- Natalie Wisdom
Jenna Rubaii, Broadway Actress.
[Interview Date: December 7, 2020]
Mary Magdalene in the Jesus Christ Superstar National Tour, Groundhog Day on Broadway, American Idiot International Tour and more.
Where was the Jesus Christ Superstar Tour on March 12, 2020, the day Broadway shut down? And what was the week leading up to it like for you?
The energy surrounding the last couple weeks, for us, was really weird. The week prior to the shut-down, we were in Nashville, and that Monday, there was a tornado. It was pretty tragic. We ended up canceling our opening night, which was Tuesday, because it devastated parts of the city. And then, there were murmurs. I remember my mom being like, “You guys need to start wearing masks on the plane and cleaning.” And I was like, “They haven’t (said anything), but I’m going to do it anyway.” It was kind of in our ears in America, but no one was really paying attention to it.
And then, we went to Cleveland, and we were really excited, because it was the first time that we were sitting down in a city for three weeks. We had just added a 22-piece string orchestra for the 3 weeks—It was so epic! Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “right hand” man was there, and we were sound-checking the entire show again for the first couple days. Thankfully, we did get the chance to perform with the orchestra twice, since we shut down on Thursday. But it was bizarre; it happened so fast. All the sudden, this was a really big thing, and we were supposed to shut down. And Tim Rice was supposed to come that week; we were devastated. There was this weird vibe all around. It was just strange, because the energy in weeks leading up to it felt like, “Something’s going wrong…”
Did you initially anticipate that Broadway and other theatre productions, including your tour, would be closed for this long?
No! The day the Ohio governor stated groups larger than 100 people were no longer allowed to gather, we had a huge company meeting with our entire cast/crew/band. Our producer flew in from New Jersey to give us the “game plan,” which was really a big question mark for the entire industry. At the time ‘worst case scenario’ was rebooting in May. And we were like, “Oh my gosh! Not until May?!” May would have been awesome.
What have you been doing over the past several months or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?
I’ve been doing a lot of meditation and yoga, and I was diving back into tarot cards again. Lots of self-guidance stuff to dig deeper, as this has forced all of us to do. And recently, I have started taking Arabic classes! My grandfather was from Iraq & I always wanted to learn the language. My good friend from childhood had spent some time in Morocco, and it just so happened that her friends who live there are putting on these zoom courses. It’s been super challenging but really rewarding. It’s exercising a part of my brain that I haven’t felt since AP Calculus! Learning something that feels vastly different than anything I’ve done in the recent past is so refreshing.
What has been the hardest thing about the past months since the shutdown?
Not being able to gather people and see friends. Our whole profession is about connecting and traveling, so there’s this void in our lives. And I am a huge “community” person. I love gathering people, hosting parties, bringing my friends together. The isolation aspect is very difficult.
Fortunately, I have been able to travel safely a few times, but there’s still always that scare factor in your mind. Like, “What if I’m asymptomatic, and I gave it to someone?” And, of course, there’s a constant fear that someone gave it to you. The unpredictable nature of the virus definitely brings up mental challenges for people like me who are hypochondriacs! Haha.
What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?
Definitely the space and the time for clarity, self-healing, and discovery. Really taking the time to tap into myself and what I need—being able to work through things from the past that I had to face and reflect upon. There is no excuse for “there wasn’t enough time” anymore, so it really has forced a lot of us, I think, to do that difficult self-work we often gloss over.
How have your priorities changed since the shutdown, if at all?
Just self-reflection. I’m like, “Ok, how can I really better myself?” And actively working hard at not letting myself feel bad about where I am in my journey. Like, “Oh, I didn’t do anything today but watch Netflix,” and not shame myself for taking that day to laze around. It’s that whole thing of: “I need to be productive,” and, “Why do I not want to?” And then you think, “Oh yeah, we’re in a global pandemic.” I’m working on forgiving myself for wherever I am that day, in that moment. It’s so hard to do!
What do you miss the most about live theatre?
I miss everything! I miss people’s reactions to the show and seeing how much it affected them. I miss what theatre does to people. There’s something about live performances, in general, that is just magical. It truly connects us in ways nothing else can. So, not having the ability to experience that, whether I’m on the stage or in the audience, really creates a huge void in all of our lives.
What’s your favorite theatre memory?
I have to say (performing on) the Tony Awards! It was just this electric feeling. You have those little moments of, “This is what I’ve always wanted to do...and now it’s happening.” And so many performers you looked-up to your entire life are there...feels like you’re living out your dream. Truly, an unforgettable experience.
What is the thing you’re most excited to do when live theatre is back?
I can’t wait to stand on the stage and just feel the power of live music again. The Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack is so epic, and our orchestra really does it justice. Every soundcheck, I would take it in. But when we go back, it’s going to be extra special.
What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?
I would say, stay positive and keep working on your craft. That could just be watching a movie; studying the acting, reading plays, or writing your own music. Just making sure that you keep up honing your skills and keep the creativity alive in any way possible, because that’s the only thing you can do right now; the only thing you can control. Stay curious about it. I often get inspired by watching live concerts or excerpts from live performances...remember the power of live performance.
Favorite Broadway Musical: Rent
Favorite Broadway Play: Hedda Gabler. A Doll’s House. Ibsen stuff.
Favorite role you’ve played: Amneris in Aida
Dream role: Elphaba
Favorite Movie Musical: Grease
Movie that you think should be a musical: Miss Congeniality, hands down.
Favorite Broadway Theatre Ritual and/or Tradition: I like Saturday Night on Broadway when we sang to each other out the window with the cast of Cats across the street (during Groundhog Day) That was so fun. It was one of those very New York moments.
Favorite City on Tour: I really like the Southwest places like Tucson, Arizona and Santa Fe!
Favorite Theatre Superstition: The ghost-light.
Favorite Andrew Lloyd Webber Song: “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”