• Natalie Wisdom

Lauralyn McClelland, Broadway Performer.

[Interview Date: October 28, 2020]

Spongebob, My Fair Lady, Sunset Boulevard, Rock of Ages, Matilda, West Side Story, Grease

Where were you on March 12, 2020? And what was the week leading up to it like?

I think I was at home! Earlier in the week I had been in midtown for physical therapy, to a costume fitting for an upcoming gig… out with friends for trivia night. Every time I was out, the virus would come up - I was all for Broadway shutting down before entire casts spread it among themselves. I had heard an usher at a theater tested positive and thought ‘close now so we can open up sooner!’

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

Nope! I remember thinking two weeks to a month!

What were your initial concerns when the Broadway shutdown first occurred? How has the pause disrupted your career plans?

Well, I think I was glad when the shutdown first happened. I thought it kept us safer, and I still think that. I don’t think it was until a week or two into sheltering in place that I started worrying. I had booked Cassie in A Chorus Line in St. Louis for May and June - which was and still is my dream role! - and I had no idea how long this was going to last.

I haven’t been able to play many leading roles in my life - and I’ve only understudied Cassie in the past - so that was a big disappointment to hear it was cancelled. There haven’t been auditions for any theatre, or at least Equity theatre since the shutdown.

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

Wow, we’ve been in this a long time! Gosh, well, my boyfriend and I started a Zoom group hangout pretty soon after the shutdown, around March 18th. It’s been really helpful to stay social - especially since some of our friends live alone, we didn’t want them to go into solitary confinement! If you’re not going out to ‘places’ - which, no one was until May - it’s at least nice to see friends and talk. We did theme nights, played games, for a while we did ‘Club Zoom’ dance parties in our living rooms, we’re still meeting every night - mostly just talking to each other. We seem to go in phases, themes only lasted around a month, dance parties a few months, when the weather got better, we could actually see one another in the park or restaurants outside. But even now in October - every night at least a few of us are on.

We also got a car and that has helped so much! We could go to the beach or Trader Joe's. It’s just nice to 'go to places’ again and it was nice not having to worry about mass transit, although from what I hear the subways are cleaner than ever now.

Have there been any big decisions or life changes that you have made because of the shutdown? Have they been surprising to you? How has the shutdown changed your life priorities, if at all?

I’m still struggling with big life decisions. Dr. Fauci has said things won’t get back to normal until a year after the vaccine is out. And the vaccine is not out yet. I’ve revamped my website for teaching and I’m about to advertise myself in that capacity - hopefully that will get me some income. I tossed around ideas of what I could do from home and since dance and theatre are where my expertise lies, I figure I better use it! But I’ve also thought of completely changing careers, or training for other careers. I want to have a family, and how can I do that with no secure employment or future prospects in my field? I really was trying to get a mortgage over these last few months - to buy something and make it an Airbnb to get income - and even though I have a great credit score and had a solid income the last two years - that means nothing now, if I have no employment. I can’t get approved.

You were in the Original Broadway Cast of Spongebob Squarepants, the musical and had the opportunity to then be a part of filming the production to air on Nickelodeon. How did the experience differ between the two mediums?

Well, one was much more fast and furious than the other! I got to do the out-of-town tryout for Spongebob in Chicago. I think we had 6 weeks of rehearsal for that… (For) Broadway, we had about 4 - and that seemed fast at the time. A year after we closed Broadway, we got to remount it for filming in 2-3 weeks, with brand new crews who didn’t know the show! I think we had 3-4 days with them in the theater before filming - and there is a LOT of backstage traffic with quick changes and sets and props - so that was a whirlwind. It’s amazing they did what they did. Filming was such a gift because that cast is really close, and we just love our creative team, so it was just so wonderful to reunite and then get it recorded forever. You don’t get that chance often in theatre.

Audience-wise - we filmed in front of a live audience in a theater, so it wasn’t too different. However, we had commercials for the filming to think about - so instead of two acts we had, like, 15. Each commercial break brought a new act. So, in that sense, it was a little more stop-and-go. Both experiences were fantastic. That show is very special to me, as well as the people I got to work with.

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

The uncertainty. Not knowing when things will come back. I can’t seem to pull the trigger on a new career, because I’m established in this one, and I want to return to it and be ready when it comes back. There’s been a lot of introspection; some anxiety, sadness, racial injustices, polarization and divisiveness on Facebook. When our whole world is online now and filled with misinformation and trolling, that doesn’t help. But the time we have for reading up on injustices, like what happened to Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and Elijah McClain, and many many others-making phone calls, sending emails to hold people accountable; that is time well spent.

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

Well, what I was just talking about - the Black Lives Matter movement has a lot more support. I’m hoping when we come back to Broadway, there will be more equity and more opportunities for BIPOC in leadership positions too - producers, directors, casting, etc.

Now that we can’t go to classes in-person, I’ve done a lot more dance classes at home that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. The head of the dance department at my alma mater (OCU) gave free ballet classes to alumni in July. I think that was the most excited I’ve been to take a ballet class in years. And I took jazz classes with Nan Giordano who is based in Chicago with the Giordano Dance Company. Before the pandemic, there would have been no way that would have been offered to me being in NY. And I’m hoping to do the same with teaching classes - now I could have students from all over the world.

What do you miss the most about Theatre?

The people, the audiences, the live aspect that anything can go wrong. Dancing full-out without worrying I’ll hit a lamp or my couch!

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

Oh wow, that’s hard… I have so many good ones! I always loved the end of the show in Spongebob when all of Bikini Bottom comes together and sings the “Best Day Ever,” we would end up in a huge semi-circle and really have the time to look at each other and try to soak up what could be our last moments on earth. You don’t always remember to do that in real life, to be in the moment and cherish those around you and what you’re doing. Spongebob really gets it right by saying every day could be the best day ever. It’s an outlook on life that makes everything better. Closing night of that show was really hard but beautiful, even Ethan (our Spongebob) got choked up singing that song.

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

Hopefully work! Even auditioning will feel amazing, probably weird at first, but I think we’ll all be happy to have any opportunities available. I’d love to be in a theater again, watching or performing, it’s gonna be such a celebration when we’re able to do that again.

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

Train, train, train! I’m betting some of us will leave the business, and many of us will not be at our best - at least at first. I heard somewhere that when things close down the way they have, it usually causes a renaissance when things open back up. Art and theatre will come back, and if you are a student now, you will be at the top of your game when the renaissance happens!

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: Ahh! I have too many! Most of the shows I’ve done haha - West Side Story, Matilda, Rock of Ages, Spongebob… A Chorus Line

Favorite role you’ve played: Mrs. Wormwood in Matilda

Dream role you haven’t yet played: Cassie! And Miss Honey in Matilda - I understudied it, but never got to go on!

Favorite Movie Musical: Singin in the Rain

Movie that you think should be a musical: Robin Hood Men in Tights or The Princess Bride - I guess I like Cary Elwes!

Tap or Jazz: Don’t make me choose! Jazz comes easiest to me, but tap makes me so happy. I can’t help but smile when I watch and hear tap.

Jazz or Ballet: Ooh, ballet is very important. It’s necessary to make my jazz better! But I love jazz and the movement and freedom of it.

Favorite NYC Hangout: Man, these are hard! I’m trying to remember where I used to go! This summer has been great to be able to eat outside, pretty much any place I would want to go. But I’ve stayed more uptown, since I live uptown. Favorite brunch place is Maison Pickle… I love going to any park in the summer. It’s fun to get lost in different neighborhoods in the city - they all have something different to offer.

Business you can’t wait to reopen: Broadway!

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