“This Is Who I Am”
By Guest Writer Michael Gioia
With 40 minutes until the curtain rises, Betsy Wolfe reveals secret ingredients to her success
If you look closely, you’ll notice that behind Betsy Wolfe’s dressing room vanity is a wall covered in a delicate pattern of golden parasols. It’s not wallpaper, as one would assume; it’s the kind used for wrapping gifts—ordered from Paper Source, to be precise.
It’s tradition for Wolfe to decorate her dressing room with wrapping paper. She needs it. Throughout the year, she uses it for gifts, cards and responding to the fans. They’ve already sent a ton of mail over to Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The rest of her space is masked with messages, drawings and photographs. There’s even a note covered in a cut-out paper pie, complete with a heart-shaped cherry on top. A sweet sentiment for the latest baker at Joe’s Diner.
“I love to bake and make people happy, so I certainly identified with that aspect of her,” says Wolfe as she readies herself to become Jenna, the central waitress of Waitress—a woman stuck in a loveless marriage who serves her worries away with each slice of Deep Dish Blueberry Bacon Pie.
“I love cooking and making sweets for people—that’s something my Nana did—so of course, I relate to that,” she continues. “I don’t necessarily relate to certain aspects of her. I find that in order to bridge that gap—so it’s really truthful—I have to examine the situations and the choices that she’s made, and sometimes that means looking at people I know who have similarities and saying, ‘I see how they made that choice in that situation.’ That can craft and color my Jenna.”
Her Jenna is new. She’s been starring in Waitress since taking over for its Tony-nominated songwriter and lyricist Sara Bareilles, who stepped into the diner for a limited engagement after its original star, Jessie Mueller, departed in March. This is Wolfe’s first time replacing in a Broadway production, following standout performances in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Bullets Over Broadway and Falsettos, but one would never know it. She’s calm, collected and confident in these 40 minutes before curtain.
Her dresser and hairdresser arrive at exactly 7:30 PM to pin-curl her blonde hair for Jenna’s signature ponytail—only a slight shade darker than her own. She drinks lemon chamomile tea as she applies a light foundation of makeup and talks throughout the entire process, not stopping for a moment to detach from the world around her. It’s as though she’s ready to pull her Jenna out from the apron tied around her waist at any moment.
Maybe it has something to do with a lesson she learned in this business some time ago: “Stop emulating.”
“For a long time,” she explains, “I had this idea that if you are going to play this ‘type’ of role, ‘this’ is what it looks like—not only superficially, but this is what it looks like internally, or this is what the sound has to be. It wasn’t truly until I said, ‘This might be how it was done before, but this is what resonates with me…and if you don’t want that, that’s totally fine. I’ll move onto another project.’ It’s a comfortability in your own skin to say, ‘This is who I am, this is what I can do, and it’s totally fine if that doesn’t interest you. I’m going to find a situation that does and follow my heart.’ And that’s paid off in spades. It means that I get to do roles that I love.”
Wolfe has had her ups and downs in the biz. Along with roles as sweet as this one, she has also seen parts pass her by. But, like Jenna, she does her best to carry on in the face of adversity.
She says she is a “firm believer” that “everything is happening for a reason and you are where you’re supposed to be.”
“This business is crazy,” she says candidly. “[But], give up? No. And that’s because I know that I should be doing this. There are days when I’ve certainly been disenchanted with the business, but because I do have that fundamental belief that I will be where I’m supposed to be, it’s never really been an option of just throwing in the towel.
“That, to me, just means that I’m not in the environment that I should be in, and I will be soon. Maybe I don’t know why now, but I will know eventually, and that brings—I think—great peace in this business.”
Michael Gioia is a contributing writer to The Dressing Room Project. His exceptional work has been featured on Playbill when he served as a head writer for the publication.