• Natalie Wisdom

Berklea Going, Professional Actress.

[Interview Date: November 17, 2020]

Anna U/S in the First National Tour of Frozen, White Christmas National Tour, City Center Encores, The MUNY and more.

What was it like to have your tour abruptly shutter on March 12, 2020, and what was the week leading up to it like for you?

I actually took our weekend that we had-our travel weekend- from Seattle to Portland; it was my nephew’s second birthday. I flew to Florida for his birthday, and that was March 1st. I was in Florida with my family, and I was getting ready to fly back to Portland. I was at the airport, and I was getting out of the car, and we had known Covid was starting to sprout up. And my dad said, “See you in a few weeks!”

My parents had been talking about it, and it was almost like, “Alright, the country is going to shut down.” So, I went back to Portland with that mindset. So, when it started coming up in the dressing room, and people were like, “This isn’t gonna shut us down,” I was having side conversations with Jeremy and F. in the hallways. Like, “How bad is it getting? When do you think we'll shut down?” So, I was kind of waiting for the news to happen. And so, that night, when we got back our hotel, and the state of Oregon had been shut down; it wasn’t too big of a surprise to me. And I had already started planning where I was going to go, and talking to my parents about flying back to Florida. So, we had that meeting, and my mom was like, “Ok, get down here before the airports are shut down.” So, it wasn’t too much of a surprise for me. I think the impact of it surprised me. But when I got down here, my mom was like, “It’s going to be 18 months. Get ready for 18 months.” So, she’s, kind of, going to have it right on the nose. Because, right now, it’s looking like it’s going to be 18 months. It was kind of a joke at first: “Ok, 18 months… I’ll be down here for my next birthday in March…” And when we hit July, it wasn’t a joke anymore, because it was clear that it was going to be long-lasting.

What was the week following the shutdown like?

Tour is hard. And it was such a whirlwind, being in LA, and then going straight to Seattle. And then, just the number of times I got to go on for my understudy track; I was so overwhelmed by everything. Not that I couldn’t do my job or wasn’t enjoying myself. But there was a part of me, especially being in the tour bubble, and because it was such an interesting experience; I was missing some aspects of life. So, I was so upset to be gone and to not be doing that joyful show; and to go from such a joyful experience, two times a day, to the reality of what the world was facing. To watching the news and seeing people in the hospital and dying. And everyone losing their jobs. That was kind of a shock to the system. But I would be lying if said I didn’t enjoy not having to put on make-up; not having to worry about what I was going to have for dinner before the show. This Coronavirus is so devastating and has impacted so negatively, in so many ways. But I have to say, that it provided me with a lot of clarity. And I’m so excited to go back to tour with a new perspective on everything. On the show; on friendships; on my duty to the show; my place in the show… My overall place in the world and what I want from it, eventually. Without the pressure of having gone straight from rehearsal to tech to the show. This was such a gratifying step out of that whirlwind that provided me so much perspective.

And what goes along with that perspective is what I want to do. I love theatre and the impact it makes, and how it reaches people, and touches people; and how it impacts their lives. But I always felt like there was something more I could do; if not instead of theatre, but in addition to. So, (I’ve been) taking the time to step back and really explore what that would be.

Did you initially anticipate that Broadway and other theatre productions would be closed for this long?

No, but hearing my mother say, “18 months,” over and over again… Then, yes. Every time that Broadway has been delayed; every time we’ve been delayed… Probably at the beginning of the summer, I was like, “Maybe the Kennedy Center. Maybe by August 2021.” Every email we have gotten has been devastating, in its own way. It hurts to see it in writing.

What have you been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?

When I initially got to Florida, I was like, “I need to stay immensely busy.” Because that was one of the things I was missing, was using my analytical brain. You use logistical thoughts and figuring, and all of that when you’re onstage. And then, once it gets in your body…

I remember, it was my third time on as Anna. I was singing “First Time in Forever.” I was by the painting stage right, and I had no idea what the next lyrics were! This song that I had started singing in October 2019 for my first audition; I had no idea what the next lyrics were. And it just came out of my body, because it’s just in there. And once you move past figuring out your track, it kind of shuts off and you just follow your body. So, I missed using my brain in the academic way and learning. So, when I got down here, I initially started taking coding classes. My brother teaches a coding course. So, that was kind of a little introduction into that. And working-out and doing all of that… Taking virtual ballet classes kind of saved my life too. Staying active, mentally and physically, was my saving grace.

You have gone back to school during this time. What has that been like and how has that helped you during this time?

The coding classes gave way to, “Ok, if this is going to be 18 months, then maybe I could look into Master Programs that I was looking into on tour, when I felt like I was in a little bit of a mental rut.” And that led me to take the GRE. I thought, maybe I could use this to get into a graduate program. So, I studied for that for three months straight, and then ended up not needing it to get in to my graduate program.

I applied to my top choice, which was King’s College in London. They had a virtual program that they had already set up, so, it’s really well run. And it’s Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health. Because I had been doing exploration on my own, I knew I didn’t want to do Counseling or Social Work, like Life Coaching or anything like that. The actual Psychology of the brain interests me, so this program ticked all of my boxes. It’s on my own time; I can work through it at my own pace.

I studied abroad in London for two months over a summer. I loved the people; I loved the city of London so much. It was like a clean, more spacious New York. So, one day, I was like, “I wonder if any British schools have programs…” And then, this program came up, and I applied. And I found out, two weeks later, I started the next week. It has been the biggest blessing and has kept me sane in a lot of ways. But, also in high school, I didn’t just do theatre. I played tennis and was on student council, because I love interacting with different groups of people and using my brain in all different ways. And being well-rounded is something my mother has instilled in my brothers and me, and I’ve never been happy just staying in one lane. People say, “Don’t spread yourself too thin,” but I find myself being more productive and producing better results when I am very busy.

So, I applied for an internship at the Red Cross and didn’t expect to get anything from that but ended up working with their Emergency Preparedness Team. And so, that’s great; because when I’m not feeling my Neuroscience module, I can just go do something for the Red Cross and then be like, “Oh, that’s why I’m interested in this. I’ll go back to my Neuroscience.”

And what led me to Yoga was: I was taking a Peloton class. And I thought, “How much do these people get paid to teach these classes?” And I thought that would be so easy, I already have my yoga certification… Maybe I can get my 500-hour yoga certification. I googled that in the morning—google has been my best friend during this quarantine. And there was a school in New York that had a 500-hour program online. Its challenging. It’s not Flow, or Vinyasa; you do breath-practices, and physical practices, and you do mantras. I’ve never done any of that. And now, I have started looking forward to doing my mantras, because I found this whole side of me that is intuitive and peaceful that I didn’t even know was there! And connecting that mind/body experience. Doing the yoga has given me the chance to practice what I’m learning in Psychology. That’s making me wonder what I want to do in the future, because I thought about getting my Psychology license, but now I don’t know, because I love Yoga. And I wonder if there’s some kind of Yoga Therapy I can do.

Now, I feel like I will be able to go back as a happier human on tour, because I’ve had this chance. In theatre, there’s such a rush to audition, because it’s only going to last for so long. And it’s kind of amazing that, in my 20’s, I’ve had this time to explore things that, maybe, I wouldn’t have had the chance to do until my 30’s or 40’s. And one thing I talk about all the time is: no 20-year-old has the chance to live with their parents for this long. It’s such a blessing to have this chunk of time carved out from life. It almost makes me wish that everyone had the chance; or was required to slow down for a little bit in their 20’s. So, you could take the time to figure out what you want to do so you don’t get into the paths of rushing, rushing, rushing. So, it’s been a forceful slow down, and I think that will contribute to me being happier when life returns. Because I’ve had the chance to slow down, and explore, and appreciate life a little more.

What has been the hardest thing about the past months since the shutdown for you?

Worrying about COVID. I am a worrier; not only about my health but my parents’ health. My brother lives in New York City, in an apartment. But not even just my immediate family. The climbing numbers get me; and how that has become normalized has been really worrisome to me. You hear, “Oh, this many people are hospitalized today… Ok, what’s it going to be tomorrow?” And then, just the unrest that has happened; which I think was so necessary. But it’s hard when you’re going through it.

And also, I love being in Florida, and I’m glad to be physically distanced from it. But figuring out my place in it all from so far away; that’s been interesting too. Not hard, but interesting.

What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?

I think just going back to the perspective and going back with more acceptance and joy and appreciation.

What do you miss the most about live theatre?

I think it’s what draws me into theatre and what keeps me going back to theatre: Energy. Because we have access to so much TV, and to so many movies. And the Hamilton movie came out, and they are starting to release all these shows on Netflix. And I’m glad theatre is reaching a larger audience, and it’s making it more accessible to people too, which is super important.

But there’s something so special about being in a space with however many thousands of people that you can’t recreate. And it’s that first moment in Frozen when the curtain comes up and we’re all standing there together, as an ensemble. When that curtain comes up, and you see the shadows and the little girls in the Anna dresses...You can’t recreate that anywhere else. The energy you feel onstage, backstage; resonating from the stage and coming back to the stage. Because it is tangible; it really is. And I really miss that.

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

There are so many, but Singin in the Rain at the MUNY; that experience happened, and I don’t know if I can ever live up to the feeling that I got from doing that show.

For some background: I grew up in St. Louis and auditioned for the MUNY when I was 7, just for fun. Because I had been taking dance classes with my mom since I was 2-she was a dance teacher. And so, I auditioned for fun. My dad took me and filled out the form incorrectly, so they had to call and get information from us! We had no idea what was going on! We loved the MUNY, but we didn’t know what we were doing! I ended up getting a part when I was 7 in Showboat. And every summer after that, I was really lucky. I got to play over 11 principal roles; 16 consecutive summers. And at first, it was a fun summer hobby; something to look forward to. It seats over 12,000 people- large outdoor theatre, so it’s kind of like going to a baseball game or a concert for people in St. Louis. I got to play Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis then Agnes. I got to play Gretl and Louisa five years apart in the Sound of Music. When I was 10, I played Susan Waverly in White Christmas, and they asked me to go on the National Tour of White Christmas that was going to Detroit that winter. So, I was like, “Ok, that sounds fun!” And that was the first time I realized people were doing this as their job! I learned so much about the acting, and performing, and being professional, and learning how to make it work. And that was my theatre education. Any college program; it’s not going to prepare you as well as growing up at the MUNY. So, in high school, I realize, “Ok, I love this so much. If I don’t go after it; I’m going to regret it.” So, I ended up getting a theatre degree and moving to New York City.

And then, for the MUNY’s 100th season, they did a production of Singin in the Rain. I went to the regular ensemble audition that I had been going to every year as an adult Equity member. And they brought me in to sing “You are my Lucky Star.” And the Singin in the Rain choreographer grabbed me by the hands and just partnered with me to see if I could partner. I was the very last person at that audition. I was like, “That was really nice of them to do for me; have me sing that. After all this time.”

Then, I was back at school, and people were finding out about their shows. And I hadn’t heard anything, and then one morning, I had a missed call from the casting director. And I was like, “Oh, they must be making calls; that’s so exciting!” I called her back, and she was like, “We’d like you to play our Kathy in Singin in the Rain.” And that movie is one of the most influential things that I had growing up. With me and my grandfather; my whole family loves that movie. My brother wanted to play one of the songs in his wedding! I just stopped when I had the phone in my hand. And I think all I said was, “Thank you!” And I hung up, and I called my mom, sobbing. She thought someone had died. I was hyperventilating. Then, finding out that Corbin Bleu was playing opposite me! Oh, I knew Corbin Bleu! I had watched him dance!

And the rest of it just feels like a dream. From then, to when the show closed; it doesn’t feel like it actually happened. Another reason I will never be able to top that experience in my life—and I have accepted that—is that there is no better partner that you can have onstage than Corbin Bleu. He is the most professional, kind, supportive—everything you would want in a partner; he embodied.

So, in “You Were Meant for Me”- Every night in the show, when I was standing on the top of the ladder… He was singing and slowly walking towards me; I made myself stop and recognize what was happening. I took mental snapshots in that moment. I don’t know that I could be happier onstage in that moment, and I don’t know that I ever will be. And that’s ok, because the amount of joy and fulfillment that that gave me… Doing this show that was beloved by so many, playing this strong female character in an old musical, that usually doesn’t have women that sing, dance, and act… Who are strong in their convictions, at this place that was my home, away from home.

That, and one night, when I ran into the audience: When Lina finds out you’re lip synching, and they’re like, “Kathy! Kathy, don’t go!” Corbin Bleu was like, “Stop that girl!” And I pause. And one night, an old man with his grandson was right next to me in the audience. And he said “You gotta get back up there.”

What is the thing you’re most excited to do when live theatre is back?

I can’t wait to hug everybody! And just squeeze everyone. And I can’t wait to dance with my dance partners. It’s so hard to recreate an environment of dancing anywhere else. I can’t wait to get back in my ball gown and do the coronation. I am very excited for that. My pumpkin ball gown. Just having fun with the people. It is so fun to make faces or whisper something to each other; that fun. I cannot wait for that.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: Drowsy Chaperone

Favorite Broadway Play: Noises Off

Favorite role you’ve played: Kathy

Favorite Movie Musical: Singin in the Rain

Favorite Broadway Theatre Ritual and/or tradition: I like Stage Left-before the show starts, always having somebody come up with their variation of “Huldra”. And that’s what made me sane every time I was first starting to go on for Anna.

Favorite Theatre Quote: I was doing Hello Dolly at the MUNY. And they had me come in for the table read with the cast. I walk into this table read, and it’s Beth Leavel, John O’Hurley, Jay Armstrong Johnson; all these people are sitting around this table. Rob McClure walks in, has an Egg McMuny, and is fumbling around. And someone starts freaking out because they don’t have something, and I’m freaking out too, because I just graduated high school. He takes a big bite of the Egg McMuny and says, “Guys. We’re just playing make believe.”

Favorite City on Tour: Seattle

Favorite Dressing Room Item: All my Polaroids that have pictures of my family and pictures from the show too.

Rehearsal bag staple: Snacks. Green grapes. Especially frozen grapes at the MUNY.

186 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All