• Natalie Wisdom

Raymond J. Lee - Broadway Actor

[Interview Date: November 5, 2020]

Anything Goes, Honeymoon in Vegas, Mamma Mia, Groundhog Day, Aladdin and more.

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

We were in our second week of rehearsals for the Britney Spears musical, Once Upon a One More Time. I believe we had finished Act One- the blocking and choreography. We were getting ready to run the first act, and we had heard rumors of stuff happening and Coronavirus and stuff getting shut down… We were having a dance rehearsal; I remember having a boy photo shoot because the girls were rehearsing. And then, we got the news that Broadway was shutting down. They weren’t sure what was going to happen with our rehearsals, so we kept going. After rehearsal Thursday night, I went home and packed a bag, because my husband Robbi and my daughter Ella were already up here in Saugerties. And so, I just had a feeling I was like, “If they shut down Broadway, they’re going to shut down everything.” The next day, Friday, I came to rehearsal; they said that everything is shut down. It was after a couple hours of rehearsal. Then, I got on a bus and came right up to Saugerties!

And then I got Corona! I think a bunch of us from that show did. I had it for about six to seven weeks. I was trying to figure out if I got it somewhere in Saugerties or from someone in the cast; I just know that people started getting it. It was six weeks. I got the symptoms in late March and then it was six weeks of remote schooling my kindergarten daughter. Trying not to touch and hug too much. It’s been a roller coaster! I still have long-term symptoms. I occasionally have aches and occasional heart palpitations. I thought it was anxiety and stress, but I was reading about other survivors of the virus dealing with these same symptoms. So, I think it’s Corona-related. We just don’t have as much information, still, as we would like to.

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

You know, I did not think it would take this long. I thought it was going to be maybe for summer; possibly we would start January 1st, at the latest. That was my worst-case scenario. Now, we just don’t know still, and I never would have anticipated the industry being shut down for a year. That’s crazy.

As a parent, what has this time of quarantine been like for you and your family?

The beginning was rough! I will real-talk that! I was dealing with the virus, myself. My husband was working in live events. He was transitioned to a remote job; we were very lucky. He was working on the third floor of our house up in the attic space; my daughter was remote schooling; I was dealing with the virus. It was rough transitioning. And quarantine. And trying to explain to her what’s going on and why she can’t see friends or go to a playground. Or why daddy isn’t feeling great and needs to sit down. Me and my husband were usually ships passing in the night, so we had almost become like roommate parents. So, it was like, “Oh, we live together!” “You like to have the remote!” “Oh, this is what I want to eat!” “Oh, you’re being loud right now!” But it’s good, because we needed to figure it out again and feel like a married couple versus roommate parents. It was good for us to go through that growing pain. We’ve gotten stronger because of it. That’s been a positive, but it’s been a lot of rough rapids!

And after a couple months, there were moments when- “I have to find the good right now.” I got to teach my daughter how to swim; I wouldn’t have been able to do that if we were in the city. Or playing soccer with her, being here for her birthday and not having to worry about, “Am I going to be out of town?” And “Am I going to be able to go to the party?” It was just her, me, and my husband. We did a Zoom thing, decorated the house, got her outfits. We were able to have family moments. As actors, we deal with such crazy time constraints, or all the sudden booking a job and not being able to go to a wedding or go on vacation. So, it’s taking the time to learn how to be grateful for whatever we have.

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

(in French accent)-Sauvignon Blanc! Potato chips!

In the beginning it was hard, because I was missing the show so much. The Britney Spears musical. And I was realizing, “Hey, a lot of people are really taking voice-over seriously.” It’s something I’ve dabbled in. I have a microphone; I’ve done little covers here; I’ve done auditions with my little USB mic… And I decided to upgrade my equipment and learn audio programs. So, that was my big project to keep me sane in the beginning. So, I watched YouTube tutorials, bought equipment from B & H, and they shipped it to me. And it was good for me to have that. I was able to create a space downstairs in my basement; that’s where I’m actually recording some stuff. There’s been music projects. Lots of composer friends have been writing for shows, because they have the time. Keeping creative that way has kept me feeling sane and like I still haven’t given it all up yet. Remote school has taken up all of my time. So, I have been juggling that, which has been tricky. I want to give a shoutout to all the teachers out there, because it’s insane, what they have to deal with.

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

Remote school! Weight gain. The ups and downs. For us theatre people, for what we do; when we’re onstage, we come alive. We know what we’re meant to do on this Earth. And not having that, and not having the light at the end of the tunnel has been so difficult. There are days when I’m up and hopeful, and days when I’m down and just don’t think it’s ever going to come back. So, it’s been dealing with the emotions of the theatre shut down. And, of course, when we’re at the theatre, we get to escape our normal lives. We “kiki”; we have a great time. I miss the camaraderie of a cast.

As you have worked on these voiceover projects, have you found this part of the business has changed at all or has it stayed the same, since it’s already a remote job?

I think the voiceover world has changed, in the fact that everyone has started to create their own studios at home. They’re converting their closets into home-made studios; they’re converting their basements. People are taking Zoom classes. There are lots of YouTube tutorials. I think it has been a change in that direction; that everyone is learning and seeing Voice-over as a viable option right now. But it’s really hard, because now there’s a lot of competition, because everybody wants to do it.

Oddly enough too, with on-camera stuff, I see a huge shift. Self-tapes are happening now as often as possible. Everyone has a green screen or a colored wall or a ring light. Everyone’s learning how to edit their stuff in I-Movie. So, I think our entire industry is changing. I’ve had a couple Zoom callbacks, and that was really weird!

I had one-I had never met the executive producer of a TV show, but I got down to one show. This never happened before, and I was in my dining room with a comforter hanging from my curtain rods, a blue tooth speaker, in case they want me to sing. It was weird. It was the executive producer, head of casting, an assistant. My husband was there, because he had to read with me. Everyone was calling in from their homes. It’s just so funny versus when you have an audition or a callback, and you go to Pearl Studios. And everyone is behind the table. It’s been different, but I feel like everything is changing that way now. I feel like when we do come back, there are going to be a lot of self-tapes. Everyone has their set-ups, or are trying to create their sets-ups now. I think that’s going to change!

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

I think the positives have been, especially as New Yorkers and actors, we’re always on the go, go, go, go, go. We never actually take the time to think about ourselves and what we need spiritually, emotionally, physically. It’s been a growing pain, because I didn’t want to stop and deal with myself. But I’ve become, weirdly, a better person, because I’ve had to finally deal with my own—I feel like we’re going to be better artists, because we’ll be able to deal with stuff. I also think families; talking with other people, parents whose kids in college are living with them. That’s something of a positive, in a way. People are spending more time with their families. And you just kind of learn to live in the moment, in a weird way, because the future looks so scary. How many times, as actors, do we live months from now, trying to book the gig six months from now. And because that’s not a reality, you live day by day. And there’s something freeing and scary about that.

What is your biggest worry right now?

Besides how I’m going to fit into my old clothes…Lol… For me, my biggest worry, as a parent, is the younger generation. Because they have to deal with such an unprecedented dilemma. I know with my daughter, I’m curious to see what the repercussions are of having remote school and not seeing her friends as often, having to wear a mask all the time. And I feel bad for the seniors in high school who should be having the time of their life in college. That’s something that I try and talk to students, however I can. That’s something that hurts my heart that they’re not having these experiences. And I just worry about our business!

What do you miss the most about live theatre?

I miss live theatre, period! I miss getting to do what I do! For me, when I’m onstage I feel the most alive. I miss the camaraderie, I miss going into the stage door, saying ‘hi’ to everyone, checking in with everyone. Playing with everyone onstage, because that’s what we do. Especially as a dad, when I could just go around and check in on everyone in their dressing rooms, I felt social! If I ever had a problem, I would just go to the cast, and there would be three or four people ready to give advice. I love theatre. I think theatre people are unique, and I don’t think people understand how we all bond and what we all go through together. And I miss the community. I’m proud of how the community has kept going during this, with the Zoom readings and video concerts, and people still writing shows. We’re still doing it. We’re resilient. I’m proud of us. I know it’s hard.

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

There are so many. I think when Bill Murray came to see us (at Groundhog Day on Broadway), it’s like the Godfather of Groundhog Day. And for him to come not only once, but come twice; that’s a memory I think I’ll always have. To have the Godfather of Groundhog Day come and not just like it, but passionately believe in it. That’s something I’ll always remember.

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

I will go see a show ASAP! If I’m in a show, that would be great. But the first night Broadway is back, I will find whatever ticket I can and see a show. Hopefully, bring my daughter, if she’s not having a meltdown. Because I know the first time the Overture starts or an actor steps onstage, there’s going to be a fifteen-minute applause. I’ll be there in the audience, ready to cry and scream my face off!

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

My advice for young Broadway hopefuls is keep singing, make videos, write your stuff, check in with each other. Do Zoom readings, watch anything you can that’s live on tape, and listen to cast albums. There’s time, and there’s so much out there. Work on songs that you love to sing, and get them ready so that when auditions do come, you’ll go in and kill it. There’s so much time right now to learn, to read, to find material. This is such a good time to do that. And reach out. There are so many actors, us older generations, that are ready to help; that are putting stuff out there and doing Instagram lives or answering questions and teaching seminars. Take advantage of that. Earn as much as you can from all of us who also have the time to help out. That giant book of advice! That’s what I would tell the younger generations. The material is out there. There are still ways to perform. Sing, find a camera, a karaoke track somewhere, and perform! And learn from how you perform, and better it, and work on your craft.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical Rent

Favorite Broadway Play Angels in America! Also, The Normal Heart. The last revival had a red poster with a cute heart on it. I didn’t know anything about the play; I thought it was a romantic comedy. I was shell-shocked and weeping. It was just so tragic and beautiful.

Favorite role you’ve played Ralph! (Groundhog Day) I got to be drunk in a fake car onstage.

Dream role Leo Bloom in Producers or Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors.

Favorite Movie Musical Sound of Music. That’s the one that my parents played over and over again.

Movie that you think should be a musical Miss Congeniality!

Favorite Broadway Theatre Ritual Sour Patch Kids. Start the saliva.

Favorite NYC Restaurant One in Queens, called Il Bambino.

Favorite Theatre Superstition I have to say all my lines right before I go on, Otherwise, I freak myself out.

Favorite Dressing Room Item It’s usually-besides a picture of my family-I usually have some kind of game console. I would have a Nintendo or DS, something that vegges me out. I have stuff from every dressing room I’ve been in. And I try to have something from each show I’ve done in my space.

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