Caroline Innerbichler, Professional Actress.
[Interview Date: December 15, 2020]
Princess Anna in Frozen, First National Tour and more.
Your tour was in Portland, OR the week of March 12, 2020 when Broadway first shutdown. Can you describe what the week leading up to that day was like for you? Did you see it coming?
I truly don’t remember a lot of details during the week leading up to March 12. I do remember having a full company meeting onstage maybe the weekend before…We were encouraged to take any symptoms of illness very seriously, and to call out of the show if we were feeling under the weather. At this point, nobody was wearing masks; but we were told to wash our hands excessively and to cover coughs and sneezes, which I felt was common practice for preventing illness before this pandemic. I guess I had no real way of knowing just how intense and dangerous the virus was.
What was the most challenging thing about leaving tour so unexpectedly?
The hardest part of leaving the tour was not knowing what to expect. There were no solid predictions of how long this would last, or if we would even get back to work at all. I think it was hard to be hurriedly packing my dressing room, and knowing that I might not see these beautiful company members for a long time.
Did you anticipate that your show and others would stay closed for this long?
By the time we took the stage on the 12th, we had heard about other gigs shutting down overseas, and a few stateside; so, when I took my bow during that last show on the 12th, I remember thinking “This could be the last one for a while” and the even more upsetting thought, “Will this be the last bow for this show?”
What have you been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?
I think the two most helpful things have been going to therapy on a regular basis, and having daily interactions with my close friends. It’s comforting to talk through all of this uncertainty with people who understand and relate to all the struggles this quarantine has presented. It’s also important for me, personally, to talk to a professional mental health practitioner-someone who is outside of my personal life and career that can give objective advice and offer tools to help cope with this sudden shift.
What has been the most challenging thing about the past months since the shutdown?
The most challenging thing about these past 9 months is feeling so isolated from my art form. I miss being in the same room with other artists, making art. I miss doing live performances, and going to see them. Watching TV or listening to music can bring beautiful introspective moments; but there’s nothing like being surrounded by a community of people, taking in stories as they are presented in the moment…It’s such an important way to feel unified with our communities.
What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?
It has been a very eye-opening time in this country, and all across the world. As the ‘normal’ way of life has shifted, we’ve had more time to engage with our local government and communities. Systemic racism, the wealth gap, and our flawed healthcare system have all been failing us, as a society. When we aren’t as busy with our careers, have no outlets to distract us; we are forced to look at how deeply flawed our society is. And we have the ability to do something about it.
I’ve also had the time to truly do a deep dive into my own mental health. Like many other people, I have struggled with anxiety and depression throughout my adult years. I have had a lot of time to learn about where these issues have come from, how they’ve shaped me, and how they’ve hindered me. I’m learning new healthy ways to cope with these issues, and I don’t think I was in a position to give my own mental health as much attention as I have during quarantine. I’m grateful for it.
Is there anything you find hard to explain to people outside of the arts industry about what is happening during this time?
I’ve been a professional actor and performer for 22 years. It will always be challenging to try to convince some non-performers or people outside of the arts who don’t fully understand our careers that this is a trade that requires an intense amount of devotion, training, and skill. It’s not just about getting to put on costumes and play pretend. Live theater is a multi- million-(billion?) dollar industry that reaches all over the world. It funnels revenue back into local communities. It’s especially hard to convince some people of the benefits of live art that they can’t measure tangibly. The camaraderie that we can feel, as a room full of humans experiencing the same stories and emotions all at the same time. It is therapeutic in a world that can feel divisive and unsafe. Storytelling has been an integral part of human civilization. We need it.
What is your biggest concern right now?
My biggest concern right now is the health and safety of my family, friends, coworkers, and community. As hard as it is to be away from work and my family, I am more than willing to sacrifice my social interactions and career so they can remain safe from Covid -19.
What do you miss the most about tour?
I miss being surrounded by true experts in their craft—being a part of Frozen was one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had as an artist because of this. I watched people solve problems, express themselves, fine-tune their craft, push through obstacles, share their immense talents, support each other, and come together as one to tell a really beautiful story. I miss watching my cast do what they do best. It is humbling, inspiring, and energizing.
What do you miss most about live theatre, in general?
I miss many things about live theatre, but I think right now, in this moment, I’d give anything to hear our ensemble singing together with our incredible orchestra. Filling a theater with a blanket of beautiful sound and color.
What’s your all-time favorite theatre memory?
I have too many lovely memories of live theatre to even begin to recount all at once…but right now, I think the one that comes to mind is when our company did a final run-through of the show in the rehearsal space. The Broadway company of Frozen came to watch us and support. They were our first true audience. I was nervous as hell. Since the show was so fresh in our bodies and minds, it felt like such a great achievement to perform it, live in it, and share it with a company who also understands the work that goes into it. After we sang the last note, I just burst into exhausted, relieved, happy, joyful tears and just hugged Caroline Bowman with all my might. The afterglow of a performance is such a beautiful gift to share with your cast and your audience.
What is the first thing you’re most excited to do when theatre is back?
I think I’m just excited to be around my company. I’m excited to pick their bright, brilliant minds again. Share their light and love.
What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?
My best advice would be to #1) Continue working on your skills and knowledge of live theatre, and more importantly #2) Discover what YOU love about theatre. What inspires you? What pushes you to work hard? What styles do you like? What stories touch you? Develop your own individual personal interests within this art form. Creative teams are looking for unique, interesting, honest takes on characters. The more you can maintain your own sense of individuality, the more honest and ENJOYABLE your work will be.
Favorite Broadway Musical Fiddler on the Roof or Hair (Wow, those are polar opposites, but it’s true)
Favorite role you’ve played I tie between Anna in Frozen and Lydia in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
Dream role you’ve yet to play Sally Bowles in Cabaret
Favorite Movie Musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Movie that you think should be a musical O Brother Where Art Thou? It already has an incredible concept and great music.
Favorite Theatre Ritual I like to spend time walking through the house before it’s filled with the audience. I want to look at the stage from their perspective. If possible, I try to do it during sound check, so I can hear what they might hear as well. It’s a reminder to retain technique and precision, and artistically, it’s good to remember who the show is for.
I also love taking in the moments right before the show starts. The soft roar of a hundred conversations happening all over the house, the rustling of programs, the musicians warming up, the performers stretching and shaking out the jitters, the crew murmuring cues and getting into position. The focus that happens right before the story begins is mesmerizing.
Favorite city on tour (so far) Seattle! The climate, the beautiful views of the mountains across the water, the great restaurants, the public market, all things I love.
Favorite Theatre Superstition The ghost light. Such a magical, creepy bit of lore that is exclusive to the stage.
Favorite Dressing Room item I always have to keep photos of family and friends in my dressing room. As a reminder— even though I have a lot of demands and obligations and lots of focus required of me in this profession, I have an entire life waiting for me outside of it. It’s a balance that I think is so important to maintain, as an artist.
Favorite Minneapolis Hangout (during ‘normal’ times) UGH, there are so many. I love Nightingale for killer happy hour and aesthetics, and the VFW in Uptown Minneapolis for Karaoke. I also love the Minneapolis Institute of Art—one of my favorite places to go alone and decompress.