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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

5 Debut Questions: Pretty Woman’s Sam Seferian

Mo Brady

This week, we welcome Pretty Woman ensemblist Sam Seferian to the Main Stem and learn about his journey to making his Broadway debut.

Sam Seferian

Sam Seferian

1. What is your name and hometown?

Sam Seferian from Boston MA.

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

Giulio/Ensemble in Pretty Woman: The Musical.

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

I was out to dinner with friends and got an email saying it was looking like I booked the role, and I immediately burst into tears. I got a lot of confused looks from different tables, but it was one of the best moments of my life.

Sam Seferian (center with Lauren Lim Jackson and Renee Marino) in  Pretty Woman

Sam Seferian (center with Lauren Lim Jackson and Renee Marino) in Pretty Woman

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

How much there is to learn! This track is on stage for the majority of the show, and when I’m not on stage I’m usually running backstage to do a quick change into a new costume. It has been a true test to not only learn everything, but to make sure I would be performance ready with two and a half weeks of rehearsal.

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

Truly just being on stage with the cast every night. It is such an amazing group of people, on and off stage, and I feel lucky to get to join in on the fun. I love being in an ensemble and feeling like you’re part of a team. That comradery makes the experience even sweeter.

Sam Seferian

Sam Seferian

A Timeless Enclave

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

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On a recent rainy summer night, I dipped into Winnie’s Jazz Bar to escape the inclement weather. Armed with a drenched umbrella and a cocktail, I sought refuge from the kind of uncomfortable summer weather that only the City can offer. But what I found was an idyllic enclave.

Located inside the Refinery Hotel, Winnie’s Jazz Bar is more like an artist’s den than a hotel bar. The dim lights and the wood paneled walls felt like the perfect escape from the bustling city. When I attended, the room was bustling with young professionals and tattoo-covered visitors in slick attire enjoying the darkened vibe of the room.

The vibe was chill but buzzing as the room never stopped flowing with new attendees to enjoy the music and atmosphere. Dark green velvet drapes and warm wooden walls give the space a cozy vibe, as if to transport us back to Gatsby-era NYC. While it wasn’t easy to find an easy seat, I was able to relax into a darkened corner while couples conversed around me.

As a Broadway lover, Winnie’s instantly felt like home. From its Main Stem-themed artwork in the restrooms to its steady stream of standards from the Golden Age, it’s the perfect spot for anyone looking to elevate their night visiting the Great White Way.

Living up to its name, Winnie’s features live Jazz Music to entertain the bustling room. The trio of musicians at the center of the room kept the crowd entertained with their performance. The lively renditions of standards kept the energy high but relaxed, like a room could sink into for hours. Playing songs including the Gershwin’s’

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“Someone to Watch Over Me,” the room felt suspended in time. The set list flowed as the drinks poured, providing the perfect environment to settle into conversation.

Attentive servers grazed the room, knowledgeably offering suggestions to the clientele. The couple next to me ordered a bourbon flight featuring three bourbons on a custom board, complete with ice tray. The three sniffers, including local favorite Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey,  each looked ripe for the tasting.

I could have stayed at Winnie’s for hours, indulging in the relaxed ambiance and delicious cocktails. While plans required me to head out once the wet weather let up, Winnie’s is definitely a place I intend to return when I have more time to relax and disappear into its timeless haven.

"You Can't Be Successful By Playing It Safe."

Mo Brady

by Bret Shuford

Bret Shuford

Bret Shuford

Last year, my husband and I decided to take a big, bold move and relocate to Charleston, SC. For years, we’ve discussed leaving New York City and trying life below the Mason-Dixon line. You see, I’m originally from the South and always romanticised my return there. I dreamed of afternoons sipping sweet tea whilst sitting on a porch swing. After five Broadway shows, I’ve spent a good part of the last ten years working as the Broadway Life Coach while pursuing my career on Broadway, and I felt it was time to give back and bring my Broadway resume where it could help the most. Stephen had been offered a job as a business partner with his childhood friend, and it seemed like a great solution to those moments when we were between shows and not making that Broadway paycheck.

Charleston was beautiful, and I was very excited to be the artist-in-residence at the local college while Stephen taught around town. I was determined to explore why there wasn’t an Equity theatre in this gorgeous town that has access to so much. You see, for about $200 you can fly to NYC in about 90 minutes. Charleston is primed for someone to start a LORT theatre, yet what is accessible there is non-union stipend pay with an occasional guest artist contract. This is a town that is home to the Spoleto Festival!?!

Bret Shuford

Bret Shuford

Quickly, I started to realize that the issue wasn’t the town itself or the talent or the people. It was the mindset! I started to remember why I left Texas all those years ago and the stories and parental expectations I’ve spent years trying to help actors eliminate from their minds so they can better pursue a life of their dreams.

The fear mindset that so many of us struggle with in our adult lives stems from a misunderstanding of what a freelance life of an artist is actually like. For most of us, our parents’ career path was more steady: get a full-time job for life and constantly move your way up to higher income streams. When you major in musical theatre, congratulations, you are officially an entrepreneur! You own your own business, and suddenly you have to support yourself financially while you try to gain momentum in the industry.  (Mind you, many schools don’t even teach actors how to own a business, which is why I started the BalanceOnBroadway.com Challenge.)

So while it looks different than your expectations, waiting tables does not mean you are failing at your dream, it means you are supporting it. “Survival work” is just part of the career path. Stop letting other people tell you that means you aren’t succeeding or that you are somehow failing. How many people take second jobs to support their kids or their family back home when it’s necessary? It’s no different for you as an actor, with a side hustle to help you reach the goals you want to accomplish, and there is no shame in that.

Bret Shuford

Bret Shuford

If you're a parent reading this, I get it. You just want to protect your child from struggle, but as a coach, I would advise you, “Now is the time to go for it! Why are you protecting them from something that hasn’t happened yet?” I have friends who majored in Musical Theatre with me that are now doctors, casting directors, lawyers, producers, directors, writers, and they’re all thriving! There’s nothing to fear. Life is hard enough; don’t make it harder by planting seeds of failure before your child has even tried.

How would you have felt if someone had told you at 16 that your dreams weren’t possible? Or perhaps someone did, and you don’t have to imagine how crushing that can feel.

You cannot be successful as an artist by playing it safe, that’s just the truth. If your parents are saying to you, “you should get a degree in blah blah so you have something to fall back on,” Stop listening to them. If you know that this is what you want to do for the rest of your life, then go for it. Now is the time.

I’m here to tell you that the worst thing that can happen is that you learn something new about yourself. You just might learn that you can do anything if you work hard enough, even make it on Broadway.

Broadway’s Next Class: Trevor Salter

Mo Brady

by Marialena Rago

Trevor Salter (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Trevor Salter (Photo by Corinne Louie)

 “There’s a sense of community and camaraderie that fulfills a very social and spiritual need for me.”

Trevor Salter can do it all. The San Diego native sings, acts, and dances in film, music videos and theater. He has been at The Public, Lucille Lortel Theatre and the esteemed Carnegie Hall. So, how does a guy from the Golden State get into song and dance?

“When I was five, my mama signed me up for my school’s theater program cause I was a little rascal that needed an outlet for all my frenetic energy,” he says. “I played the Lion in the Wizard of Oz and fell in love with being on stage and making people laugh. We lost the theater program for a few years shortly after that, but I picked it up again in high school. I went to an all-boys Catholic school and theater was the only way I could meet girls!” 

After graduating from NYU with a degree in drama, Salter began to teach movement. “I co-teach first-year drama majors with my good friend Ae, and the whole class is devoted to helping the students get into their bodies to improve stage presence and body awareness.”

Movement, not just dance, can help actor in enormous ways as Salter explains. “We help them better understand how spatial relationships and composition can be used as tools to tell a story. We do a lot of contact improvisation and partnering as well.” 

Trevor Salter (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Trevor Salter (Photo by Corinne Louie)

When he isn’t on stage or teaching, Salter is also a personal trainer. Staying healthy is very important when you are in a show and though sometimes Salter would love to devour a whole pizza, he knows that being healthy and balanced is the best thing for him and his body. “I feel my best when I have a comprehensive workout regimen. I try to lift 3-5 times a week and then around that I try to mix it up with hot yoga, Pilates, running, and HIIT classes…A good diet is important too. I try to eat paleo as much as possible…”

As many actors who strive to be on Broadway can tell you, you’re going to have to start from the bottom before you can reach The Great White Way and Salter has seen shows go from words on a page in rehearsals to bright lights on a stage. One show he says he would love to see transferred on to Broadway is Here Lies Love which tells the story of Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos.

“That’s my family right there,” Salter says. “There have been multiple opportunities for the show to transfer but for some reason it’s always fallen through. That’s a show that I could perform every day for the rest of my life. There’s always gonna be a little part of me that hopes it comes back.”

This fall he will be back at The Public Theatre in the musical Soft Power, which debuted out on the West Coast last summer. The contemporary comedy rewinds our recent political history and plays it back through a Chinese lens and has a majority Asian cast. Something tells us that Salter is getting closer and closer to his name being in those bright lights.

Trevor Salter (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Trevor Salter (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Broadway’s Next Class: Abby Jaros

Mo Brady

by Jason Forbach

Abby Jaros (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Abby Jaros (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Boca Raton native Abby Jaros recently returned to her alma mater, The University of Central Florida, to be named one of its top ‘30 Under 30’, an award honoring distinctive alumni who exemplify excellence at the beginning of their careers.  So, how did she make such an impact in just a few years?  Jaros recently completed a prestigious run in the ensemble of both the National Tours of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Hamilton, yet it is her commitment to helping fellow alumni that makes her one of the school’s best.

Like many dancers, Jaros began dancing at a young age.  Jaros’ Grandmother was the first to put her in dance class at the age of 5.

“I hated it, “ Jaros says with a laugh.  “I eventually found a love for it unlike anything in my life.  My parents and my Grandma fully supported my love for dance and, once I entered high school, I started studying musical theatre.  There was not a dance competition or show my parents did not attend.  For that, I am forever grateful for their love and support of my passion.”

She continued her studies at UCF where she credits the success of their program for its emphasis on a well rounded liberal arts philosophy.  “I received my BFA in Musical Theatre with a Dance Minor from UCF. It’s a 4 year program with many classes in Acting, Singing, Dance, History, Business and Theory,” Jaros said.  "Looking back, I really am grateful I was able to learn so much more outside of my theatre degree…but I’m a nerd like that. After our third year, we are required to complete an internship in order to graduate. It was a really amazing way to jump into the field in which you were studying to get experience before graduating. That is a huge aspect of UCF that keeps it on the map.”

Jaros graduated a semester early and quickly left an incredibly talented pool of performers in Florida to immediately make “a go” of it in New York City.  It wasn’t long before she joined the National Tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, re-conceived by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler.

“Getting to learn and perform Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography first hand was my biggest dream come true. Listening to him describe the story, the intention behind each movement reminded me of why dance was my passion. I love story and so does he. So, naturally, it was one of the best experiences of my life at that point.”

She credits this first big job as shaping what would lead her toward her next big opportunity, booking the National Tour of Hamilton.

“During rehearsals (for Joseph), we all got to go and see Hamilton a week after it opened. Watching Andy’s style on the stage, after working with him in the studio that same day, made me feel like I was in his head.  While watching the dancers dance on that stage, I could see every intention in each moment.”

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Performing in one of the most popular shows in the world while on the road for thousands of people every night can present its own particular set of challenges.  “Pace is the name of the game with that show. And, really, it is with any show you have to do eight times a week,” Jaros said. 

“I often had to train outside of the show to keep up my body’s strength, especially after my body started to plateau doing the same thing over and over after 6 months. I had to strengthen the parts of my body that no longer were being challenged after getting used to the movement, to help prevent injury. I also had to be careful how I used my voice during the day, or after the show, because the material was also very vocally demanding.  I used whatever I was feeling to give the best performance I could. If I was tired, I learned to lean into the breath of the show, or if I was excited I learned to embrace the feeling of having the jitters. Hamilton taught me a lot of how to be efficient in personal care of my body to be able to perform as much as the show demands.”

This idea of personal care for any performer is paramount for survival over the long haul, especially for such a demanding show as Hamilton which runs almost 3 hours.  Many performers can learn the hard, unexpected way what their limits might be.

“I learned that sometimes my body and my mind are going to have days where I am not at 100%, and that’s ok. I am human, I was bound to learn it eventually. Sometimes when you push through the body not being up to par to be able to perform, it actually does more damage. I found that out the hard way. I ended up doing vocal damage from a sickness I had where I was coughing all night and doing the show the next day. Why did I do that? I don’t know. Ego, maybe. But in the end I ended up hurting myself and I learned that it’s okay to listen to your body when it’s screaming at you to take a second. Same goes for a mental health day. Often being on the road I dealt with missing family and friends.  Or, once in a while, I struggled with not being in a place that was familiar. There were days that got to me and it was hard to take my mind off of it, even at work. It’s ok to feel that way and take a mental health day to recover the mind.”

One restorative way Jaros found to rejuvenate not only her mind, but her soul, was her work in the Hamilton Education Program #EduHam.

“To tell you that those experiences were inspiring would be an understatement. I found myself tearing up in awe of the Hamilton related pieces the kids would put together to perform for hundreds, sometimes thousands of their peers to watch. I would have been terrified, but they all brought confidence and artistry to a new level. After the EduHam student performances, we would perform Hamilton for them.  Kids surrounded by other kids their age brought a different energy and understanding of the material being presented to them.  They laughed, gasped and clapped in places we weren’t used to. This reminded me to listen to the show in a different way every once in a while.”

Abby Jaros (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Abby Jaros (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Since completing her run with Hamilton and returning to New York City, she has discovered a love for on camera work.  She even danced on an episode of Saturday Night Live.

“SNL was the most last-minute and incredible experiences I have had in NYC. Watching that incredible and historic show be put together in such a short amount of time was both inspiring and motivating. That world is so last minute, quick changes right and left, and you’ve got to be ready and malleable to make it all work. But that’s what I love about it!”

Now, that Jaros is back in New York, she is ready for her next adventure.  She often serves as a contact and mentor for fellow students wanting to follow in her footsteps, regularly hosting current students visiting the city, organizing mentor meetings and workshops which help fellow UCF alumni network within the theater industry. 

“Abby moved to the city before me,” Jerusha Cavazos, current ensemble member of The Prom, friend and fellow UCF alum said.  “I wasn’t ready yet.  When I would visit, I would stay with her and she helped give me the low down on what the city was like.  She was definitely incredibly helpful to me when I was nervous about making the transition to New York City from Florida.”

But was there anything else that she wished she would have learned while she was in school?  Now that she is guiding fellow students who are about to embark on a journey similar to hers, what is the one bit of advice she wishes she had received while training?

“I do believe I was given the tools to accomplish all that I was asked of, but I wish, as a student, I embraced the challenge more, and that is creativity. Instead of being afraid to think outside the box, I wish I enjoyed it more. I work on that more and more, every time I am given the opportunity.”

"She is a fierce dancer,” Cavazos said.  “I watched her at UCF, the way she dances, the way she articulates, her musicality.  It’s insane.  She has been a big help to me believing in myself as a dancer because I didn’t dance much in college.  I just sang.  And now, in my first Broadway show, I am a dancer.  And that is not something I ever considered for myself.  Getting the courage to walk into a room and dance in an audition was something I got from her.  I’m thankful to her for that.”

Broadway’s Next Class: Florrie Bagel

Mo Brady

by Abigail Charpentier

Florrie Bagel (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Florrie Bagel (Photo by Corinne Louie)

At the age of five, Florrie Bagel was bitten by the theatre bug.

The Maryland native was transfixed when she first saw a production of Annie. She recalled specifically Jane Pesci-Townsend, a well-loved force in the Washington D.C theatre community, and her performance as Miss Hannigan.

“Mid-show, I turned to my parents and said, ‘I wanna do that,” she said.

Since then, she’s had the opportunity to perform on stages all across the country. Although her time on the National Tour of Sister Act as Sister Mary Patrick brought her much joy and beautiful memories, her favorite role has been Diwata in Stephen Karam’s Speech and Debate at Rep Stage in Maryland.

“It’s exciting when the right art arrives at the right time for personal growth,” Bagel said.


“In Speech and Debate, I was ready to harvest all my weird and dive into this vulnerable, dark, quick-witted comedy with two brilliant teammates I treasure.”

She added the rehearsal process with her director was “intimate, hilarious and freeing,” which made the production deeply special to her.

Bagel’s most difficult role was in The New Group’s Jerry Springer: The Opera, which she described as a “delicious challenge.” Alongside the other 16 members of the company, she played Peaches, as well as other characters within the Jerry Springer world.

“The focus necessary to learn/execute the complex and beautifully profane score, the energy, vocal stamina and pacing required, the teamwork, quick costume/wig changes, staying physically and vocally well in NYC winter while singing opera… It was a lot. It was also an amazing time,” she explained.

Florrie Bagel (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Florrie Bagel (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Bagel was seen most recently in the City Center Encores! production of Call Me Madam in February of 2019 as an ensemble member. She cited the shows she has done with Encores! as her “rewarding theatrical gifts.” She has also been in the City Center productions of Me and My Girl in May 2018, Brigadoon in November 2017 and The Golden Apple in May 2017.

With her work at the New York City Center’s Mainstage Theater, she’s enjoyed “getting to work with directors and artists [she’s] deeply admired for years, witnessing the work of everyone in the room, boldly jumping in, feeling the electricity of it all coming together for one fiery week of shows.”

“Then, hearing those lush, classic scores played by the impeccable Encores Orchestra?! Swoon.”

Her other theatre credits have included Pat and an ensemble member in the National Tour of Kinky Boots, Flora in the Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and Lucetta in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, among other various credits.

Bagel’s television work includes roles in Orange is the New Black, Madam Secretary and Difficult People.

Moving forward, Bagel wants to continue to sing stories that “stir souls, whether on a legendary Broadway stage, at a dimly lit jazz club, or in my living room.” Her career goals are expanding, but she hopes to keep digging, uncovering, healing, blooming, making, connecting and sharing.

“As I continue to detangle myself from societal conditioned shame, I want convention to be continuously confronted and challenged and more and more representation of all bodies in the spotlight on Broadway,” she said. “I want to hitch-kick B.S. ‘beauty standards’ and the boxes we’ve been put in, that have kept so many of us feeling ‘not enough.’”

“We are all more than enough. There’s so much to be stirred up- to be rewritten. There are infinite stories to tell and I want to be a part of it all.”

Florrie Bagel (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Florrie Bagel (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Broadway’s Next Class: Ian Coulter-Buford

Mo Brady

by Marialena Rago

Ian Coulter-Buford (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Ian Coulter-Buford (Photo by Corinne Louie)

There are many talented performers from around the country who are on the cusp of becoming Broadway stars. One such performer is Ian Coulter-Buford from Belleville, Illinois. According to his family, Coulter-Buford has loved performing since the age of three. He got his start at his local church and at the age of 12 he was accepted into The Muny’s Youth Training program in St. Louis, Missouri. “Every summer until 19 that was my home away from home,” he says.

After his time at The Muny, he continued his training at Illinois Wesleyan University with a B.F.A. in Music Theatre. Since, Coulter-Buford has been in many TV shows and theater productions across the country. “I enjoy exploring countries and cities I have never been to before, meeting the community, and going to the local non-tourist spots. Also having traveled internationally, I also love how storytelling transcends through language barriers, it’s really extraordinary and a true human moment.”

What makes him on the cusp of making a trip to the Great White Way is his incredible voice. (He was most likely to win a Grammy in his high school yearbook). In 2017 he released “Live 4 Now”, a Dance-Pop-Soul EP. “My album was a couple of years in the making. I’ve always written whether it be via a journal, songs, or poems. The EP became a conceived structured thought in 2016 and here we are with a great project and 2 music visuals, it’s my baby.”

Coulter-Buford says his music is inspired by many things, like “nature, God, love, someone else’s story, the next generation, it could be really anything.” And that “an idea can come at the drop of a hat, so I really try to keep my ears and heart open to receiving those ideas.”

Ian Coulter-Buford (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Ian Coulter-Buford (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Coulter-Buford is not just a recording artist and actor, he is also a choreographer. But there is one more description he would like to add; Broadway performer .“In the past, I had this mentality that made me believe that I didn’t deserve to be there. I also didn’t feel like I identified with a show when I first moved here. Now I am at a place where I know who I am and what I bring to the table. I am now ready and in expectancy.”

Currently, he is in Colorado as Archie Stone in TRAV’LIN -- The 1930’s Harlem Musical at the Arvada Center. Coulter-Buford has been in many musicals that many people have never heard of before or are originals in development. "Being in a show that is completely new is great because the role is based on me and what I do best. It can also be complex because there are a plethora of ways to go about building a character. However, that’s when collaboration comes into play and the team and actor come together to piece together the best ideas."

There are some shows that he has been in that he would love see transfer to Broadway. Shows like Fat Kid Rules the World, which is the story of a suicidal, 296 pound teen, Troy Billings, who befriends a local guitar legend, Curt MacCrae, who insists that they form a band together. He would also like to see Trav'lin on the stage as well. He says they are two totally different stories, "but great shows in their own right."

You can find Coulter-Buford's music on all streaming platforms and in "Outcast", a Youtube musical series.

Ian Coulter-Buford (Photo by Corinne Louie)

Ian Coulter-Buford (Photo by Corinne Louie)

3 Tips for Aspiring Ensemblists

Mo Brady

by Anna Altheide

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Before Ben Crawford became the nightly music maker in The Phantom of the Opera, he made his Broadway debut in the 2006 revivalof Les Misérables at the Broadhurst Theatre as both an ensemble member and understudy for Javert and Jean Valjean. Crawford sits down with The Ensemblist to tell us a little more about company life and his early roots.

“I had just gotten my Equity card the summer before I started in 2006. I got the audition for Javert for the revival and it went really, really well. I mean, really well. It was one of those things where the practical side of you is like, ‘I get to play Javert.’ But I found out I didn’t get it. But like two weeks later, they had an audition come up for the cover of Javert, and I thought, this is something I can do.”

Crawford flew through the “crazy whirlwind” casting process – which he described as a “Tuesday and then a Wednesday and then a Friday audition”—with flying colors. That Friday evening, he got the congratulatory call from his agent while standing in his kitchen.

“I remember I’m making mac n’ cheese with the hot dogs cut up in it, and my agent calls. He’s like, ‘Ben, I need you to do me a favor, can you go to the Broadhurst and get your measurements done?’ I had to quit my two survival jobs; call them up: ‘I quit!’, and I then started rehearsal the next day. It was nuts to have like eight hours of rehearsal, four hours of music, four hours of blocking, and then go see the show that night.”

He made his debut the following week, an experience he describes as a bit of a blur. “I don’t really remember my first show, but I remember I got on the turntable a little late for one of my entrances and slipped back and stepped on someone. They were like, ‘I broke my hand!’ I was like, ‘Oh my god,’ And they were like, ‘Nah, just joking.’ People were already ready to poke and prod me, which was great. It meant I was part of the family, and that was awesome.”

Working with the late, great Gary Beach (most renowned for his beloved performance as Roger De Bris in The Producers) also left a lasting impression on the younger Crawford. In keeping with the family-like energy: “There’s something I remember about Gary. He took a medical leave [for six weeks], but he came in one day. We’d have some people come in and out of the show, and he grabbed a Playbill so he could know the new peoples’ names. He was that kind of guy.”

Ben Crawford

Ben Crawford

During his time in Les Mis, Crawford was fully prepared — like every tried and true understudy — to step into the shoes of Javert or Jean Valjean at any given time. “It was a lot of stress for young Ben, just the constant, 'oh, what part am I going to do?'" Though Crawford landed the understudy of Javert at his audition, he accepted the role of Valjean further into his run. "I went from playing a student to a member of Thénardier'sgang. And because of that, they were like, ‘Do you want to cover Valjean? Just do it all?’ So I grew a beard and had to go through Jean Vajean’s track. I never went on for it, but that became just a very interesting thing to be ready for at any moment’s notice, and discovering that if I needed to go on last minute, I can get through it with pure adrenaline.”

For the new or aspiring ensemblist (or ensemblist at heart), Crawford offers a few pearls of wisdom to succeed artistically, physically, and as a team player:

1. CYA: Cover Your Ass: “There was one thing I remember in school from one of my professors. He and I never got along, he was a real hardass, but he always had great advice. One thing he always taught was CYA – cover your ass, which is a great thing for understudies. Don’t assume they’re going to teach you that. It saved my butt many times with my job understudying and covering people.”

2. Check In With Your Body: “The beginning of that show was so grueling on a physical level. That got me into stretching and being more aware of my instrument, for lack of a better term. Now I’m a stretchaholic, I stretch all the time before Phantom, I got my foam roller. [If] this is tight, I go get a message. Just go do it, go baby yourself. Something hurts, don’t tough guy through it. Go get it figured out.”

3. Stay Humble: “The people were really wonderful. I think that’s something I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to work with people who are just real, and treat people like people. I think when you are in that environment and see how good it makes you feel, you want to spread the love. It was really fantastic to work with those guys (Norm Lewis, Alex Gemighani, and Gary Beach) and see them give that energy to everyone.”

For more tidbits and takeaways from our conversation with Ben Crawford, stream the very first edition of our popular reoccurring series, #138 My First Time (feat. Ben Crawford).

“The Biggest Mistake Is Trying To Be Someone You’re Not.”

Mo Brady

by Anna Altheide

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With more than 20 years of Broadway casting experience (including Tony-award winning heavyweights such as Wicked, Rent, and Hairspray), casting director Rachel Hoffman (Tesley + Company) knows a thing or two about life behind the table. She recently spoke with the Ensemblist to give her take on what it takes to be a standout in a crowd of thousands.

As it turns out, what you wear (“unless it’s terrible”) and what you sing (“as long as you think you’re singing what puts your best foot forward”) won’t make or break the whole audition. As cliched as it may sound, the be-all, end-all comes down to simply being yourself and doing your best.

Of this common trap that actors often fall into, Hoffman elaborates, “I think actors spend too much time trying to figure out what everybody else wants, and what the people behind the table are thinking, and why. All you have control over is yourself, how prepared you are, and what choices you’ve made with the material. The biggest mistake is trying to be someone that you’re not.”

She also adds, “Come in, do your job, and get out. I know that sounds terrible, but sometimes on those big days, it’s about seeing as many people as possible and getting the information we need to be able to call you back further and explore more. You don’t have to show me everything, I’ll get a sense of it, and I’ll have you come back with material.”

Hoffman describes the whole casting process as putting together a complex puzzle, with unique factors – even down to specific notes to be sung – all coming together to please every department involved. Her role in piecing it together is an around the clock job, and “time management is key, as well as knowing how to juggle multiple things at once and multitask.”

“It’s just become the nature of the best. We are service people in some ways to our directors, our producers, to actors, to everybody.” Despite the momentous responsibility, “It really is one of the reasons I love casting, because It’s like putting a puzzle together where you have to be able to help creative teams shift and see things in different ways to make it all come together, and to make sure everyone is still getting everything they need to create their piece of art.”

Hoffman speaks extra fondly of casting ensembles, adding, “I think I fully realized how special ensembles are when Gregory Haney was cast as La Cienega in Bring It On. […] Watching him come into the room with specific character he created, it’s imprinted in my mind. Andy Blankenbuehler was the one who said, it’s amazing how much talent there is in an ensemble that you might never know exists.”

In reminiscing on past casting experiences, Hoffman harkens back multiple times to the ensemble of Bring It On, not only due of the immense talent she encountered, but “diving into a world I had no idea about, [such as] going to college cheerleading nationals with Andy Blankenbuehler and trying to figure our way into the cheerleading world. Cheerleaders aren’t looking to be in a Broadway musical. We had to go after them.” 

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Though Hoffman is no stranger to casting well known principle and ensemble actors (“I wish I could have one thousand Leslie Flesners who could sing the high soprano and dance and cover roles and be funny”), she gets the biggest kick out of discovering unknown talent, particularly among productions looking for younger people fresh out of college.

“I love finding the new people. [I think about] ‘who I knew before this’ and ‘who did I meet along the way’ because they walked into an open call, or because they were pushed by an agent, or because somebody else in my office saw them and said, ‘hey, you should try this person.’ That’s my favorite.”

To learn more about Hoffman’s previous experiences and gain more insight on the casting process, listen to our recent podcast #159 Let’s Talk About Auditions (feat. Rachel Hoffman).

Swinging from the Chandelier

Mo Brady

Brad Standley

Brad Standley

You know that moment just past the point of sanity where words start to lose meaning? Like if you were to say the word ‘avocado’ fifty times in a row and the letters began to mash together into some sort of sad, word guacamole. Or if you’ve ever stared at yourself in the mirror until the shape of your face ceases to make sense and it slowly becomes an amorphous puddle in your mind. That mental space, that fuzzy little spot where what was once incredibly familiar devolves into a goopy mess of white noise and dancing teddy bears, that is where you will find the essence of what it is to be a swing in a long running production.

For the civilians: A swing is a member of the cast (yes, Carol, they are actually a member of the cast) that is offstage most nights, but can, at any point in time, step in for most of the actors onstage. For example, one time in Austin two of our actors got stuck in an elevator half way through the show, and I had to jump onstage wearing my street clothes and a plucky attitude.

Before I go too far, I don’t mean to bag on being a swing. I’ve been a swing on the Waitress tour for almost a year and I was an offstage cover for In Transit on Broadway as well. It’s a wonderful job and I’m blessed to have it. In many ways it’s one of the more secure gigs in the industry because you’re the only one that knows ALL. OF. THE. THINGS. That being said, there is definitely a level of insanity that sets in when you’re sitting offstage most nights. We literally hear the same words hundreds, if not thousand of times, without the benefit of performing along to them.

Every week you find yourself in a different windowless room for hours on end, only vaguely sure of what state you’re in (geographically or emotionally). And yes...there are so many mirrors; just an ungodly amount of mirrors; everywhere you look...your own face, staring right back at you. If you don’t keep yourself productive, it’s really easy to lose a grip on reality, not to mention what sent you on this journey to begin with. Your career.

My career. What is my career? That’s a great question, Carol. Part of the answer to that is, “I don’t know, I’m hurtling blindly into the abyss. Can I get anyone a Fanta?” Another part of the answer would be that I’ve been on Broadway and I’ve toured, so things are going well and I’m working at a high level. Somewhere in between those two parts, however, lies that elusive sliver where I’m surviving, and creating a plan for the future; I’m setting myself up for better roles and decidedly less abyss. It’s also in that narrow patch of light that I get to keep my sanity, because it’s in figuring out a way to plan for the future that I also get to keep myself productive.

At the beginning of this contract I took one of my songs and decided to put together a music video for it. It’s called Antarctica. Check it out in all of its DIY, stop motion glory. I know what you’re thinking, Carol. Making a music video isn’t a plan for the future. In a way you’re right. In and of itself, no singular creative pursuit is a plan for the future.

Brad Standley

Brad Standley

However, signing myself up for the act of creation is definitely a plan for the future. That sounds like hippie nonsense but what I’m saying is that, in a measurable way, consistently creating art makes the art I create better; makes people see me as someone who creates and as someone to create with; reminds me that I am a creative person; and takes away the some of the pressure surrounding each artistic opportunity that comes my way, because it isn’t the only place where I get to use that part of my soul.

Of course the idea of creation is always easier than the actual act of creation. The blinking cursor can have a similar effect as staring in the mirror or repeating avocado. Brain mush. I have found though that scheduling the art in like I would any other job seems to be the key; it’s the consistency and structure of it that make it less paralyzing.

Now, obviously, first I have to learn all the parts I’m tasked with; doing the job I have professionally is the most important thing. I make sure to to schedule in some weekly maintenance time. Then I break up the rest of the schedule into small chunks of art. I found that giving myself a two-hour slot to work on the musical I’ve been writing, then switching it up with a couple of hours doing something more active, like filming the series of cover videos I’ve been putting out with my cast mates.

Side note: It’s really amazing to be on tour with an astonishingly talented group of singers who have most of their mornings free. If you want to check out the series, it’s called Ditty in the City.

Anyway, switching up tasks keeps my brain moving in different directions. I’m also really liberal with the amount of chill time I give myself. I’ve burned out too many times trying to schedule out every second of the day with something productive. I schedule in time for Netflix, brunch with friends, a long bath, etc. but I’m diligent about jumping back into the good stuff when the clock says it’s time.

Lastly, I know it sounds nerdy, and is in practice actually nerdy, but using spreadsheets to schedule out tasks so much mental effort off your shoulders. It’s like a regular old ‘to do’ list, but you can break up all of the items into different categories, so you can make sure that you’re taking care of all of your projects equally. Occasionally, I go full type A and color code my to-do spreadsheet to match the level of immediacy of each task. (slides glasses back up nose and sips on herbal tea)

I would imagine that everybody’s brain works differently, requires different amounts of structure, with varied ways of recuperating. The lesson I’ve learned though, is the importance of having something creative to work toward and keeping yourself honest with it. It’s the only way to stave off the brain mush. It’s also a killer opportunity to head back into the city with a good amount of money, some great material, and a bunch of momentum. Nothing wrong with that, Carol.

An Unspoken Standard

Mo Brady

by Brandt Martinez


Brandt Martinez

Brandt Martinez

The entire company of The Great Comet was filled with energy as we waited to perform on the Tony Awards in 2017. Since our show was staged all through out the house of the Imperial, we wanted to bring that same feel to Radio City. So we sat in the lobby waiting to take our places in the house for our performance. We all were riled up watching the awards being presented, knowing that we need to get just one good win to have a better chance of staying open through the slower months coming up after summer. The last good win we could have gotten was Best Director of a Musical, which was being presented right before our performance. Turns out, Rachel Chavkin did not win.

Obviously, many feelings were flying around the company so we sat together and meditated on the floor of the Radio City lobby for 15 minutes. It started in an unspoken way. We were warming up silent, feeling all the feelings, and next thing I knew we were all sitting with our legs crossed focusing on our breath. It was a beautiful moment.

I was cast as Dance Captain/Swing in Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812, a show very near and dear to my heart because of how involved the ensemble was. The Great Comet was staged throughout the entire audience. In the aisles, up in the mezzanine, up and down the stairs from our stage to the balcony. Platform stages throughout the house: one in the mezzanine and two in the orchestra with a “snake” stage winding down the middle of the house.

We opened the show with two swings. Paloma Garcia Lee and myself. We were responsible for 20 tracks. Our choreographer was adamant about the coverage being gender fluid, so many times I would go on in female tracks, Paloma in male tracks. Eventually we picked up three more swings to help with the load. We were on a lot, and many times in split track situations. Those are my favorite, and my swing team was a dream to bounce around with. I was told all of the swings would be performing prior to our first Tony Rehearsal. We were all ecstatic. Our other three swings were all making their Broadway debuts and now their Tony Debuts!

It’s very important to stage the swings into each Tony performance for a few reasons. First being, they are very much the glue that holds the company together. Each and every night when cast members are taking their sick days to make sure their longevity is there, the swings are the ones that makes sure the show will happen. Whether that means gracefully stepping into one single track or jumping between four different tracks on a Sunday matinee.

The Tony performance is a celebration for opening a show on Broadway and a way to present the company of said show to the nation. Swings are very important parts of that company.

I feel it is also very important for company moral. It is easy for a company on Broadway to get a bit separated. Swings vs. onstage cast for no other reason but simply not being around each other much. Having the swings perform with the onstage cast for the Tonys is a great way to help unite the company. And lastly, nothing is worse than doing a very important job to keep a machine running and feeling like it goes unnoticed. When producers decide to not have the swings perform, that makes the swings feel like their very important job is not seen and celebrated.

I feel as though most Broadway shows will have their swings perform with the onstage cast. I hope moving forward this is not a choice, but is an unspoken standard.

The Great Comet  at the Tony Awards

The Great Comet at the Tony Awards

5 Moments the 2019 Tony Awards Slayed

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

All in all, the 73rd Annual Tony Awards were a great night for the New York Theatre community. Hosted by Broadway vet James Corden at Radio City Music Hall, the concept that theatre is a collaborative artwork was front and center. Also, the idea that we all really do like each other! (Except for that spat between Laura Linney and Audra McDonald, of course.)

While it was an evening of few surprises, there were moments that truly leaped off of of the screen for theaterlovers watching at home. Here are a few of my favorite moments from the 2019 telecast.


The Prom

The Prom

  1. The Prom Shines

No show used the Tony Awards better than The Prom, which presented a mash-up of it’s Act I finale “Tonight Belongs to You” with it’s Act II finale “It’s Time To Dance.” While it lost in all seven categories it was nominated for, The Prom gave the the kind of heart-bursting high-octane performance that sells tickets. The ensemble shone from start to finish, from Mary Antonini’s gritty leading of the triangle formation to Wayne Juice Mackins’ touch touch. Everybody looked on fire.


Camille A. Brown

Camille A. Brown

2. It’s a Great Season for Dance

Time and again, we saw killer performances of dance during this year’s Tony Awards. Choir Boy’s showcase of Camille A. Brown''s choreography was a showstopper. The energy of Ain’t Too Proud practically blew the roof off of Radio City Music Hall due to seismic performances by Ephraim Sykes, Saint Aubyn and others in Tony Award winner Sergio Trujillo’s staging. The ensemble of Kiss Me, Kate gave us just a glimpse of their ten-minute tour-de-force “Too Darn Hot” featuring Sam Strasfeld, Darius Crenshaw and Rick Faugno moving through the steps at lightning speed with incredible precision.


Jez Butterworth

Jez Butterworth

3. We Still Don’t Know How to Showcase Best Play Nominees

Every year, the Tony Awards telecast struggles with what to do with the Best Play nominees. They’ve tried seemingly everything to showcase straight plays with the same excitement as their musical counterparts, from live performances of scenes to presentation of the shows on screens. This year’s solution - allowing the playwrights a minute to introduce their shows to audiences - didn’t work either. Keep trying, Tony Awards. Better luck next year!


Rachel Chavkin

Rachel Chavkin

4. Rachel Chavkin is Not Alone

Hadestown director knocked her acceptance speech out of the park. Her opening lines were about the collaborative nature of theatre: “Life is not a team sport,” she told the audience at Radio City. But her final words were about the the lack of female and POC directors in the Broadway space. Chavkin reminded us “This is not a pipeline issue. It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be.”


Kiss Me, Kate

Kiss Me, Kate

5. Broadway Swings Stand Center Stage

One of the most unique parts about Tony performances are that they are always individually crafted for the telecast. Whether the productions are creating a medley of songs, or performing something lifted straight from the show, they must adjust for the massive stage at Radio City Music Hall. This fact allows for some expanding of numbers, often including their swings along the performing company. Last night we saw swings from every single musical that has an ensemble included in Tony performances. In addition to making the staging look more robust, these performances are the one time that an entire company gets to perform together.







5 Debut Questions: My Fair Lady's Lauren Sprague

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome My Fair Ladys newest ensemblist, Lauren Sprague, to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Main Stem.

Lauren Sprague in  My Fair Lady

Lauren Sprague in My Fair Lady

1. What is your name and hometown?

Lauren Sprague — Cincinnati, OH! 

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

I am joining the Ensemble in My Fair Lady

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

I had gone in the previous morning and hadn’t heard anything till the next evening around 5 PM. I had an email from my agent that said “give me a call when you get a chance”. So I called her back and she said those five words you always hope to hear— “I have some good news!”. Then she told me that I booked My Fair Lady on Broadway! The craziest coincidence was that my husband and I had purchased tickets weeks before to see My Fair Lady that night without a clue that it would be the same day I would find out I would be joining the company! It was a really special night to say the least. 

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

The My Fair Lady dance captain/swing, music and stage management team are incredible—it was surprising how quickly they were able to get me up to speed and ready to be put into the show. 

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

I cannot wait to share it with all the people who have supported me to get to this moment. It’s such a team effort and to get to celebrate the victory with my family, friends and teachers is incredible. Not to mention going to work at Lincoln Center every day. I am definitely pinching myself. 

When The Audience is the Ensemble

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

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I’m one of those theatergoers that runs away screaming at the idea of “audience participation.” I avoid improv comedy like the plague because I disdain being called upon to provide a suggestion. When attending the theatre I like to be out of the line of the sight of actors, as catching the eye of one of the performers could take me out of the storytelling.

Yet I found myself willingly wrapped up in the proceedings of What The Constitution Means To Me. Performers Heidi Schreck, Mike Iveson and (on the night I saw the show) Rosdely Ciprian spend the show directly addressing the audience at Broadway’s Hayes Theater. This recognition into the story of Constitution immerses us so fully and warmly into the proceedings, I willingly felt a part of the ensemble driving the story forward.

I don’t mean to confuse this style of production with “immersive theatre,” where the audience is brought into the physical world of the show as is the case with this year’s revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! It’s not even the same as Hadestown where the actors recognize the audience during the performance. In the case of Constitution, the show feels impossible to run without theatregoers on the other side of the proscenium. It simply couldn’t exist without us.

That being said, the proscenium is hardly a confine for the actions of Constitution. Characters enter and exit through the audience and cues are yelled up to the theatre’s booth. Without being physically transformed into anything other than the Hayes Theatre, the auditorium feels a part of the set in Constitution.

This welcoming of the audience is not a unique theatre construct. Earlier this season, Mike Birbiglia winningly included the audience in his performance of The New One at the Cort Theatre. Like Constitution, this device never felt off-putting or exhausting. But while Birbiglia simply referenced specific audience members, Schreck includes the audience as a living, breathing force into her performance. She does not so much reference one theatergoer, as she includes us as one solidated entity.

Working together, the audience engages with Schreck throughout the performance to help her tell the story. At times we are asked to audibly cheer or jeer at ideas or statements, not as individuals but as a group. The moments where both happen simultaneously are thrilling as the room feels to vibrant with the power of connectivity.

Like the constitution of the United States, the script of What The Constitution Means To Me is a living, breathing document. Several moments in the show included references to current events from the last week. The proceedings in Constitution feel so alive that it’s hard to tell where the script could end. At times it’s structure feels jolting, but the plot never missteps or feels unintentional.

When I saw the show, the performance ended with Schreck and Ciprian sitting on the edge of the stage to ask each other questions “provided by last night’s audience.” I spent a lot of time in the following days wondering if they were really questions provided by theatergoers or were simply a part of the script. In the end, I decided it didn’t matter because it made me feel something either way. And that’s the kind of experience we go to the theater for.

 

Heidi Schreck in  What The Constitution Means To Me

Heidi Schreck in What The Constitution Means To Me

“We Were Just Treated Like Family.”

Mo Brady

by Anna Altheide

Shoshana Bean

Shoshana Bean

Broadway leading lady and chart topping recording artist Shoshana Bean needs no introduction. But like many a musical theatre legend before her, she made her debut on the Great White Way as a fellow Ensemblist, an experience she fondly describes as “her foundation” as a performer, cast member, and leader today.

Bean’s first encounter with Hairspray came in the form of early workshops for Tracy. Though not quite right for the leading role, Bean was initially apprehensive to officially audition when an understudy opportunity landed on the table: “I was in California and I told my agents, ‘No, I’m not going in for that. They weren’t interested in me before, why do they want me to come back now?’”

As fate would have it, Bean would return to New York that week to audition as backup for Mary J. Blige, and told her agents she would audition for Hairspraywhile she was in the city. “I will never forget that as the most fun, least amount of nerves audition I’ve ever had in my entire career. [I had] nothing to lose, and when it fits you and when it’s made for you, there’s no angst about it.” She also describes the audition as “high energy and positive” in part to choreographer Jerry Mitchell, whose “vibe is so loving that it created that in the room for everyone else. So it didn’t feel like an audition, it felt like a dance class or party."

“I trained up from childhood as a dancer, but I never had the appropriate body type for like an ensemble girl. I was not tall or long or lean and ballet never really worked on my body. I took ballet as a function of technique and being the foundation, but I loathed and despised it, mostly just for the way that it made me feel in my body. Going into that audition and being able to pony and twist, it was very authentic and grounded and it just fit and worked.”

Bean recalled a rapid one-day audition process, including learning the choreography and callbacks. That following Monday, she landed the role, rehearsals began that April, and they opened on Broadway that August. From day one, “we were just treated as a family. In my experience, the vibe is created from the top down, how the company is run, how cast is treated, how the creative team approaches the work.”

Working alongside leads Harvey Fierstein and Marissa Janet Winokur would inform Bean in many regards, such as “how to take care of people, how to set the tone, and how be the head of the machine." She adds, "It was important that happened, because the next thing, I went from an ensemble member to being a lead [in Wicked], and I didn’t have time with Idina [Menzel] to learn in that way. I was grateful that I had learned for two years from Harvey and Marissa and was able to take that one block down."

She remained in Hairspray until April 2004, two years from the day of rehearsal, and describes her commitment with the show and company as “joyful and wonderful.” Bean’s credits included the role of Shelly, as well as understudy for Tracy and Velma Von Tussle. She went on to perform in Wicked, taking over the lead role of Elphaba from Idina Menzel, on both Broadway and in the first national tour. She has since starred as CeeCee Bloom in Beaches at the Drury Lane Theater in Chicago, Fanny Brice in North Shore Music Theater’s production of Funny Girl, and can currently be seen as Jenna in Waitress on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre through July 7th.

To learn more about Shoshana Bean’s experience in Hairspray, including backstage tidbits, listen to our recent podcast #148 My First Time.

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"It's Okay to Trust That I Belong Here."

Mo Brady

by Anna Wehr

Roxie Hart in  Chicago

Roxie Hart in Chicago

Not many people can say they began their Broadway journey as a universal swing in Wicked, but Desi Oakley can. Since then she’s been a swing for the most recent Broadway production of Annie, standby for Eva Perón on the National Tour of Evita, and Jenna on the National tour of Waitress. You can catch her as the iconic Roxie Hart in Broadway’s Chicago this summer.

Like most performers, Oakley’s path to Broadway was one-of-a-kind. After graduating from the University of Michigan she gained representation and began attending five to six audition calls a week in New York City. Her agents believed her star-quality would carry her straight to the top to a leading role. She recounts being astounded by the people she was auditioning alongside. Performers such as Patina Miller and Laura Benanti.

However, after about five months of these constant auditions calls, Oakley realized this might not be her path to Broadway. She wanted to do what she loved as her job. She shared her feelings with her agents and auditioned for Wicked the following day. She booked it and began her Broadway career as a universal swing.

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Now what exactly is a universal swing? Essentially they fill in for countless ensemble roles in multiple companies of a show. In Oakley’s case she was part of Wicked’s two national tours and the Broadway company. She would fill in two weeks for someone on vacation, and maybe four weeks for someone on maternity leave.

She learned how different each production was and had to adjust to the different shoes she filled. For example, in one company the Elphaba understudy might dance frequently, but in another production the Glinda understudy might dance that role. She definitely had to be on her toes.

The joy Oakley feels from performing on Broadway hasn’t changed. She shared, “it’s okay to trust that I belong here.” Now she’s razzle dazzling for part of the summer as Roxie Hart on the Great White Way, making her leading lady Broadway debut.  Learn more about Desi Oakley by listening to her on our podcast #157 My First Time.


A Final “Hello!”

Mo Brady

by Kenny Francoeur

Kenny Francoeur

Kenny Francoeur

The first person I trained when I was assistant dance captain ofThe Book of Mormon First National Tour was not doing well. It was the night before their put-in rehearsal and I was relegated to drilling dance numbers alone with them during the show. After several repeated and easily avoidable mistakes, they stopped, shook their head and said, “I just don’t think I can do this. I feel like I’m taking someone else’s spot.” Mea culpa, mea culpa. Suspecting they were merely fishing for positive affirmation, I replied thusly:

“Listen [person’s name], I do not care what you think, and I do not care how you feel. At the end of the day, on Tuesday at 7:30 next week the curtain will go up. The show will happen. Either you can choose to be on that stage, or you can choose not to. But the work that is to be done is yours to do.”

While it might seem harsh looking back, freshly 23-year-old Kenny was positively giddy he was able to spew that out of his ass without stumbling over his words.

During my three years since becoming dance captain, I’ve witnessed actors struggle with that decision to“show up” or not. Does a new company member “show up” to their first day of rehearsal, or wait until they start performances? Does an actor “show up” to each and every performance, or wait for an associate to come and bestow upon them the permission to do their job?

That choice is one of greatness. Greatness is a choice. It is not singularly the qualifier of an ability. Those we laud as “greats” are not the best at what they do, they just choose not to wait for the stage to be set for them by someone else. Greatness is the unashamed ownership of competency. It is that simple.

Kenny Francoeur

Kenny Francoeur

At this level, in this field, I believe every performer has an obligation to choose greatness. We’re often told to strive for it in honor of the young babes rollerblading in their garages while listening to Jekyll and Hyde and dreaming of Broadway, as I spent many a summer of my youth doing. That reasoning is nice, but the sentiment is self-inflating.

We owe greatness to all the performers just as, if not usually more, talented than we are who did not book the job. And when we choose to misplace our greatness beyond the threshold of the stage door, we find ourselves undeserving of the privilege of this work. Because this is not just work worth doing, or even work worth doing well. It is work that demands being done exceptionally.

The personal brand of greatness I seek in my little life is exactly why I’ve decided to leave this show after so long. It requires moving on from places that grow too comfortable, if I am able. Thanks to many over my more than four years withThe Book of Mormon, I’ve been immensely comfortable to grow and learn and for that I will always be grateful.

But I’m very much looking forward to all the Tuesdays at 7:30 in all the weeks to come when the curtain will go up, the show will happen, and I will not be there. Everyone who’s done the show before me won’t be there. Before long, current company members will come upon a Tuesday at 7:30 when they themselves will no longer be there.

Instead of being depressed about that reality, I choose to see it as one of the most beautiful, albeit painful, gifts that life (and this business) gives us: the show goes on. As long as we put in the work while we are here, it can go on just as well, if not better, after us. If a company shows up every day and, hopefully more than once, chooses greatness, they allow for the storytelling to remain effective, the work environment to remain free of toxicity, and for the art form to continue to grow, and thrive, and teach, and stretch well beyond any one person’s tenure with a show.

If I could hope anything for this company, of which I’ve been blessed to be a part, I hope they are proud of the work I’ve watched them accomplish, because I am very proud of them. I am honored to have played my minuscule part in fostering an environment where the standards were high and unforgiving and where, more often than not, greatness was chosen.

It has been a life-changing pleasure.

Kenny Francoeur

Kenny Francoeur

A Tony for “Tipisest Performance”?

Mo Brady

by Ellyn Marie Marsh and Brett Thiele

Ellyn Marie Marsh and Brett Thiele

Ellyn Marie Marsh and Brett Thiele

 How to take on the Tony Awards? We sent our top two awards show analysts to discuss the event and the best way to enjoy it. When they were never heard from again, Brett Thiele and Ellyn Marsh stepped in at the last minute, the following is their conversation…. we apologize in advance.

BT: Good morning Ellyn, it’s TONY season again and we’ve been given the honor of coming up with the best way to celebrate a Broadway season that Ben Brantley himself has called “Exhausting.” What a gem of a human! If you had to describe the Tony Awards in one word, what word would you use?

EM: Rhubarb….sorry I’m about two days in to the Whole 30 and it’s all I can think about. Were you invited to the Tony Awards, this year?

BT: I was but I donated my ticket to the cast of Pretty Woman. So it would appear that we both have the night free, what should do?

EM: Anyone doing a cabaret about their childhood journey and what led them to be performing at Joe’s Pub.

BT: No, and I’m pretty sure they’re still prepping for 54 Below Sings the OJ Murder Trial.

EM: Hm ok then, how about a Tony viewing party? Like the one we’re throwing at Treadwell Park on 42nd and 10th?

BT: Wow, what a great segue into a shameless plug! That sounds perfect!

EM: We will have free Aperol Spritz’s and scream for our amazing friends that are nominated this year! Can we do something fun at the commercial breaks? We could read all the New York Times reviews from this season?

BT: I think we’ve heard PLENTY from the times this year. Why don’t we play some Broadway trivia and give away really cool prizes. While we’re at it let give away a grand prize to someone that correctly guesses the most Tony winners for the night!

EM: Oh that sounds like more fun than the time Bret Michaels didn’t go to camera rehearsals for the the 2009 Tony and got hit by a set piece! (Happy 10 year anniversary Rock Of Ages!)

BT: Yes it certainly does! So don’t forget! Tony Award Viewing Party: June 9, Treadwell park on 42nd and 10th, Red Carpet attire. Bring your brain, your friends, and your love of everything theatre!

EM: Do you think we can win a Tony Award?

BT: Sorry, Tipsiest performance after an “Equity One” at Blockheads is not a category this year.

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“It Was Like Going Back In Time.”

Mo Brady

by Angela Tricarico

Morgan Marcell

Morgan Marcell

Morgan Marcell has made an name for herself as an Ensemblist on the Main Stem, appearing as a swing and dance captain in the original company of Hamilton and as an original company member of Bandstand. Through these credits, she’s developed a working relationship with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who she first encountered as a dance captain on the In The Heights national tour.

Marcell was gearing up for the world premiere of Moulin Rouge! in the Fall of 2017, but she was also looking for some opportunities to get more experience choreographing for film.

“I have always kind of seen things in frames,” Marcell said, elaborating on her experience on the other side of the lens. “Those who are close to me know I always have a camera with me.” Marcell has directorial experience with a short film about The Eliza Project, which she founded during her time in Hamilton.

She sent a email to Blankenbuehler saying, “I’m trying to get my eye more into directing, and I know your vocabulary so well. I think it would be easy for me to assist you, and you would gain from it as well.”

Blankenbuehler wrote back about a project he couldn’t yet talk about, but said that he’d “love to have [Marcell] assist [him],” especially because other big names attached the project were the rest of Hamilton’s creative team - Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tommy Kail, and Alex Lacamoire.

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“He said it was an eight-part miniseries, and then he said it was about Fosse,” Marcell explained. “I basically died and went to heaven. This is more than I asked for. I was thinking a commercial, but great!”

As an assistant choreographer, Marcell worked on the first three episodes of the series. She never professionally danced Fosse before, but says she was familiar with the style prior to her work on Fosse/Verdon. During pre-production, a lot of Marcell’s focus was on overseeing the training of the series’ stars Sam Rockwell (Bob Fosse) and Michelle Williams (Gwen Verdon) and scheduling the rehearsal times around filming, once that began in October 2018.

Marcell also appeared as a dancer in episodes one, six and seven of Fosse/Verdon. She describes the shooting experience as “straightforward” and a shorter process than that of her last on-camera role in the ensemble of Rent Live.

“It was like you’re going back in time,” Marcell said about recreating classic musical theater numbers for Fosse/Verdon. “We were inhabiting characters set in the 70’s. That was really cool.”

Listen to more of Morgan’s story on episode #142 of The Ensemblist

“Take the Work Seriously, Not Yourself.”

Mo Brady

by Anna Wehr

Ashley Park

Ashley Park

You may know Ashley Park from the smash hit Mean Girls or the revival of The King and I. Her role as Gretchen Weiners alone earned her seven award nominations. Many people, however, don’t know Park’s Broadway journey began in the ensemble of Mamma Mia!

She recounts of her time in Kalokairi island with joy. She said she was “dropped into a family environment,” where it was safe to learn and have fun. Not only did she have the opportunity to dance on stage with the ensemble, one of her favorite things, but she was able to let loose backstage and start building her Broadway community. She stated, “take the work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously at all.”

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Park also learned many important life lessons as part of the company, and especially in the ensemble woman’s dressing room. The ensemble women would share trends with each other such as pilates or brown butter scrub. At one point coconut oil was the hot topic. Park observed the women as they participated in coconut oil pulling, which is essentially rinsing your mouth with the oil, but Park misinterpreted the activity and thought they were eating it. She followed suit and learned that wasn’t her best decision and called out mid-show for the first time.

One of her fondest memories, however, of working on Mamma Mia was interacting with Judy McLane. She was touched by McLane’s commitment to check-in with each cast and crew member before every performance. McLane would have everyone pick a card with a word on it that would be their purpose for that specific performance.

This further inspired Park to spend time connecting with her fellow cast and crew members before each show. Ever since Mamma Mia she’s utilized cards just like McLane. Park desires to interact with each performer and crew member before stepping on the stage. She shared this connection point is what Broadway is all about. To Park Broadway is about the people and the relationships.

Want to learn more about Ashley Park’s experience in Mamma Mia? Listen to her on our recent podcast #156 My First Time.