- Natalie Wisdom
Karen Hyland, Broadway Performer.
Updated: Jun 16, 2021
[Interview Date: November 11, 2020]
Ghost, Scandalous. Billy Elliot National Tour, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory National Tour and more.
Where were you on March 12, 2020, the day Broadway shut down? And what was the week leading up to it like for you?
I was at a meeting for one of my studios, Y7. We had check-in meetings, and the week leading up to it, I believe I was just teaching. I don’t remember being at an audition because Sacramento auditions were done at that point. But on the ride home, we knew something was going on. Broadway had shut down. I left the meeting. I was like, “This is bad.” I told Gregg to go buy bread. And on the way home-I will never forget this for the rest of my life. I had just booked the Tootsie tour, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on it, because I had just come off tour. But I was like, “this is a good thing!” It was the track where she is older and can still kick her face, and I wasn’t swinging. I was covering the producer, who spoke/sang her song. But I was like, “I need insurance, but I don’t really want to go on tour.” And I was on my bike on my way home from this meeting, and my agent called, and he was like, “Aren’t you a lucky dog? Broadway shuts down, but that’s okay because you’re going back to Sacramento. You booked the whole season!” That gave me the weeks to be insured through 2022! I was like, “Oh my gosh!” I literally stopped on my bike and was crying. I was like, “I am so lucky!” Everyone was in callbacks and I didn’t have to do anything. It was on that Thursday. I was so happy. I was like, “I don’t have to worry about anything.” So, my March 12th was a good day.
What was the week following the shut down like for you?
Sacramento was the first one to bail, and I couldn’t believe it. I was so sad, but I think it was that their contracts are so short. It didn’t make sense to be like, “We’re not going to do the first show,” because the first show is barely open before they start rehearsing the next show. It was so overlapped that it didn’t seem feasible. And I think they didn’t even want to start the process of selling tickets and anything like that until they had any kind of idea of what was going to happen. It was about a month into the pandemic; if not a few weeks. So, I spent that first week teaching. A bunch of the Y7 teachers and I got together, and I would post on my stories when everyone was teaching, because I knew I didn’t have enough followers. Because I had been on tour. I had been doing both for so long. I didn’t have to worry about getting bodies in the room at Y7, because people loved the studio so much, people didn’t gravitate towards the teacher. I didn’t have to worry about that until this. At first, it wasn’t so much a money-making situation for me; it was more of a ‘do something to reach people.’ I just wanted to teach, to be honest. I just taught on Instagram, and it was donation based, but that was when we thought this was going to just be a few weeks
Did you initially anticipate that Broadway and other theatre productions would be closed for this long?
No. I think I knew, because a dear friend of mine is a company manager, and she had a little more of an inside scoop. When they said April, she was like, “There’s no way they’re doing anything before the summer.” And I was like, “If summer stock is closed, which is local subscribers, how can Broadway survive when it’s all tourists?” So, I kind of deduced that that wasn’t going to happen.
In addition to being a Broadway dancer, you are also a Yoga Instructor. Can you describe what it has been like to have a side-business during this time? How has it helped you, and what has been challenging about it, if anything? And how has it changed?
Well, it’s been great, because I haven’t had to think about what else to do. It’s been awful, because it’s the other industry that is incredibly affected by the pandemic. Anything where you need multiple bodies to meet in one space… In order to run a business, you rely on multiple people in the same place at the same time. Anything having to do with singing and working out and breathing; it just can’t happen. It’s great that I was able to pivot immediately, because it was a skill I already had. But on the flip side, it’s incredibly troubling, because I don’t have another career path that’s available right now that can bring in income and benefits.
Have you made any big life decisions as a direct result of the pandemic? How have your priorities changed, if at all?
My priorities have changed in that I have slowed down, incredibly. I’m an incredibly active person. I love physical fitness. On tour, there was a city without a hot yoga room, and I would say to my mom, “My body doesn’t function without hot yoga!” Well, guess what? It does! And it’s ok. I’ve slowed down immensely. My relationship with my husband- we’ve spent so much more time together. We eat dinner together. We always used to make a joke when I’d be on tour or working at night: I’d be like, “I just want a job where I can come home every night and watch Jeopardy.”
I have become more accepting of myself, easier on myself, softer on myself. A lot of stress has come with teaching online. I had an unemployment claim already open when the Charlie tour was over. I had filed it on one of our layoffs. So, I had that claim open since June of 2019. So, June of 2020, it stopped and I kept claiming on it. And everything they were saying on unemployment was like, “Don’t call!” And I get that. In the queue of life, I’m probably not that high of a priority, because I had already been collecting. But then it just stopped. I filed another claim, it finally went through and then, I didn’t receive anything until probably a couple weeks ago. From June 28th until right before Halloween. With no other income other than my yoga money. I was making a couple hundred a week, trying to get people to take my yoga class.
What have you been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?
I have been practicing yoga. A bunch of the teachers at Laughing Lotus broke out and started their own thing. Another huge thing I started was mobility training. My friend started it. It’s called Radical Movement. I do it with my mom, every morning at 8:30. You log on, and my friend Emily who I taught with at Y7, would lead you through this practice of moving through your joints. It has changed my body more than I think most workouts have. It’s every day, and a 60-minute yoga class. The yoga class is, you attack every joint before you bear any weight on it or do anything to it. That’s been a saving grace.
What has been the hardest thing about the past months since the shutdown?
To not be able to see friends. Not being able to perform; not having the option to perform. It’s just not having life as we used to know it. I think, primarily, it’s not seeing people without the panic. Not seeing my nephews or brother- it’s impossible. Feeling stuck, without any glimmer of hope for anything, any time soon.
What do you miss the most about live theatre?
The community. You get to a point in your career, when you’re older, where you’re like, “I don’t get to pick the jobs that are my passion. I take the jobs that are offered to me, because I’m good at them.” It becomes very much like a job, and what makes it not a job are the community and the people and the audience and the impact that your 15 minutes onstage has on people you would never, in a million years, even cross paths with in your life- would never speak to. There’s something so magical about that. Charlie was really hard for me. And even on the worst days, I would make myself go to that Stage Door or go around to the front, even if I wasn’t on, to see that one kid dressed up as Willy Wonka. And surround yourself with people in the cast who you would probably never meet if it wasn’t for this random show that put such different people in this space, at the same time. Kids, adults, parents of the kids; there’s something horrible and magical about that as well.
What’s your favorite theatre memory?
This one doesn’t have to do with me, but more-so for just a reaction. I was with my friend, Michael. We were in tech for Billy, and we were in Durham, North Carolina. Conservative, slightly small-minded… We were walking out, because parking was a nightmare, and we were getting the car for our car-mates. And we would hear the audience reactions as they came out. And Lex was on (for Billy) and this older white woman-you could read her energy and her type- very opinionated, very Bible belt-whatever. She was like, “You know, that started out, and I was like, ‘no way am I going to like an Asian kid playing Billy Elliot,’ but he was magnificent.” And there was something so horribly racist about it all, but also-we changed her mind! There’s no reason my path would have ever crossed with this woman, and certainly not Lex’s path.
What is the thing you’re most excited to do when live theatre is back?
I think I’m most excited to go to a show. I want to sit down and experience live theatre. And having done it for so long; the periods in between, it’s the last thing I wanted to do. I was like, “I have my night free!” But now, I’m like, “All those shows that I missed, when they reopen, I’m ready.”
What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?
That it will be back. And keep working on your craft. Don’t get complacent, because it’s one of those things. My brother had a t-shirt. It said something like, “Every day that you don’t practice your craft and work on your craft, know that somebody else is doing twice as much as you, and when you meet them, they will win.” It was for basketball, so it sounds a little more gross saying, “win,” when you’re talking about auditions. But keep working on it. Keep yourself inspired, because when this all comes back, there are going to be people who don’t live here anymore and who have moved on. You need to act as if nothing has changed, if you can. Keep yourself inspired.
Favorite Broadway Musical: Hamilton at the Public!
Favorite role you’ve played: Kitty in Drowsy Chaperone
Dream role: Charity in Sweet Charity
Favorite style of dance: Jazz
Favorite backstage pastime: Bananagrams!
Movie that you think should be a musical: The Burbs. And Clue is what I always say too!
Favorite dance icon: Gwen! (Gwen Verdon)
Favorite Tap Step: Paradiddle. So easy, but you can do it super-fast.
Favorite Yoga Pose: I really love twisting! So, I’m going to say the T-twist, the revolved T-twist.
Favorite Dressing Room Item: Whoopee Cushion!
Rehearsal bag staple: Deodorant and Body spray