Thoughts on Privilege and How to Improve the Theatre Industry
Hayley: Angela, if you could make one change to this industry, what would it be?
Angela: Open the door for more women, that’s for sure. Especially in conducting and orchestrations and that kind of stuff, it’s very limited for women.
Amy: Let’s talk about that a little bit. I’d love to hear how you feel being a woman has been helpful to you and what barriers you’ve come up against or have seen others come up against.
Angela: There’s a lot of them that are subtle. Until you do them a bunch of times, you wonder what the cause is, as opposed to the direct, very visible cause. As a heterosexual female who would go into a chorus call – it’s opened significantly in the last 10 years, compared to before – but you were pigeonholed as either the slut, the crazy, or the young love. These were your options. And we were told, “Don’t think too hard. We just want you to walk across this way.” Pivot, bevel. Don’t think too hard, ‘cause we don’t want questions that we’re not prepared to answer. So I run into that, cause I’m a thinker. Always have been.
I had jobs that I turned down because people were trying to have an affair with me rather than cast me in the show. I never took any of those jobs and told them all no…but I know a lot of people that did not choose that route. And then they had an even shorter career thereafter, or they became jaded about the industry. The choices that you make along the way greatly affect your future success and what people think of you going forward. But it’s very hard for a girl straight out of college. Maybe this is her last 200 bucks and she’s gonna do whatever that director wants. You know? The environment is difficult.
Having come from a background where I fought to earn every little bit that I got, I’m not great with entitlement. Or I should say I’m not satisfied in the environment when someone’s handed something. Just because you’re rich and you can afford the Ivy League school doesn’t mean that you should be the only one allowed to go. If you didn’t go to one of those schools, you’ve got an extra eight or nine years of pavement to pound, because those opportunities were not afforded to you.
Hayley: Right, if you’re given that advantage of having money or privilege in other ways, you are starting further ahead and everyone else has to work three or four times as hard to get to the place where you started from.
Amy: Privilege leads to privilege. You go to the Ivy League school and then you can tap into the Ivy league network and you have all these people helping you get ahead.
Angela: I can give you a concrete example in my own case. I’d already been in the Great Lakes Council of the Arts. They sent me to Manhattan. Two people from the Midwest get to go for theatre…and I’m working at Playwrights Horizons with Andre Bishop and Ira Weitzman. They chose me as their assistant. And I’m in meetings and working on The Heidi Chronicles –
Amy: We haven’t talked about The Heidi Chronicles, and we need to.
Angela: Oh, I loved Wendy [Wasserstein]. Wendy was one of the most wonderful humans on the planet. I love Daniel Sullivan too. The gig that they were grooming me for was for the workshop upstairs – they did one musical upstairs and one musical downstairs. The upstairs musical was with the person who had won the Richard Rodgers award that year – Jonathan Larson. We didn’t know what was gonna happen to him after. I was the assistant musical director with Henry Aronson on Superbia. That was my first gig in Manhattan!
Hayley: Angela, shut up!
Amy: Angela is the quietest legend ever.
Angela: At the same time I was doing that internship, Bob Beverage who was an alma mater at Heidelberg won an ASCAP award that year and they were doing his show at Lincoln Center. It was Beauty and the Beast – before the Disney Beauty and the Beast came out. So Bob and his collaborator Paul Nahay had me sing for Beauty on the recording. So I went and did that gig. Dean Helen at NYU saw it and said we’d better have her at NYU. And I was debating getting my master’s.
So then during my last semester of undergrad, I was interviewing at NYU. Dean Helen got me in and said we can get her a scholarship. I did the URTAs [University Resident Theater Association auditions], and I got down to the last round of auditions in Manhattan. A bunch of universities come and try to scout you. But I still thought, “I’m going to NYU,” because I could see that NYU students were always at the top of the pile in auditions.
And then came the deus ex machina. Even though I was offered a full-ride scholarship (tuition waiver) at NYU, they would not let me get a job of any kind during the program to pay for my housing. So I tried to borrow as much as I could, whatever you could get per year from student loans and stuff. But the maximum at the time for grad school was $7,000 a year. You can’t live in Manhattan even in ‘89 for $7,000 a year. So because I didn’t have a wealthy donor or someone to hand me the difference and they would not let me work, I had to tell them that I couldn’t come because there was no way I was ever gonna survive.
Instead I went to UConn, and I loved going to UConn. They had a wonderful program, straight up Shakespeare, Greeks, you know, George Bernard Shaw. It fit me well. And I learned a ton about acting and I loved that. But years later, I still felt the difference. In audition lines, you could rattle off the schools, and they were those Ivy league schools. Manhattan can be a little clique-y on that front. I would still break through and get jobs, but if I’m in a line and it’s me or Bebe Neuwirth, who are they gonna pick?
Theatre can be an industry for rich kids who can survive it. They’re very blessed that mom and dad are paying for everything when they don’t have shows, and other people get stuck in that day job or whatever they’re doing to survive. There’s a gap there.
You realize after having done it a long time that it’s a big factor. But I never would have met my husband, the dreamy, wonderful, six-foot-two love of my life if I hadn’t gone to UConn. So your trajectory is what it is.