Q: How did you begin your performing arts career?
My mom was a dancer. She had a rough upbringing, and she had an aunt who danced with the Boston Ballet. My mom was able to get out of her house by taking dance classes. She danced at Bates College in Maine. When I was growing up, I had a lot of energy. I am one of four kids. At 5, I started dance classes. I loved it, and I think it fueled something in me. When I was 13, one of my good friend’s uncles had a community theater in Pittsburgh, and I did this summer musical theater program there. For four weeks, we took dance and acting and singing from 9 to 5, and put on a production. The first year I did it, we did ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and we had to audition, which I had never done before. I sang ‘Part of Your World' and I didnt know how to read music and it was probably terrible, but somehow I got a part as the Emerald City guard. I wore a mustache and they put all of my hair in a hat. I sang that “Ha ha ha, ho ho ho” song and suddenly people were like, “You can sing!” And I was like, “Oh, I can sing!” It was fun and I happened to fall into it, so I did it the next summer. I did ‘Peter Pan’ and was Peter, and then I caught the theater bug and was like, “This is fantastic.” I became obsessed with Broadway and cast albums. I grew up on Andrew Lloyd Weber. I became that girl obsessed with all things musical theater. In high school, I took it more seriously. Not only was there some god-given talent, but I was passionate about it. I did summer musical theater programs as well as a pre-college program that helped me prepare for college auditions. Another thing that I did during high school — I went to the Abby Lee Dance Company my junior and senior year. Abby pushed me, because my dance had fallen by the wayside because I was so focused on voice and acting. Luckily, I got into a bunch of school and picked the one that was the best fit for me, which was Carnegie Mellon. I spent four years there and then moved to NYC and became an actor! Honestly, the dance came first, and luckily my mom threw me into it and my friend made me go to that musical theater camp. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t - I mean, my dad would have still brought back albums from London when he traveled, but it was just such a meant-to-be situation.
Q: What has the performing arts taught you that you have applied to your everyday life and how you engage in the world?
It is so funny because I am living at home now. There’s all that childhood stuff you grew up with that made you say, “I am gonna grow up and become a new person and move away, forget all these things that have been ingrained in me,” Now being back at my house, I notice all the little things my family does that I still do. We are very much like, “I know the right way to do this. You can do it, but I know the right way.” I think after leaving my house and pursuing acting, I learned that there is no one right way to do anything, especially in the arts. If a director gives you a note where you have an objective, there is no one way to find that journey and make the perfect objective. That whole thing of ‘it’s black and white’ is not a thing. We live in the grey area as artists. I grew up with a math and science family. In math, you get the answer right or wrong. My mom worked in a blood blank, and science has formulas — if you do it incorrectly, you mess it up. If I'm given a direction for a character, I can interpret that and whatever that means to me will be the right way it manifests. I think living in the grey has helped me in life. Just silly things like cleaning the bathroom — there is no right way of cleaning the bathroom. If my husband cleans it his way, I can't be mad because that's his way. It sounds so trivial, but it has really broadened my horizons. Also, I grew up in a very math-and-science-oriented smart family and we all did well in school. In high school, it was ingrained in me that there IS right or wrong — you get an A or B, pass or fail. It's hard, because failing is such a huge part of our business. If you don't fail as an artist, you are not doing it correctly. You have to be able to take a note and really try it. Can you run across the stage and trip and fall without hurting yourself? No director wants someone who can't try. If you try and fail, you come up with something else. Whatever the piece of direction is, you have to always say yes, absolutely and not shut down any ideas. I grew up in a family that really thinks there are right and wrong ways to do things, like cleaning and cooking, even trivial things like that, and I’m the person who says, “What if there is NOT a right way?” I am taking that approach with my sisters' kids, saying things like, “What if we let the kids lead the play and we don’t structure it all the time?” I am sure everyone is annoyed at me pushing the boundaries in the family, but the arts really do make you more flexible and able to roll with the punches. You become more open minded and can think outside the box a bit more.
It also has made me a much more curious person. When I first met my husband, I was not good at the art of conversation. When I met anyone, I would always say “I'm good,” because growing up, you were never, “okay” or “bad”, you were always “good” - hiding your emotions. I met my husband and he would ask me questions about myself, and I started being in groups of people who were not like me, so I would have to figure out how to open up and continue a conversation. It has made me a much better human being. I have met people from all walks of life and held conversations and been able to fit right in. I have a voice and something to say, and I can ask questions and feel confident with that, which is a huge asset in this world. We need more people on the business side of things who can hold a conversation.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist? (community, financially, initial reactions, company shift, online class, emotions, initial cancellation reaction)
Well, unfortunately, our show was shut down. The first thing that happened was there being no groups of 500 people allowed to gather — I’m at New World Stages, which is an off-Broadway theater house that contains six theaters, so technically our show seats 499. If all the shows were up and running at full capacity, however, it would be more than 500. We had been waiting all day with bated breath, waiting to hear if our show would be canceled. On Thursday, March 12th, we finally stopped after Broadway shut down and The Broadway League was no longer holding shows. We officially shut down and were told not to come into work. I rented a car for my husband and I and told him that even though I loved him and our apartment, I did not want to be in New York City — I had a feeling NYC was going to be really bad, because we are all in such close proximity with each other. If my show was cancelled, I decided, “Let's get out of the city and go see my family,” who I haven't seen for awhile. We packed for two weeks, thinking it would blow over quickly, and we have been here ever since. It's been weird. I am so thankful we are not in NYC, but my friends who are in the city are all making do and living their lives and trying to make the best of it. I AM really thankful that I am here.
We got an email saying the show was going on hiatus and a week later, we had a Zoom meeting and had a happy hour and checked in with everyone. We had an actress, Dot-Marie Jones, who was on Glee and had just joined the company and been in the show for only two weeks, ask us, “Do I stay in NYC, or do I go back to L.A?” and they eventually flew her back to L.A. Everyone was logging in and checking in with everyone. No one had been diagnosed with it. It was only a week in, so we all still thought this wouldn't last. Since then, we had one email from general management after Broadway extended their closure through June, saying we will follow in line with The Broadway League, even though being an off-Broadway theater, we don't have to follow the same rules. I have texted my castmates and have been following them on Instagram, watching their funny videos and whatnot. We are all just aimlessly waiting. When I first got here, I tried to do a hand-washing challenge for my cast, but only four people did it, because I think people still thought this was just a break. Now people are taking it more seriously and saying things like, “Let's get together and do a song on Zoom!” We did that but it hasn’t come out yet.
Q: How have you been maintaining your craft during this time?
I play Sherrie in ‘Rock of Ages’ — it’s very demanding. Physically, she is dancing and strip-teasing lap-dancing and running around the stage in heels. My body has been really busted. I am dealing with a few injuries — a neck injury, a knee injury. The show has taken a lot out of me. I have been injured a lot. The week we went on break, I sprained my ankle, so in a weird way, I was so thankful for the time off. The first week, I rested and sang a little with my husband — we made some videos for Broadway Goes Viral. Then, I kind of went into caregiver mode and started cooking meals for my family. I’ve helped my sister take care of her two kids and am taking care of my parents, who are older, and just doing the house chores. My brother is here, my sister is here, they are both working, my dad is working, my mom was working but now has time off, and my husband is working. I was the person that wasn't really working, so I became the caregiver, which has been really draining. For the first couple of weeks, I thought, “This is amazing” and now I just want to be an actor again! I have started to learn how to play the piano.
As far as my routine, I do a leisurely breakfast with my husband and drink lots of coffee. Apparently, quarantine means I am exhausted, which...HOW, because I am not doing anything? — why is being inside so tiring? I am usually burning so many calories, doing eight shows a week with five-show weekends, and I am so tired now for no reason! There are days I go to the grocery store, come back, and am so tired, and I'm like, “How!? You literally just went to the grocery store!” I have been trying to get myself to work out once a day. If I am not taking care of my sister’s kids, I work out, eat lunch, and then start dinner plans, because I am feeding seven adults and two kids! We have to eat at 6 p.m. for the kids, so I start dinner at 4 p.m. What little time I do have, I have been playing the piano and singing to the kids to keep my voice up. My artistic soul is starting to die a little. I do feel like when I’m in a long-running show, I get burned out and I get to the point where I'm like, “I need two weeks where I don't try to be an artist, but try to get back to civilian life again.” When this break happened, I was glad to go back to civilian life. Now that it’s been a month of civilian life, I’ve realized why I'm an artist! I can’t do it anymore, I’m done! It has been rewarding to help my family and spend time with them, but I need ‘me’ time. I try to sit at the piano, sing, and will hopefully get into some great acting books I want to read soon. I feel like I hit the reset button and now I need to be an artist again. If anything, this has made me so grateful for what I do and yearn to go back to my show. The show IS so hard and killing my body, but the next time I put on that costume and belt my face off, every fiber of my being will be so grateful to be back. I have done four Broadway shows and two off-Broadway shows. No matter what show you are in, when you do eight shows a week, it is so hard to maintain the level of excitement and gratefulness all the time. I try very hard, and most people do, but there are those shows where you are like, “I am so tired, I just want to sit on my couch, but it's Saturday and I have to do two shows.” We have all had those days. I'm not proud of them, but we are human. But now, thinking back to my hardest show, my Broadway debut in Hairspray, where I did two-show Wednesdays and my shin splints were killing me from pony-ing for my life –– I would rather be there in my darkest days than where I am now, sitting at home and feeling like I have no purpose in life. I am now realizing I just needed perspective. I am trying to take this as a shift in perspective to realize how grateful I have been to have been working. All my friends who haven't worked as much as me experience these down periods a lot, and this is the first time I have had this in a long time. It is hard to stay motivated to want to do my craft. I am at my best when a director tells me what to do, and when I don't have a director in my house in Pennsylvania, it's hard to be motivated.
Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? (Worldmaking: How you can re-imagine the world in your own terms, the way you want it to be. Using this tool one can construct new worlds and write themselves into narratives that have excluded them and systems that have disabled them.)
My ideal world would be Broadway at its Golden Age. Ticket prices are lowered to a price that people of many socio-economic backgrounds can afford, so the theater is more inclusive and actors' wages can reflect the commercial success of a show. Once shows become successful, people don't have to pay $600 for a ticket. That might happen because theaters may be so desperate for an audience that ticket prices will reflect that. Maybe because not as many shows will be competing for theaters because many projects have fallen by the wayside, that may help with ticket prices, which could take a steep drop. That may seem trivial, but the burden of ticket prices being so high and not allowing people to see shows in the capacity they used to is cutting out a huge demographic in America. So many organizations are trying to make theater more accessible, but lowering prices at the Broadway level will open our doors to people. Theater is so communal and it creates empathy. Especially in a pandemic, people need more of that. It's never about me, me, me — it's about people who bleed the same blood and are worrying about the same things you are, but aren’t exactly like you… I think theater helps breed empathy and open your eyes to all walks of life. That’s why I love being an actor so much –– getting to transform and tell other people’s stories. I hope people will understand situations better and open their eyes to things they were naive and guarded against. I hope the theater will become a more inclusive place. I hope people come back. I hope people are waiting with bated breath until they open these doors and realize how much they're missing the arts in their lives. My utopian world would be a theater with low ticket prices and open doors to all. Maybe this will force producers and directors to do more outreach to people who wouldn't normally see theater. I know there has been a lot of great work put into that in the last few years, but I think this may force people to think outside the box and do new kinds of outreach. Also, I hope maybe this will help people realize that the stories that need to be told — there are more important, more compelling stories out there, as opposed to returning to the same storylines. Maybe this will open up space for more original pieces, as opposed to people giving money to the same musicals that became movies or vice versa.