How did you hear about Dancers of New York?
I met you at Broadway Donation and you took some photos that were fantastic. I am Jason Wise’s assistant so I was there for that. And after I went online and was looking at some of the photos I saw that you were doing this project, and I thought what a brilliant idea it was to take all the different subway stations that New Yorkers take each and everyday, usually by habit at this point. We don’t even have to think about it anymore. I just think every artist that has come to New York has had their own journey, and that’s a wonderful idea to incorporate the means of transportation as well as the stories.
How did you start dancing?
I was five. No one in my family danced. Two of my best friends--we called ourselves Three Musketeers--they were both in a class that was ballet, tap, jazz combination class. My mom was like, “She’s been dancing around the house since she was like 18 months old. I might as well just let her try it. But I am not going to invest anything in it because if she hates it then I would’ve wasted money.” We didn’t have that much money at the time growing up. So my mom made me wear a bathing suit instead of a leotard because she didn’t want to buy a leotard. I wore socks, which now in the dance world people wear socks anyway so it’s kind of ironic. So I went to class with two of my friends. My mom came and picked me up, which was unusual because she usually couldn’t pick me up from anything. She looked, and she said with my bright eyes I came out. She asked me, “How was it?” and I was like, “It was amaaaazing.” From then on, she said she knew. Now, she’s like, “Had I known then that this whole journey would’ve started.” So yeah. I wore a bathing suit then finally she cracked. She got me leotards.
That’s so funny. A bathing suit.
Yeah, a bathing suit. It had really odd patterns too. With all these ruffles.
When did you move to New York?
I had quite a journey. So I grew up in the competition dance world through this one studio back in Southern California, which is where I am from. Did a lot more commercial dance work, so a lot of jazz-funk, which is a lot more LA than New York or Chicago or San Francisco even. And when I was about 11 years old I went into my first ballet class, and this ballet teacher I was taking from said to me, “You really have the body for this. If you really want to start pushing yourself in the ballet world, now’s the time to it.” So I joined a pre-professional ballet company. I basically lived and breathed ballet 30+ hours a week from the time I was about 13 up until I graduated from high school. So it was just ballet, ballet, ballet. No singing, none of that. No acting, nothing. Just ballet. Because at the time, my artistic director was very hell-bent on the fact that you couldn’t take anywhere else. She wanted to create a very very disciplined atmosphere.
That said, there was a company in Chicago called Hubbard Street that I had dreamed of being in from the time that I was 12. I knew that’s where I wanted to be. That repertoire is a lot more contemporary-based. It’s got ballet as basis and foundation, but it’s a lot more neo-classical. So it takes on more European style. I knew I wanted to dance there, and I applied for the scholarship program through their school to try to incorporate myself into the company and then into the company rep. So after high school, I moved out to Chicago. I joined a scholarship program there. I was there for a bit. I did some interning work with their second company, and then you know, it’s amazing because like anything else, we think something’s going to be something, and it turns out to be something completely different. So I ended up getting a contract with a smaller dance company out there. Danced out there for four years. And then actually moved from there to Portland, OR to join a company, again it was something that wasn’t quite what I fancied it to be in my mind. So I thought to myself, “Okay. I always wanted to live in New York. I might as well try it.” At the time, I wasn’t really singing. So all of the work up until this point has been very classical ballet or very very contemporary work. Nothing in character heels.
I saw an audition posting for the national tour of West Side Story, and I thought “Well, the dance companies in New York that I want to dance for aren’t hiring, so I am not just going to sit around and twiddle my thumbs and wait. I am going to try this. Why not?” So I showed up--I flew out from Portland to New York. It was July. And I went into a holding room. I had no idea what a holding room was. Because the worlds are so different--the concert dance world, contract-wise, versus musical theatre--it’s polar opposite. So I went into this holding room, I didn’t know what an unofficial list was, so I was like, trying to look like I knew what I was doing. I was trying to play the smart one, even though I was in fake-it-til-you-make-it mindset. So I walked in and I was like, “This is a very interesting world. This is so different. But I kind of love it.” Well, months later, I was in rehearsal for the company I was dancing with in Portland, and I got a phone call with a callback. So I flew back out here for that. Callback went well. I proceeded to get called back for that show five more times. And I was spending so much money flying back and forth that I finally was like, “You know what? I am just going to stay in New York.” So--and this is actually the first time I am publicly saying this--this is a part of my story. I lived out of my backpack, legitimately homeless. I was traveling with it with a fellow dance friend. And because I had spent so much money flying back and forth, and still paying rent back on the west coast, I was very tight on money. I didn’t have anywhere to live. So I lived in Central Park.
For how long?
About three and a half months of really roughing it out. So what I would do was--we would use fake addresses of studios to get one week gym passes, like trial memberships, so that we could use the showers there. We could workout too, but use the showers or whatever. We would sign in to dance classes at Perry Dance or Broadway Dance Center or Steps, even, though I don’t go there much anymore, and sign in for classes at like 11:30, but get there right when the studio opened because we’d been up all night. So we’d get there, sleep for few hours then take class, then go to our callbacks or auditions, or whatever. You actually can’t sleep in the park. It’s illegal, which I learned the hard way. As I was starting to fall asleep, as was a couple of other people I was sitting with, and got shaken awake by a cop because you can’t do that. But it’s amazing--the people you meet at those hours of the night. A lot of artists doing the kind of the same thing. Or foreigners who are just kind of living by the seat of their pants, like never been to the United States before and may think, “Oh, New York.” From then on, I found my way. I found classes and teachers that I really gravitated towards, sort of networking, and eventually found sublet up in Washington Heights and officially made my move. Got all my things from the west coast and moved. And I’ve been here ever since.
So you had a friend with you?
Yeah. There was a friend that I was traveling with at the time. He and I would branch off and do our own thing, like if I had to go back to the west coast. I was actually in a relationship at the time so that was something that was pulling me back there. You know, to go back and visit and check up and things like that. He and I would branch off from each other for a bit. But for the most part I was with him. I was never alone. Because I am so petite, it would be ironic to see me in Central Park. It’s amazing. It was such a liberating time in my life. I had a few friends here, not necessarily friends I was very close to. But friends that I know now would be like, “NEVER LIVING IN THE PARK AGAIN.” The chances are, I hope to not have to do that. But it was something that was so invigorating. All I needed was my book and music, my character heels, my backpack, and my heart. Everything else it just kinda fell into place. You find food when you need it. There are things that are sacrifices that you make. Thing about it though, is that it never felt like a sacrifice because I always knew the bigger picture of what I wanted and what I was capable of. I am very, very stubborn. I am a very, very stubborn person.
What happened to your friend?
He actually already had been on Broadway. Ironically enough, he had been in West Side Story on Broadway for the last time the revival was here. He came out here, did the Radio City Christmas show. He left for a bit. He was on a journey to discovering himself, figuring out who he is. But he was actually just back out here this past week for a couple of auditions. He’s one of those people that will always work. If he puts his mind to it, he could walk into an audition and book a job like that.
He was on Broadway and chose to live in the park anyway?
Yeah. He actually kind of inspired me. He was like, “ Well, there’s nothing to lose.” And I was like, “You’re actually totally right.There is nothing to lose.” There was one night where he and I were sitting out--at this point we had a sublet--we chose to sit out back at one of our old little areas, our corners by the Westerly Market like 54th and 8th. We just chose to sit out there one night because we kind of loved that. The people that you meet--we met this old actor and conversations that you have with these people that you would never have. I do believe that everything happens for a reason. I do believe that the universe places you in situations where you’re going to learn something from it. One thing leads to the next thing, and to the next, to the next. I don’t believe that any of that happened by chance.
What happened after living in Central Park?
My friend and I found a sublet. We shared a room and then from there I wasn’t new. I had created enough of a family here in New York that I felt okay, it’s time for me to start nailing down side jobs so that I can be here full-time. Because you learn in the industry, in show business, that if you’re not in New York, you’re forgotten like that. It’s hard. A lot of us go on these tours and go away for a while. Even some regional things--we want to be doing them and are so excited about getting them. But you leave New York and you’re out of New York. Out of sight, out of mind. So I knew that I needed to be here. So I started looking for teaching jobs. I teach yoga as well as Gyrotonics. I started to get some teaching jobs, some little things here and there and finally went back for my last trip when we’re still living up in the sublet in Washington Heights to get the rest of the things and move out here. Then a couple months later, I signed a lease and I am still living in the same apartment.
How long has that been?
I’ll be going on three years this summer.
Coming from just taking classical ballet classes, how did you learn to sing and act? Did they come naturally to you?
I started really seriously seeing a voice teacher back in Portland right after I came out for my initial audition for West Side Story. I sang as a kid, but I stopped because of ballet. It was something that I really needed to fine tune and really gain some technique and breath support, because breathing in ballet is so different than breathing in singing, which I am still struggling with. It’s just something that I’ll have to work on very, very intensely. I started seeing a voice teacher out there. Upon moving out here, I found a voice coach through one of my best friends and also seeing another voice coach as well. It’s something that I have to focus a lot on.
Acting has always come naturally to me. People said since I was a little kid, they were like, “You’re telling something so much bigger. You’re not just doing choreography. You’re telling a story.” I don’t even think a lot of the times it’s acting. It’s like I can put myself into that place since we all have had experiences that have been culmination of our lives. I think it’s a matter of tapping into that time when we were heartbroken or that time when we were really excited or that time when there was a missed connection or a missed moment with someone. We all have those as humans. I think that’s what I really tap into, as far as acting is concerned.
Again, the kind of fly by the seat of your pants--I just left the national tour of Annie. It was a lot of that. I was the orphan swing, so I swung all of the orphans. That was really my first time really actually honestly singing in front of people. It was that moment of “I have to pretend.” I am with all these kids who are literally 10 and blow you out of the water because they are so talented. It’s like, “you’re all belting like crazy, and here I am.” I’ve been singing for a couple years--so have they, but they’re 10. It kinda came down to really telling myself that I believed in myself.
Just kept going at it.
Yeah. And working. It’s a work ethic. Like anything else. You have got to be driven and motivated. I think that can be lost in the cards these days in this business but I do believe that with hard work comes reward. I want nothing more than to keep going and doing this. I know what that takes for me. It’s different than the person to my right or my left or whatever.
When did you book the national tour of Annie?
Again, a funny story. Jason and I talk about this all the time. Our lives are not cookie-cutter. I had auditioned for Annie, June of last year. Because I was in for the orphan swing, I auditioned with all of the children, which is very interesting experience. You go into the holding room and rather than being 400 young adults and females, it’s 400 children plus a parent or both. You walk in and the looks that I get are these conniving “What is she doing here? She’s too old” But they’re always looking for a child swing. Because it’s easier for them to bring someone on who can cover all of the kids who a) is an adult and can mentally remember everything b) doesn’t have to have a guardian with them. It makes sense from a business standpoint. So I auditioned for that in front of Martin Charnin, the director of Annie. I had to sing Tomorrow, which again, a non-singer singing tomorrow, I was terrified. I was with all these beautifully talented children and who could sing their brains out. I went through all the way to the very end, final callbacks, and didn’t get it. So I went about my life accordingly. That’s actually when I met Jason, which is crazy because I feel like I’ve known him forever. It was the first time that I had ever had someone with a choreographic vision to the orchestrations come alive--everything that I’ve ever dreamed of doing. So that’s history. I’d been auditioning for Matilda, again through both children’s and adult casting. You know, you just gotta keep going going going going. Until one day, I get an email from the casting company for Annie, saying “Hey, we just wanted to check in and see if you’re still interested in the adult orphan swing because we’re looking for an immediate replacement.” At the time, I had just finished a final callback for Matilda. So sitting and waiting on that decision and low and beholds, I got the official offer and then within a day and a half, I was on a plane to Boston and on the tour. It’s pretty crazy how quickly it can happen. There were so many exciting things happening in my life at that point but that’s again why we do it. As Jason said, which I think is so perfect is that in New York, anything can happen in 24 hours or less. I feel like that’s exactly right. We actually ran down--right after I got the official offer--we were right outside of a Citibank on the upper west side and he pulled me in there because he wanted me to be in a quiet place when I got the phone call either way. I got it and he fell on the floor in the middle of the bank. We sprinted for like 40 blocks until we found this Broadway dive bar to go and have a celebratory drink. That Citibank will never be the same.
What do you want to do from here?
Well, I really really want to be in Matilda for a number of reasons. 1) I know the story is very close to home and my heart. I’ve read the book and saw the movie when I was a kid. I resonate with her very strongly. And the choreography. The choreographer Peter Darling is brilliant. He has utilized so many human conditions and made them this beautiful piece of art. So I would love to be in Matilda. I want to be on Broadway, of course. To do Jason’s work on Broadway, which I think definitely is going to happen, because I believe in that man more than anything else. To do this work on a Broadway stage would be ideal. With the last month and a half, I’ve been getting into some TV and film, and commercial work, which I am very excited about. I am working with an acting coach here who I really love and feel very connected to. I am exciting about that. Kind of embracing that part of me as well. Who knows where that could take me. Sometimes that’s what leads you to a Broadway stage or whatever. Again, it’s being fearless. I am very much being tested by that this week in particular. To be gentle, to be truthful, and to be fearless. I think that letting go of any fear--whether it be about the industry or about life or where we’re going. I think it’s so important. I am really trying my best to live my life that way. Being absolutely fearless. Because when you take a step back and you look at it all, there’s really nothing to be scared of. Even these failures that we’re so terrified of having, maybe aren’t necessarily failures but they’re like a blessing because they lead us to other places. They lead us to successes elsewhere that maybe we were so limited in our mindset we couldn’t quite see at the time.
Absolutely. JLo, Hugh Jackman--all these celebrities started as dancers or performers in the musical theatre world and then became huge doing film, TV, and all that. You really never know what can happen.
It’s true. It’s so exciting. Scary, but exciting at the same time.
Next question is a very personal question, and I hope you don't mind answering it. How do you deal with typecasting?
I am limited by type. I think that we’re all victims of type-cast. Me being so petite definitely limits me as far as job opportunities that I do have. However, last year, last summer, someone finally said to me, “Angela, why are you trying to be something that you’re not?” Because for so long, I was trying so desperately to show people that I am a woman--because I am--I am not a kid. I’ve had these experiences in my life that I’ve dealt with things that 10 year olds hasn’t necessarily because of my age. Finally someone said to me, “What you have is a gift.” And that resonated with me very differently at the time. Maybe I was more open to it. But the second I started to run with that, I realized how many things that came my way because of it. Maybe it was because of Annie I finally put myself in that room with all those kids--because I can play a kid. Or letting go of this idealized version of myself and just allow myself to be who I am. I definitely think we’re told everything under the sun. You’re too fat; you’re too thin; you’re too tall; you’re too short; you’re too whatever. When, really, I can’t change the way--body-wise, structure-wise-- the way I am built. I am never going to be a Rockette. Ever. That will just never happen. I can sit at Radio City, sit there and clap, and enjoy my glass of wine as I am watching the show, but I will never be in that kick line. And that’s okay. There are all these other people that can be, and they can’t play a child. I think it’s really cool. I think that rather being so resistant to it, which I was--I definitely was for a limited time--to not be so resistant and just embracing who I am has enabled the typecasting blow to not be so hard.
Anything else you want to share with the world?
I am so incredibly grateful. People that I am really close to do know about me because I show it in a lot of ways. Like I love cards. I write cards to people all the time. There are people who are like, Angela, it’s like a Thursday in the middle of January.
You are just like Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation.
It’s true though. I love cards. It’s just those things. When I step on stage, I am the culmination of every single experience with every single person I’ve had in my life--whether it’s the barista that just poured my ice coffee or someone that I was in love with for five years. It doesn’t matter in my eyes. I don’t think people necessarily realize just how much--when my soul meets their soul --just how much that affects me in a positive, beautiful way. I view my life as a canvas and people splatter themselves on my canvas. Everyone’s a different color. I think that my life gets more and more colorful, and I would love nothing more than for the world to know that I am so incredibly grateful for every single experience with every single person that I’ve ever locked eyes with. At some point, I hope to be able to give back to all of those people in some way, shape, and form. And I believe that I can.