Why Broadway Star Dana Steingold Always Has a Backup Plan

Article Image
Photo Source: Joan Marcus

The following essay is by Dana Steingold, as told to Allie Volpe. She’s currently starring in Sandy Rustin’s “The Cottage,” which marks Jason Alexander’s Broadway directorial debut. It has been edited for clarity and brevity.

I grew up in the Midwest, where there was community theater; but very few kids were as passionate about theater as I was. When I found Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center in Loch Sheldrake, New York, it was like finding Utopia for the first time. You walk into the lobby, and kids are singing show tunes. 

When I was there, I had a teacher and mentor, Michael Larsen, who was the first person who said to me, “I know you’re here to have fun, but I think you can really do this.” I continued going there for six summers. Then my parents were like, “You want to live in New York, so move to New York.” So I went to NYU.

RELATED: How to Get Cast on Broadway

You go into theater school with all the tools, but they know how to label the tools for you. The biggest skill that you learn is collaboration. We’re all seeking that group experience. It’s why I like performing in “The Cottage” so much. I love doing ensemble pieces in which everybody has to work together to serve each other. It’s not as fun being alone onstage, singing a song; the most fun is sharing the experience with other people. It takes teamwork to put on a show; it’s not an individual sport.

The Cottage

When you study acting, they tell you, “Yes, you could do that, but this is probably what you’ll actually do.” It takes you a while to find your footing professionally. No one’s interested in me walking into a room as Kristin Chenoweth or Bernadette Peters; those people already exist. I had to find who I was—but that takes a lot of time. What ultimately makes you an actor someone wants to hire are all the things you’re hiding about yourself that you think are weird or quirky; those are what make you unique and interesting. 

I left graduation early to go to my final callback for the national tour of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” I got the part and left right after college. While I was touring in 2007, I auditioned for the revival of “Godspell” that infamously fell apart. It was supposed to be my Broadway debut. The day before we started rehearsals, we were called and told that funding had been pulled. It taught me really early that things fall apart, so you should always have a backup plan. 

Since then, I’ve always had a flexible side job, whether I’m doing “Beetlejuice” or “The Cottage.” People often say that if you have a backup career, you won’t succeed; but I don’t think that’s true. You’re supporting yourself so you can actually do the jobs you want to do instead of saying yes to things that don’t excite you. A lot of shows now, especially if you choose to do new work, are in development; and that doesn’t pay very well—unless it eventually turns into a “Beetlejuice.”

 There are always going to be people telling you exactly what they think you are. You have to push past the noise and say, “I also have this to express.” I get cast in younger roles, which is amazing, because playing youth is always fun. But there are also adult feelings inside of me that I’d like to explore, and it’s taken until now for me to be allowed to do that. 

This story originally appeared in the Aug. 17 issue of Backstage Magazine.