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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

The Trip to Pip’s… or How Saying Yes Changed My Life

Angela Tricarico

By Peter Michael Marino

Pip’s Island

Pip’s Island

About three years ago, I was recommended to audition for a workshop of a new kids’ show called Pip’s Island. I was provided sides for three characters, two of which were in my acting wheelhouse and one, the menacing villain, seemed like… well, a reach. But, I said “yes.” 

I began my audition with the most obvious fit for me and my style of performance – a jolly, likeable Park Ranger. Piece of cake. Then onto the next one… a nerdy badger-inventor. Okaaaaay. I hoped they would stop there, but they asked me to continue and read for the villainous Joules Volter. I was terrified, and decided in that very moment to throw away any stock character ideas I had chosen in my pre-audition preparation and make him a clown. An idiot. And funny.

I scurried around the audition room, in and out into the hallway, hopping up over the accompanist to the top of the piano (sorry Simple Studios), and delivered my evil words with a blend of madness, helplessness, and ridiculousness. My final threatening lines were delivered from underneath the long coffee cup-littered table of the director, writer, and producers. They offered me the role of Joules Volter on the spot. I might have still been under the table. I recall saying, “Really?!” And my journey on this enchanting island began.

The workshop lasted about two weeks in a church rec room on the Upper West Side. We used our imaginations to work with a treasure trove of found objects, fabric scraps, ladders, dollar store trinkets and cardboard boxes. The sound effects came from Bluetooth speakers in each “environment.” The lighting was daylight streaming through whatever windows there were in our semi-subterranean toy box. As a team, we dreamed up creative ways to bring this immersive story to life using what we had. A ladder became a lighthouse. A box became a boat. A bed sheet and a flashlight became a shadow play for a fight sequence. The creators created an atmosphere where everyone’s ideas were important and everyone was heard. Together through improvisation, clown, and team-building exercises, we made the story clearer, added more details and back stories to the characters and filled out the plot. Then we had a few invited performances - but unlike a typical workshop, the audience members were 3-10 year olds. Not sitting in seats but walking through a maze of ingeniously-themed areas separated by simple rolling walls. And they bought it!

Peter Michael Marino

Peter Michael Marino

The kids and their guardians gleefully took the journey – interacting with us, cheering for the heroes and booing my villainous character along the way. We had something but I don’t think any of us know exactly what that something was. Was it a play? A theme park attraction? A Sleep No More for kids? What we did know, was that it was really fun. We all felt like kids again.

About a year later, we had a lengthier workshop downtown at 3-Legged Dog where cardboard boxes and flashlights were replaced with imaginative set pieces, interactive video cycloramas, soundscapes, and fancy lighting instruments. The characters were becoming clearer. The adventure story was making more sense. I played around with crazy accents for my bad guy character and worked on different ways to move. Then the costume designer Fabio Toblini showed us sketches, and I knew exactly who this bad guy was. More kids were invited and changes were made in between each performance – sometimes within an hour of the previous performance. There was a collective spirit of “Yes, and…” from everyone on the team.

This was truly an improviser’s dream. I had been an improviser for years in small, sweaty comedy venues but never in a situation like this. I knew I needed to stay with this weird thing as long as I could. I was disappointed to not be available for the next iteration a year later which upped the ante into a 10-week production. I went to see the show (which coincidentally played across the street from Sleep No More) and was taken by how far the show had come and I was proud to have been a part of its development. When it concluded its run, I assumed it was the end of Pip’s Island.

This past January, I got an email from the creator Rania Ajami with the subject line: “We want you back.” Pip’s was moving into a permanent venue on 42nd and 9th for an open-ended, Off-Broadway, commercial run. I must be honest, I was skeptical about saying yes. I knew the hours would be 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (“Like, a real day job?”). I knew it would be repetitive (“What? 12 or more shows a day?”) And I knew that doing the show would take me away from creating my own shows and touring the world with them as I’d been doing since 2012. I thought long and hard about whether or not to jump back onto the island.

I talked to fellow performers about my dilemma. I recalled the process of creating the character and the collective, creative experience I was a part of. And the answer all came back to the number one rule of improv.

I said, “Yes, and… let’s do this.”

Our previous makeshift sets are now museum-worthy pieces of art. Our fantastically odd characters are now fully-fleshed and dare I say, believable. Our story is completely engaging, thrilling and original. The entire team from front-of-house, to the backstage tech booths, to the incredibly diverse cast members are on the same magical page. Everyone says “Yes, and…” to any challenge. And so does the audience. Every day, I witness the joy and wonder that imagination, creativity, and theater brings to young faces.

Being a part of Pip’s Island has been incredibly rewarding as a performer. It tests my creativity, stamina, and above all, my authenticity and honesty. You can’t phone it in for 500 audience members a day when more than half of that audience is kids. Even though we are approaching our 1,000th performance, every show (or expedition, as we call it) still feels new. I still have lots of room for improvisation which comes in handy on a second-by-second basis as my silly-evil character is booed, cajoled, and questioned by three-year old kids and even their 63-year old grandparents. 

In the show, the kids find “sparks” to take them to the next part of the journey. And this unusual, unique show has sparked something in me as a performer, creator, artist and human being. I’m more empathetic, patient and authentic. I smile more. I laugh more. I’m happy to go to work every day to see what adventures await. And, I am so glad I said yes.

Saving The Island One Pulse At A Time

Angela Tricarico

by Bebe Tabickman

Pip’s Island

Pip’s Island

“Expedition 12! You made it! My name is Dottie and I will be your Expedition Leader!”

This is the first thing I say to our audience the moment they step off of the elevator, and then our adventure begins.

When I first got involved with Pip’s Island I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My friend told me about the open call and said it was a new interactive children’s show and since I have a huge background performing theater for young audiences and working with children, I thought: why not? Little did I know that this project would change my life for the better, as it combines two of my favorite things: children and improv.

I play Dottie the Expedition Leader, which is the character that is with the audience from the very beginning of the show until the very end. I serve as the “tour guide” to help lead the audience through the adventure and serve as a constant point of reference. I get to meet every Explorer (what we call every child in our audience), and I get to know every Assistant (what we call the grown ups) before we start our journey. Then we adventure through ten different rooms and complete a different task in each one as we travel to Pip’s Island, collect our five sparks, and save the day!

Bebe Tabickman

Bebe Tabickman

What makes this show so exciting and so fresh is that it’s a completely different show every time. Because of the nature of our show being interactive, every thing that one of the Explorers or Assistants say gets used in our show. If an Explorer introduces themselves as Spider-Man, then you better believe we’re going to get their help to shoot spider webs later in the show. If we’re trying to find the Park Ranger and an Explorer says, “he’s hiding in the ceiling,” then you know that I’m climbing on logs to search for him above our heads. And if we’re trying to bring Pip back to life and an Explorer says the only way to bring him back is sushi, then we are for sure having a sushi dinner party to bring him back.

Pip’s Island is such a unique and exciting playground for any actor. It’s a huge lesson in how to listen and take in everything around you to apply it to the script. Another exciting element about our show is that because we do one-to-three shows an hour we have a giant company of actors. It may sound cheesy but we have all become such a beautiful family. I feel so safe and loved by my company on and off stage.

I’m so thankful for this job and I recommend everyone should come see the show. Even if you don’t have a child to bring, you can come and unleash your own inner child!. And if you have a child to bring then you will have a magical time watching your little one gain the confidence to transform into a hero.

Bullying the Broadway Community

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady and Angela Tricarico

Lara Spencer

Lara Spencer

The theater community is just that: a community, a group of tight-knit people with similar careers, goals, and experiences, who are massively supportive of one another. Nothing proves that more than when performers come together to make a point, especially when that point involves defending the very basis of their career. 

Most recently, members of the community have taken to social media and beyond to speak out against Lara Spencer, a host of Good Morning America on ABC, for insensitive comments about Prince George of England she made on Thursday, August 22 during the PopNews segment of the show. 

"Prince William said Prince George absolutely loves ballet. I have news for you Prince William: we'll see how long that lasts," Spencer remarked, laughing casually at the thought of the six-year-old Prince taking ballet classes. 

The remark was not just insensitive, but as actress Alysha Umphress stated in a Tweet directed at Spencer, “Contributing to toxic masculinity.” 

Alexandra Silber pointed out that in addition to publicly shaming a child, Spencer “diminished the value of the arts.” 

Daniel Quadrino, who has multiple Broadway and National Tour ensemble credits, posted a photo of him and a group of Newsies on Instagram with a caption directed at Spencer: “Without ballet I wouldn’t have been able to dance on Broadway with a bunch of other BOYS who took ballet.”

This dismissal of men in ballet is especially unacceptable given that Spencer made the comment sitting in a television studio in the theater district, where. In the last six Broadway season, 1003 men danced in Broadway ensembles. Today, 255 men will dance on a Broadway stage. These include young boys, older men, black and white men, gay men, straight men, fathers… Some male dancers on Broadway had their dancing beginnings in ballet, and some still make a career of it today. 

Ephraim Sykes got his start dancing in Broadway ensembles, and this year, he earned a Tony nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for Ain’t Too Proud.

Additionally, musicals like 1975’s A Chorus Line, 1957’s West Side Story, and 2015’s Hamilton all have ballet as fundamental basics of their choreography. All three of those musicals were nominated for Best Musical at the Tonys; two took home the award. A Chorus Line and Hamilton were both awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama. What would these great works be without ballet? Billy Eliott, which won the 2009 Tony for Best Musical, is about a young British boy who takes ballet lessons. That story ends on a hopeful note, even when Billy’s dreams of ballet are threatened by the culture around him. 

The biggest lesson from this, however, should be that a person in a position of power, such as Spencer, shouldn’t abuse that power by bullying anyone, no matter their gender or age, no matter if they play sports or take ballet lessons, no matter if they’re a normal citizen or someone in a position of nobility. In the political climate we’re currently living in, kindness has to win.

A day after the initial comment was made, Spencer issued a “sincere apology” on Instagram, writing, “From ballet to anything one wants to explore in life, I say GO FOR IT. I fully believe we should all be free to pursue our passions. Go climb your mountain-and love every minute of it.”

An apology online can not and does not change the fact that there were countless little boys and girls who watched Good Morning America with their parents or guardians on Thursday morning and heard Spencer’s remarks. 

As a community, we need to expect more from our media professionals. As someone who is expected to share news with the American masses, Spencer should have been able to make levelheaded judgements about fact or fiction in a split-second; once live on air, whatever is said can’t be taken back or even amended easily. 

And in that moment, Spencer proved that she is not able to make that judgement.



Walking On Your Feet Across America

Angela Tricarico

by Linedy Genao

"Who'd have known way back when, we'd ever have this chance to do it all over again." – “De Nuevo,” from the new musical Passing Through.

Eric Ulloa and Linedy Genao

Eric Ulloa and Linedy Genao

From doing the conga on stage together eight times a week, to making his written words come alive, working with Eric Ulloa again has been an incredibly exciting experience. I would've never imagined that from making our Broadway debuts together, I would've ended up being part of his own artistic expression as writer of new musical, Passing Through. It's so incredible to think that just a few years ago, we were two young artists living our dreams and now, we have the chance to do it again in a different and exciting way. Also, we get to have another mini On Your Feet reunion every day working with our choreographer, Marcos Santana!

As I said before, Eric and I made our Broadway debut together in On Your Feet. I was the baby of the entire company, both in age and experience, and Eric, along with the other cast members, took me under their wings and taught me a lot of what I know of this business today. When I tell you that we're all a very tight knit family, I mean it! We all still keep in touch all of the time, make cafecito and support one another every time we can.

Eric has been supportive of me and my dreams since the day we met. When I was presented with the opportunity to work with him again, but this time with him as a writer, I immediately jumped at the offer. Already knowing him, his heart and artistry, I couldn't wait to be a part of it! Also, I read his play 26 Pebbles and already knew the incredible writer that he was. After this experience, I can honestly say Passing Through is the most beautiful piece of theatre I have ever been a part of.

Our shared past has obviously made the entire process of creating his new musical that much more fun. I thought it would be a little intimidating with him being the writer of the show, but it couldn't have been more normal. We laugh hysterically, recall many hilarious memories from On Your Feet while creating new ones, and reflect on how our lives have changed since. We often love to go back to when he rode a flamingo while playing trumpet on live TV for the opening of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and I led a group of cheerleaders. The only thing that has changed is the amount of respect and admiration I have for him now being on the "other side of the table."

Besides all the fun we have together, our friendship and collaborative process have allowed me to explore my characters freely, continuing my growth as an actor. It's been extremely gratifying to reunite with Eric to help take his show on the next step in its journey. Most importantly, as Latinx artists, we get to represent and celebrate our heritage with the show. For example, one of the many amazing characters I play is Carmen, a Mexican immigrant traveling through the desert and across the border with her husband Diego (played by Ryan Duncan) for a better and safer life in the United States. We sing a song called "De Nuevo," written by Brett Ryback, which means "again," while Diego teaches her English so that they can both find work.

I'll never forget the first day we ran through this number. I completely lost it. We all lost it. All of a sudden, it all hit me. I thought about the current events happening in our country right now, the racist legislations, the people risking their lives in the desert to have crossed, are crossing and will cross the border for a better life, and my own grandfather, who flew to this country with not a single penny in his pocket to provide the life my family and I have today. I celebrate my heritage all throughout our show, but it's this beautiful song and scene I get to perform with Ryan every day that I take most pride in. Ryan said it beautifully in his blog post here that "we feel it's important to present a truthful account of their intentions and struggles to achieve success."

Right before we enter the stage for our scene, we hold hands, and Ryan says, "digamos la verdad,” which means "let us tell the truth." That's what we aim to do every day, that's what Eric has intended, and many times after our number, we can hear the gasps in the audience.

In the end, to reunite and collaborate with Eric in this way has been a rewarding and growing experience. I saw this both as an opportunity for me to grow as an artist creating new and impactful work, and a way to contribute and support my friend’s artistry and the development of his work. To reunite after so many years full of growth and maturity has been such a beautiful experience. We continue to be supportive of one another, personally and professionally, and I am forever grateful to Eric for this incredible opportunity, and for continuing to believe in me and my dream.

"You're always going to be in my top list when I'm looking to write for people and create roles for those I fully believe in... like you."

I love you Eric and que siga la tradición para siempre!

When Broadway Called (feat. Holli' Conway)

Mo Brady

With full company rehearsals beginning today for the Broadway production of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, we welcome debut ensemblist Holli’ Conway to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Great White Way.

Holli' Conway

Holli' Conway

1. What is your name and hometown?

My name is Holli’ Conway and I’m from Louisiana.

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

Ikette and Ensemble in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.

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

I was Miss Louisiana at the time, doing a face mask and getting ready for an appearance. My Agent Lauren @blocnyc called a little before they opened (which gave me a mini panic attack lol). She put me on speaker with the Bloc team in the room, played "The Best", and told me that I was "simply the best" because I was going to be on Broadway! I then proceeded to intensely cry through my face mask.

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

The challenge -- which is ironically my biggest fear lol. One of my favorite sayings is "It's only impossible until it's done". Sometimes we don't realize what we're capable of until someone or something pushes you to it. I think this experience and this story is going to challenge me until I'm the performer that I didn't know I could be.




5 Debut Questions: Wicked's Celia Hottenstein

Angela Tricarico

Today, we welcome Wicked ensemblist Celia Hottenstein to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Great White Way.

Celia Hottenstein

Celia Hottenstein

1. What is your name and hometown?

My name is Celia Hottenstein and my hometown is Kingston, Pennsylvania, about 20 miles southwest of Scranton and across the Susquehanna River from Wilkes-Barre.

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

I am in the Ensemble and I understudy Glinda.

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

I got a call from my agent, Anna at DGRW, the day after my final dance callback. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon and I was in my kitchen making dinner.

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

I was challenged a lot by the amount of dance in this show. Dance is not the strongest for me and I remember being completely overwhelmed at my very first choreography rehearsal. Thankfully, we have two wonderful dance captains who taught me the show and were patient along the way. I never thought I would be dancing this much in anything. My goal is to continue working on improving my dance in classes outside the show. I am up there with a group of unbelievable dancers.

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

I am really excited to go on as Glinda at some point. This has been a dream role of mine since I was a little girl. Putting on those costumes at my first fitting was surreal. I’m also looking forward to having a job on Broadway that I get to go to every night! That cannot be overstated and I will never lose my appreciation for that privilege. As a friend said, it doesn’t happen for a lot of people, but it happened for me, and I am reminded of that every time I walk into the theater.

Celia Hottenstein

Celia Hottenstein

Fancy Maids

Angela Tricarico

Fancy Maids at the Rave Theater Festival


Review by Anna Altheide

Fancy Maids

Fancy Maids

Fancy Maids, a one act play written and directed by Harold Hodge Jr., has returned to the stage as a part of Ken Davenport’s Rave Theater Festival. Starring Madeline Grey DeFreece (Idabelle), Essence Brown (Pinky), Chinara Stroman (Queenie), and Kayland Jordan (Louella), Fancy Maids centers around the lives of four black women living and working in a Delaware brothel in 1853, twelve years prior to the abolition of slavery.

Hodge’s production is a raw, provocative glance into the intersectional abuse and treatment dealt to black Americans, particularly women, in pre-abolition America. In the present day #MeToo landscape, Fancy Maids seeks to not only inform its audience of the obvious historical atrocities, but the parallels between slavery, prostitution, and a woman’s right to free bodily agency.

When Idabelle, Pinky, Queenie, and Louella are caught up in an intense dilemma which questions their views of life, death, and revenge, Hodge’s script takes unsettling but justifiable leaps. Set during the Fugitive Slave Act, Fancy Maids stands out as an outcry and reclamation of the past, daring to allow four woman — especially four black women — to stand up to their oppressors, regardless of consequence.

The four main leads (DeFreece, Brown, Stroman, and Jordan) deliver intense and authentically stripped down performances, each dauntless and confident in their characters’ strengths, convictions, and vulnerabilities. Amongst Brown, Stroman, and Jordan, there is a settled, lived in camaraderie between Pinky, Queenie, and Louella, even in moments of household tension. Meanwhile, DeFreece’s more timid Idabelle, our eyes and ears into the world of Pinky’s brothel, is compelling, graceful, and the heart and soul of the whole production.

The cast is rounded out by Reed Pike (William), Isaac J. Conner (Richard), and Dave Polgar (Auctioneer/Man in Brothel/Principal Understudy). Newcomer Pike, a senior at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, gives a likable performance as William, Queenie’s most frequent hustle. Conner’s portrayal of Virginia slave owner Richard is effectively revolting. Polgar is given little to do, but the jarring segue from the production’s carefree opening scene to the auctioning sequence is impactful.

Though far from lite fare, Fancy Maids, the recipient of the Gerard Cannon Writing Award, is also infused with humor, warmth, and a sisterhood element, especially as Idabelle settles into Pinky’s Pleasure House. Hodge paints bold and compelling strokes and leans into not only each character’s appalling past, but future ambitions and aspirations. These women aren’t simply ruminating on what’s behind them, but leaping toward brighter futures.

A Day In the Life Of A Six-Foot-Tall Munchkin

Angela Tricarico

by Kaleb Van Rijswijck

Kaleb Van Rijswijck

Kaleb Van Rijswijck

A Theater for Young Audiences (or TYA) contract is a hoot and a half. It is such a joy to witness small minds being exposed to the theatrical arts for the first time. I love watching them make connections in real-time. It is not something you get to experience as an actor all the time. However, a TYA project can be taxing in many ways. You are essentially producing a full-scale musical with all of the elements to be performed in 75 minutes. It is straight cardio twice a day for 80 minutes.

For The Wizard of Oz at Chicago Shakespeare Theater specifically, I have about 11 costume quick changes, which doesn't seem like a lot, but when the show is a short one-act and you're also singing backstage it all adds up. We have a dresser backstage that helps us get in and out of our clothes as quickly and safely as possible. I think my fastest quick change is around 60 seconds, maybe less now that we have perfected it. If you do the math and include me changing from my street clothes into my costumes before and after every show, I change my clothes about 30 times a day on our two show days.

Kaleb Van Rijswijck

Kaleb Van Rijswijck

Performing nine shows a week is really tough on your body and injury or illness is inevitable. This last week we lost one of our lovely ensemble members due to an injury that would not heal properly if he kept dancing on it, so our external swing is filling in permanently for the rest of the run. For this show, we only have one external male-identifying swing that covers all three ensemble men. This morning, the cast received a notice that another male ensemble member would be out today due to a recurring injury that he has had. If you caught on, that means we have too many people out. Our dance captain came in with a contingency plan and we put together a modified “cut track" show. The show was going swimmingly until a costume malfunction caused us to lose our external swing right before the MunchkinLand sequence.

What happened next seemed like a fever dream but also some of the best ensemble "yes, and?" work I have ever witnessed.

I should start by saying that MunchkinLand is probably one of the most energetic moments of the show because it is the audience's introduction to the land of Oz. The director (Brian Hill) and choreographer (Kenny Ingram) pulled out all the stops with this one. Giant dance breaks, big prop handoffs, large scenic moves, and an entire Kazoo chorus. All and all, a giant production number.

We stepped out onto that stage knowing very well that we were already down a couple of bodies and now our contingency plan was no longer valid. We had no idea what would happen next. We smiled, re-spaced the dances as best we could, passed props around, changed blocking and picked up the slack wherever it was needed. It was like the most dramatic game of hot potato, you could ever experience. The pinnacle of the experience topped out when I realized I was now the lone standing Lollipop Guild member. I am normally joined by two other members, however, due to the circumstances, it was just me. I grabbed my lollipop and made eye contact with another ensemble member who mouthed, "Say 'I'."

I nodded my head and I proceeded to sing more confident than ever, "I represent the Lollipop Guild..." instead of "We."

The rest of the show flew by with other little blips here and there and we came out, in the end, a stronger ensemble than ever.

I crawled into my bed that evening still reeling from the day's events, and Dorothy's infamous line, "There's no place like home," truly rang loud and clear.

Members of  The Wizard of Oz  company

Members of The Wizard of Oz company

5 Debut Questions: Hamilton's Amanda Braun

Angela Tricarico

This week, we welcome Hamilton’s Amanda Braun to the Main Stem and learn about her journey toward making her Broadway debut.

Amanda Braun

Amanda Braun

1. What is your name and hometown?

My name is Amanda Braun and I’m from Warren, New Jersey

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

I am a Universal Swing.

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

I originally booked the original company of the Angelica Tour in November 2016! I had gone in for my fifth callback and my agents told me the next day that I was on hold until I finally got the call the day before Thanksgiving that I was going to be launching the First National Tour. After almost two years of being with the Angelica Tour I went back to New York City. Seven months later I was offered this new and exciting position!

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

There are many small details in Hamilton that make the show so captivating. It is truly incredible that I get to learn every female track and be able to discover those details.

Amanda Braun

Amanda Braun

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

I am hoping I get the chance to make a Broadway debut with this dream show! Being a Universal Swing means that my home base is the New York company but I can be sent to any of the productions in the country at any given time. This is such an awesome opportunity to get to know everyone who is a part of the HamFam and I am looking forward to telling this story with so many wonderful people around the world!

5 Debut Questions: Beetlejuice's Katie Lombardo

Angela Tricarico

Today we welcome Beetlejuice ensemblist Katie Lombardo to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Great White Way!

Katie Lombardo

Katie Lombardo

1. What is your name and hometown?

My name is Katie Lombardo and my hometown is Franklin Square, New York.

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

I am the female vacation swing!

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

I had been involved with the show for a long time (a lot of pre production, lab, helping with auditions, etc.) and didn’t end up booking the out-of-town in D.C. or the Broadway production. The rest of the cast was already a month or so into rehearsal with one week left in the studio before heading to the theatre for tech. I went to a random audition one Monday morning, and when I came out of the room and checked my phone, I had a missed call from the choreographer, Connor Gallagher. I called him back and he said “Has anyone called you yet?” and I said, “No...” and he said “You’re joining the company as our vacation swing and you start tomorrow morning! You’re making your Broadway debut!” I started crying, and naturally, he started laughing at me. I will never ever forget it. Phone call in the hallway of Pearl Studios. Classic.

Katie Lombardo

Katie Lombardo

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

I don’t know if “surprising” is the right word, but I would say one of the most wonderful parts of preparing to perform the show is how welcoming the cast and the team have been. They have this way of making me feel so special and so excited, without making me feel like I’m less than or below them. A lot of them are people I’ve looked up to for so long, and to think “I’m sharing a dressing room hallway with so and so” makes the 16-year-old Katie who drove to high school listening to Broadway soundtracks want to cry tears of joy.

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

First of all, Beetlejuice was one of my absolute favorite movies growing up, and if you know me even a tiny bit, you know that Halloween is my all time favorite holiday. There is truly nothing more exciting for me than being able to perform a spooky show on Broadway. Aside from that, I’m looking forward to having my family and friends come see the show. They’ve supported me from the very beginning, no matter what, good times and bad times, sometimes really bad or sad times. I’m so happy and grateful that I can finally get up there and make them proud. I really couldn’t have made it here without them.

In the words of Beetlejuice... “It’s Showtime.”

5 Debut Questions: King Kong's Lissa deGuzman

Angela Tricarico

Today we welcome King Kong ensemblist Lissa deGuzman to Broadway and learn about her journey to the Great White Way!

Lissa deGuzman as Ann Darrow

Lissa deGuzman as Ann Darrow

1. What is your name, hometown, and when did you make your broadway debut?

My name is Lissa deGuzman and I’m from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

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

I’m an ensemble/Ann understudy in King Kong. I made my official Broadway debut as Ann and then three days later, I debuted my ensemble track.

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

I was in the shower and I missed a call from one of my agents. I realized he didn’t really have any reason to call me unless he had some sort of good or bad news. As I’m soaking wet and still in a towel, I called him back. He asked how my Memorial Day was and I just remember my heart beating so fast and the anticipation was killing me. Then he said, “How would you like to make your broadway debut in King Kong?”

I yelled “No way!” at him approximately 20 times while pacing around my room. Then I galavanted around my apartment in a towel in disbelief and utter happiness.

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

Lissa deGuzman

Lissa deGuzman

The most surprising thing has been the challenges of working with a 2,000 pound puppet. I learned the Ann track first and many of her scenes are with him. A story is being told between the two of them, but the only actual words spoken are by Ann. Rehearsals with the puppet, KiKo, require the ten actors who move his body and the three VooDoo operators who move his face and shoulders. I felt it necessary to use these actors’ time very efficiently and wisely because more than 13 people were coming in to put me into the show. It was a unique but awesome experience learning to do scenes with KiKo so early in my process.

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

I’m looking forward to getting to know the people in this show. They are incredible performers and to be able to be with them eight times a week will be an honor. I’m also looking forward to finding some sort of routine in the city. I’m excited to go to work everyday and call this my job. 

From James Madison to North Shore

Angela Tricarico

by Abigail Charpentier

Susie Carroll

Susie Carroll

Since this spring, Susie Carroll has attended both James Madison High School and North Shore High.

On March 5, 2019, Carroll made her Broadway debut when she joined The Prom as a vacation swing, covering all female ensemble roles whenever cast members had vacations or personal days scheduled. By the end of her time at The Prom, she had performed in seven tracks: six female teen ensemble tracks and one adult female track.

She departed from The Prom in mid-July and opened in Mean Girls on July 23. In the other Casey Nicholaw-directed-and-choreographed musical, Carroll is also a vacation swing, covering the ensemble ladies and learning their tracks as their vacations come up. 

“Joining two Broadway shows in the course of a year has been both the most rewarding and most challenging thing that I have experienced in my life thus far,” Carroll said. “It has required an ample amount of dedication, determination and focus. It has come with just about every emotion imaginable, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for even a second.”

Carroll auditioned for The Prom lab in December 2017 and was hired a year later. Similarly, she auditioned for Mean Girls in May 2018 and joined the company in July of the following year.

The moral of the story: you may not get the job right away. 

Susie Carroll in  Mean Girls

Susie Carroll in Mean Girls

“Sometimes you might get so close to booking that ‘dream job’ and then you don’t. Sometimes they tell you, ‘We will keep you on file’ and you leave feeling discouraged because you never believe that to actually be true. However, sometimes, it is true,” Carroll explained. “Sometimes you must continue on with your head held high, continue to work hard and sometimes when that dream job is meant to be for you. It will be there for you. It is possible.”

While Carroll was playing high school students onstage at the Longacre Theatre, she was an actual student at Pace University earning her BFA in Musical Theatre. While her training has helped prepare her for the past few months, especially transitioning between jobs, she said that “there is only so much homework I can do until I need to just do it on stage.”

One of the most challenging parts of changing shows was departing The Prom because it was the where she experienced all of her firsts: first Broadway costume fitting, first Broadway cast, etc.  

“My departure at The Prom was made exceptionally difficult for me because of how special the company and the story we were telling was,” she said.

Since starting her career on the Great White Way, Carroll has experienced “really special moments” that she will treasure forever, such as sitting in Beth Leavel and Angie Schworer’s dressing room and getting life advice from them, leading a Broadway wedge and going to the Tony Awards for the first time.

Another aspect of her job that has been special to her is signing Playbills and meeting fans at the stage door.

“If I am onstage I try to never miss a night of going to the stage door to sign. Connecting with others and making them happy or inspired is truly one of the best gifts I can receive and makes it all worth it for me. Because I was once that kid.”


"There Is Always A Door Waiting To Be Opened."

Mo Brady

by Lance Wiener

Stephanie Klemons

Stephanie Klemons

The multi-talented Stephanie Klemons is a force of nature. She currently serves as Associate Choreographer/Global Dance Supervisor (as well as an Original Broadway Company member) for the Broadway production of Hamilton and a director/choreographer in Rock of Ages at Pittsburgh CLO.

Klemons explains that she had been involved in the choreography with Hamilton since the early  beginnings, working closely with Andy Blankenbuehler, who won the 2016 Tony Award for Hamilton’s choreography. Being the Global Dance Supervisor as well, she oversees the 6 productions of the show around the world in the choreography aspect. This has landed her on the casting side of the table, which is extremely fun yet also tedious. 

“It’s exciting to me when we find someone who’s either dance captain material or dance supervisor material and bring them into the world,” she explains. Being able to see another person perform a piece she created so beautifully is something that Klemons takes to heart.

Auditions for Hamilton occur often. The three types that Klemons explains are the open calls, the ECC (Equity Chorus Call, which includes a full portion of “My Shot”), and invited calls. Klemons further adds that should casting want to see a person later on at a callback, she along with the other casting directors and music supervisors will look for options for the specific actor or dancer.

As Hamilton is a very inclusive production, Stephanie adds that they work hard to maintain the looks of how the production has always been cast, and they strive to make sure that they do not cast a group of the same people on one audition day. 

Klemons finds it exciting to cast a newly mounted production, stating she looks for the person with the highest energy level and a large room for growth as a performer. With a fresh and new face, a full rehearsal process may just be the thing for them to grow, whereas a replacement performer is either one who has worked with the production already or one that casting feels comfortable with putting through a speedy put-in process.

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With a new company, there is also more freedom to switch around ensemble roles and choreography to make it fresh for new audiences and future companies as well. She states, “A new company allows us to shift things.” 

What Stephanie looks for in a dance audition is for the performer to be engaged. Yes, they can do a certain move, but they have to deliver with intention and purpose. As she continues, she states, “I’m zero percent interested in seeing you perform the choreography well if your intentions are fake.” Being able to stay true to oneself during the audition is vital to performing well. 

Now, the Hamilton bootcamp is a whole other story: it’s a paid bootcamp where one is taught a multitude of numbers from the show. This is used as either a way for the casting team to make sure they are ready to say yes to a person and cast them, or it is used as a means to have a better look at a performer. Bootcamps occur at least twice a year.

Being the associate choreographer for Hamilton has paved the way for Klemons’ choreography career. From working on a Super Bowl commercial to being a lead choreographer/director for regional productions, she has earned her way to the top of the dance world. 

“I wish people knew that it wasn’t about being good; it’s about being right for the job.” She continues to say that it’s alright. There are plenty of other productions that one may be right for. There’s always a door waiting to be opened.




"Together We Are One"

Angela Tricarico

 by Ryan Duncan

Ryan Duncan (right) with Max Chernin in  Passing Through  (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

Ryan Duncan (right) with Max Chernin in Passing Through (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

“We are many strands. But together we are one.”

These are some of the lyrics of the first song the cast sings in Passing Through, currently playing at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, Connecticut. They’re fitting words since Passing Through is based on the book “Walking to Listen” by Andrew Forsthoefel, in which he walks a southern route across America from Pennsylvania to California. On his trek he ‘walks to listen’ and collects the stories of the tapestry of souls that makes up our national landscape. In doing this, he learns a great deal about himself and where he fits into our world. Our cast of eleven plays a couple of the people important to Andrew (played beautifully by Max Chernin), as well as many of the people he meets on his journey across the continent. In other words, ten actors play up to 30 distinct people. 

The show gives me the opportunity of playing at least nine of these people, which is a dreamy situation for this character actor.  I’ve noticed, especially in recent years, that I’ve been cast in shows that need someone to play multiple roles. I’m a linguist who speaks a few different languages and has an obsession with accents, dialects, and various cultures. I also have a varied ethnic background, so I understand why I often fit the bill. Creating characters using language, history, and physicality is something I feel honored to get the chance to do. Sometimes that representation is the only experience of its kind for an audience, so I take great responsibility in doing it with as much reverence and authenticity as I can. 

I begin the show as Paul, a Navajo man who grew up on the reservation in New Mexico and left for a period of time to go to college and work on the east coast, only to return home to take care of his father.  Paul’s heavy scene is in act two. There is a lot going on for him emotionally and historically, and what I have to do first is find the person he is, and not the ‘people’ he is.

Ryan Duncan

Ryan Duncan

Once I know who a character is as an individual, I can ‘dress them up’ in their legacy and speech. I can find how they fit in with their demographic (age, gender, language, ethnicity, etc.) and see how that also feeds their path within the context of the play. I feel that actors are so lucky that we get to research and explore various time-periods, backgrounds, and situations because we’re asked to portray them. Often we draw upon our own lives but we usually need more. For example, my Native American ancestry is a small branch of my family tree and is from a tribe east of the Mississippi. I didn’t grow up in that culture but I’ve studied it for a long time and I’m involved with another First Nations project called Distant Thunder. The Navajo are quite a different people and from a very different part of the country than my ancestors, so specific information and a chat with a Navajo friend were needed. Reading “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” was also a real eye-opener and frankly, should be a history book we all grow up reading. I find what I need to know that may be important to the show, and then serve the story. 

Another character I play is Ethan, who is based on a real guy with mental illness whom our leading player meets on the road in Texas. Since Ethan mentions his mental issues, I wanted to infuse him with sincerity and honesty and make sure he wasn’t going to come across as a joke, or a lost cause. The character strays from the book a bit but we’ve all met someone like him. My intention is to be a vessel for a moment of enlightenment for the Andrew character and present a real guy seeking to make a misguided yet inspiring change in his life. 

Ryan Duncan (left) with Max Chernin in  Passing Through  (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

Ryan Duncan (left) with Max Chernin in Passing Through (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

I also get to play Diego, who, with his wife Carmen (played by Linedy Genao), travels through the desert and across the border for a better life in the US. These characters mirror current events and racist legislative decisions and we feel it’s important to present a truthful account of their intentions and struggles to achieve success. The song they sing is called “De Nuevo,” which means ‘again’, and it’s sung in English and Spanish as Diego teaches Carmen English so they can both find work. As we play the roles, our own families’ immigration experiences, though different from how our characters arrive here, are mental shadows that guide our ambitions and hopes, and hopefully reach an acknowledging hand out to America’s Diegos and Carmens. 

The entire ensemble, alongside Linedy, Max, and myself, of Mary Jo Mecca, Charles Gray, Celeste Rose, Jim Stanek, Garrett Long, Reed Armstrong, Jennifer Leigh Warren, and Joan Almedilla, have together created real people from real stories that weave in and out of each others’ narratives. We’re rarely off stage for very long, and at different points of the musical, we each sit in on scenes, watching each others’ interactions. In act two, we also take turns moving and rotating a floating platform, further entrenching us into various moments along the road. The audience realizes that Andrew carries all of us with him as he walks, as the real Andrew did on his way to California.

We pass the baton of the story seamlessly through Igor Goldin’s direction and Marcos Santana’s movement. The music direction is by Matt Meckes,  who leads a five-person band playing over a dozen instruments among them. It’s been easy to do since Eric Ulloa and Brett Ryback wrote such a touching and gripping piece. Passing Through couldn’t be done without a dedicated and talented ensemble, who also cares very much about the people watching and receiving powerful and unique messages from the show. I feel so much gratitude and joy in being able to be a part of this special experience.


For Passing Through production photos: Scenic Design by Adam Koch, Costume Design by Tracy Christensen, Lighting Design by Cory Pattak

Ryan Duncan (right) with Linedy Genao in  Passing Through  (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

Ryan Duncan (right) with Linedy Genao in Passing Through (Photo by Diane Sobolewski)

Inspiring Change

Angela Tricarico

(Graphic by Brittney Keim)

(Graphic by Brittney Keim)

In 2018, I was deeply charged by Women’s Day On Broadway and wrote about it for OnStage Blog. I learned that nearly 70% of Broadway audiences are made up of female-identifying patrons but only 17% of those productions have women at the helm. This statistic shocked and ignited me. The Women’s Day symposium and more recently, Rachel Chavkin’s speech following her Best Director Tony win, are among the driving forces behind Changemakers: A Celebration of Women and StateraArts. I admire those who seek change and do not accept the status quo. Women who take action and use their platform to advocate for greater representation both on and off the stage are among those to be featured in this event on August 22 at The Green Room 42.

There will be never-told-before tales of sisterhood, mentorship, challenges, and overcoming adversity. These personal stories will lead into songs crossing various musical genres. We’ve got pop, folk, some musical theater, original songs, and even a Celtic trio! I’m also very jazzed that actor, activist, and mother Rachel Spencer Hewitt will lead a panel talk on the Parent Artist Advocacy League, an organization she founded that creates family-friendly practices in the theater. Ms. Hewitt will engage in dialogue with some surprise guests!

Mara Jill Herman (Photo by Billy Bustamante)

Mara Jill Herman (Photo by Billy Bustamante)

Tony-nominated Lyricist/Composer and award-winning performer Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody) will appear and three-time SAG Award winner Dale Soules, widely-known as inmate Frieda Berlin on Orange Is The New Black, will host. The diverse cast also includes: Lianah Sta. Ana (Miss Saigon), Gina Naomi Baez (She's Gotta Have It), Alison Lea Bender (We So Hapa), Emily Borromeo (Broadway Bounty Hunter), Galway Girls (feat. Meredith Beck, Janice Landry and Caitlin McKechney), Carly Kincannon (America's Sweethearts), Liisi LaFontaine (Dreamgirls), Kara Lindsay (Newsies), Jennifer Lorae (Hard Times), Andrea Prestinario (Side Show, Jeff Award), Kristine Reese (Finding Neverland), Hannah Rose (Olay Live!), Talia Suskauer (Be More Chill), America's Sweethearts (feat. Amanda Lea LaVergne, Annemarie Rosano and Sarah Stevens), and Aurelia Williams (Once On This Island)

I selected Statera Mentorship as the beneficiary of Changemakers for two reasons: I first met Executive Director Melinda Pfundstein at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 2005. She was a well-established leading lady, and I really looked up to her. Fast forward to 2016, when I joined Statera’s pilot mentorship program and found it so rewarding to mentor an early-career individual. The word Statera, stemming from balance, also resonates with me. There are so many women in the Statera community who thrive in their professional lives but also create and nurture families of their own. I aspire to be one of them.

"Here I Am Proving Myself Wrong."

Angela Tricarico

by Lance Wiener

Aaron Alcaraz

Aaron Alcaraz

Mean Girls on Broadway has been going through some exciting changes. As they entered their second year on the Main Stem, new ensemble members were also welcomed into the Mean Girls family.

Swings and ensemble members are incredible in their own rights. Being able to dance, sing, and possibly cover larger roles is a balance that must be held to the highest potential. In large productions, such as Wicked and Mean Girls, this is especially true. 

Aaron Alcaraz, one of the newest students at North Shore High School, is a swing as well as an understudy for Kevin Gnapoor in the Broadway production.

Alcaraz recalls watching the movie many times with friends, stating “It was a movie that my friends and I quoted all the time.” As for the musical, his first experience with it was at an audition before the production’s out-of-town tryout in Washington D.C. He remembers “screaming on the inside” when realizing he’d be auditioning in front of Casey Nicholaw and Tina Fey. It was extremely surreal.

The audition process for their out-of-town tryout seemed to have gone well, as he recalls that although he didn’t initially land the job for a swing, he was kept on file to be called for their upcoming national tour. Once he went in for the callbacks, in front of Nicholaw, Fey, and Jeff Richmond, he was eventually cast as a swing for the Broadway production. As a swing for Mean Girls, Alcaraz must be ready to go on for any of the 7 male ensemble roles in the show at any time. He admits that he is still grasping and learning some of his tracks, but it’s exhilarating to be able to watch and learn from the wings of the theater each and every night.

Alcaraz also covers Cheech Manohar’s character, Kevin Gnapoor. He finds the roles fun to play, explaining that he approaches learning both his swing and understudy roles the same way. “I just want to do the best job possible with each one.” 

If you’ve previously seen the National Tour of Rent, you may have seen Alcaraz take on the role of Angel. Being a dream role for him, it was one amazing experience. He thinks that tour helped prepare him for Broadway.

“I learned how disciplined I had to be in order to have the stamina to do the show every night,” he says.

As the show was a touring production, being able to adjust to a different climate/environment has helped Aaron in preparing for the different tracks he covers as a swing. Aaron hopes Mean Girls will help him grow his confidence. “Having to learn so many things quickly and retain all the information is such a challenge,” he admits.

Alcaraz adds, “I never thought that I would be a swing on Broadway and here I am proving myself wrong which is awesome.”

Being able to trust in oneself is also a big player in performing. “There will be times in the future where I won’t feel 100% ready to go on for a track but I’ll do it anyway and trust I know more than I think I do and trust that my other castmates are also looking out for me,” he adds.

Having a support system in a production is truly a gift to one’s body and mind. Everyone grows in a show, whether it be artistically or emotionally. Being able to share talents with not only the audience but with fellow performers give room for growth, room for inspiration, and room for relationships. It’s definitely a process, but every step is a step towards a final and worthy goal, a goal of giving one’s 110% on stage every night.

Aaron Alcaraz and the company of  Mean Girls

Aaron Alcaraz and the company of Mean Girls

Back to North Shore

Mo Brady

Mean Girls at the August Wilson Theatre

Review by Mo Brady

Erika Henningsen (Cady Heron), Krystina Alabado (Gretchen Wieners), Taylor Louderman (Regina George), Kate Rockwell (Karen Smith), Barrett Wilbert Weed (Janis Sarkisian), and the Company of Mean Girls. Credit: © 2019 Joan Marcus

Erika Henningsen (Cady Heron), Krystina Alabado (Gretchen Wieners), Taylor Louderman (Regina George), Kate Rockwell (Karen Smith), Barrett Wilbert Weed (Janis Sarkisian), and the Company of Mean Girls. Credit: © 2019 Joan Marcus

Attention North Shore High School students: There’s no “sophomore slump” happening at Mean Girls. On the contrary, the current cast is crushing the material nightly at Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre. One of the reasons I wanted to revisit Mean Girls was to see it out of the context of the rest of the Broadway season in which it opened. Whether you’re an industry professional or a Broadway superfan, it’s difficult to see shows out of the context of “Awards Season,” simply appreciating them on their own.

There’s always been much to appreciate in Mean Girls. Of course, Tina Fey’s winning book is filled with fun, following the well-loved plot of the film without being married to it. Having spent the last season and a half with songs like “Apex Predator” and “I’d Rather Be Me” in the theatrical ether, Nell Benjamin’s lyrics and Jeff Richmond’s music offers a pleasing pop score (even at moments when it doesn’t feel as contemporary or youthful as the actors performing it). 

Original cast members like Devon Hadsell and Curtis Holland are providing solid performances alongside new additions such as Morgan Harrison and Kevin Cosculluela. Major props to dance captain Brendon Stimson, who has kept the company looking just as clean and sharp as when I first saw the production in previews. 

Recent Pace University graduate Christine Shepard shines as ensemble character Rachel Hamilton. Picking up the mantle from original cast member Kamille Upshaw, Shepard applies an ease of movement even while executing sharp and specific choreography. In addition, she brings a grounded but effective humor to Rachel Hamilton’s standout moments (including the handing over of a vodka-filled inhaler).

The company I saw also included three swings: Maria Briggs, Susie Carroll and Daniel Switzer, who are remarkably confident performers in the show’s ensemble. As a member of four different Broadway companies last season, Briggs is integrated perfectly into the student body of North Shore. And Carroll, who I happened to see in The Prom less than five months ago, has brought her aptitude of Casey Nicholaw’s buoyant choreography four blocks north to 52nd Street.

Erika Henningsen is truly a national treasure. As Cady Heron, she strikes a perfect balance or heart and humor that keeps us on her side throughout the proceedings. Her voice sails through the score confidently. With this being only her second Main Stem outing (her first being a short stint as Fantine in Les Miserables), it’s exciting to think about what roles she will take on next. Alongside the remarkable Taylor Louderman, still captivating in her final weeks as Regina George, the two lead the plot along swiftly, with nuance and clarity.  

In its opening season, Mean Girls stood out as clever, sharp-witted fun. A year later, the show continues to land with audiences thanks to its superlative cast and their “fearless” performances.



Ezra Menas: Trans and Non-Binary Actors to Know

Angela Tricarico

Interview by Anna Altheide

Ezra Menas (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Ezra Menas (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What musical had the biggest impact on you growing up?

Rent. This was the first musical theatre show that talked about or even addressed AIDS at all. It was my first exposure to what AIDS was; and the musical talked about it at a time where it was mocked and actively ignored by the government. I saw gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans folks, sexually fluid folks and relationships that fell outside of cisgender heteronormative monogamy. I finally felt like there was space for me, even before my identity was fully realized.

What’s your dream role and why?

I feel as though my dream role is one that doesn’t exist yet; the character I’d play uses they pronouns; they are trans and non binary, and the story doesn’t focus on that aspect necessarily—it more so accepts that as the reality. The new ‘norm’. A world in which trans folks are accepted and not killed for existing. But if I had to pick-my dream role in a pre-existing musical it would be Hedwig or trans Orpheus in Hadestown. I mean, come on.

How do you believe your identity has played a part in developing your current career?

As an actor part of your job is to bring yourself and your experiences to life in an audition room, on stage, and on screen. I believe you need to be grounded in who you are; not necessarily know definitively who or what you are (because we are fluid in so many ways) but at least have examined how you relate to/walk through the world. It’s obviously a privilege in itself to have this awareness where you can access emotions and self reflection—but if you do have it; I believe it’s important to examine your morals and your privileges. Get into your core. 

I’ve had the privilege to safely examine and actualize my identity, play with my gender presentation and (for the most part) be accepted and seen. This is humbly and gratefully owed to Black, Brown and Indigenous trans women and queer people of color who have paved the way for me, and others like me.

Ezra Menas (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Ezra Menas (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Stepping into my identity allowed and continues to allow me to bring my full self in the room. Into every room. It allows me to speak truths to myself and therefore translates to my relationships, my craft, my whole life. I think people in this career can sense the truth you bring to the room. Being unapologetically and authentically me always and all ways. Not bending to fit the mold that the cis-white-het patriarchy has created for this society and therefore this industry.

What advice or wisdom would you give your younger self, or a young person in a similar situation?

Keep. Being. You. (If you feel safe.)  Someone will see you. I mean, really see you. Even if you don’t see yourself in different forms of media in a positive way, someone along the way will. It’s difficult, but keep carving out the space for yourself. Keep fighting for yourself and keep uplifting other marginalized folks around you. Fight for them. Keep unlearning, and keep relearning. Oh, and listen. Listen to those who are marginalized. Always.

Donnie Cianciotto: Trans and Non-Binary Actors to Know

Angela Tricarico

Interview by Anna Altheide

Donnie Cianciotto (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Donnie Cianciotto (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What musical had the biggest impact on you growing up?

The musical that had the biggest impact on me growing up was Into the Woods. There are others before like Oliver! and after like Rent that were also influential to me, but Into the Woods is the one that made me sit back and think, "Yes, that. That is what I would like to do with my life." The first time I saw it I was nine years old and the original Broadway cast recording was playing on PBS. My father, who was an actor in community theater on Staten Island where I grew up, had strongly suggested that I watch it despite the fact that 90210 was on that night so I obviously already had plans. I turned to Into the Woods during a commercial break and never turned it back. It was so magical and beautiful to look at and laugh out loud funny, and I was really intrigued by the idea of taking well known stories and characters and tweaking them and intertwining them. I was also instantly smitten with Bernadette Peters who to this day is one of my idols and I might have a framed autographed picture of her hanging on my bedroom wall. It also began my love affair with Sondheim, and I know it may seem silly to say it had the biggest impact on me growing up because I can't point to one specific thing that deeply resonated with me on a personal level aside from the fact that it brought me so much joy, but this was the one that was life-changing for me. It made me decide I wanted to pursue theater and that's exactly what I did.

What’s your dream role and why?

I find this to be a difficult question to answer because I spent three decades living and working as a woman before beginning my transition, so I didn't give much thought to any male roles I wanted to play. My first instinct when asked this question is still to respond, "The Baker's Wife in Into The Woods" or "Mama Rose in Gypsy." Old habits die hard. But as I get more familiar with the changes my voice and body have gone through, I've started to see what kinds of roles I could realistically play. At this point I'm not sure there is one singular, all encompassing "dream role" that exists out there for me although I would certainly enjoy playing Mark in Rent or Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. I think what I'm waiting for is someone to write a badaass transmasculine role in a new musical with me in mind and then that role will wind up being my dream role. In the meantime, I look forward to playing Thernardier and Basilius in my future.

How do you believe your identity has played a part in developing your current career?

My identity and my career are inextricably linked. I was living in Tucson, Arizona producing and directing musical revues and community theater and firmly believing that my transition would prevent me from working professionally ever again. In 2015, The Public Theater changed all of that by holding auditions for a new musical called Southern Comfort where they were specifically looking for transgender actors to play trans characters. When I got the role of Sam, I moved back to New York and found myself making my off-Broadway debut as a trans man playing a trans character. I never would have believed that my professional theater debut would have been due in part to my transition, but it was further proof of just how important it was to embrace my authentic self as fully as possible and to continue pursuing the dream I'd had since I was a child. After Southern Comfort closed in 2016, I've had a lot of opportunity to develop new works that tell trans stories, and find that activism and acting often go hand-in-hand which has led me to speak about trans issues on panels from BroadwayCon to VICE News and NowThis Media. It was also through meeting so many talented trans and nonbinary actors in New York City that I decided to start producing Trans Voices Cabaret, a musical revue featuring all trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming singers at The Duplex. We've been running almost 2 years now and have sibling branches in Chicago and London, which is indicative of just how needed this was. I still play cisgender roles and am always happy to do so, but the fabric of my identity is interwoven with my career and I will always be grateful to The Public Theater and Southern Comfort for giving me that gift.

Donnie Cianciotto (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Donnie Cianciotto (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What advice or wisdom would you give your younger self, or a young person in a similar situation?

I'd advise myself to not date the blonde girl from high school first and foremost. 

I think the earlier in life a person embraces their true self the healthier and happier they will be able to be all around. For Trans and Gender Non-conforming people who elect to pursue medical transition and hormone therapy, this can be daunting in our line of work because it means changes to our voice and appearance which leads to concerns like, "Will I still be able to sing after hormones?" and "Will producers see me as castable in roles of my correct gender?" and it's pressure that is specific to our industry. For many years, I put off transitioning in the way I knew was right for me because I was afraid of losing my singing voice, but I wasn't happy at all during those years. I needed to make the best choice for me and that choice was to medically transition. It was only after I started seeing and hearing the man I knew I was in the mirror that I began to feel a deeper peace within, and everything started to fall into place in all aspects of my life, not just my career. My advice to someone younger would be to remember that they need to take care of themselves emotionally and physically first because they are the most important part of their life, and being in a healthy place mentally, emotionally, and physically are tools that we as performers - and as humans - need to succeed. Transitioning is different for everyone - not all of us pursue a medical transition - and finding what is right and feels best for you as an individual is crucial to living your best life. My advice would be to embrace your authenticity fiercely and firmly and stay true to yourself.

Futaba Shioda: Trans and Non-Binary Actors to Know

Angela Tricarico

Interview by Anna Altheide

Futaba Shioda (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Futaba Shioda (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

What musical had the biggest impact on you growing up?

Peter Pan.

What’s your dream role and why?

Moritz from Spring Awakening. I would love the opportunity to play the underdog, the kid who is trying his hardest to “get it” but can’t seem to and turns to singing some killer rock music to express it. 

How do you believe your identity has played a part in developing your current career?

Being a transgender person of color is still met with a lot of ignorance and unawareness in the entertainment industry, especially in the musical theatre world. Coming out as trans taught me how to truly stand up for myself, make boundaries, and break down expectations in a way that has freed me from accepting anything less than full respect, as a queer actor and as an Asian actor as well. I know I risked a lot coming out and was initially told there “wasn’t much for me” onstage but I have no regrets about choosing my authentic happiness over others’ close-mindedness. It has given me a kind of boldness and freedom I otherwise might not have known.

What advice or wisdom would you give your younger self, or a young person in a similar situation?

The times may not have caught up to you but give it your all to change it as best you can in your lifetime. You and future generations will benefit from this insistence. Love yourself first; the art and craft will come after and better than ever. 

Futaba Shioda (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)

Futaba Shioda (Photo by THEGINGER3BEARDMEN for The Ensemblist)