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  • Natalie Wisdom

Michael Fatica – Broadway Actor.

[Interview Date: November 2, 2020]

Newsies, She Loves Me, Groundhog Day, Matilda, Frozen, The Cher Show, A Bronx Tale.

What was the week of March 12, 2020 like for you? Did you anticipate the Broadway pause?

I was in the Broadway cast of Frozen the week of March 12th. To be honest and to reveal a bit of insensitivity, we were making light of it all. That week, it seemed likely that Broadway shows might all shutter for two weeks, which is an unheard-of amount of time for any New York theater to close its doors. Anytime someone coughed backstage, we would point and yell (or sing) “You’ve got it!!” It felt like a problem that couldn’t actually touch us. I only reveal this, because it truly highlights how completely we underestimated this disease and the toll it would take on this country, specifically the theatre community. When we first heard that an usher had tested positive at the Booth Theatre, which is just across Shubert Alley from the St. James Theatre, it began to set in that this problem may, in fact, touch us.

How prepared did you feel for it, if at all?

If you’d asked me on March 12th how I felt about taking a few weeks off from a show, I would have told you that I was relieved for the time off. Broadway schedules are incredibly difficult, and at Frozen, we’d just gone through a large cast change that involved almost two months of long rehearsal days. To recharge would have been welcome. Now, I’d give anything to be exhausted, stressed, and surrounded by brilliant people doing the thing that I love to do.

Is there anything that you left at the St. James that day that you wish you had taken with you?

We were given the opportunity to come by the theatre during the first four weeks of the shutdown to grab anything that we needed from our dressing rooms. My contract was up at Frozen at the end of April, so I came with a few large bags and completely cleaned out my station. Pictures, makeup, extra rehearsal clothes, my water bottles, and any dressing room items I had left, I took with me. The day was scheduled by sign up, so that only one person per dressing room would be in the theater at a time, to ensure social distancing. I remember crossing the stage with all of my bags, looking out to the house, and wondering when would be the next time I stood on a Broadway Stage. It was truly eerie. That’s the moment that haunts me the most, when I think about those last few weeks.

Describe your feelings when you found out you wouldn’t be returning to the St. James to continue the run of Frozen when Broadway returns?

Finding a job in theatre is incredibly difficult. There was a safety in thinking that the quarantine was temporary, and the unemployment insurance would be there to help in the meantime. When the announcement of Frozen closing came, it became much more real. Anytime a show closing announcement comes, there’s a bit of panic that sets in. I get a pit in my stomach, and my heart starts to race. I immediately begin to think that I’ll never work again, and that I’ll have to get a survival job that I hate. In this case, many of those survival revenue streams wouldn’t even be an option. Quarantine went from “forced time off” to “the rest of your life”, very quickly. Have I mentioned that actors can lean toward the dramatic?

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

I don’t do well with idle time. After the first two weeks of relaxation passed, I started taking classes online in subjects that I felt like I needed. I focused mainly on finance and psychology. I even took a class through Yale University called “The Science of Well-being.” A dear friend was offering free ballet classes on Zoom three times a week, which I gladly took. I biked a LOT through Brooklyn and Manhattan. I renovated my apartment rental as much as my building management would allow. This sort of activity got me through the beginning of the summer. I started to wonder what I would actually want to do with my time, while we have it. I started volunteering for democratic campaigns and phone banking for candidates, which led to creating a podcast miniseries highlighting artists acting as political advocates. I’ve helped produce and perform in outdoor dance and performance events, for different causes around the city. This sense of purpose has really helped me stay focused during this time.

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

Being a theatre artist is more than a career. It truly becomes part of your identity when you do what you love for a living. Stripping that away has been the most difficult thing for me during this time. Creating a reason to get up each day is now my own choice to make. It’s also been a real eye opener to think about how I might want to contribute to the world in a new way, if theatre isn’t an option. What interests me? What skills do I have? We never give ourselves the luxury of thinking about that when the business is active, and now, there is nothing but time to think about it.

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

There are, of course, some positives that come with free time. I have spoken to my family and friends from afar more than ever. I joined a book club and read some incredible things. I’ve discovered so many new interests, and have been able to cultivate ones that I already had but never make time for. I’ve learned to cook. I’ve started dating someone, as safely as possible. We are normally so married to this career that cultivating a life outside of it can easily be shuffled down the priority list.

What is your biggest fear right now?

I am afraid of many things right now. It’s awful to feel afraid to see your family, if they are over 65. It’s terrifying not to know when the next real paycheck is coming. I’m afraid of getting sick, and afraid for the many people who aren’t allowed to work from home. I’m really afraid of becoming used to this new way of life.

What hopes do you have regarding the return of Broadway? What do you predict it will be like? How do you think it will change?

Anyone who thinks that Broadway will return in the same form it existed in before is kidding themselves. Until a vaccine is proven to be effective, I don’t imagine we’ll be able to fill Broadway houses safely. Actors and crew members are in such close-quarters backstage, it won’t be safe to have as many people in the building working on a show. I imagine that pay cuts will happen and benefits will change. Shows might become more intimate, with smaller casts and simpler staging. It’s a really unnerving vision for the future. Art can happen anywhere, and I think that some form of theatre and entertainment may come back to satiate that need for people before we see the big budget Broadway scene open in full force again.

My hope is that change comes in the most positive form after this. With the pandemic has come a wider understanding of racial inclusivity in the US. I hope that more stories are produced by people of color and people with different experiences than my own. I hope that incredibly creative theatre comes from this, that is about more than simply making the most money.

What do you miss the most about performing in Frozen?

Frozen was such a joy to perform in. The moment that I truly miss the most came anytime I was able to perform the role of Olaf, which I understudied. He enters about 45 minutes into the show, and the moment you (the actor) lead him (the puppet) onto the stage, the reaction from the kids in the audience is unlike anything I’ve experienced. You hear them gasp quietly with joy, hear them whispering to their parents in that extremely audible, full-voice whisper that kids think is better than talking. It is what people talk about when they describe “Disney Magic." It always washed away the worries and stress that understudying brings and catapulted me right into character.

What do you miss most about theatre, in general?

Theatre is a community, and the majority of us in it are addicted to people. I miss being surrounded by friends that I truly am in awe of, every day. I miss warming up for a show, noticing what new kinks my body and voice are going through that day. I miss that adrenaline rush that happens when the curtain rises. I miss the feeling of walking down the stairs after a show and saying goodbye to 20 coworkers on the way out. It’s a really amazing community, one that I feel lucky to be a part of.

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

The best theatre memories are always the first, for me. I remember the night that I made my Broadway debut in Newsies. I was a swing, and a fellow actor had called out of the show at intermission of our third preview. I had about ten minutes to get in costume and to get my head in the game. My head was completely buzzing. I remember our choreographer coming up to the dressing room and asking me if I was ready. I cannot recall my response, but I imagine it sounded a lot like unintelligible word vomit. I do remember that I made it unscathed to the end that when I bowed, our cast cheered along with the audience. At that moment, I remember feeling a mix of pride in myself, at having achieved this incredible thing and not failing too hard at it, and the most delicious release of tension. I must have held my breath for the entire act. That moment will always stand out as one that I could never recreate.

You’ve been doing lots of home improvement projects since the start of quarantine. What have been your biggest projects in that arena during this time? Have you developed any new skills?

Home improvement projects are a huge joy and hobby of mine! At the start of quarantine, I ordered a ton of supplies from Home Depot, and went nuts. I sanded, painted, and waxed my entire kitchen cabinetry. I repainted the walls and changed all the art I had hanging in the kitchen. I’ve learned to stain and seal wood. I tiled my bathroom with vinyl flooring. If anyone needs some cosmetic apartment alterations, give me a call! In another life, I may have pursued interior design. It was an extremely calming and tangible activity for me at the beginning of this forced hiatus, and I am thankful for it.

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

It’s hard to give advice when the book is currently being rewritten. To anyone who is currently training to be a Broadway actor, this is the moment to ask that all important question our teachers all asked us: “Would you be just as happy doing anything else?” If that answer is “No”, then, train as hard as you can. Learn to be the best and most honest actor that you can be. Double your voice lessons and learn to relax while doing it. Take a dance class in a style you feel uncomfortable in. Get a great set up for self- tapes and become amazing in front of the camera. The business of theatre is going to be a new frontier, and you want to be the most prepared artist you can be when entering it!

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: What I like to say: Ragtime. Real Answer: Rent

Favorite Broadway Musical you’ve performed in: Groundhog Day!

Dream role: Ogie in Waitress

Dream show: I’ve never done A Chorus Line and I have ALWAYS wanted to

Movie that you think should be a musical: Drop Dead Gorgeous

Favorite Theatre Ritual: The Legacy Robe Ceremony on Opening Night

Favorite NYC Hot Spot: My favorite post-show wine bar is Casalulla. Is that a hot spot?

Theatre Superstition: I never go onstage without saying my first line before-hand.

Favorite Broadway Celebrity: Audra McDonald, please be my friend.

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