How Principal Actors From ‘Hadestown,’ ‘Ain’t Too Proud,’ ‘Tootsie,’ and ‘Oklahoma!’ Prepare for Showtime

Article Image
Photo Source: Courtesy Matthew Murphy/Little Fang Photo

Walking on stage is never easy—even for seasoned Broadway actors. With eight shows a week, performing for an audience of high-paying strangers is a demanding task in the competitive market of New York’s commercial theater. Backstage asked the current class of principal actors from Broadway’s hottest musicals how they prepare their minds and bodies for showtime. They share some tips you can pull into your own regiment below!

Put on your war paint.
“Before the show, I usually stretch my body and warmup my voice. I try to have some green tea with honey while I do my makeup. There is this awesome honey I like called Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa. Right before I go on, even though my makeup is already done, I have this thing I do where I apply extra eyeliner. I think it feels like war paint cause you’re about to lay it all on the line and offer all of yourself when you go on stage.” —Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, “Hadestown”

Visit the stage managers.
“I do a slight vocal warmup for a few minutes, and then I usually walk around and visit the stage managers.” —Mary Testa, “Oklahoma!”

Invest time in a playlist and money in a massage gun.
“Typically before a show, I listen to my playlist, which includes a range of my favorite artists: Brandy, Usher, Mario, Faith Evans, Kelly Price, and Tank. I drink my ginger ale and mentally prepare for the two-hour journey that I’m about to take. I have quite a sweet tooth! My dressing room is always fully stocked with candy. My favorite is Albanese gummy bears. Sometimes, I may use my massage gun to loosen up any tight muscles before getting dressed to perform this amazing show.” —Jawan M. Jackson, “Ain’t Too Proud”

Drink coconut water.
“This role requires me to come at it from a pretty tender place, so at some point in the day leading up to the show, I like to listen to Neil Young's ‘Harvest Moon’ or Conway Twitty’s ‘Hello Darlin’.’ They’re helpful. Or some Bonnie Raitt. Other than that, I just try to be gentle with myself. And drink a coconut water.” —Patrick Vaill, “Oklahoma!”

READ: How to Become a Musical Theater Actor

Use the overture to your advantage.
“The first thing I do when I get to my dressing room is turn on all my fairy lights, the pine cone lamp, and refill my diffuser with essential oils. (My favorite one currently is lemon!) I leave my door open so people can pop by. My dresser, Laura and I talk about her gardening. Sometimes there’s a dance party, which Reg [Rogers] DJs. At hour, I start my vocal warmup—a 20-minute recording with my teacher Sally Wilfert—while I touch up my frizzy curls and apply makeup. By the time they call five, I’m in Santino’s [Fontana] room, ‘Dorothy’s Den,’ with the rest of the principal cast (the ensemble is busy stretching and changing at this point) and we catch up until they make us go to places. Then, I run back up to my room and sing through my number as fast as I can during the overture. I keep thinking there will come a day when I won’t feel like I need to do this, but that day has not come yet! —Sarah Stiles, “Tootsie”

Use a warmup recording.
“I always have to do something physical to warmup my body, depending on my energy level that day. Then, I warmup my voice—shout out to my singing teacher from Juilliard, Deb Lapidus, who gave us a warmup recording that I still use to this day! I always eat a hearty and healthy meal to sustain me for our three-hour show.  Then, I put on my trailer trash chic makeup, pin in my ponytail extension, get into costume, and I’m ready to rock!” —Mallory Portnoy, “Oklahoma!”

Tell fun stories.
“I get to the theater an hour before curtain. My dresser, Laura, usually has tea and or water waiting for me because I’m ‘High-Maintenance Halston!’ My character wears a lot of makeup and has a wig that enters five minutes before I do so all this takes time! Before places, we gather in Santino Fontana’s dressing room and tell fun stories to each other. I love my job.” —Julie Halston, “Tootsie”

Play an instrument.
“So, I like to get to the theater at least an hour-and-a-half before curtain so that I can start my makeup and play ‘Chance.’  Yes, I named the accordion I play ‘Chance.’ I joke that there’s a 90 percent chance I will play the right notes.” —Jewelle Blackman, “Hadestown”

Make sure to use the bathroom.
“I drink lots of tea, [use a] Neti Pot, gargle with salt water, brush my teeth, put my hair in pin curls, and slap the makeup on. My wonderful dresser helps me get into the layers of costume, and also cuts holes in my stockings—to ensure a slippage-free show. Then, I rush to the bathroom at the very last moment as we try to beat Patrick Page to places. Right before we walk on stage, we chat with our head electrician Vinnie and high-five our stage crew.” —Kay Trinidad, “Hadestown”

Express gratitude.
“I start my preshow ritual with a meditation while steaming [costumes]. Then, I do a vocal warmup while doing makeup and getting my hair into pin curls. I always stretch before the show and sing through my favorite song. Last is getting into costume, and right before I step on stage, I say ‘thank you,’ to remember how grateful I am to do what I love.” —Lilli Cooper, “Tootsie”

Ready to get to work? Check out Backstage’s theater audition listings!