Jenna is in the ensemble and understudy of Rita in Groundhog Day. Read on to see what it's like to go on for the lead of a Broadway show with just a few hours notice.
Jenna and I go back a few years. We're both founding members of Musical Theatre Factory here in NYC. Jenna is an incredible talent who happens to also be a part of the band Water & Rye. An incredibly kind soul with vivacious and loving eyes, my time back backstage with Jenna was short but sweet... as anytime spent with Jenna usually is. Her preparation for her actual track is pretty general: make up, pin curls, costume. But, her experience is that of a lot of different actors. Understudying and going on for the lead of a hit Broadway musical.
"As you know," she said, "this show is incredibly technical with our turntables. I mean you remember what happened on our first preview. The turntables wouldn't work and we wound up doing a reading of the show!"
"I remember!" I said. "I saw it all over my Facebook!"
"But it's been really exciting and different. No one really has an experience like this as their Broadway debut. We really had to come together to push past all the technical glitches - so naturally we all bonded really well. And you remember what happened with Andy tearing his ACL."
"Oof, yeah. How did that affect you guys," I asked.
"Well, it happened right before our opening," she said. "So, usually opening night is super exciting and you have the whole day to yourself, but we were in the theatre starting at 10am. Everyone talks about showing up to the dressing room and it's full of opening night gifts... well when I came in there was nothing. The presents came throughout the day, but we were exhausted."
She continued doing her make up.
"Andy was really amazing about it. He sent us all an email saying, "You don't have to like me" in regards to the opening night rehearsal. But now, whenever something happens technically, we just say "it's Groundhog Day!"
"Ok," I said, "talk to me about going on as Rita."
"I have to get into a different headspace," Jenna said. "It's different use of body, voice, and maneuvering around the tech. Just takes a different focus."
For those of you who haven't seen the show, Groundhog Day is an extremely technical show. The stage is compromised of three giant turntables that revolve even within each other. Technical issues were still happening by opening and even after opening.
"Tell me about when you first went on for Rita," I said.
"Ok!" she said. "Well, I was in the area journaling and with a friend about two hours before the show. I was actually with a friend having a glass of wine. Oops."
"It's okay," I assured her. "Equity rules say you're allowed one glass of wine before a performance."
Pictured to the right is Jenna's recreation of her face being told she's going on.
"Well, I had my wine and said, 'I have to go uptown and pick up my script and get my stuff together!' and I realized that I didn't have time to do that. I would just have to go to the theatre, borrow a script from a stage manager, and focus. So I ran to the theatre and just stood onstage for a while and focused."
"That's incredible. How was being scene partners with Andy," I asked.
"He's an incredible partner. I had to have hyper focus because if I didn't, we'd be in two different shows. We wouldn't be in the same world. So, my goal was to be present with him. Everyone said I looked incredibly calm off stage, but I remember running off stage and just being manic."
And with that we went downstairs in the innards of the theatre to complete Jenna's look for the top of the show.
Broadway, you know? The show really always does go on.