• Natalie Wisdom

Ralph Meitzler, Broadway Performer.

[Interview Date: November 4, 2020]

Rock of Ages, Something Rotten!, Frozen National Tour

Describe your thoughts and feelings the week of March 12th, 2020 when the Frozen Tour abruptly stopped in Portland, Oregon.

“Really?”... “Meh, we’ll be fine.”... “What is it, like, a two-week vacation?”...

Oblivious, that’s all. We just thought it was something that was funny that was happening. Then, we were talking about how all the way back in January, one of our male dressers was already wearing a mask, because there was a new virus. But, still, our little group was like, “Two weeks-we’ll be back.”

How did this sudden change affect your plans, personally, financially, and/or physically?

I wanted to stick it out in Portland and get the per diem. And then, just in case, because I had a car, I didn’t want to leave the west coast to come back to the west coast, if it was two weeks. So, the next thought was, nothing is going to be happening in New York, where do we go? I have family in Philadelphia. I love Philadelphia. It’s cheaper than New York; let’s try that. And then, just rode across the country, stopping at fun sights along the way! From there, one month later, still nothing was happening. It was just getting worse!

Since New York was still the hot spot, I had a great financial opportunity to go down to Florida and be with friends there... And we did that. While in Florida, I decided to switch gears back to real estate; what I was doing before Frozen. So, while I was down there and seeing what was going to happen, (because everything was like taking a leap “Into the Unknown”), I flipped gears.

It just so happened that I was able to help the friend that I was staying with through his first real estate transaction! So, he bought a house. Because the real estate market was hit so hard (well the entire city, in general), we had a few (convenient for me) months of “You’re not allowed to come into the building.” This made video tours quite lucrative for me. A new apartment is so much about “feeling your new home.” So, obvious challenges ensued...We came together and made it work! (Thanks to Google hangouts and Google sheets!)

But you have people who are renting $5,000 apartments without ever stepping foot inside it. This worked for a bit. Then, we just didn’t know what was next and what else to do.

I also work for a theatrical consulting firm out of NYC, so in adding webinars to my plate and brainstorming a pandemic plan of attack, an investment opportunity came to fruition. I flipped a town house in a luxury resort near Disney(world) for rental opportunities down there. This referral commission set me up for my return home.

How has this time affected the Cruxory Group, your theatrical consulting firm?

I had a little more free-time; we all had a little more free time, so we were brainstorming on what we could do to help. We were holding free webinars on unemployment, PUA, on creating your own entity. We’re going to have to relook at rethinking taxes, who we are, and what we are if our industry crashed. Having your own entity, you can work around a lot of things. Now is the time to think about finances, when not much is coming in. We also did some work with a financial planner, because your nest egg from being on tour for six months is going to run out if you’re not thinking ahead. Having more free time allowed us to reach out to the community, supplying valuable insight on an increasing demand for guidance. The additional resources provided during this unforeseen addition free-time paid-off.

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

No! And I used my (resonance) mask. NO!

In addition to being a Broadway actor, you also hold a license in Real Estate. How has this helped you during this time? Has the Real Estate world changed as a result of the pandemic?

This absolutely helped! Even though I’m going through a lot of other personal and pandemic-related things, I’m not worried about “career-things”. I already was at the point in my theatrical career where I added other, “more stable” tools to the toolbox. Having something else that I love doing, that allows me to find joy and finicaial security, has been key to not cracking under pandemic pressures. So, I fortunately never went through that. Basically, every actor friend I know is going through something that I wasn’t going through...It felt quite bizarre, to be honest, and having a bit of a challenging time finding empathy was also something I needed to address.

Yes, touching on it before, the real estate industry has dipped and is anticipating a second dip, so just in terms of movement of a property, we have seen unprecedented lengths on the market and unbelievable negotiations. Can you imagine buying a home 10 years ago and selling for 5K more than your original purchase price?! Not only the stats; you literally cannot go into the apartment. We were doing everything remotely. It was relatively successful, because we have to adapt, but some clients said, “I can’t move to my new home without ever being in it.” I get that. The plan was to wait until in-person showings were permitted, hoping the market was still low, to maintain that negotiability for buyers. Sellers?! An entirely different ballgame. We all had to re-strategize...I even had my real estate sales training remotely while I was in Florida. So that when I came back, I would be able to hit the ground running with even more tools in the toolbox! Now, here I am. Back in the city, during a global pandemic, about to join a team, as the rentals manager!

As a swing, what concerns do you have, if any, about coming back to a show after such a long break?

I think I’m going to treat it as a new endeavor. We will already be ahead of the game because we did the vast amount of work previously... it will be so fast!

My only concern is wanting to be back. If I’m closing million-dollar deals in New York City, I just don’t know what my life will be by the time the states get it together. I don’t know what’s going to happen, so I think my concerns would be, “Will I, in my present moment, at my present point in my career, even want to go back? And do I even fit my costumes?” Because, let’s be honest here, people, the ‘Covid-19 pounds’ surely came and are mostly gone by now...But still, that’s real. Oh, and stamina for Sven cover! YIKES!

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

The sun, a hot tub and a pool...and being just a few minutes from Disney, my happy place. We went to Disney World four times and to Universal twice. That said, it’s been a blessing to not have experienced this alone. Oh, and thank goodness for streaming apps!

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

The hardest thing has been my personal life, my relationship life. Family has been ok. I’ve seen my family more than I usually do, but I was going through some pretty heavy relationship stuff, just as the tour pressed pause. For better or worse, it was like ‘break-up to COVID’. And so, started the Philadelphia and Florida adventures. For me, I also came to find clarity. I also started making it a priority to make sure my family and friends were safe too. I quickly learned that I had a lot of self-care items to tend to. Especially now, we all need to give ourselves some care!

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

Our industry positive; I mean, the whole industry is going to change, because we are realizing what we can do. “Why are we spending so much money on audition space? Send me a video, and I will call 10 people in.” Bam. Other industries are thinking, “If we can all work from home, why do we have a 5,000 square-foot office in Times Square? We can downsize while people work from home!” And I actually think that is an interesting, positive take on a change. Being on both sides of the table has opened my eyes to many aspects that, I think, unfortunately, do not keep human interaction or human rights in mind.

I do think that this is a sign of the times- not just pandemic- but pandemic, BLM, political landscape... Things we can change. I think extenuating circumstances (being) what they are; it sucks that it piggybacks onto something like a national pandemic, but I think the change that is happening will be great. And it’s about time.

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

The moment that I always love, when going on, is the kneel in the Finale. And when the time comes to look back up at Elsa, there’s always a single tear. I miss that feeling... that makes everything worth it. That’s what’s so extraordinary about our industry. And the people! We’re all fun, wonderful people! I also miss teaching and sharing with our young artists.

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

I have to do a pre and a post: Pre-career, it was High School Varsity Cheerleader, straight A’s—going to be a doctor. But I loved singing and dancing. So, pre-trip in high school to NYC, there was a specific song in Xanadu where Cheyenne Jackson hits these notes… And I was like, “I get made fun of for this. I get told I do this incorrectly, because of what I have to do to hit those notes, but I love hitting those notes!” And, “Ooh, Tenor One- You’re never going to X-Y-Z.” And that show and that song was just, ‘There is a place for you.’ And the voice and the muscle and the booty shorts… that’s what I wanted to be.

Post- I’d say definitely during my Broadway debut in Rock of Ages. We run out for our bow, split to the sides of the stage, and when I ran out, I was happy-crying and pretty much blacked out. And I was just so happy that when everyone else came out, I completely missed my opening night, full company bow! It was so wonderful, because I was just in the moment and so happy that I didn’t even do my first bow on Broadway.

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

I am torn between wanting to see and experience it and wanting to be an audience member for what happens. I’m always excited to be in a show, but I’m also very excited to see the other side and see what the response is and why. I really feel that it may be the next two years of, “I can’t wait to see a live performance again.” The audience’s responses are going to be making up for this time of having nothing, so being onstage again is going to be electric.

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

Now, more than ever, don’t give up. It’s coming back. Period. So, use the time until it comes back to hone your skills, so that you are ready to rock. Because it’s coming back.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: Xanadu

Favorite Broadway Play: Harry Potter

Favorite role you’ve played: Shakespeare

Dream role: I really want to play Fiyero

Favorite style of dance: Tap

Favorite Broadway Icon: Rob McClure, as both an artist and a human.

Favorite Movie Musical: Chicago

Movie that you think should be a musical: Hercules, which is coming.

Favorite Broadway Theatre Ritual and/or tradition: If I’m nervous, for a first track or understudy, I always say, “This is for Rexy.” (my dog)

Favorite NYC Restaurant: I do love Katz’s Deli, my favorite sandwich, but definitely Buddakan.

Favorite Theatre Superstition/Swing Superstition: I’m paranoid if I don’t have my notecards. They must be somewhere on the deck, even if I don’t look at them.

Favorite city on tour: Austin. Love Austin. (Texas)

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