Maddie Parish
Edited by: 
Anna Prelack

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you became involved in the performing arts at the very beginning?

I was first put into dance lessons by my parents when I was two. I guess my parents just wanted me to have something to do as a kid and then they put me in a lot of different things and you just see what sticks, see what the kid likes and dance really stuck. That’s how I got started. I don't know my life without dance. I don't know my life without theater or any kind of involvement in the arts, my entire life has sort of centered around it. I can't remember a time where it wasn't at the center of my life and what I was doing, what I was interested in. As I grew up things got more serious and I made different choices. Along the way, deciding for myself, “Okay, maybe I do want to make a career out of this.” If I wanted to do that, then I needed to start taking dance more seriously and it's less recreational and more about preparing yourself for what you might want to actually make a career out of. Long story. That's it.

Q: What has dance, and musical theater taught you that you apply to your everyday life and how you engage with the world?

Particularly dance, I didn't do competition dance, I grew up in a pretty traditional concert dance background.  I took my first modern class, my first composition class when I was nine years old, which is kind of strange for the time now. I guess a lot of dancers in their early-mid 20s came from competition backgrounds, so they were trying to win first for their jazz routine at age nine and I was learning the basics of composition, form, and shape in the body and space. I think I approach a lot of my life with a bit of a more artistic lens or gaze. I look at a lot of my life like body language. I'm very into people's body language. That's something that I like. I have found in making friendships with non-dancers that dancers are much more into the social cues or not just from verbal cues. Dancers and people who are sort of versed in movement in any kind of form are so much more tapped into the awareness of other bodies in space and things like that. I think that's probably the biggest thing. Also, I think emotionally it's just been a really good outlet for me. It always has been and it's so nice that I've had an emotional outlet. You know, I've always had it, I don't know my life without this emotional outlet. Maybe sometimes it can feel like a crutch a little bit, but I think I also wouldn't survive without it. I know that

Q:  Can you speak about some challenges either in your career?

I have a lot of doubts.  I went to college prep school for high school, a private high school with a great Fine Arts program.  I was the first student to come out of the high school to major in dance, or to want to be interested in majoring in dance. They had a very small sprinkling of students who went off to study acting or musical theater, but I was the first one who really wanted to study dance. I'll never forget the first meeting that I had with my college counselor. I told her what I wanted to do. I told her that I wanted to go to NYU for dance. She said, “I'm going to be honest with you, I don't think that that's going to happen. You're going to need to adjust your expectations.” She also said, “I don't know how helpful I can be to you because no one has come through and wanted to go into dance.” I was kind of taken aback by it.  First of all, this is a private school education we're paying them to help me get into college. Second, I think just because I want to do something more artistic and something that is less sort of cookie cutter for what from the environment that I came from at least, she should have been more supportive. I feel like I grew up with all of these doubts because all my friends said, “I want to be a doctor, I want to be a dentist, I want to do all these things that are going to make me a lot of money and people need me. Everybody needs a doctor.  I'm really feeling that with the whole conversation of essential versus nonessential workers. Right now I've never felt more non-essential in my life, but there are people out there who are literally saving lives. So it's hard. It's kind of hard to not doubt yourself.  I think that has been my biggest challenge and continues to be my biggest challenge is finding that support within myself and trusting and knowing that this is what I was designed to do and this is my purpose.  My purpose is different and that's okay.  Just dealing with support versus non-supporting people being unnecessarily annoying about it, I guess.  I was very fortunate growing up that my parents were so supportive along the way, and they continue to be.  That's the greatest gift that I could have ever received.

Q: What inspires you and drives you forward as an artist?

I think I'm inspired by a lot of people, other artists. The dancers in particular that I look up to are the ones that I kind of see bits of myself in or that I would hope to see bits of myself in.  Certain dancers out there or certain actors who have similar journeys, I guess.  This national tour that I just did was my very first professional theater job that I've ever booked.  I've only ever been a dancer and kind of pigeon holed myself in that a little bit, but always loved musical theater growing up.  I did it in school, but recreationally, sort of just for fun. I was always interested in it but I never thought that I was good enough. I thought, “I'm a one trick pony, I can dance, and maybe that will get me hired.” But I don't know much about anything else. I kind of started doing some research with other dancers that I really admired in the musical theater field who have sort of made that transition. There are so many that are like me in that, they kind of just decided one day.  When you decide to move the fear for half a second and just try it and then sometimes it doesn't work and they don't want you. But sometimes it does work out and you do happen to be the right person on the right day and it's sort of how they make that transition.  While you're really succeeding in the dance aspect of things, you kind of have to play catch up, but you always learn, you're always learning along the way. Those people really inspire me. The dancers who have decided to make transitions and explore other talents that they didn't know that they had or that they did not have. Dancers who thought, “I couldn't sing but I was 25 and I learned how.”  That inspires me a lot. Also, a lot of my mentors and teachers inspired me a lot.  There's so much to learn from them and being directly placed into a learning environment where you have a teacher, you are going to learn from them. The teacher-student relationship has always been an important thing for me. My teachers always inspired me. I mean not every teacher is going to inspire you, that's for sure, but some have really stuck.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you as a performing artist?

It's affected me big time. Our tour was supposed to end on April 13, and we performed our final show not knowing that it was going to be our final show, which was the case for most people. On March 12th or 13th, I'll never forget, we were at probably half an hour, and we started to hear a word from our audio guy every two minutes saying,  “We just got another cancellation.” We got another one and another one and by the time the curtain went up that night we had for our next 12 shows we only had three scheduled. We had lost almost 12 bookings in a row and we thought, “Well, what are we going to do? There's nothing for the next week.” Within 24 hours we were notified that we were all going home and everything was canceled. Luckily we were in a better position I will say than some of the other tours that were scheduled to be out until June, July, or August.  We only had 30 days left, granted it sucked because there were a lot of things that I didn't get to, there was a lot of closure that I didn't receive. But also at the same rate I was slightly more prepared for things to be over, things were kind of wrapping up. Within two days we were being flown back home, I was being flown not back to my base in New York, but to my parents house in Nashville.  It was a non-union tour so they did not pay us out for the remainder of the contract, and they pulled our bonuses that we were supposed to receive at the end of the touring code portion.  They said, “Good luck filing for unemployment,” which I am still being rejected from three different states. The saga just continues by the day. I'm definitely feeling majorly affected. This has been the most affected I've ever been by loss of a job.  I mean, jobs have come and gone because being a performer you're largely gig based anyways. Even around this time last year I just found out that I had booked the tour, but that came after almost five whole months of job searching and unemployment.  Just trying to figure out how to keep myself fed. So it's nothing that I haven't done before, but not in this way.  Going from having a full time job to being completely unemployed and living in my childhood bedroom. In a matter of 48 hours that was really strange.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about what it looked like, you touched on it a little bit already, when the tour was first shut down? The last performance and how the cast felt, how did you react?

It all happened just so fast.  I remember we used to have a company meeting about it.  We would have it every time we would enter a new venue, which was almost every day because there were a lot of one-nighters.  We would go in and we'd have our company meeting about the venue, about the show, things like that. I would say maybe starting three cities before our finals, what ended up being our final city, we started having COVID meetings.  We would come in we would meet about the show and then the meeting would be extended to talk about what the update is, what precautions the company's taking, what things are looking like.  We were supposed to end the tour in Vancouver, Canada, and we were just waiting for them to close that border.  Things were starting to get more and more serious by the day so those meetings were getting longer and the last meeting that we had we didn't know that it was going to be our last meeting. We walked in and they said, “It's looking like it's gonna be really serious, we're starting to get some closures, there is a chance that we all may be going home, but we don't know yet, that's about all we can say.” About 30 minutes before the show we just kept getting more and more cancellations and reality set in. We started the show. We got through act one and then got about halfway through act two, then I think people started to realize the ship was sinking really fast. Things took a turn and got very emotional. It was like a collective realization. I guess because maybe we got some more cancellations during intermission or something like that but it only took one person to start crying for everybody to just snowball.  We had just come off of a streak of doing 21 shows in a row, everyone was just really over it to begin with. Then it just started snowballing and so the show was incredibly emotional. I've never cried like that. I'm in the middle of a show and I could barely say my lines. After the show we kind of just hoped and a lot of weird stuff happened during the show. We actually had to pause the show because glass broke on stage and it was a mess of our last show. We were thinking, “Surely that's not the last one, I'm sure we have one more in us, there's no way.”  We all went home to the hotel and then the next morning we got an email from the company manager saying, “We have a meeting. Everyone come. There's pizza.  By the way, the tour is canceled and you're going home.” And that was that. They said they would send all of our stuff that we were keeping at the theater and that they would call us.  “We'll call each of you and you can tell us what your personal items are and we'll box them up and we'll send them to you in a few weeks.” It was wild, it was emotional and we had kids on our tour too, we had four boys, little boys from the age of nine and the oldest was 14.  I mean what do you do? What do you tell those kids, their moms, their chaperones? We don't even know where to begin. That was just at the moment where everybody was starting to understand the scope of how bad this might be. It was really sad.  I mean, us as adults we were all thinking, “We can handle this.” Also we were exhausted, we were kind of starting the final leg of this tour so everyone took a bit of a sigh of relief because it was a hard tour.  I know there were similar feelings from a lot of the other adults on the tour, “This will be good, we can go home. Reset. We're exhausted.” But the kids, it got ripped away from them, you know, and it got ripped away from all of us too. I'm still upset that we didn't get the closure that I imagined that I would get. This is just not at all what I thought would happen.  Now it feels so far away because I feel like so much has happened since then and we know how serious all of this was.  It's crazy that we were out on the road for as long as we were, and no one got sick now looking back at it, it's pretty amazing that no one was directly affected by it, at the time, but it was so strange.

Q: What are you seeing online that artists are doing?

I think, well, to be perfectly honest when I came home I was really burned out.  This experience has been really rough and exhausting, and I'm very burnt out and I don't want to dance. No one can make me take a ballet class in my kitchen. I was pissed at the idea, it made me want to shrivel in a ball. I felt like I couldn’t do it. I will not take a ballet class in my kitchen, you won't catch me doing that, you won't catch me improving in my backyard either.  I'm going to keep my body moving because I know that I need the serotonin, otherwise I won't get out of bed, I'll be depressed. It won't be good.

I started running or doing one of my friends' classes.  I used to dance for Parsons Dance in New York. One of my friends who is still in the company teaches.  She would do Instagram Live dance cardio, stuff like that.  It was like kickboxing, jumping around stuff. So, I was doing stuff like that and that's what I've been doing.  To make a tiny bit of money along the way I have been teaching some online dance classes for community theaters and teaching online cardio.  I've been doing a teeny tiny bit of teaching.  I beefed up the courage to take one online Instagram Live ballet class, and almost cried twice, but I made it through. I probably won't do it again.  I was proud of myself for doing it, and giving it at least a try, but it's been hard, it's been very difficult to try and stay fulfilled and I definitely am feeling a little bit of that like guilt. I don't know about you but there are some people out there who are taking ballet class every day and “That's fierce! That's really great for you and if that makes you happy then that makes me happy.” For some reason I just have not been about it. I've been watching, there's been a little bit of free dance and stuff like that, that you can stream online. I've done a little bit of it but honestly, I've sort of taken a conscious break from everything.  I think it's been good, because I'm slowly finding myself starting to miss it. I miss the people more. The tour was just hard, and anybody will say that about any tour unless it is a show that you are really, really in love with and the role that you've been dreaming of.  A non-union bus and truck tour is not fun. It's not a fun thing to do, which I understand now after experiencing it. I miss the people. I miss my life in New York. I miss being able to take dance class in person. That's what I love about dance class is the practice of actually going in and taking the class and being in community with others. Some people are able to feel that virtually, I can't, I don't feel that. So, it has been hard and I am more than honest about the fact that it's been so hard.  Staying artistically fulfilled is a question mark at this moment, that's for sure.

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