• Natalie Wisdom

Jennifer Blood, Broadway Actress.

[Interview Date: October 25, 2020]

Girl from the North Country, Matilda, Violet, A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder

What was the atmosphere like at the Belasco Theatre the week leading up to March 12th?

I was ready for it, because I had been freaking out. We had just opened on the 5th and that was Thursday, and then we had Sunday and Monday off from the show to record the album (which hasn’t been released yet). We were all in the recording studio, and I was already feeling nervous about what was happening with the virus, and our stage manager came in right before we started and told us someone in the cast was sick and that he wouldn't be coming in. I was so nervous that night in the recording studio, thinking somebody in our cast might actually have it. Then the couple of days leading up to the shutdown, I started getting too nervous to ride the subway; I started walking into Midtown from Brooklyn, like 8 miles.

But I think what really got me was when that usher tested positive-that usher at Six. We were between shows and I was lying down in the dressing room, and I saw that on my phone, and my heart started pounding, I got so scared. And the next day, the day they announced the shutdown, was only our second understudy rehearsal. Several of the swings were sick so they had just me and one of the other guys come in. I decided to drive in that day and it was $50 to park, I thought, “So, this could not become a habit.” I think I may have been freaking out on social media too—so people knew how nervous I was and I had a couple of friends reach out to me to tell me that they were going to announce a shutdown that afternoon. And then in the middle of our rehearsal, it happened. And I thought it would be like two weeks max, so when they announced it would be four to six, I thought, “Wow, that’s long”. But I was still ready to go home and just be holed up in my house and safe. I think a lot of us didn’t know how serious it would be. I definitely thought we would be back in four weeks. I got home, and I was like, “Ok, this will be a fun little vacation. I’m not worried about anything. I have a job to go back to.” And, I remember people started making videos right away, and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do this, but it’s not like we won’t all be back to work very soon!”

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

No. I sure didn’t. I can’t even remember the timeline of how it went in my mind, of how long I thought we would be shut down. And I still kind of can’t believe it. Sometimes I say the word pandemic and in my head, I think, “This can’t be real!”.

And I’ll tell you—I’m pregnant! That was something else I was trying to figure out, time-wise, because I was like, “Ok, I’m getting older, I would like to have another child.” So, when was I going to do that? How would I do it with work? If this was going to be a year, “might as well do it now!” I just kept trying to figure out, will I have time to do this? Could I fit this in? And will I be able to go back to my job? Looks like yes! In my dream of dreams, I thought, “Ok, I’ll pop this baby out and then I’ll go right back!” But now it seems like it’s going to be a lot longer.

Girl from North Country had only been open for a week when New York’s stay-at-home order was issued.

Can you describe how it felt to have to pause a show only a week after its opening?

It was really weird. We had such a great opening, and we got great reviews, and I mean, I didn’t know, at the time, how long it would be. At first, It didn’t seem like a huge deal, but now, it feels really sad. Because we were just open for those four or five days before this all happened. And we had just started understudy rehearsal, so that was a bummer. You know, you’ve watched it for so long, and you know everything, but to finally get to do it on your feet, on the stage, was so nice. And now I’m thinking, "Oh wow. I’m gonna have to learn all that stuff all over again!"

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

Definitely realizing that I needed to make sure I move my body every day. Get outdoors. Put-on clothes; that feels good! And trying to get some little projects going that are not necessarily goal-oriented. I’ve been trying to focus on working on material just because I like it. Which is lovely to have the time to do! I’ve been learning What the Constitution Means to Me, because I’d love to do that someday. And singing songs I like because I like them and not worrying what a good cut of them would be. I am singing all of the five-minute-long songs right now.

And I’ve been dressing up once a week with my family for dinner. Dressing for dinner! Yeah, I can’t believe we’re still doing that.

How did ‘Dressing for Dinner’ come about?

I think the first night was just an effort to get out of pajamas. I thought, what if we started “dressing” for dinner, like on Downton Abbey? So I put on a gown from my closet that I never wear to eat mac and cheese. And then they turned into theme nights, where we would try to match a food with the theme. “Broadway Shutdown and Shish Kebab”, “Mussels and Muscle Tees”. I do not recommend cooking your own mussels.

What has been the most challenging thing about the past months since the shutdown?

Not having child care. Being stuck in three rooms with a three-year-old. Will has been working from home. Sometimes he’ll be in virtual court, (He’s a public defender), and I have to try to keep Nat quiet in the other room. Missing people! That’s the hardest thing. And for Nat, you know, he was in a pre-school program last year- That all shut down. He was not interested in zoom pre-school, which makes sense; he didn’t want to sit in front of a computer, he wanted to run around and play. But I do feel lucky that he’s as young as he is. He’s not really aware of the friends that he’s missing. And he doesn’t have to “keep up” with school. But he has just started saying things like, “I would like to take a friend with me.” I say, “Here’s your stuffed animal.” “No, mama, a real friend; someone my size.” And I get sad and think, “Ahhhhh! I want you to have a friend!” But we adults react to it more. For him, it was a passing thought. He’s totally fine.

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

All the time I’ve gotten to spend with family. Listening to Will do his work has been incredible and spending all this time with Nat as he’s growing into his own, saying funny things, and learning so much has been amazing. We’ve also gotten to spend a lot of time in D.C., where Will’s family is, and that’s been really nice. It’s been great for Nat to have grandparent time.

What is your biggest concern right now?

I have so many concerns. I’m so concerned about the election. What is going to happen? I’m also just concerned about when work is going to come back. And I’m worried about whoever is making the decision. I’m worried about them knowing that ‘this is a good time to start’ and that we’ll have people to come and keep it alive. I think our show appeals to a New York audience, so I feel like we can be one of the early ones to go back, but that concerns me too. Like, how many New Yorkers are there? I guess my biggest hope is that when we re-open, there will be tons of people just aching to get back to the theater, and that will fill houses.

How do you think theatre will be different when it returns?

I’m so curious to see! I guess it all depends on when we start. I think about all the things that are already going on, what with mask wearing and hand sanitizing and cleaning processes. I feel like people will be grateful and excited to be there. I know I will be. I hope by then we will have treatments and a vaccine, plenty of tests. I have a friend whose husband works for the NBA, and he was down in the bubble, dealing with testing and all of that stuff. And he was telling us, “Broadway could come back! They could rapid test an audience of a thousand people in an hour!” And that sounds amazing, but I just don’t know how it’s possible. Like, where do we put those people to test them? When you have four theaters on a block, or five or six? Where do you test all those people and then have them wait? I am very glad that it is not my job to figure out how to do this.

What do you miss the most about your job/live theatre?

The community and working with people on something. All these projects I have are mostly solo projects. It gets lonely. I’ve taken classes, and every time I do, I’m like, “AH! This feels so good! To do this with another person!” It’s really not a ‘solo in your house and your room’ art form. Is there anything you wish that people outside of the arts understood better about what the industry is going through?

That this is people’s livelihood. I wish that more people understood that. I feel like a lot of people still think of arts as a hobby. and that there are so many people who work in the entertainment industry that are not movie stars and wealthy. We need a relief package. and then there is the mental health piece of it. A career in the arts is so linked to your identity. It’s not something you do and then leave at the office. It is so much a part of what keeps you fulfilled, keeps your soul alive, keeps you lit up as a person. And this is such a unique time. We have all had periods when we’re unemployed for three months, and that’s normal. But there’s always been something to work towards or a job we’re trying to get. And right now, with nothing, with our entire industry shut down, it’s hard. Really hard.

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

Relearn my parts! And go to all the parties! There will be no, “I’m too tired,” from me! (She says, about to add a small child to her family).

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

Somebody asked me this early on in April, and I was like, “It won’t be forever!” Haha. I still think it won’t be forever. If you financially can, take classes to try and meet people, and stay in shape and work on your stuff. Work on roles you want to do. If you can find them, get your hands on sides of roles you want to do, so that you’re really ready when the auditions come up. And I’d just say do some other stuff that doesn’t have you focusing on theatre, stuff that just makes you happy. Just to try to keep your spirits up because these are tough times.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: Guys and Dolls!

Favorite role you’ve played: Maria in the Sound of Music

Dream role you’ve yet to play: Harper in Angels in America! I would love to do that.

Favorite Movie Musical: Singin in the Rain!

Favorite Broadway Theatre Ritual: Something I always do before I go on: I try to set an intention for the night. I might say something like, “Tonight, I’m going to find something magical.” One of my favorite stories-I used the word “magic” in my intention one night when we were doing Matilda. And it was the night that the magic blackboard didn’t work, and David Abeles, who was playing Trunchbull, went up to get the chalk and pretended that his arm was possessed, so he could write the message! (instead of the chalk moving by itself). I was like, OH MY GOD. I GOT MY MAGIC.

Favorite Broadway Theatre Tradition: Girl from the North Country was the first Broadway show I had ever been there for for opening night, and the Legacy Robe Ceremony was really cool.

Favorite city on tour: Seattle

Least time you’ve had to prep for a role as an understudy: I did go on in Gentleman’s Guide, and I had a week of rehearsal. I had a week’s notice. I just remember that I was worried about the first steps I was going to take onstage. And I was like, “You’re going to have to walk!” It’s so funny what you can be scared of-going on for the first time.

Favorite Dressing Room Item: It was Baby J, my doll, but she got stolen! I shipped a box home after tour, and my whole box got stolen. But now I keep my doll-head necklace there, for luck. It has all these Barbie doll heads on it, which I think probably freaks some people out. Someone who saw my dressing room at Matilda once called it “the weirdest necklace on the great white way” and I thought, “I have done it; I can retire now”. But really, the necklace is my reminder not to take anything too seriously.

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