensemble every season since 2013.

Also, the Ensemblist Longevity Award goes to dance captain Brooke Engen. While Beetlejuice is her third Broadway show, her last experience performing on Broadway was closing Hairspray for than a decade ago (January 4, 2009, to be exact). She just goes to show that, in show business, persistence pays off!

5 Debut Questions: Anastasia's Gail Bennett

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome Anastasia ensemblist Gail Bennett to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Great White Way:

Gail Bennett (📸: DavyMackNYC: DavyMackNYC.com)

Gail Bennett (📸: DavyMackNYC: DavyMackNYC.com)

1. What's your name and hometown?

Gail Bennett from Madison, Wisconsin.

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

Tsarina Alexandra/Ensemble/Lily u/s in Anastasia.

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

After several auditions, I was in the Caribbean performing as a "Broadway Guest Artist" for Disney Cruise Line. Casting contacted my agent that the team was onboard to give me an offer contingent upon having a fitting in "THE DRESS." (If you have seen Anastasia, you know why this is a big deal.) The Tsarina has the most incredible costume on Broadway. It is extremely heavy, fully embroidered and jeweled and literally impossible to alter in most cases.

When I arrived at the Broadhurst, my heart was beating like crazy! I knew this dress needed to zip up! It did, but it seemed the dress was a little long. So, I left that day not knowing if I had the job or not. The airline had lost my luggage, so they next day I spent all morning on hold trying to track down my bags. After an hour and a half of being on hold, my friend saw a text from my agent on my phone that said, "You got it!" I told her to hang up with the airline and she thought I was crazy and wouldn't give me the phone because she wanted to get ahold of the airline! Then my agent called and I had to tackle her to let me switch over the calls. He finally broke the news to me! 

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

How much time I get to spend with my husband Aaron DeJesus commuting and on dinner breaks! Seriously! He plays Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys over at New World Stages, and due to both of us working out of town constantly, we have not worked in the same city at the time in a very long time! And we are only 5 blocks away! This is such a precious gift. We are just giddy about it!

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

I adore working; not only for the creative outlet, but also the social aspect. I can't wait to build a new family. The female ensemble had been so incredibly kind in reaching out to make me feel welcome. 

Gail Bennett

Gail Bennett

Life Outside The Comfort Zone.

Mo Brady

by Reed Luplau

Reed Luplau (right, with Charlie Williams) (Photo by Andrew Mayer)

Reed Luplau (right, with Charlie Williams) (Photo by Andrew Mayer)

When an opportunity comes your way that requests you step outside of your comfort zone, what do you do? You could ignore it. That would be too easy. Or, you could say yes to the unknown and see where that path will take you. As a performer, I love doing what I do. I always have, and I always will. But like most performers, I am constantly searching for ways to grow as an artist and feed my artistic appetite.

In comparison to most careers, an artist's is short. As a result we are often perceived of as being of the moment. Well, this is one of those moments for me.

Reed Luplau

Reed Luplau

Ever since I was a little kid, I have had a passion for film, specifically dance in film. You can ask anyone in my family and they’d tell you the same. My Nanna and I would sit down and watch VHS tapes of classics like Singin’ in the Rain and Anchors Aweigh over and over again. I was so completely captivated by Gene Kelly and what he could do. I couldn’t get enough of him. I was so inspired that I moved across the world in pursuit of a dream. Now, I am finally putting those two worlds together for the world to see.

During Moulin Rouge this past summer, I had the honor of working with our uniquely talented Musical Supervisor, Justin Levine. Justin is a rare talent in that not only is his voice phenomenal and his musical abilities out of this world, but he is also a super sweet human being. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate him than to create a short film around his music. When he played “Love is Loud” for me, I instantly fell in love. Immediately, I began envisioning a creation of my own that fused with his melody. But to really make this happen, I had to nail it down to a location, a time and accept the realities of my nonexistent budget.

The story is simple. A man finds a Hallmark greeting card on the street corner. Intrigued by the card, he reads it and happens to find an attractive man staring at him from across the street. I don’t want to give too much away, but ultimately it touches on how each and everyone one of us constantly tries to fit into a relationship, being shaped into a mould of someone else’s design, all in the epic search of love.

Josh Drake and Reed Luplau (Photo by Andrew Mayer)

Josh Drake and Reed Luplau (Photo by Andrew Mayer)

My friend and colleague from The Great Comet, Andrew Mayer, loves to film. I knew that together we could create something artistic, touching and heartfelt. We worked hard to gracefully compose our imagery as elegantly as Justin did. Andrew has a great eye for storytelling through the lens of a camera. I had the images. Collaborating with Andrew was exciting. Between my visions and his perspective, we captured something on camera that Nanna would be proud of.

Writing this makes it sound like it was an easy experience. Don’t be fooled. We had our battles. Filming in New York City is no party. Midday overexposed light, frigid winter temperatures and don’t forget the fact that 8.6 million people live in this city. But we survived. I had the best cast. Despite my shallow pockets, they said YES. They believed in me. They believed in this project. I cannot thank them enough for their time, artistic contributions and support. It is because of all of them that I am blessed to share with you now what those countless hours of work and editing have created.

So take a peak at what life is like outside of that comfort zone. May “Love” always be “Loud” for you.

Holly James, James Brown III and Reed Luplau (Photo by Andrew Mayer)

Holly James, James Brown III and Reed Luplau (Photo by Andrew Mayer)

"Don't Discredit Your Journey."

Mo Brady

by Ramone Owens

Ramone Owens

Ramone Owens

All day long, I’d been seeing pictures on social media of fellow cast mates and team members at the Winter Garden Theatre. Every time I “double tapped,” I’d get more and more excited. Eventually, I decided I had to go down and see the theater for myself.

I live in Brooklyn, so I’m not in midtown too often without proper reason; luckily, that evening I was invited to Call Me Madame’s final dress run at Encores! I planned to go to the show and pop over to the Winter Garden after.

The show ended, I greeted my friends and fled out of the door rushing to the Winter Garden. As I approached 53rd and 7th, I could see the marquee at the stage door. I began to walk faster, heart pounding, like opening the largest gift under the Christmas tree. I took out my phone to make a video but all I could say was... ”you guys! You Guys! YOU GUYS!” To whom? I have no idea. My heart was nearly out of my chest, and I felt myself about to explode. I arrived at the stage door marquee on 51st and 7th and just stood. The word Beetlejuice had never looked cooler or brighter. I could have screamed of pure excitement and joy.

It was happening.

I literally ran around the corner to the front of the theater as if a stranger took off in my Uber. When I turned the corner, I was immediately halted by how massive the marquee was. Pride began to fill my chest, tears welled in my eyes and a strong sense of belonging came over me. I took out my phone and immediately started taking pictures; portrait mode, square, filtered, unfiltered, boomerangs... all of it. Then I’d stop and stare again. Imagining in a few months what the day to day of walking into work would feel like, picturing a regimen of when I’d work out and where I’d get my iced coffee from in the summertime. Planning out life with this exciting new work space as my home away from home, for however long it lasts.

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I joined the cast of Beetlejuice in August 2018 for the DC out-of-town tryout as an ensemble member. It was only a couple of weeks into rehearsal that we were announced an official Broadway run at the Winter Garden. Everyone was thrilled about the move to Broadway - thrilled but well aware that there were no proper guarantees of transferring, considering DC was still technically a developmental production. About a week after closing in DC, I got my call to join the company on Broadway.

Beetlejuice will be my second Broadway show. The first closed rather quickly (it happens). After so many years in the business, on tour and countless out-of-town regional productions, I am so grateful to be apart of an original Broadway show. For as long as I’ve lived in New York, I have never stayed in the city an entire year. Work has kept me away — hashtag grateful— but New York has never quite felt like home for that reason. I turn 30 years old on our first day of rehearsal; a gift that no one could plan or properly give me... that makes nine years in the business, with Beetlejuice being my first original Broadway company.

With a new decade of life ahead, I can see how time and opportunity have aligned; and it makes sense. The hard work, the unemployment, the “in between gigs,” the tears of frustration, the auditions that I completely nailed and didn’t book, the pains and the small victories. All of it has lead to this moment: staring at the marquee, a dream realized. 

"It's Time To Create Our Own Lanes."

Mo Brady

by Ari Groover

Ari Groover

Ari Groover

Let's talk about our favorite thing in the world (not really), auditioning. As a performer, doing the show is essential and vital. Unfortunately, we have to book the job first. Auditioning can be just as taxing as actually performing.

I remember going to an audition about five years ago. It was a fun, until I got the note that I was too urban for this particular show. This show was using elements that was taken from the Black experience and culture. A culture that I have been a part of my entire life, but I was told that I was too "urban" for it.

This is frequent for me and a lot of other performers of color, because of the lack of representation behind the creative table and casting. Auditioning truly bums me out sometimes! I am too Black, not Black enough, not Latin enough, too urban, too Afrocentric, great voice for recording, but not musical theater. They say “we love what you do, but where can we place you? You don’t fit the norm (or in other terms, you don’t fit any of the stereotypes we think of)!” Auditioning will always be a journey of ups and downs, but maybe it’s time to create our own lanes.

I am tired of waiting for some to give me an opportunity to do something that doesn’t necessarily show me or represent my culture in the way that it should. There aren’t enough people of color behind the creative table and that truly has to change. They love the energy that we bring into this world, but don't see us as being a driving force or character in shows. It sucks when we have a show that is based off the experience or perspective of people of color, having a creative team that is all white and male (because gender plays a role in this, too).

Personally, I have a hard time having a creative team that is all White try to tell me the experience of a Black woman in this day and age, when they have not done the work or research on their part. We are not stereotypes, we are multi-faceted people with true complexities. With that being said, we are also more than just a equal opportunity quota that people can fill out to say, "We are diverse."

Ari Groover in  Head Over Heels

Ari Groover in Head Over Heels

Yes, it’s easy to take things personally, especially in this industry. However, we have to have honest and true dialogue about this and spark change. I always hope that creatives truly take the time to hear artists of color. We have a voice. We have the ability to create our own stories, but why do we stop ourselves and get in our own ways? We have resources and other creative friends who are going through the same process that we should be collaborating ideas with. Is it because of money or is it because of fear? I know for me it’s both, but we have to stop using fears or excuses as a crutch.

I say grab a group of your creative friends that you really trust and start an artist collective. Share ideas and make sure we are not contributing to the stereotypes that has been place upon us. We as people of color also have to realize that we have the ability to progress the stereotypes that were put upon us, because we feel like that the only way we are seen is by playing in that stereotype. You never know: your work could change the face of this entertainment business.

Seeing My Unruly Heart in The Prom

Jackson Cline

Jackson Cline at  The Prom

Jackson Cline at The Prom

When I was a senior in high school, my class took a week-long field trip to Washington, DC. In the weeks leading up to the trip, members of the deeply religious school community attempted to ban me from participating in this field trip because I was gay.

The parents worried that I would practice inappropriate sexual behavior and be a negative influence on their children if I shared a hotel room with other students. Their ignorance and fear led them to treat me unfairly and, along with the countless microaggressions I experienced in my youth, caused deep pain.

I did not take time to process what had happened, instead focusing intently on my future. I was only months away from graduating and moving to New York City for acting school. It wasn’t until months later that I realized just how much pain this event had caused. Creating theatre and working with a life coach helped me process it.

That said, the intolerance I faced during my teenage years has had a lasting effect on me. Although it’s gotten easier over time, anxiety is still the first sensation I experience when I visit Virginia. I cannot set foot in a church without feeling agonizing emotional pain. I’m often hesitant to voice my opinions to people I don’t know well.

As you might have noticed, teenage Jackson, although much more eager to show off his zazz, was quite similar to Emma, the lead character in The Prom. In this new Broadway musical, Emma, a lesbian teenager in Indiana, is banned from attending her high school prom with her girlfriend, and a group of Broadway actors visit her town to teach the community a lesson about acceptance. I’ve found The Prom to be one of the most relatable, moving, and entertaining shows in recent years.

(No, Beth Leavel and Brooks Ashmanskas did not come rescue me from Virginia, but listening to them on cast recordings was a common activity that provided a wonderful escape for young Jackson.)

By intermission of an early October run-through of The Prom at New 42nd Street Studios, I knew that this show was special. More significantly, I knew it had the power to change lives. If The Prom had been around when I was in high school, I would’ve felt more empowered and less alone. Even seeing it years after my own time in high school, it was highly therapeutic. If I could, I would buy tickets for every LGBT teenager in the world. This show has the power to open the minds and hearts of those who treat any minority group with intolerance.

While I’ve been a proud member of the LGBT community for a while, The Prom has reminded me that my voice and actions can make a difference. Yes, we’ve come a long way when it comes to rights and acceptance, but there is still work to be done. Hate crimes are still happening. Just last week, an attack outside of a gay bar in Philadelphia made headlines. We must speak up. We must take action. Even the smallest positive action is a step toward building a world for everyone.

See The Prom. I think you’ll be moved. And if you are, share it with others. Then, go out and “make people see how the world could one day be.”

Caitlin Kinnunen &  The Prom  Ensemble (Photo by Deen van Meer)

Caitlin Kinnunen & The Prom Ensemble (Photo by Deen van Meer)

"It's Inspiring to be Around So Many Talented Performers."

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

David MacAaron

David MacAaron

The longer a theatrical company works together, the stronger their familial bond becomes. So is the experience of Dave MacAaron, widely known to theatre fans by his Instagram handle, DavyMackNYC. “We are able to be creative together and come up with fun ideas for shots that really showcase who they are and their talents,” says MacAaron.

A man of many talents, MacAaron has worked as an actor and street photographer, in addition to his full-time gig as a doorman on Broadway. While one of his side hustles includes video production, combining those worlds to take photographs backstage at the Broadhurst only started a few years ago.

It began in 2013, when the Broadhurst was home to the Tom Hanks-helmed Lucky Guy. Tony Award nominee Courtney Vance had been documenting the show with backstage photos throughout the Awards season. But on the night of that year’s Tony Awards, MacAaron began shooting photographs of the company’s Tony party while Vance was at the ceremony. “I offered to take photos until Courtney arrived, but when he did he told me to just keep shooting,” remembers MacAaron. “I shot the rest of the evening and ended up doing a behind-the-scenes short film for Lucky Guy's final day.”

Kathryn Boswell (Photo by David MacAaron)

Kathryn Boswell (Photo by David MacAaron)

Since Lucky Guy, MacAaron has shot backstage photographs with the companies of Mamma Mia, Misery, Tuck Everlasting, The Front Page, and now Anastasia. Outside of the Broadhurst Theatre, MacAaron has also shot actors backstage at Dear Evan Hansen, The Phantom of the Opera, Hello, Dolly!, and Come From Away.

Chronicling life backstage has also been an opportunity to showcase the work of these production’s costume designers. His photos have become celebrations of the work of these Tony nominees and winners, including Gregg Barnes for Tuck Everlasting and Linda Cho for Anastasia. “I like the juxtaposition of very fancy, beautiful clothing and the older, bare backstage area,” he reveals.

While MacAaron has become the industry expert at capturing photographs of life backstage on Broadway, the circumstances continue to provide challenges. The quick pace of a Broadway show means MacAaron has limited time to get a shot. “We grab what we can,” MacAaron admits. “Luckily, I am working with so many pros, so they know how to pose and often have a vision for the shot in mind.”

The actors working on the Broadhurst stage are just as in awe of MacAaron’s talents: He’s just the best,” says Kathryn Boswell, Anastasia company member. “Davy has such a generous spirit, and a true gift for making people feel special. It’s rare to get pictures backstage during a show in costume (let alone pictures worth framing!), and every single one he takes is worth putting on the wall.”

Not only is the actors’ time limited, MacAaron’s responsibilities as a doorman provide additional scheduling challenges. In order to have time to shoot, he will use a small window during his lunch break or will stay a few minutes after his shift. Otherwise, his sessions last less than a minute, as actors are rushing by his office to and from the Broadhurst stage.

Even in those quick moments, MacAaron is able to capture the energy of working backstage at the Broadhurst. “It's inspiring to be around so many talented performers each day,” he shares. “The longer a show is here at the theater, the better I get to know each member of the cast, and I hope that reflects in their photos.”