- Natalie Wisdom
Camden Gonzales, Broadway Performer.
[Interview Date: October 29, 2020]
Dance Captain on the Hamilton (And Peggy) Tour, Groundhog Day, Matilda National Tour, Hamilton National (Philip) Tour.
What was the atmosphere like at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco when you found out Hamilton was being put on pause? Can you describe what your experience was like that day
It was a very strange day, because the San Francisco Mayor put out a statement on Wednesday: “No gatherings of over 1,000” or something. So, we all got to the theatre, and were like, “Why are we here? Are we not allowed to be here?” We were all really scared; all really confused. I don’t think it was anyone’s fault; it was just a confusing moment. And San Francisco, itself, had already started to shut down. My roommate was already working from home, at that point. To us, it felt like an inevitability, but it felt very strange. So, we did the matinee, and by the end of the show, we had learned that we were probably not going to be doing the second show that day—that we would go home for two weeks was the original plan.
We had had a meeting before the show, and it was a legal thing. They were like, “Until we get the official paperwork from the city, we will still be doing the show.” And by the end of the show, we had gotten that paperwork and the “You’re gonna go home for two weeks.” I think they agreed to pay per diem for two weeks. At that point, we were the only major company that was closing. It was like, “Get your stuff out of the dressing rooms—that you want to take home with you; Get everything out of the fridge and stuff…” And we never went back! Our stuff is all still sitting there. They’re giving it out in November. There was one day they emailed us, “If you want your stuff from the Orpheum Theatre, you can get it by 5 pm," but by the time I saw it, it was 4 or something. Most people’s stuff is still sitting there.
California shut down theatres and large gatherings before Broadway and many other states and theatres. How certain were you that your show was just the beginning?
I just feel like that day was so weird, and I feel like everything changed hour to hour. In that moment, it felt like it was a California problem. We had the San Francisco airport, and everyone coming in from China, so it felt like something that might stay where we were. But by the end of the day, they had shut down things so fast that when Broadway got shut down the following day, it didn’t seem that surprising. But 24 hours prior, that felt crazy. I just remember sitting in front of my computer that day, watching the news and—Breaking News every ten minutes. A friend of mine works in College Sports, and we were texting back and forth, because they were trying to do March Madness. And she said, “This morning we did have a tournament—then there was no audience—now there’s no tournament…”
Did you anticipate Broadway and other theatre productions, including your show, would be closed for this long?
I don’t think anyone did. It was like, “We’ll be shut down for two weeks to a month…” I remember we got the notice pretty early on that San Francisco was not going to reopen at all in San Francisco. Our company already had tour dates- not publicly released- but to us, they had been released. People were texting me, once they announced that San Francisco was closing. They thought our whole company was closing. I was like, “No, no. We still have tour dates. We’ll probably be back in September.” And then, the further it went on, it was like, “Well, maybe the fall… Well, maybe…” Obviously, at the beginning, no one knew. I thought August at first.
As a Swing and Dance Captain, do you have any concerns regarding coming back to a show that a cast has been away from for such a long time? What concerns do you have about the process of coming back, and how do you think theatre/your show might be different when you return?
I think we’re all concerned about being out of shape, in general. Having any kind of stamina for a show. I’ve finally just gotten myself back to the gym, in person—easing my way into that. I don’t think I realized how much my lifestyle, overall, was keeping me in shape. Because I was on my feet for four hours a day, two days a week, just doing rehearsal. And then rehearsing at night with replacements. It wasn’t necessarily a cardio exercise, but it was overall activity—active day. Just getting to the gym and getting on a bike is like, “I have no lung capacity!” I think that’s what I worry about, in general.
What I’m excited about is I’ve been doing Hamilton for two years, and there are varying levels of how long people have been in the business, in our company, for sure. But what I hope is that we’ll come back, and everyone will be rejuvenated to be in a positive head space and just be so grateful to be there. And I hope that’s true across the board. I hope that will be some positive that will come out of this. If you’re not working in a show, you can still go take a class, go see a show, go take a voice lesson, all these ways you can scratch that itch… And we’re all sort of stuck with less of those options, if any. And without the social and human connections of it all. I’m less concerned about how difficult it will be and more excited about how hopeful and positive that it will be when we’re back together.
What have you been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?
I’ve just been trying to keep my mind as active as possible, because as Swing and Dance Captain, part of what I liked about that was, every day was different. And it brought a different problem to solve and different task at hand. And so, being in a sort of Groundhog Day/Twilight Zone of every day looking very similar—trying to learn new things. I’ve been knitting a lot. I’ve been teaching myself new things. I didn’t think I could do that. I didn’t think I was good at independent-study kinds of things. Trying to stay creative and mentally active. I wasn’t really missing dance classes too much. I was still living in California until the end of July, and I had a roommate. So, the social interaction was kind of built in, so, I wasn’t missing that as much.
And now that we’re in this longer pause, I’ve been trying to assist people when they teach at Steps whenever I can, because it gets me out of the house and gets me dancing. I basically told the Dance Captain from the Phillip Tour-He’s so lovely, and his class is so fun. “I will come every week, if you will have me and there’s space.” Getting back to that and getting back to the gym. At first, I was focused on mental activity, and now my boyfriend’s working during the day. And I’m home with less interaction, trying to make sure I get out of the house and stay physically active as well.
What has been the most challenging thing about the past months since the shutdown?
I’m a person who likes to have a task and get things done. And goes out and solves things and fixes things. I like being busy; I get charged up and excited about that. So, just trying to either accept that that’s not the case, that’s difficult for me. And also trying to enjoy as much as possible, despite all of the insanity, the time off. I keep trying to remind myself, I will never have this time again. I wouldn’t even let myself do it for more than two weeks. So, finding that silver lining is a daily battle, I would say. And keeping the positives in mind. Especially the news; with everything that’s going on, it’s easy to slip into feeling down about the whole universe. I think that’s the hardest thing.
What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?
I mean just time. Time. It’s the Catch-22 of the whole situation. “Omigod, there’s so much time!” and “Oh wow. I have so much time. How wonderful.” My boyfriend and I moved in together, and we have spent most of our relationship long-distance. So, getting to spend a lot of quality time together, creating our space together… Not just on our Monday day-off, trying to get to Ikea—trying to fit it all in! That’s been really, really nice. And a silver lining. And just, quiet time, slow time. Sometimes, it’s really wonderful.
Have you made any big life decisions as a direct result of the pandemic? In what ways has the pandemic altered your plans?
Us moving in together was always part of the plan, pre-pandemic. But what I think is nice is that, choosing to go through with it felt like a big decision. And it felt like a way we could maintain some control and move forward in our lives together, even though the world is on-pause. A part of me was like, “Well, I could stay in California; its where my family is.” I was sort of hemming and hawing about coming back to the city, but I also—by the time it was time to leave—I realized that if I had just stayed there until further notice, nothing in my life would have moved forward. That has been very helpful. Even though my career is not progressing. The theatre world is not progressing. My life can move forward and not be so connected to what my career is doing. Just prioritizing that. That’s the main one that was reinforced because of the pandemic.
What is your biggest concern right now?
The election. And what are we going to do for the holidays? How are we going to manage? Do we travel? Do we not travel? It’s just hard, because I miss my family. But traveling feels precarious, and I think that people that don’t take the pandemic seriously are going to travel. And even people who do take it seriously are going to travel. It just feels like it’s maybe not worth the risk.
What do you miss the most about Hamilton and theatre, in general?
I just think people, and feeling like you have a purpose. Those of us who are career-inclined. For me, a lot of my value and worth is wrapped up in my work. And so, that has been part of my journey, in this moment, to separate some of that. But I just think people, and feeling like you’ve got a purpose. And that you’ve got somewhere to go in the morning that is important to you and that you love.
What’s your favorite theatre memory?
When we performed at Puerto Rico. And when Lin entered, there was 45 seconds—roaring, standing ovation. Every single show. And you could feel it. You were onstage, and it felt like a rock concert—you could feel the sound hitting you because most of us are onstage, in that moment. And most of us are facing away from the audience, and you could feel it on your back. You could feel the surge of energy and that sound. That, and when Hilary Clinton came, and I cried. And I could not stop crying. She came in Puerto Rico, at the end of our run. I fully wept. One of her aids looked at me and nodded. Kind of like, “I get it,” you know? That was my most recent favorite memory.
What is the first thing you’re going to do when theatre is back?
Other than just go to work, in general—I’m excited to walk down 8th Avenue and run into seven people. That Wednesday between shows—everyone has their ballcaps on, because they’re eating dinner… brushed off red lipstick…yeah.
What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?
Just keep training. And just keep working hard, because it will come back. This is not forever. And I have to remind myself of that all the time. Keep doing what you’re doing, and just know it will be back. Don’t lose hope.
Favorite Broadway Musical: Sweet Charity
Favorite Broadway Play: Black Watch (by Gregory Burke)
Favorite Movie Musical: Singin’ in the Rain
Movie that you think should be a musical: Hercules, which is happening now! I know every word to those songs.
Favorite Broadway Theatre Ritual: I have different rituals and things, based on who I’m going on for and in what show. I always have to get there early, and if I rush, I will have a terrible show. There’s no way around it. I have to be calm before the show. Plenty of time to get everything done. Otherwise, I get very stressed and overwhelmed,
Dance/rehearsal bag staple: Coffee! Always.
Put-in or Spacing rehearsal: Put in. Work’s done already. Unless, it’s my Put-in!
Favorite city on tour: Toronto
Favorite Theatre Superstition: I just have my own superstitions. I don’t go over this song, but I have to do this song… Superstitions I make for myself.