On Wednesday September 20th, I met with a fellow Belmont alum turned Broadway performer, Katie Ladner. She and the dog she was watching at the time, Gail, greeted me at her Harlem apartment. We walked to Tsion Café for an iced almond milk latte. The shop was super trendy complete with a back patio, soothing plants, and an inspirational chalkboard that read, “We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give!” We brought the latte back to her place, chatted on her couch, and lulled Gail the dog to sleep with our in depth conversation about growth, Broadway, and words to live by.
*Ideal cup of coffee: I actually rarely drink coffee! But if I had to choose it’d be the typical basic vanilla latte. I’m more of a soda person so like… Diet Coke!
AF: Describe yourself in 3 words.
KL: Funny. Whenever I’m asked these questions I’m like do I do the positives or negatives? Because the negatives define you as well… Determined. Loyal.
AF: So now you’re blonde…when did you go red?
KL: When I was in high school I used Sun-In to lighten my hair but the first time I actually dyed my hair wasn’t until Freshman year of college. I decided to do a little bit of strawberry blonde. And then I decided I really wanted to be a red head so I dyed it a crazy red color.
AF: Do you think this hair change helped you discover your type?
KL: I think so! I never really was the typical “Belmont” person. I think sometimes Belmont didn’t know what to do with me. I love Belmont. I owe them a lot. I was red all through college, up until I auditioned for Heathers. That was the first time I changed my hair for a job. They were like, “We love you but your character doesn’t really lend itself to red hair.” And when I auditioned they said my self-tape was very rockstar-esque… little did I know I was going in for the sad down trodden girl. The next thing I did was Gigantic. They decided to dye my hair purple and the salon messed up and so they just ended up wigging me with the same hair color I auditioned with! I’ve been brunette through those and then Freaky Friday…my hair needed a break. I’ve been dying my hair since I was 19 years old so I had to cut off like 6 inches to get it to being healthy again! Now I’m back to my natural hair color and she’s pretty healthy.
AF: In school you were always finding fresh/weird new rep and learning it all very quickly. Do you think this knack led you to the many original shows you’ve tackled? Talk to us about your time at Belmont University and how you believe it prepared you for this career?
KL: I think it had a hand in it for sure because I lended myself to being so not the typical Belmont person so I always wanted to continue to find stuff. Erik helped a lot with rep actually! He’s great at it. I think I was determined to find new stuff because I wanted to be different. Learning new stuff really quickly has always been a thing for me. It’s so interesting…I couldn’t ever memorize history facts for a history exam but lyrics I’ve got em and melodies I’ve got em. It’s hard to explain that to your parents.
AF: How was your time at Belmont? How did it shape you/contribute to your growth?
It was definitely developmental and full of discovery. I was always the curvy girl so at Belmont I was always doing crazy diets to fit a certain mold because I thought I was supposed to be the ingénue. It took someone telling me, “No…they want to hire YOU. There’s no one like you so why would you want to be someone else?” I didn’t know there were other people like me on Broadway. College was not only developmental as an artist but learning about me as a person…what I thought I needed in the moment. As far as discovering I could belt…thank you Nancy Allen! She was the one that told me I could push it a little higher! I remember my audition for Belmont. We drove eight hours that morning and that night. I was so nervous about the dance call because it wasn’t my strongest point. I had someone choreograph my audition piece and after it was all over I cried my eyes out to my mom and slept the whole way home.
AF: What attracted to you to a career in the theatre in the first place?
KL: I liked being someone else. I liked pretending. I grew up an only child so I had a lot of experience entertaining myself and my parents. I thought it was cool you could combine singing with pretending. I was always in the church musicals…that’s kind of where I started. I didn’t really decide until high school that I could turn it into a career. There was a small period of time I remember my parents saying, “If you major in Musical Theatre you probably need to major in something else.” They wanted me to do both so I could have something to fall back on. That was virtually impossible with our college schedule though. Knock on wood everything’s going really well so far!
AF: What/who is your biggest motivator to keep on going in this business?
KL: I wouldn’t say it’s been luck but I’d definitely say it’s right time and right place and I’ve worked really hard to get where I am. I feel like you have to be your own motivator. I also draw inspiration from people like my roommates, Erik, Neal, and Jamie. When I get down on myself for my weight…I think back to Heathers. I don’t remember seeing bigger girls on Broadway, as a kid. I think it’s cool to be part of that percentage. We all know each other. I draw inspiration from my friends and from myself. If a cookie’s gonna make me happy one day…eat the cookie.
AF: What do you think has been your greatest accomplishment to date as an actor?
KL: As far as caliber it’s pretty crazy that I was in Sunset Boulevard. If you had told me my Broadway debut would be a revival of a classical musical I would have laughed in your face! This is gonna sound so posh but Glenn Close and I are actually friends. She sent me a congratulatory text when I booked Wicked, I’ve been to her home. I’d have to be an idiot to not see her as a mega star but she literally is one of the chillest people I know and she genuinely gives until she can’t give any more. I’m also proud of Heathers. We worked through a lot and it’s weirdly become like this cult hit! I’m proud of Be More Chill because that show was not appreciated enough and it was bomb-tastic! I like that I can go into auditions and change the minds of people. There’s been multiple instances where I’ve been the mold. Now you see breakdowns that describe me and it’s very odd and very strange.
AF: I’m proud to know you!! As someone who hasn’t been on Broadway yet but dreams of it…I view that as the height of success in this business. How do you evaluate success?
KL: It’s interesting that you say Broadway is the top… you learn so much. I cried my eyes out when I booked Sunset Boulevard…I cried when I booked Heathers! It’s crazy to see actual dreams come to fruition! During the run, I had a moment of “the grass is always greener…” You always want to have someone to share it with. All of my friends are married…so it’s like is this what I want? I’ve missed a lot of weddings, funerals, birthdays… Weddings are where it hits me the most because that’s such a pivotal time. I asked myself, is this really what I want to do? It took my mom being like, “Katie it’s always gonna be that way.” I had to reevaluate what I thought success was. Obviously I want a family one day but I would also love to be nominated for a Tony, I would love to originate a role on Broadway. Success changes every time so I feel you are being successful if you are enjoying your life.
AF: What was the biggest life lesson you took away from a contract or a role?
KL: Be nice. Be nice, be nice, be NICE. Being a nice person goes so far. Learn from other people. I’ve learned from each contract what I should be doing and I what I shouldn’t be doing. Also- be yourself. If you are a sad, lonely person…change yourself! Nobody wants to work with that.
AF: How do you prepare for auditions/appointments?
KL: There is value in auditioning whether you book the job or not… there’s value in building those relationships. I always get there early. If I can afford it I meet with an accompanist or my voice teacher before. If it’s a movie I’ll watch it. I’ll always memorize the sides. I like to write them down because it helps with repetition.
AF: You are a recent cast member of Sunset Boulevard and current cast member of Wicked. Walk us through both of those audition processes!
Sunset Boulevard– Before this appointment I had been asked to go on the Freaky Friday tour and I was like yeah! I’m ready to leave! I was in DC at the time and got the appointment for ensemble in Sunset Boulevard. But when someone says Ensemble on Broadway I think dance, dance, dance. But anyways, I went…I got up at 6 am, took an Uber to the bus station, was on the bus for three hours, got into Penn Station 15 minutes late, I ran to the audition and changed and was fine. They had me sing the Soprano part of a song. I messed up the lyrics and they said, “Those were some interesting words.” And I said, “When I sing that high sometimes I blackout” and they rolled on the floor. Then I got back on the bus to go to DC. Two days later I get a call from my agent telling me I got a callback. Getting back was going to be crazy and very expensive and so Heidi Blickenstaff actually covered my whole trip and I was back in time for the show. It was over a two-week period where I had to wait to hear.
Wicked– It was ON my birthday. We sang first, then did sides for the tape. Then I went and celebrated my birthday! My agent calls me and says, “Don’t drink too many margaritas! You have to dance tomorrow for Wicked.” The next day I have a dance call with one other girl and we learn the choreography. Then I found out the next day at 9:15 am that I booked it. It was over three days and I started rehearsals a week later! It was a weird thing because it felt right. I was like, “Well Happy Birthday to me!” The fact that I’m understudying Madame Morrible is still hysterical to me. Also thanks Belmont for casting me as “Mrs.” roles. It prepared me!
AF: What are your words to live by?
KL: It may be right but it may not be right now. For example…I auditioned for a reading 4 years ago. I had prepared the music, I was getting ready, I was really excited and my agent emails me and says they’re cancelling my appointment because another person accepted the role. Then recently, 4 years later, I get an email from my agent saying they’re offering me the role. So…it may be right but not right now!
AF: What is your dream role?
KL: Originating. I think it hasn’t been created yet and I think that’s so cool.