• Natalie Wisdom

Michael Haggerty, Professional Performer

[Interview Date: November 11, 2020]

Frozen First National Tour and more.

Can you describe what it felt like on March 12, 2020 when you found out your tour was going on an unexpected layoff? Did you see it coming?

Honestly, I didn’t really know what to think, when it actually happened. We were talking about it in the dressing room about a week before. And I remember my brother had texted the family group chat a couple days before March 12, and he said, “My school just got shut down for the rest of the year.” And I was like, “The rest of the year?!” It was something that we had heard about, but it wasn’t as big of a deal as much as we thought it was. I remember one of the dressers in L.A. was wearing a mask, and we were like, “What are you doing?” And then, the day we got shut down, I remember them telling us it was a month. And in my head, I was like, “That’s perfect! A month is perfect to get a pandemic under control.” Little did we know… It was definitely a sense of shock, but it was also like, “Ok, you know what? We take a break. A month will be a good amount of time to rest and recover, and come back rejuvenated. Have a rehearsal or two and then get back into it.” And obviously, that didn’t happen.

How did the abrupt layoff affect your immediate and long-term plans?

Actually, a week before this, I was talking to my agent about renewing the (6 month) rider, just because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, in terms of staying on the tour. I had come to the decision that I was going to not take the rider. I was going to stay on for another six months but not take the rider. We were going to a couple places on the East Coast, and I was thinking, “I can fly back and forth for auditions if I need to.” I thought a year on the road would be great, and then hopefully, I would book a Broadway show and be able to plant my roots in New York. I never really had an apartment for myself, because I was in college before this. Obviously, that didn’t end up happening.

My plan for that was, “Let’s get an apartment in New York; let’s audition for TV and Film while being in a show on Broadway. Take acting class while I’m performing, expanding my horizons; getting more training. So then, about a month after this happened, I was like, “I’m not doing anything artistic, so let me sign up for acting class.” I signed up for an acting class. It was virtual, which was really weird, at first, but I think it became very beneficial as time went on. And I’ve kind of had to shift my focus, trying to make my way into TV and Film while all this is on hold. Because we don’t know when we’re going to come back, and I have a hard time accepting that- not trying to further my career. So, I’m trying to get as good as I can in the acting realm; maybe book a job or two before we get back to increase my resume.

Have you had to make any big decisions as a direct result of the pandemic? How have your priorities shifted during this time, if at all?

I think I’m trying hard to have it not change my life; just because I’ve had this path in my mind for forever. Performing, in general, was always something that I wanted to do. I always had this feeling that I was going to do it; that I was going to be able to do it successfully, and not have to shift careers and quit. My brain doesn’t want me to. So, I’m trying to stay on the path as best as I can. There haven’t been too many big shifts- just the TV and Film thing, which is something I wanted to do already. But I guess it’s just the main focus now, rather than Broadway and National Tours.

Did you initially anticipate that Broadway and other theatre productions, including your tour, would be closed for this long?

I was in denial, for sure. It was two weeks into it when we got the extension to May, and I was like, “Three months seems like the longest time ever!” I remember, we were still in Oregon at the time, and we were like, “We might as well not stay here.” We were only there, because it would be easier to travel to the next city, but once we found out, we went to Philadelphia. I remember watching the news every day, waiting for the cases to go down and waiting for all of them to say, “We’re going to open back up now!” And every day, it was getting worse and worse. And I think it was when we got the extension to September that I was like, “This is not going to end any time soon.” And when they extended it to January, I was very sad, but I was expecting it. It kind of feels like it’s never coming back; not like it’s not! But my mind has had to shift to other focuses. It’s going to be a great thing, when it does come back, but it’s not the only thing that I’m going to look forward to.

Have you been able to keep dancing during this time? How has the pandemic affected your motivation and ability to create?

That month that we were expecting this to come back, I was not dancing. I was giving my body a break. I thought, “I’ve been doing this eight shows a week. This is a good rest time. This will rejuvenate me for when we do come back.” But then, as I said, a month after, when we got the extension, I started taking dance classes a little bit. I took two or three a week. But honestly, it was a little bit soul-sucking for me. I was not happy when I was dancing on a screen, because I couldn’t really see the instructor. The music was always off a little bit; I felt like it was a mess. I didn’t feel like I was really learning anything from it. So, I stopped taking dance classes. I thought, “I will do a ballet barre every day when I go to the gym.” So, I’ve been doing that 4-5 times a week. And every now and then, I will dance a little bit in the bedroom or the living room. But most of my dancing comes from ballet barres, stretching every day. And I’ve been going to the gym a lot more now that things are open, just getting back into shape.

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

The past several months have been pretty hard, because of the realization that it was not coming back for a year. So, I needed to change my thought process. I’ve been taking two acting classes a week, and I also have been taking casting director workshops. My brain functions the best when I’m learning. I love to learn, to get better, feel like there’s some kind of progress which is why being on hold for a year was not an option for me. So, feeling like I’m getting better at acting and feeling like I’m getting more accustomed to it has helped me stay sane, a lot. I would say that has definitely helped. I’ve been taking voice lessons once a month, just because I want to keep in shape with that, so I vocalize every day. Because once Broadway does open back up, I want lead roles to be more available to me. And I kind of started writing a little bit. I was with my friends and was like, “Hey, we should come up with a story or short film!” Lots of brainstorming and spur of the moment, rather than full-on, structured writing. Oh, and I’ve also been learning guitar!

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

I think I was a little spoiled when I graduated college. I booked this amazing gig. I had never really had a great paying job in my life, but I was working non-stop in college- at Trader Joe’s and Flywheel. It was nice to have a steady income and feel happy and proud of myself for booking this thing. But now, I’m back to square one. I’m driven to get into TV and Film, but it feels like I’m a deer in headlights, because I don’t really know anything about this industry whatsoever. It feels like I’m starting over, in a way, which sucks. But it’s also really exciting in a way.

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

The main positive for me is that nothing is certain, which is good for me, in the sense that I was spoiled coming out of college. And now, I know this stuff doesn’t last forever. And you just have to keep working hard, and it will happen. You just need to take fate into your own hands. And that has helped me not take anything for granted and keep working towards the goals that I set for myself.

What do you think theatre will be like when it returns?

I don’t know. I was just looking at Australia, because I was so curious, since they’re doing Frozen in Australia. They have zero cases there. They did a strict shut down for 100 days. I was looking for information of what the procedures were going to be. I assume that masks are going to be mandatory. It depends on the vaccine and how effective it is. I don’t think theaters can survive selling every other seat. Broadway is such a lucrative business. I don’t think that will happen for years. I don’t think New York and Broadway will open until the vaccine is tested and proved and widely distributed. Although, I’m not really sure, because I know people who go to the theatre. And they are so hungry for theatre to come back. So, I honestly think that it may be thriving when it comes back. That’s the optimist in me thinking about it. I’m thinking that there will, obviously, be protocols. Backstage might be difficult, because I think we’ll wear masks offstage, but we’ll still be breathing on each other onstage, so I don’t know.

What do you miss the most about performing in Frozen and live theatre, in general?

I miss the community, honestly. I think there’s nothing like the community of theatre. The way all of our energies come together, and we make this beautiful piece of art. And it changes the way people see the world. Some of the best theatre I’ve seen has made me a different person. And I think that’s so important. And I think that’s why theatre is so loved and admired, because it’s incredible. Because you can go to a theatre and have a totally different world view when you leave. And I think the community of artists that make it happen—everyone is in it for the same reason. We love what we do so much. There’s nothing like the adrenaline of going to the show and doing it, and going home exhausted. But you’re exhausted for all the right reasons.

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

I would honestly say Opening Night in LA when Marina’s towel fell down! (during Hygge) I was mortified, at first, because I was thinking about what I would do if I were in her shoes. And I would be like, “I’m so embarrassed!” But she was laughing her butt off, and it made the night for me. I remember seeing the audience laughing and looking at her, and that was one of the funniest moments.

And I would say, other than that, opening up the gates in “The First Time in Forever” on Opening Night with that audience. I just remember tearing up. It’s the most beautiful moment in the show, for me. And I just am always so excited to do that scene.

What is the thing you’re most excited to do when live theatre is back?

I think I’m ready to be back onstage, truthfully. I’m also ready to go back in a rehearsal room and be with like-minded people. There’s nothing like putting a show together, and I think those weeks of rehearsal-however long we’re going to have, before we put the show back on… I’m so ready for the moment when we go onstage and we sing the Opening. It’s going to be so emotional.

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

I think just keep doing it. It’s going to come back. I don’t think culture or society can exist without theatre. Maybe it won’t be in the way we know it. I don’t know what the future is going to hold, but people need theatre; people need performance; people need connection-human connection. And I think theatre is one of the best ways to do that. And I think you just have to stay at it. Don’t lose hope. Keep practicing. Keep getting better. Keep doing what you love to do, and it will all work out.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: Hadestown

Dream role: Fiyero in Wicked

Favorite Movie Musical: Hairspray 2007

Favorite Dance Icon: Gwen Verdon

Tap or Jazz: Jazz

Jazz or Ballet: Jazz

Hip Hop or Contemporary: Contemporary

Favorite city on tour: LA

Favorite Dressing Room Item: Sour patch candy

Can’t tour without ________.: My laptop.

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