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  • Natalie Wisdom

Cassie Silva, Broadway Actress, Educator.

[Interview Date: November 5, 2020]

Rock of Ages, Matilda Broadway and National Tour, Hairspray movie (2007)

Where were you on March 12, 2020 (the day Broadway announced shutdown)? And what was the week leading up to it like for you?

I was shooting a self-tape for Six! For Katherine Howard! I hadn’t auditioned for anything in a really long time. In some ways, my whole quarantine started on a huge wave of me making a theatre comeback. Quarantine just sort-of added to that. Part of that comeback was that I had reached out to this agent, started this relationship, put myself out there again, and told her that my dream role was Katherine Howard. “I would love to audition for that”, and then that week, got an audition for Katherine Howard in Six. So, I went completely out of my comfort zone.

I asked my roommates, who are into music, to help me select songs. I learned a Billie Eilish song and a Demi Lovato song. I came into my studio here, and I hadn’t sung in so long. And I remember reorienting myself with my voice and having a camera on me, and then sending in that video, and then waiting to hear back… And the next day…

I recorded it on the 11th and I sent it in on the 12th. I remember hearing around town, “things are starting to shut down.” I remember toilet paper went crazy, and I remember being like, “You guys are crazy. What are you talking about?” Because, in some ways, even though I live on the west coast, I very much want to be on the east coast. I want to be back in New York and on Broadway, doing shows.

Some people look to a resource like ABC News, Fox news… They look to these resources as their main source of information. For me, Broadway is that thing. “Is Broadway still running? If Broadway is still running, we’ll be fine.” I was like, “If Broadway’s still going, then things can’t be that bad.”

I remember that being a crazy week. I wonder if they’ve even watched it, (the tape) because everything shut down! Six opened that day. I can’t even imagine opening a show and then having it close. That’s crazy!

California established a ban on all large gatherings before New York did. What was this like for you? Did you initially anticipate Broadway closing as well?

No, I didn’t. I didn’t think that it was going to be that bad. Also, I had heard that New York was worse and had more cases than California. And because Broadway was still running, I thought California will probably be fine. Because New York is a walking town, and in California, we’re all in our cars, and nobody walks here. Certainly, once I heard that shows were taking days off, that was surprising to me. But when I was doing Rock of Ages, we had Sandy. That was almost a moment-to-moment, day-to-day thing for the first couple of weeks. I had experienced that already. And I was like, “Well, certainly a couple days is alarming, but it’s not insane.” But then, they said, “a few months” and I was like, “what?” Especially the tours too; that the tours had shut down as well…

What was this like for the theatre students you teach? How was your program disrupted by the initial quarantine announcement?

Well, we had to close everything down. Also, before we just jumped on Zoom, there was a point of time where nothing happened. We were all just scared, trying to get our toilet paper like the next man. There was a bubble of fear.

Well, once the school’s got wind of it, they sent all the kids home. They sent them home for Spring Break and then during the Spring Break, shut them down. One of my main kids came back from Shenandoah; didn’t bring anything with her, because she was just coming back for a week or two, and ended up being here for the whole summer. She literally had nothing; she didn’t even bring her laptop with her. She thought that she was going to be back a week later and ended up having to hire movers to move her out of her dorm. We had to bring her things, but that was many of our kids. What we ended up doing was, they started doing online classes, the Zoom thing that was very new.

The connections weren’t great, people were still learning how to use the dang thing. It was hard being in a different environment, learning from Zoom. So, the student I was just talking about - her school is on East coast time, so she would have to wake up at 5 AM for ballet class, doing it from her bedroom. Doing her finals from her bedroom. Especially, when it was like, “Oh my gosh, we don’t know if we’re ever going back to school, let alone if we’re ever going to be able to fulfill our dreams of being on Broadway.” So, on my end of things, I tried to jump on board with, "what can we do to creatively fulfill them?" I remember at the beginning of Quarantine, ”How can I be of service? I feel stable. What can I do? How can I be of service?”

So , (I) just started creating Zoom classes. And then I created a pilate program, pretty early on. Where Covid testing was not even really a thing, but I set up stations in my studio where it was one-on-one. And the students socially-distanced; they would be on opposite ends. We have a glass wall here. We would teach through the glass and hook up microphones. This was for our college students that weren’t able to finish their semesters. We had a voice coach, a dance coach, choreography…We brought in guest artists from Fosse, and I had acting in the Blackbox theatre, and we filmed everything. So, we created a wall, and the students would be on the filming end of it. And, it would be a crew of three. Me, my piano player who made tracks… I’d be on the camera, and we would film whatever they had done. So, they had a purpose instead of just working on stuff to work on stuff. They had a reason to put on clothes and learn their lines.

Have there been any big decisions you have made during this time that were the direct result of the pandemic? How has your life/world changed due to the pandemic?

In short, I got back on social media, started to sing, dance, and act again, and put myself out there, professionally, once again. I went to school. I decided to get my degree. I’m starting a studio. I am now the Creative Director of a Performing Arts Space and that helped me get back on social media, because I’m an advocate for my business. It’s called The Studio Collective. And we produce mainstage productions; we do master classes; we rent our space out; we built an outdoor floor. All the dance studios are building outdoor floors. I’ve just poured my heart and soul into that. You have so much creativity. Where do you put it?

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

I’ve been getting uncomfortable with the uncomfortable, and I’ve also been getting comfortable being comfortable. We’ve been stuck inside, so it forced me to become creative, in following suit. People have been posting themselves online, and prior to the pandemic, I took a three-year hiatus from social media. It was very uncomfortable, but if I want to get back into this, now’s the time. Everybody is online. Everybody’s out of work. We are all needing art, in some form, so I started to brainstorm, “How can I become more visible?” And, also finding comfort in, like I said, comfortable being comfortable. Really owning the things that did feel good to me. It wasn’t about being the best singer anymore. I can just be comfortable in my sweats, singing a song because that’s what we’re doing. We don’t have the ability to have a full-blown stage, a full-blown production. Social media was a huge one for me, because I was able to step into connecting with people again. And before, it was like, “Is there really a need for me to be on there?” It’s ok if I’m not, but then I needed to expand beyond my own circle. It felt like my duty to push myself out of my comfort zone. See how people are doing, read what people are saying, watch how people are struggling with their shows and packing all their stuff and moving out of New York. It felt like my responsibility to show up, and be a part of the community.

And also, I started this business! I had been part of this studio, and last November, right before everything shut down, we moved into a bigger space. So, what we’ve been doing is come here every day we’re in the Quarantine bubble, do everything remotely, and we just plan and dream of how we can do everything, Covid-safe. High school kids, training them to get into college for Musical Theatre, and also building in the new space. We want to be that one-stop-shop for the Musical Theatre people. I just see these pot-holes in our business. Coming from LA, coming from TV and Film, I didn’t grow up with Musical Theatre. I grew up as a competitive dancer. Especially now, we’re in a virtual world. Throughout the last couple of years, having sent in auditions, I realized we are sending in a medium—the stage is live and big and you are asking me to audition for a role in a screen that is this big. How do we portray that? It’s a lapse in mediums. I am working to marry the live experience with the film experience, so that you can marry the two in a way where it’s like a musical film, but where can you create those auditions.

So, I created a pilot program and created a semester for the students who had lost their summer stock jobs and school; we did it in six weeks. We took on four interns from Musical Theatre schools. I had friends come in virtually… They would do anything--- Q and A’s.. We took their head-shots, branded them, cast them in six shows. We coached each kid. They would hop from one room to the next. We would coach them, costume them, do these itsy-bitsy film sections. I had them choreograph different genres of dance. We had someone teach them a minute-long tap number and then have someone come in and film them. And we did a social media branding thing. We’re going to be virtual for a long time.

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

It’s layered. What comes to mind, immediately, is watching all of my friends post their moving stories. I’ll never forget my friend who had Tupperware stacks, and he’s sitting behind rows and rows of them.” I’m moving back in with my parents—I’ve been in a Broadway show for ten years…” There were a lot of these that were happening. And even though there’s nothing that I could have done, it made me ache for New York. “How am I not there?” But I realize my energy is there. And it made me realize how far I had gotten from theatre. I understood it from such a visceral perspective. I’m lucky, in some respects, but I also wish that I was in the trenches with them. Also, seeing the extensions of the timeline for theaters opening has been—it’s always really hard. Especially with no aid. There’s the Actors’ Fund and stuff like that, but I’ve read all those posts about how Broadway brings in billions of dollars every year, and there’s no relief for the artists. And I put myself in their shoes. I can’t imagine. There’s nothing that is equal to what we do. We train to be the best of the best, to be able to go out eight times a week to do that, with perfection and precision. There are no other jobs like that. That’s why people pay the big money to go and see the shows. And that’s really hard.

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

So much! It just evened playing fields, and the tide was low enough for me to get back in the water, and in some way, I got my life back. That’s been really epic for me. Also, there’s so much to be said for seeing people’s real character and integrity during this time. Like, Open Jar Studios that created that singing mask, and it’s so cool to look at our community and see the resilience and what people are doing with all that creative energy. Especially when it’s making waves in the schools and the arts at large. That’s so cool to me.

What is your biggest concern right now?

My biggest concern is the arts. I think arts were struggling before. It was struggling to stay afloat before, especially in the school systems. In theatre at large, going back to my other answer, we’re the Olympians of our craft, but no one is sending relief to a multi-billion-dollar contributor. When will theatre be back? And what will it look like? It’s so important. I have concern for all of my friends and colleagues that are all going through it. We’re all in it together, but there is so much question—I worry for everyone. Where will we be when it is that time? What will it look like? There’s going to be so many new learning curves. I’m also concerned for people’s mental health, in general. I think about what are the reasons that people won’t be able to come back? That may have to do with they can’t move back, because they can’t afford it or they lost their homes, or they left the business or got pregnant. That’s my Broadway bubble concern.

What do you miss the most about live theatre?

I miss everything about it. I miss that connection-it really does feel like that’s where my purpose is, and it feels like where I can be most of-service, selfishly, but also the most selflessly. I miss being of-service in that way. That’s my full-capacity place. I also believe in the escapism of live theatre, and I wish that we were able to have that for so many people. There’s nothing like live theatre.

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

There are two that are coming to mind, and I don’t know that they are my very favorite but here they are, so we’ll go with it. The night that I debuted as Sherry in Rock of Ages, Lance Bass was in the audience! Also, I don’t know if you remember the Travelocity gnome; it came to Rock of Ages, and was also there that night. I went to them in the audience, and I have a picture—me and Lance!

My other favorite memory would have to be from Matilda! Little Mabel would come offstage, I will never forget her. We were the last two to exit from bows. She walked offstage, and she jumped up and down. She said, “Did you see, Miss Cassie? Did you see it? I really moved it with my eyes!” She was talking about the chalk. That’s one of my all-time favorite theatre memories, because she was so in it. She just loved it so much, and she was so in it. And she understood the game of it. She understood that it wasn’t real, but that when she was in the moment of it, it’s like, you are still in you, but when you’re really in it, you’re playing the game! She just understood that!

What is the first thing you’re going to do when live theatre is back?

Go see it. And audition to be in it again. Proceed. Support it.

What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?

A friend of mine said, “Theatre was around way before us, and theatre will be around way after us. So, stay strong, and stay hopeful.”

And also, I probably need this more than the young ones: Every age of Broadway requires every age of actor. We need people of all ages, for every age.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: Sunday in the Park with George

Favorite Broadway Play: Proof

Favorite role you’ve played: I did the West Coast premiere of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and I played Logainne Schwartzandgrunenierre! And it was the first show that I did where I didn’t have the opportunity to rest on my dancing, so I proved to myself that I actually was an actor outside of it. If I was going to lean on something, it would have had to be my singing. I had never sung onstage like that before. I was able to connect with that character. That was the first character I had ever played that I mourned.

Dream role: Dot in Sunday in the Park with George or Katherine Howard in Six

Favorite Movie Musical: I feel like I’m obligated to say Hairspray. But really Chicago blew my mind.

Movie that you think should be a musical: I love Christopher Guest, that free form. I used to be obsessed with Drop Dead Gorgeous. I think that would be a really good one.

Favorite Broadway Theatre Tradition: Love a Happy Trails.

Favorite Personal Theatre Ritual: With Matilda specifically, I never did a show without seeing both the Matildas, the ones that were going on, I made sure we had that moment of normalcy outside the show. That was a huge one. I would always try to see people face to face prior to being onstage. Also, warm-up and warm-down.

Favorite city on tour: I want to say DC. LA was also rad too, because I got to perform for my family.

Favorite Theatre Superstition: You can’t say the Scottish play.

Favorite Dressing Room item (you can’t live without): Good bobby pins and a good wig cap. There’s nothing worse than a loose wig.

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