Broadway · Interview · The Human Connection

Astonishing: A Celebration of Women in the Creative Space

March is Women’s History Month, and we have plenty to celebrate. March 29th marks our second birthday here at Speech To Stage. My lessons this month have had to do with women from a variety of backgrounds and showcasing a myriad of accomplishments. My students and I have learned more than we expected, and I got asked why women only get a month. I don’t have that answer, but in my speech room and in my world, women get celebrated every day. Today, I’m taking the time to celebrate every woman who has been generous enough to share her words with me. In order of appearance, I would like to showcase the women I’ve interviewed.

  • Gillian Pensavalle
    When this blog was just an idea, Gillian was the first person I reached out to. Gillian had already jumped into the deep end of the pool with her podcast, The Hamilcast, and I am a HUGE fan. She is a true self-starter who learns on her feet and is open to whatever gets thrown at her. It has been so exciting to watch her podcasting evolve.
  • Laurie Berkner
    Laurie Berkner creates the BEST children’s music my speech room has ever heard. Any song can be turned into a lesson, and I enjoy them as much as my kids do. They inspire creative questions and conversations among my students. Thank you for your creativity!
  • Margo Seibert
    Margo was someone I knew I wanted to talk to right away. With her work with weracket.com, beautiful solo music, and Broadway career, I knew I had to know her journey from beginning to present. She has a beautiful presence about her, and insight I’m forever grateful she shared with me. Already looking forward to the next time I get to see her perform.
  • Karla Garcia
    As a dancer, I was so excited to speak with Karla. She has such a unique, sophisticated style to her work. Currently in the Broadway cast of Hamilton, she teaches at Broadway Dance Center and has her choreography in different projects. If you ever get the opportunity to learn from her, DO IT! Her energy is contagious and you will have the time of your life.
  • Susan Egan
    Broadway’s first Disney princess. I still can’t believe I had the pleasure of this conversation. I remember learning so much and being able to give my students so much to work with right after this conversation took place. If she is coming to a Broadway Princess Party near you, go. Susan is truly a delightful human.
  • Jessica Lee Goldyn
    Jessica caught my eye back in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. A few years later, and the same held true in Tuck Everlasting. Getting to hear about her dance journey and how she takes care of herself was a real treat for me and my kiddos.
  • Sarah Charles Lewis
    This young lady is a triple threat. Just a glance at her social media, and she is always dancing, singing, acting or all three. Sarah shone as Winnie Foster in Tuck Everlasting. An incredibly talented individual, I look forward to seeing her perform again someday.
  • Arielle Jacobs
    When I spoke to Arielle, she was starring in In The Heights at Virginia Repertory Theater, which Karla Garcia was choreographing. She is currently representing royalty as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin on Broadway. She has such a sunny outlook on life and is such a lovely human to speak with. My students found her words and advice really grounding and inspiring.
  • Laura Heywood
    I have followed Laura through many of her Broadway-related endeavors. I’m certain all of you know her as BroadwayGirlNYC. She is always filling my timeline with uplifting and hopeful words and thoughts. She is now back on the radio with her own interview show. Be sure to check her out!
  • Nava Silton of Addy and Uno
    Nava may be my personal hero. She found a way to take the arts and the special education community and merge them into a child friendly teaching tool and off-Broadway show! I swear by her teaching tools and have recommended them to many other educators. I firmly believe everyone needs to see this show and learn more about her work in educating others.
  • Lynn Ahrens
    Lynn Ahrens has written so much that has made me feel every possible emotion. She helped shape my childhood with Anastasia and School House Rock, and is now working on a show I adore, Marie Dancing Still. Her advice for the writing process truly changed how some of my students approach their writing assignments and feel they understand it better having heard her perspective. My students and I are so grateful for her words and her work.
  • Andrea Koehler of Coloring Broadway
    If I could give an award for most supportive human, it would go to Andrea. She shows so much support for me and for everyone involved in the Broadway Makers Alliance. Mastermind behind Coloring Broadway and The Coloring Project, she found a way for Broadway fans to make Broadway lyrics their own with coloring pages. Each page has its own mindfulness activity to go along with it, and I am OBSESSED with this product. I think I own every coloring set.
  • Kimmie Mark
    Everyone needs a Kimmie in their lives. Gillian started this saying, and she was right. She is the dresser for both George Washington and Aaron Burr for the Broadway cast of Hamilton. She is a hero for all, including the animals! She does incredible raffles benefitting the New Jersey Freedom Farm on her Instagram account, @dunkinscout
  • Stephanie Klemons
    This amazing human is superwoman. While fulfilling her job as associate choreographer for all of the Hamilton casts, she has made her directorial debut, added her choreography to other productions and is running an amazing organization, Katie’s Art Project. Everyone should be supporting this. This was such an inspiring conversation, and my students and I really took her words on work ethic to heart.
  • Liz Schwarzwalder and Mindy Swidler of Petite Seat
    Liz and Mindy are doing amazing work. Not everyone can provide a family perspective on theatrical experiences! They think of everything a family might need to know from show content to stroller parking. They keep their followers in the know on so many shows. I know my parents certainly appreciate their work, and I appreciate the fact that they’re bringing family and the arts together.
  • Lesli Margherita
    All hail the Queen. Her message of being yourself is so powerful, and one I need to hear often. My students love her positivity and her comedy, but I love her perspective of being in control of who you are and owning it. She is truly a star that shines from the inside out, and encourages everyone else to do the same.
  • Heidi Blickenstaff
    My conversation with Heidi was so much fun. She has originated these amazingly strong and vulnerable characters through her work, as well as made roles her own. She sings one of my (and my students’) favorite songs on any OBCR, “Right Hand Man” from Something Rotten! Her push to explore your town has really helped change and shape the way my students approach the word, “adventure.”

Who are the women in your life that you celebrate? I challenge to make a list of all of the women in your life you celebrate, the impact they’ve had on you, and how you can share that celebration with others.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Broadway · Interview · The Human Connection

A Solid Rock Am I: A Conversation with Heidi Blickenstaff

I’ve discussed many things I’ve learned through theatre on this blog. After all, participating in the theatrical experience in any capacity is bound to teach anyone something new. Today’s guest embodies one of my favorite lessons: Women are strong, smart, multi-faceted people who should never be underestimated. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Heidi Blickenstaff play Heidi in [Title of Show], Bea in Something Rotten, and Katherine in Disney’s Freaky Friday in an out-of-town production, and every time I am blown away by her performance and excited by the idea that young girls especially, but women everywhere get to see this particular version of strength and power. We talked about playing all the roles mentioned above, how she got into theatre, and what it was like taking a stage production and turning it into a musical. Let’s jump in!

Stef the StageSLP: How did you become interested in theatre?

Heidi Blickenstaff: When I was six, my mom took me to our local dinner theater and we saw a production of Oklahoma! I knew nothing about it beforehand. There was a little girl in it a bit older than me, and up until then, I was only obsessed with movie musicals, especially Singin’ in the Rain. I didn’t know you could do this live, and that was it. I wanted to do that. My parents are the most supportive, wonderful parents, and had no idea what to do with me—they were mostly into sports. We found out I had to be seven to audition for the shows, and I auditioned the next year for their youth company. I sang “Maybe” from Annie, and I was absolutely terrified. The artistic director asked my mom where my voice came from, and suggested that I take voice lessons and come back in six months. I did, and the rest is history. I got a huge musical theatre education with them. I also went to a performing arts high school and was kind of insatiable. I knew I wanted to be on Broadway the second I found out there was a Broadway. I went to college and got my degree in drama from Duke University, moved to New York and started auditioning. I was very focused and relied on my instincts, because my parents had no idea how to help me other than be completely supportive. It was a lot of on-the-job training, and you never stop learning.

S: That’s awesome to come from such supportive parents without theatre as their primary interest.

H: They were given this child who loved acting and recognized early on that I was a bit of an alien, but that they needed to give me the wings to fly on my own. My mom liked musicals; we had the albums. I could not get enough of them. The way my mom tells it, I was harmonizing with Barbra Streisand when I was two. They must’ve thought, “She’s a weirdo, but we’re going to nurture this talent and interest and find her other weirdos like her to continue to grow this interest.” And I’m so grateful for that in them.

S: My students have all seen Freaky Friday, some on stage, all of them through the Disney Channel. What’s it like to adapt a stage production to a movie?

H: I had a lot of feelings of gratitude for this. When we were building the theatrical version, the creative team was incredibly collaborative. It was built on what Emma Hunton and I could do, and our input was very much a part of the process of building the show. I love collaborating and being in a room where my creative ideas are valued and heard, and we’re very proud of what we made. I’m so glad that the theatrical version is out in the world for people to do.

When I was asked to do the film, I was utterly shocked. I was the only act held over from the stage production to the film. I didn’t even have expectations of being cast. I was brought back for readings to help cast the other actors, but I never thought I would be asked to stay. I got to reprise my role on television.

Shooting the movie is an utterly different situation from a stage production. The only thing they have in common is that they require actors. I had never been on television before or made a movie before, so this was all new to me, and more learning on my feet. The script drastically changed from a full musical with an intermission to a ninety-minute film. The differences between the stage production and the film revolved a lot around demographic and attention span. The kids watching the movie may not be as invested in a two-minute ballad as a theatre audience is. Every aspect of the movie musical has to drive the plot. All of the changes made gave the final product integrity, and our book writer, Bridget Carpenter, is a total genius and was able to write for both mediums. I was so happy to be a part of both the musical and movie-musical. Every day was a gift, and an experience of a lifetime for sure.

S: What was it like originating Bea in Something Rotten?

H: It was pretty dreamy from start to finish. I got the very unlikely offer to do the role, I didn’t have to audition. I had just worked with Casey Nicholaw on Most Happy Fella, and Kevin McCollum who produced it had produced [Title of Show] and I had a working relationship with him, too. This show had been in development for two and a half years at this point, and labs and workshops had been done. They called me while I was doing Elf at The PaperMill Playhouse, and I couldn’t believe it—it was truly unbelievable. I will never forget that moment.

To be in that room with those comedic geniuses was both amazing and intimidating at the same time. I learned so much about comedy from the cast and creative team. Every day, everyone came ready to work. We all loved that show so much. Bea was written on me, they had rewritten her from previous versions. They really worked with me to figure out what would work for me, and we landed on “Right Hand Man.” From start to finish, the entire ride was totally crazy and I’m so grateful for it. It’s what you dream about. I love Bea so deeply, and of all the characters I’ve played she’s a lot like me, in a lot of ways more than Heidi in [Title of Show].

S: What was it like to create such an empowering female character?

H: Awesome. And to be on that stage in a spotlight, belting about how strong women can be and how capable we are…it doesn’t get much better than that. I am so proud that there is a character that I got to create that has such a strong message for girls and all women that says “We got this.” I remember Kevin McCollum said to me, “When you make a musical, you leave a legacy. You will always be the first Bea. You made her. This will be a part of your legacy.” And girls and boys will hear that song and its message on a cast recording is incredible.

S: Well, I can tell you it is a hit among my students, my family, and myself.

H: Thank you.

S: How on Earth do you sing the songs that you sing while protecting your voice?

H: It gets harder. Freaky Friday is my hardest sing so far. You don’t talk a lot outside of the theatre. You have to protect your voice. You have to stay hydrated and watch what you’re eating. You can’t be in a loud place where you have to shout over everyone else, or your voice will go out.

The way I sing and make sounds is instinctual. I’ve taken a handful of voice lessons, but I’ve never taken formal, individual voice lessons. I teach a lot of master classes but I can’t teach what I do or tell you how I do it. I’m much better teaching acting than singing. I know my limits, I know my voice, and I know how to adjust accordingly. All of that comes with time. We’re born with certain gifts and instincts on how to preserve those gifts. When I’m teaching, I always stress the acting and storytelling. Find the story, then make it sing.

S: What would you say to kids and teens who want to get into theatre?

H: Access really is an epidemic. It’s becoming a luxury instead of common in schools. If you do have access to any kind of class, take it. Like attracts like, so if you can find your way into a dance class or voice class, the other folks in the class will know other things going on in the arts community. Ask people questions and don’t be shy about it. There are online resources now, too. See what’s happening in your community and if you can take advantage of that. Theatre and the arts give you empathy, perspective, and joy. Kids need this, and the arts and all art are so, so important.

S: Every week I challenge my students and readers to do something outside of their comfort zone. What would you challenge them to do?

H: I would encourage them to go do something new within their own city. My family and I have been challenging ourselves to get out of our neighborhood and do something creative and new that we don’t do every week. It’s been an awesome experience to get out of our neighborhood and see more of the city we live in. Take advantage of things in your city that you wouldn’t necessarily do and have a little adventure. Put your phone down. Make a point of unplugging and really being with the people you’re with. It’s amazing what’s around us, right under our noses.
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This was such a fun conversation to be a part of, and I can’t thank Heidi Blickenstaff enough for speaking with me. How exciting is this? There is a [Title of Show] reunion concert on March 11th benefitting The Actor’s Fund! If you can, please go see Heidi in this show. It is a performance you will not want to miss! My students are already reaping the benefits of this conversation, and I’ve designed a project to go along with whatever adventure they choose to take on in their pursuit of Heidi’s challenge. Needless to say, my students have been requesting “Right Hand Man” more frequently, and I’m proud of them for that. I look forward to reading about your adventures in comments.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

 

 

 

Broadway · Interview · The Human Connection

The Spark of Creation: A Conversation with Stephen Schwartz

Did you know that hope and wonder have a sound? If you are one of my students, or one of many people who are familiar with Stephen Schwartz’ work, you are extremely familiar with it. The music and lyrics behind his work are sure to evoke emotion the second you begin listening. For me, I grew up singing songs he’d written, admittedly poorly, or quoting lyrics back and forth with my family. My students can identify a few composers by sound, and Stephen Schwartz is one of them.  I have many musically inclined students who wanted a composer’s perspective, and I thought it would help to round out their theatrical knowledge that they were absorbing through my speech sessions. I have been a lifelong fan of Stephen Schwartz’ work, from Pippin to Children of Eden, Hunchback to The Prince of Egypt, and of course Wicked. I don’t believe there’s a lyricist who has leant more to my vocabulary lessons or SAT word study, which I now get to pass on to my own students. We talk about how he became interested in composing, why learning the basics in any instrument is important, writing style, and so much more.

Stef: This blog of mine has become sort of a family affair, and I have to start by asking questions from my mother. I wouldn’t know your work if not for her. She wants to know how long it took you to write “What Is This Feeling,” and is it based on a sibling relationship?

Stephen: Actually, it’s funny she should ask that because it’s one of the songs I found most tricky. I had four versions of that songs over the course of the show before I figured it out. There was always going to be a song in which Elphaba and Glinda were responding to the idea of being roommates. Winnie Holzman, the book writer, had the idea of doing a falling in hate/hate at first sight song. Taking all of those love at first sight songs and rewriting them. It was not one of those songs that came instantaneously. I remember after my third version asking Joe Mantello if we needed that song there. The relationship isn’t really based on anything other than instantly falling in hate with someone. If you think about it, the clichés for love are similar— “What is this feeling? My face is flushing,” and so on, but instead of feeling love, they’re loathing each other.

S: Wow, that’s a really interesting backstory. She and I were convinced that was based on sibling rivalry.

S: No, that was Winnie’s idea about falling in hate. She had the idea and it ended up working out.

S: I am so excited to share wit my kids that songs take as many drafts as writing. I don’t think they realize that.

S: Writing a song for a musical is storytelling. Some songs come easily and some take longer.

S: The other thing my mother really wanted you to know is that she is extremely appreciative for your work with Children of Eden. My brother played the role of Father in a high school production, just as he was going off to college. She really appreciates you sharing the parent perspective in “The Hardest Part of Love,” especially as she was going through it. It was very timely for her.

S: Thank you. As parents we fear the empty nest, and that was a way of expressing it, whether or not it actually happens.

S: My students want to know how did you become interested in writing and composing for theatre?

I was always interested in music. Musical ability is genetic, and it’s something that tends to show up very early. My parents tell me that I used to ask them to play specific records as a toddler. When I was six, my parents had a friend who was a composer and he was working on a show. When we visited him, he’d play what he was working on for us, and my parents would then say that I’d go over to his piano and pick out what I heard him play. He suggested my parents put me into piano lessons, and that’s how that started. I knew at eight or nine that I wanted to write for the theatre after seeing one of his shows on Broadway.

S: How is it different for you when you’re collaborating with someone else, versus doing all of the work yourself?

S: It’s not really different in that the goal is the same. It’s storytelling using song. When I’m doing both music and lyrics, it’s maybe more fluid, and I’ll switch between mediums. These days when I’m collaborating, and mostly it’s with Alan Menken now, we still start with,” What’s the assignment? What story are we telling?” I try to come up with a title, because I think it helps with structuring the song. Alan will write music first and then I put words to it.

S: When you’re composing and writing lyrics, which comes first for you?

S: It really works fluidly and moves back and forth. Maybe I’ll write some lyrics or a chorus and that will suggest some chords. Sometimes it works in reverse of that order. It changes from song to song, there’s no set formula.

S: My students want to know if writing comes easy for you, and what happens when you get stuck?

S: Writing is not easy, I think, for anyone. There are bursts of inspiration and times when you hit a wall. You have to keep going and just get words on the page. Something to break the lock down. Stop and do something else—go outside, take a walk, something unrelated to the task so your unconscious mind can think freely. You don’t want to be at a computer, you want to be doing a physical activity. If it’s a day where I’m planning to write, I won’t start with my computer, or it ruins the flow for me.

S: Many of my students are in orchestra or band and are learning the basics and would rather just play what they want than learn what’s being taught. What would you say to them?

S: That’s how everyone feels, but the truth is you can do both! You can have time to play and explore—that’s valuable. But if you don’t do the basics and practice, you won’t get better. The more you master the tedious stuff, the more you can do what you want. This applies to practicing for anything, sports, arts, what have you.

S: How does it feel knowing you’ve shaped so many lives through your work, either in theatre, film, or both?

S: Obviously, there are reasons people become writers, and part of that is to be able to communicate. Knowing that in some cases that I have successfully communicated with someone, it’s very gratifying.

S: That’s what your work does, it communicates the message of the show very well. And I’ve used your work to teach vocabulary, social skills, you write very smart lyrics that lend themselves to these topics. I’ve had to be careful using Wicked, though, since some of those words aren’t real.

S: That’s something to explore with your students, too. Winnie brought up that the story takes place in Oz, which isn’t exactly the same as our world, so the language wouldn’t be exactly the same. She created these Ozisms that appear throughout the script, so I started incorporating them into my lyrics. The whole point of that was that it was understood that we weren’t in our world, we were in a different place.

S: And I get to use the Ozisms to have my students explore their creativity and define words on their own. Going back to “What Is This Feeling” and “I’m Not That Girl,” I’ve taught girls that it’s perfectly acceptable to be nice to each other, and to diffuse girl drama. Your songs tell stories and teach lessons at the same time.

S: Oh, that’s great!

S: Is there a difference in how you approach writing songs for film than theatre?

S: It’s pretty much the same. If I’m writing for film, I’m aware of the fact that it’s a motion picture, and that the characters aren’t standing still and singing. It’s all about storytelling through song.

S: I can tell you, the animation and music for Prince of Egypt felt like magic and so cohesive.

S: There was a lot of collaboration between myself, the people writing the screenplay, and the story artists. We aren’t always in the same room, and it’s a four-year process for something like that. There’s a lot of communication there.

S: Do you get any say when it comes to finding the vocal talent for the animated movies, because those were some spot-on choices.

S: In an animated picture, yes, I get some input. Sometimes the studio decides. But everyone has the same interest in making a good movie with voice actors who are going to deliver a solid final product.

S: I think Brian “Stokes” Mitchell was a brilliant choice for “Through Heavens Eyes”. It definitely impacts the way I hear and interpret the song. Did you have him in mind when you wrote the song?

S: No, but he’s brilliantly talented. I knew him and he was everyone’s first choice.

S: Your musical style is clearly influencing my students, who influenced you growing up?

S: I had a lot, and what people think of my style is an amalgamation of that. I played a lot of classical piano growing up, so Debussy, Beethoven sonatas, and Bach. I think there’s an influence from there. My parents had a lot of cast albums that I listened to, and also a lot of folk music I enjoyed. Then there’s The Beatles and the singer/songwriters from that era, through the eighties. It’s what I respond to that comes in my style of music.

S: My students want to know why you think arts education is important.

S: The key thing is that I feel that our society is lacking empathy. It shows up in all parts of life, politics, day to day behavior, everything. There is a lack of perspective taking, and that’s something we get from arts education. We get that from music and painting, not just performing. You have to question everything, and we lose out on that without arts education. On top of that, everyone is in their own echo chamber right now. Encountering and creating art forces you to overcome that. There’s a big focus on sports in our schools, and I enjoy playing sports, but that is the perspective of winners and losers. If there’s one thing we really don’t need more of right now, it’s that lense. Art isn’t about that

S: Every week I challenge my students to do something outside of their comfort zone. What would challenge them to do?

S: Exposure to the arts and other people’s lives and perspectives. Find a way to access that and learn about the world around you beyond what school can teach you in facts and STEM.  Talk about your observations and what that’s done for you. There’s a big world around you, go beyond the screen and notice it in different ways. Don’t necessarily eliminate anything, just go beyond it.
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I was over the moon when this conversation took place, and I’m still so fulfilled by this conversation. I am a very big fan of Stephen’s work, in case that isn’t obvious, and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. My students gained a lot of insight about what goes into the process of composing a show, and the driving force of storytelling. They took a lot of comfort in knowing writing isn’t something that’s supposed to be easy. I look forward to taking on Stephen’s challenge by seeing more art that maybe I wouldn’t have exposed myself to in the first place. I look forward to hearing how my readers take on this challenge as well.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Broadway · Interview · The Human Connection

Best Face Forward: A Conversation with Douglas Otero of Intermission Beauty

One of my favorite parts of any theatrical experience and even every day life is makeup I fell in love with makeup many times in my life: watching my mother put it on every morning and waiting for the day she’d let me have my own, getting ready for recitals, auditions, and shows, and discovering products I really love. Makeup can change my entire day and my entire mood. With that said, imagine how ecstatic I was to discover Intermission Beauty. If you’re new to this brand, it is a small business founded by Douglas Otero who has created a line of Broadway inspired makeup and skincare. And an extra bonus: they’re cruelty free. After watching my students begin to express themselves through makeup, while doing the same myself, I knew I had to talk to this line’s creator. We talk about how he got into theatre, what drew him to makeup, his cruelty-free philosophy and more!

Stef: How did you get into theatre and performing?

Douglas Otero: I got into theatre and performing during high school. I always had the performance bug, and used to put on magic shows for company that used to visit my family when I was little. In high school, I met the right people and an amazing music teacher who guided me along the way. I found my first voice teacher, one thing led to another, and I started auditioning for Broadway shows, theme parks, and cruise ships.

S: How was your interest in theatre connected to your makeup artistry?

D: I have always loved makeup. When I got tired of working as a waiter, I decided to free-lance as a makeup artist. When I was in shows, the girls would ask me to help them with their makeup, even if I was getting ready myself!

S: What inspired your line Intermission Beauty?

D: My love of Broadway mostly, but my love of animals and protecting them. That’s how the Broadway Diva series came to be.

S: Your line is cruelty free, which is important to myself and my students. Why did you choose to make your line cruelty free?

D: Again, my love for animals is huge. Ever since I was born and came home from the hospital, I had pets; dogs especially. I’ve seen a lot of what happens with animals and testing cosmetics I want that to be a thing of the past. Especially in this day and age with so many other ways of testing products.

S: How long does it take to match a name to a color, and which comes first?

D: There isn’t a particular time frame. It’s all inspiration and how much I may love a show.

IB2

S: What should people know about makeup artistry that they don’t already know?

D: That it isn’t really always what they see on a YouTube channel. Everyone is different and not everything works on everyone. You also have to be realistic about what you’re trying to achieve as a consumer or makeup user. Some make it harder than it is.

S: Creatively, what does makeup design do for you that performing didn’t, and what did performing do for you that makeup design doesn’t?

D: It’s actually not that different! Although I do miss being onstage, it’s pretty similar. I’m using art to create and put it out on display for everyone to see. Whether I’m working with a celebrity for a red-carpet event or creating a new shade, it’s being consumed by many people. I feel with the makeup, people are at least getting to take something with them that they’ll use and enjoy. Hopefully they end up coming back for more.

S: What would you want your consumers to know about Intermission Beauty or how the products are created that they may not already know?

D: That I’ve gone to great lengths to put out the best products I possibly can. Considering I’m a small business with no investors and creating everything on my own dime is something worth saying. I’m very proud to say that.

S: Would you encourage kids to explore their creativity through makeup design and theatre? How could they get involved?

D: I’m all about allowing kids to express their inner creativity. It’s where they will really get to see what they do and don’t like. I was never forced to do anything and don’t think kids should be. If they want to take an art class, let them. If they want to take a dance class or a singing lesson, support them. At school, volunteering community theater, or if they’re old enough to work at a makeup counter or even do makeup for a community theatre or high school theatre—those are all great ways to get involved.

S: Every week I challenge my students to get outside of their comfort zone, what would you challenge them to do?

D: Stand up and sing a song for someone, or for a group. Do someone else’s makeup, or even your own. Similar to public speaking, not everyone is comfortable doing these things. If you want to be able to perform you should be able to get up and do it for a crowd. In the case of makeup, you need to be comfortable touching someone else’s face. Both are areas where you need to be outgoing, sure of yourself and your skills, and unafraid to get your hands dirty.
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I am really excited for my students to break out of their shell through Douglas Otero’s advice. This was a great conversation with a lot of insight into makeup design, and how creativity can be displayed in so many different ways. I can’t wait to see how my readers take on this challenge in comments!
In case it wasn’t already clear that I love this line, I currently own four lipsticks, two liquid lipsticks, and the lip scrub and balm are absolute staples in my makeup bag. Those last two are heaven, especially in fall and winter months. The next time you’re looking for makeup for your next production or a day-to-day look, check out Intermission Beauty at @IntermissionBeauty on Instagram, and you can purchase the products for your own collection at IntermissionBeauty.com. I personally am a repeat customer and love what he’s doing for the animals with these products.

 

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Broadway · Interview · The Human Connection

Reindeers Are Better Than People: A Conversation with Andrew Pirozzi

There are many people who believe that working on Broadway is easy. They believe you perform one or two shows a day, that the rest of the day is free, and that it’s an easy career in relation to whatever it is they do. This has never been my mindset. I am always in awe of what it takes to pull off an eight-show week, especially in a musical. These are physically demanding feats of stamina, and no one showcases this better than Andrew Pirozzi, currently playing Sven in Disney’s Frozen. I had first seen him in the tour of Movin’ Out, and in various television appearances. In my endeavors to explain to my students that theatre is athletic, no one embodies this more. We talked about the differences between performing on stage and screen, what it’s like to become a puppeteer, and what it’s like to be a part of the theatre community.

Stef: Which came first for you, dance or theatre?

Andrew: Dance came first. I was four, I was the only boy, and it took about twenty minutes until I was enjoying myself. My parents were really good about fostering whatever it was I wanted to do. I played soccer, football, piano, French horn, you name it. I was dancing in multiple studios, doing the musical in school, and on the football team. My mom let me do anything and everything to get my energy out as a kid, and everything I was able to do was because of her.

S: I saw you in Movin’ Out on tour. What’s the difference for you in how you prepare to perform while also changing cities on a regular basis?

A: The hardest thing is the recovery time. You’d finish a show late at night, have to turn off the adrenaline, get up early to travel the next day, and be in one position for three to six hours on a bus. That was a really dance-heavy show, and every break we got we stretched. The most important thing about live theatre is keeping the integrity of the show, which can be challenging on the road.

S: Everything I’ve seen you in has required a heavily physical performance on your part. How do you take care of yourself to perform eight shows a week?

A: I don’t know why, but for some reason, physicality has kind of been my language. I will cross-train all of the major muscle groups. Outside of that, I will do yoga and Pilates and meditation work. And nutrition is huge for me, too. I balance everything.

S: My students and I want to thank you for helping to being more musicals to more people through Peter Pan Live. What’s the biggest difference between performing a musical onstage versus in front of a camera?

A: Repetition. When you perform in film, you have to be rehearsed to a point where you feel comfortable, but you have to be flexible enough to change your positioning to adjust for the cameras. You still have to respond and be present. For theatre, the difference is repetition over a span of time. You rehearse and refine something so specifically so it can be performed eight shows a week. In film, you create the moment in a day, generally. In theatre, that moment gets created every day, and it has to stay fresh. They are two different muscles. I’ve always been able to audition and do theatre-based jobs, but the energy for television is different. The needs for production are different.

S: That makes sense, since television has to turn its product out faster.

A: And in theatre, you get longer to turn out work so it’s more sustainable.

S: You’re also a choreographer. For you, what does performing do that choreographing doesn’t, and what does choreography do for you that performing doesn’t?

A: As a choreographer, choreographing is exploring and creating and telling a story. Whatever the intention of the outcome is, it’s getting to create. Dancing is euphoric in that no matter what you’re dancing, you will feel that joy just from finding your groove.

S: You’re currently playing Sven in Frozen on Broadway and, having just seen the show last March, you are a joy to watch. Now that you get to add puppeteer to your list of credits, what was it like to learn that skill?

A: First of all, Michael Curry needs to receive credit for designing this puppet. He’s brilliant—he builds everything in his shop in Oregon. The entire costume was custom-made to fit me. Michael was the one who figured out how to make it work, proportions, everything, by himself before I even got to try it out.

Half of learning the puppeteering was learning the mechanics. How does this costume work with my body? When I move my head, how much am I moving? How much do I need to move? A lot of it was exploring. The second half of that was me, as an actor, figuring out how reindeers react, eat, sleep, and move. I took all of my research on that and then studied my dog and how she interacts with people and coupled that together and that’s how I’ve created Sven. At first, this was just a fun challenge, and now it occurs to me that I’m actually a puppeteer.

Actually, I was reading another post of yours about nonverbal communication. I don’t speak throughout the entire show, and I think that’s what makes Sven powerful. I realized in Denver that I could control where people were looking onstage. I didn’t know what it looked like for so long. Once I saw what the effect of the puppet was onstage, I was able to help guide the story even more. I feel really connected to the little kids who are trying to figure me out. It is so much fun to be a part of that magic. I will say though, it’s kids between five and ten who have a really good idea on how Sven operates.

S: You and Olaf dictate where the audience is watching. It doesn’t matter who else is onstage. We had a great time that night.

A: Thank you.

S: Every week I challenge my students and readers to do something outside of their comfort zone. What would you challenge them to do? Recent challenges have included having a technology free weekend, getting together with friends and creating something.

A: I love challenging people to get outside of what is familiar with them. I would challenge them to be still and find comfort in stillness and breath. Whenever I’m training or doing a role, I always say control your breath, control your body. If you can control your breath, you won’t feel awkward. You’ll feel focused through those two things. I think this keeps you authentic as a performer and as a person.
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I had so much fun with this conversation. Andrew was able to truly get across the physicality of this job to my students. He shared a truly unique perspective with my students and I that no one else would be able to share and encouraged more discussion among my students about what it takes to put on a show. My students struggled a bit with this challenge, but once they became more comfortable, found they really enjoyed the sense of calm that accompanied stillness.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

 

 

Interview · The Human Connection · Wise Words

You’ve Got to Be Loud: A Conversation with Lesli Margherita

It is no secret that I am a “quote” person. As someone who works with language, I am always seeking words that fit my current situation, whatever it may be. And when I don’t have the words I want, I’m very honest about it with my students. I’m not afraid of “I don’t know.” I’m not of the mindset that the adult in the room has to have all the answers, or that the adult has to act like an adult. If I’m not being as silly as my students, I must be having an off day. When I discovered Lesli Margherita on Twitter through her performance in Matilda on Broadway, my immediate thought was, “Oh! She gets it! It’s okay to be human, and positive, and to own who you are.” I immediately took her messages of being yourself and ruling your kingdom straight to the speech room. Over the years, my students have designed their own kingdoms, discovered what makes them unique, and learned about themselves. When I started this blog, I knew I had to talk to Queen Lesli, if only to thank her for all she has done for my many students over the years, and for myself. We talk about embracing who you are, performing, and what collaboration looks like for her.
Stef the StageSLP: How did you get into performing?

Lesli Margherita: I started dance when I was about 4. My Mom was a dancer, and I was so hyper the doctor thought it would be good for me to expend some energy. Dance was always my first love, and my ballet teacher was choreographing a production of Oliver, an asked me to audition not knowing if I sang or not. I didn’t either. I sang “Happy Birthday,” and was already a belter, ha.

S: You gave me life-changing advice by answering my question on your first episode of Theater People with Patrick Hinds. I am now the Supreme Ruler of my Speech Room. Frequently my students change their personalities to fit in with others, thinking that they’re too much. How did you come to adopt the position of being yourself?

L: It’s taken a really long time to accept who I am. I think that’s the case with most people. I have always acted like I was okay with who I was, even before I believed it- which I honestly think helped. Fake it ‘til you make it. It didn’t take until I was much older, and not caring so much to believe it. In my business, I’m constantly judged, so I had to learn to accept myself in order to be able to move forward with anything.

S: What inspired you to write Blu!? I’ve used that story so many times in my speech lessons.

L: I have always been interested in the underdog stories, the comebacks. I came across an article (I’m a proud nerd) about rare blue lobsters. It just clicked. I thought, “People think a blue lobster is odd, but it’s COOL”.

S: Congratulations on all three of your TV series. What have you learned from acting on both TV and stage that you can apply to your daily life?

L: To not be self-conscious. Especially in tv. The camera picks up everything, so I have to put it all out there, because if I don’t, the performance doesn’t ring true.

S: Many of my students and I got to see you in Matilda. As a former dancer and a current speech pathologist, I’m curious about how you took care of your voice and body for such a vocally and physically demanding role? 

L: That was a tough one. Loud remains the most difficult number I’ve ever had to do, stamina wise. I had to figure it out vocally first, really working on how to hit those crazy notes without hurting myself. It went for Mrs. Wormwood’s speaking voice as well. I had to learn how to do it without strain. After that, it went out the window once we learned the choreography, because I was just gasping for air. Our speech team had us get our stamina up, then went back to figure out how to support when I needed it. Off stage, I had to continue to do cardio and of course rest when I could. I was always tired!

S: Based on your social media presence, you seem to find the comedic timing in every situation. Did you always have that skill, and how would you encourage my students to do the same?

L: One of my favorite actresses Carrie Fisher always said “find the funny”. You have to. The alternative is awful. I always did, even as a kid. You have to laugh- so I guess it just comes from seeing the light side in every situation.

S: Collaboration is a school-wide goal where I work. As someone who is always collaborating with the community that comes together to form a theatrical piece, television show, or cabaret act, what would you recommend my students do to become effective collaborators?

L: I have had the same group of friends as my collaborators for 15 years. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. I think you have to remain open to everything, and really listen to other people’s suggestions, even if you think you don’t like them. You never know, just remain open.

S: How much of your characters are written on the page, and how much of your characters come from your own personality? How do you strike a balance between the material and yourself?

L: Part of me is in every character, but part of the fun is becoming someone else. I have to go from the page, that is the most important. I also never look at how someone else played a character before. It’s not important. That’s what makes a character mine.

S: Every week I challenge my students and readers to do something outside of their comfort zone. What would you challenge them to do?

L: I don’t like change. It’s my downfall. I have to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone every day. The only way I can do that is to say “why not?” If someone else doesn’t like you, or what you are saying- they aren’t your people. Also, who cares? I think it’s more about not caring so much about others opinions of you. Your opinion of yourself is the most important.
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As much as I love words, and however many I claim to know, I will never have enough to thank Lesli Margherita for everything she has shared with me. Be it through this interview, any of her performances, or this post she shared that I totally taped inside of a notebook in my speech room, I always learn so much from her. While editing, I listened to her solo album Rule Your Kingdom, because I am the Supreme Ruler of My Speech Room. My students are already familiar with the power of the word, “yet.” I can’t wait to see what they do with the phrase, “why not?” Even more, I’m looking forward to seeing what that phrase does for my readers and even myself. If you need more Lesli Margherita in your life, you can find her @QueenLesli across social media platforms.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

 

Interview · The Human Connection

Children and Art: A Conversation with Liz Schwarzwalder and Mindy Swidler of Petite Seat

I attended my first live theatrical performance at the age of three. I saw a touring production of Grease with my mother. The minute those lights went down and the show began, I sat on the edge of my booster seat, completely captivated by what I was experiencing, for the entire performance. How my mother determined whether or not this would be a successful venture for me at such a young age, I don’t know. She has since admitted that she didn’t want to miss the production herself. She had raised me on movie musicals and put me in dance classes and figured I’d enjoy it, and whatever I didn’t understand would go right over my head. She was right. I saw singing and dancing onstage and knew I didn’t want this show to end. To this day, I find it pretty brave that she took me at such a young age to attend to a full-length musical without knowing how her toddler would tolerate it.

It is for this reason I appreciate Petite Seat, a resource founded by two forward-thinking moms, that provides parents with key tips and info on taking their families to theatre and live performances. Liz Schwarzwalder and Mindy Swidler share age recommendations, scheduling tips, venue details such as stroller parking, and relevant show content notes that are so helpful when taking children to a live performance. When I learned about what these two women had created, I thought of how helpful my own mother would have found this information and had to reach out. We had a great conversation about the importance of taking children to live theatre, what this unique service offers, and so much more.

Stef: What got each of you interested in theatre?

Liz: As a kid I always loved theatre as a form of entertainment. Early on, I knew I wanted to be an important part of the show but performing wasn’t for me. I started doing stage management in high school and college, and that lead me to the business side of theatre, which I’ve been involved in from then on.

Mindy: My parents were really great about taking me to see live theatre, and those are some of my favorite childhood memories. My whole family would become obsessed with the cast recording from whatever we’d most recently seen. None of us were very musically inclined either, but I’ve always been a fan.

S: I get it. My way in was a combination of dance and my mother not wanting to give up something she loved, so she worked from the mindset of, “Whatever the kids understand in the show, they understand, and what they don’t won’t matter.”

L: What was it that stuck out for you as a kid from these experiences?

S: The story stuck out for me. If I had questions about what I saw, they got answered. Nothing really occurred to me as “for kids” or “not for kids.” Storylines were always what I connected to most.
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Most shows do age-gate their shows now with a recommended age for the youngest audience member. What made you want to expand on this?

L: One of the early thoughts and realizations we had was that we had to take the age recommendation a step further. Say the age recommendation is six. No two kids are the same, and my six-year-old may react differently from other six-year-olds, so we looked at why the recommendation was set. Is it scary and loud? Is it the content? Is it just a longer show? And that’s a reaction that’s different for every kid, too.

M: Liz and I met at a Broadway Babies class with our daughters and we started talking about our theatre interests and how important we thought it was to expose kids at a young age. We started to notice questions about family theatre on the mom boards we were involved in, and we realized we actually had a lot of the answers and frequently responded to these questions individually. We had the opportunity to demystify and take the stress out of live performances for families and bring all of the information together:  ticketing information, stroller accommodations, run time, why the age recommendations were set, and so on. Our social media channels expand on our experiences, and our website is a more structured version of this.

S: I remember my brother thinking the set in Wicked was scary, I see your point.

L: I recently revisited that show. It can be scary for kids!

S: Are your children involved in theatre in any capacity?

L: As our dates to the shows! My children love seeing all types of live performances. I think my six-year-old son has an equal appreciation for a Broadway show as he does for a puppet show in the park

M: We haven’t done a Broadway show yet with my three-year-old daughter, but she loves everything else we’ve seen.

petite seat logo

S: How is using your site with the insight you provide different from other sources (ticketing websites, concierge, etc.)?

M: We bring our own experiences to light to help families out. We make it a point to tour the venues when we can and go through the logistics of buying tickets, selecting seating and so on. It’s all about managing the expectation so parents can be prepared to have the best experience possible.

S: That would’ve helped my mom with many Barney Live and Disney on Ice performances.

L: Yes, that’s why we don’t limit what we do to theatre. We do the arena and live shows, too. Knowing logistics about how early to arrive and how those shows operate can be very different from other experiences. Having that information ahead of time helps in the planning for the event.

S: Why do you think it’s important for children to see live theatre?

M: Exposing kids at a young age can establish an interest in the arts. The more positive the experience, the better, and that’s what we’re trying to create. And of course, there’s a family bonding aspect to it as well. It allows for some amazing dialogue, especially with the younger ones. There’s just nothing like sitting in a live performance and experiencing a show. You’re connected to the moment, and that’s an invaluable lesson for kids to learn these days.

S: What is your most memorable experience with a show?

L:  For me, it was the final performance of Beauty and The Beast on Broadway. I was working for Disney at the time the show closed, and it was one of those moments I’ll never forget. It’s the most amount of energy I’d felt between the cast and audience I’ve ever experienced before or since.

M: I had just moved to New York and my friend and I went to see Movin’ Out.  I felt so connected to the stage, and it was mesmerizing. It’s very different from most theatrical experiences, and it was the moment I realized that I’d get to be involved in theatre as long as I’m here and as long as I wanted to be.

S: What is your most memorable experience with a show with your children?

M: This past fall I took her to see The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It was more traditional, stadium seating, and it was done through puppets. The lights dimmed and I watched her, not the stage. I had tears watching her experience a book she knew come to life on stage. To her, it was magical. She was very respectful and thanked us for taking her to the show. I knew I was creating a memory for her and that was something we’d be able to share forever.

S: What should people know about your site that they may not already know?

L: We have four ways to stay in touch with us. Our website is one, and we update it regularly. Our Instagram and Facebook accounts, @petiteseat, are where we communicate daily with our audience. And we are also more than happy to put together personalized ideas for families thinking about seeing a show, by email, at info@petiteseat.com.
S: Every week I challenge my students and readers to do something outside of their comfort zone. This can be anything from writing a play to making a new friend to putting technology away for a day. What would you challenge them to do?

M: Relative to theatre: pick a show outside of your usual taste. When I think about my favorite nights and experiences, they’re plays, which is not usually my cup of tea. It’s important to remember that you can see the work you love, but it can be the stuff outside of your comfort zone that’s the most thought-provoking.
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I had the best time talking with Liz and Mindy. This is one of the smartest services I’ve ever heard of and have been recommending it to the families I work with. Now that it’s summer and school is out, I can’t think of a better way to spend a day than at the theatre. If you’re trying to decide on what to see, please utilize this resource. You can follow Liz and Mindy on Instagram at @Petiteseat, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PetiteSeat/  their website petiteseat.com, or email them directly at info@petiteseat.com. I personally feel that they give the most objective perspective and think about a million things that wouldn’t occur to me independently.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP