On October nineteenth, I met with Broadway’s freshest face, Emma Stratton, who I met last year when we performed in a concert together at 54Below. I decided on Bibble & Sip because I’d been told their coffees were fit for a queen and since Emma is currently in Prince of Broadway, it was fitting. We sat in a cozy nook surrounded by greenery and peppy New Yorkers on their lunch break, breathing in aromas of coffee, matcha pastries, and floral lattes.
*Ideal cup of coffee: I drink coffee but caffeine doesn’t affect me! It’s sort of a nightmare because if I’m tired I have to take a nap. But my ideal cup of coffee is a really good cappuccino with just a thin layer of foam and my favorite place to get a cappuccino in the city is Buvette in the West Village. It’s so cute. It’s this French restaurant…it’s adorable. My cousin was just here and she used to live in the West Village and we actually bought shirts that say Buvette on them because we go all the time. It’s all you need.
AF: What are you drinking right now?
ES: The Lavender Latte from Bibble and Sip!
AF: Describe yourself in 3 words.
ES: I would say…introverted for sure, romantic…in all aspects…in life. I light a candle every morning and make flower arrangements. I have really close relationships with my family so maybe loyal? Loyal. My family flew out for the show on a red eye as soon as they heard I was going on.
AF: That’s so great!! I want to talk about being introverted. It seems that this is a trend with actors. Do you think actors who are more introverted are perhaps more drawn to performing as an escape?
ES: I spend a lot of time alone. I prefer it. It’s probably not healthy. Other then spending two and a half hours at the show I could probably spend all day alone. And I’ve always been that way! I also did tour two years in a row right out school and when you go to school for Musical Theatre you’re constantly with your class…so it was four years of that…and then Non-eq touring. I was sharing a bed with somebody most of the time because we would share a room with four people to save money so that’s added to it I’m sure! And as actors, I feel like maybe because we have the whole day and then two and a half hours at night where we just have to give it our all…that might be a reason.
AF: Tell us a little bit of your back-story…where you’re from…
ES: So I’m originally from Minnesota and then we moved when I was 7 or so to San Diego, California to a beach town. My dad has seven brothers and sisters all in Minnesota so we had like twenty cousins…and we had to move for his job. I’m the youngest of a brother and sister and we didn’t know anyone. So my mom put us in theatre to meet people. There’s the funny story that we always tell…I was too young to be in theatre so my brother and sister were in Oliver and I helped them memorize all their lines and so when it got to opening night I was a very annoying child singing and saying every line and at intermission the director was sitting in front of me and she turned around and she was like, “You need to audition for our next show…who are you?” And I was like, “I’m too young to do it!” And she’s like, “You’ll be fine.” So I auditioned for Bye Bye Birdie and at that time in that theatre company everybody could watch you audition and it was accapella. It was the scariest thing of my entire life.
AF: Were your song options “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “Happy Birthday”? Those were ours!!
ES: Oh my gosh! Hilarious. No- we could sing whatever we wanted so I sang “Meet Me in St. Louis” and I forgot what it was called, which to this day happens. So anyway my sister mouths it in the audience, “Meet Me In St. Louis.” So that was funny. And yeah I grew up doing community theatre and was in the ensemble for literally…ten years, which was the greatest gift I could ever receive because I never expected anything, I loved what I did, but I also knew that I could do parts! When I was in Beauty and the Beast, I knew I could do Belle. I was confident in myself even though nobody else was… which sounds really bad but it really was a gift!
AF: That’s all you need!!
ES: Right!? So randomly when I was seventeen, I was cast as Amneris in Aida and that was amazing. My family saw it on Broadway and so when it happened it was magic. It was at the Jewish Community Center… which like…we’re not Jewish but still it was the greatest thing in the world. And then after that I auditioned for schools. I really wanted to go abroad because my family loves traveling so I was going go to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
AF: It’s so crazy to think about how different life would be if we’d taken different paths.
ES: I could have been in Scotland for four years. Amazing…but so different. I sort of just wanted to be in a different place. I didn’t love growing up in California because it was a little plastic for me. But I loved New York. Anyway I got in early admission and was like, great because that was my dream school. And then when Unifieds came through LA my mom thought I should just audition to have a backup in case. Penn State was my last audition.
AF: My dad went to Penn State by the way!
ES: No way! Well long story short we went to Scotland to look at the campus, after I’d already gotten into Penn State which I didn’t really care about since I was so dead set on having a really cool abroad experience. Also I love Alan Cumming and Alan Cumming went there. My dad sat me down and said, “Do you want to be the best in your field or the second best?” Which was one hundred percent valid. And I was like, “The best, obviously, if I’m going to spend four years doing this instead of just going to New York.” And he didn’t pressure me at all but told me to really think about my craft and what I want to do.
AF: Dads are the best at just laying it out for you.
ES: He’s the best. He’s my best friend. So I went to Penn State, was in a bunch of shows, and then on my last day of classes I got the Anything Goes tour, which was very magical…
AF: And you were Reno, right?
ES: It was incredible.
AF: So were you going in and out of the city for auditions?
ES: Yes, and Penn State is only a four hour train ride into the city which is great. So I had done Into the Woods a few months earlier with a director from Penn State, who was getting his MFA in Musical Theatre directing, and so before he came back to school he had done a ton of National Tours. I knew that the Anything Goes tour was casting but because of finals I couldn’t make it. Then three weeks into their casting, this director texts me and asks if I tap dance. I didn’t know what he was working on and I said I could, why? He tells me that they’re trying to find a Reno and they can’t find what they need. And I said, “Okay let me know what I need to do!” So the next week it was SO fast. Monday was singing and sides, Tuesday was dancing, Wednesday was with Kathleen Marshall and everybody. Luckily it was Anything Goes so it’s a show everybody knows so I didn’t have to cram or anything. I feel like everybody sounds good on Cole Porter because it’s just classic!
AF: You’re being SO modest!
ES: I really feel that way! Anyway it went great and literally on my last day of classes at 10 am, two days later, I get the call. It was just meant to be! I hadn’t really woken up yet and I was living with my best friend at the time and I put the phone on my mute while they’re giving me all the details and I’m knocking on my friend’s door and he’s like, “WHAT!” and I’m like, “I got it!” and we’re both jumping up on down. I mean it was a Non-Equity tour with a bunch of one-nighters and I was living my dream; getting paid to do what I wanted to do, it was everything. I’m so glad that my first job was a Non-Equity tour because it taught me that I could do whatever. I don’t care how tired or sick I am… it taught me a lot. I’m sleeping on the floor of a bus on a million one-nighters and I LOVE this.
AF: For you to have gone through the rough and tough and to come out still loving it, that’s amazing!
ES: It all goes back to not being cast for ten years and then getting to do it! And then six months into that tour, James Gray, one of Susan Stroman’s associates, came to do some Bullets over Broadway stuff with our ensemble girls and saw the show and then after was like, “Hey we’re casting the Bullets Over Broadway National Tour and you’d be great for two parts…we’re calling you in.” A couple months go by and everybody has gotten an email to come in except for me! And I’m really bad at plugging myself but so a week before auditions I emailed him and was like, “Hey! No worries, just wanted to reach out… I’m still interested I don’t know if you remember me!” So he can’t believe I didn’t get an email so then I get one and I went in for the older and younger roles… Helen and Ellen. So Helen’s supposed to be a fifty-year old woman and low and behold that’s the role that I got! I came in for the last three days of that casting and I remember making Susan laugh and I thought my life is over. If I have one moment…that’s all I need. Two days later, I was having a cupcake and I got a call! We rehearsed in New 42nd Street Studios and it was amazing. I did that for a year. It was the first national so this time we had week long sit-downs in places and we thought this is the good life! We went to Minneapolis and so my whole family got to see it!
AF: So after these tours, what did your first year in New York City look like?
ES: So I did tours for two years out of college, then moved to New York in August, signed a lease in Harlem. I’ve been kind of in and out. For Christmas my family and I went to Switzerland! My parents sold their house and decided to do a family trip. And then I went away to Maltz Jupiter to do Gypsy. Louise is one of my top three dream roles so that was great.
AF: So now we all want to know…what was your audition process for Prince of Broadway?
ES: It’s quite an exciting story. So James Gray who came to Anything Goes who said I should audition for Bullets Over Broadway has been my angel since the beginning.
AF: Connections, connections, connections.
ES: Absolutely. My parents were in town in November, we were waiting to go to Jacob’s Pickles on a Sunday, which was a very stupid idea because we had to wait like two hours. But I remembered this antique shop that I kept walking past and it was always closed. I tell my parents to wait at the restaurant, and that I’m going to go see if the shop is open. I walk in and James Gray is randomly behind the counter, working at the antique shop. And he tells me his really good friend owns the place and that he’s just subbing for him for a couple hours and that he lives down the street. So we’re catching up, and in the middle of it he asks if I’d be interested in swinging for Prince of Broadway. And I’m like, “Of course!” He listed off a bunch of Sondheim songs that I would sing and he tells me the auditions are in April. So I tell him that I’m doing Gypsy but I’ll fly in on my days off. So I keep contacting my agents about it, and while I’m in Florida they finally find out about the audition dates and I’m in actual shows and cannot make it. I texted James and asked if I could send a video and he said, “No I’d really like Jason Robert Brown to see you in person.” So I’m like…okay…right. And then I get a call a week before I’m supposed to get home and my agents tell me they’ve changed the dates to the day I get back. And so I left the day of our final matinee, got home at 1 am, and couldn’t sleep, lost my voice four days before. My best friend in Amsterdam is a voice teacher so we’re Skyping four times a day, he’s trying to get stuff out of me. I had to sing from Phantom of the Opera, “Buenos Aires,” and “You’ve Got Possibilities.” I’m screwed, I can’t sing. I woke up, went to Ripley for an hour and half just trying to warm up. I went in for Tara Rubin and James and did it and it was okay. James took me aside and he said come back to dance. I came back, danced, felt great about it. Then he dismissed everybody and told me to stay. If he didn’t know me, I wouldn’t have gotten a callback. So remember that! He said, “Come back tomorrow for Hal…walk in like the star that you are and just do it.”
AF: That makes me want to cry! Everyone needs a James!
ES: Right? And I needed to hear that. And so I spent the rest of the day just memorizing even more, putting it my body. I woke up, got there at one, and right before my audition I had a full on panic attack. I’m thinking I’m about to do all of this for Hal. Also- literally the reason I do Musical Theatre is because of Hal and Steve. Hal is actually a friend now, which unbelievable. So I’m thinking my entire life has led up to this, if this doesn’t go well it will not end well for me and then I just told myself to get it together. I was the last one of the day, went in, and acted like I owned the place. Something came over me. I did “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and I looked down afterwards and Hal was wiping away tears from his eyes. Everything in my body was saying keep it together you cannot start crying. Then Jason (Robert Brown) wanted to hear, “You’ve Got Possibilities” which is SO fun and I definitely messed up a bunch of the lyrics and was kind of laughing at myself and everybody was laughing and it was awesome. It was such great energy. And I finished and Hal asked, “Is there anything you can’t do?” and I died. So then I go into the bathroom and start crying and I tell myself okay you have to leave the building, and THEN you can cry. So I left the bathroom and Susan was walking in as I was walking out and grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “You just had an amazing audition, Hal loves you.” And I said, “Thank you!” I got in the elevator…it was like Samantha in Sexy and the City, the doors closed and I immediately started crying. And then I remember being in a yellow fog walking down 42nd street thinking, “my life is made.” I got the call two days later, I was on thirteenth and six and my agents asked, “How would you feel about making your Broadway debut in Prince of Broadway?” I started crying in the middle of the street, face-timed with my parents to tell them and they were driving and they had to pull over because my dad started crying…
AF: That’s insane! So many happy tears. So are you THE female understudy?
ES: I cover three women, so it’s a mix of a standby, swing, and an understudy. I have to be there every night. I get a call a few weeks later and Hal asked if I’d be interested in covering the third role which is the Emily Skinner role. Then a month later I was in pre-production and I got to meet Hal for real and he kissed me on the cheek and said, “I’ve been thinking about your audition for a month.” I have everything written down because this will never happen again… I’ve been in love with him my entire life.
AF: Do you hear that Hal?!
ES: No, he does hear that because when I met him for the first time I shook his hand and said I’ve been in love with you my entire life. I’m not kidding. He’s the greatest man on planet Earth. I feel like I’ve been perpetually crying around New York since April.
AF: So let’s talk about your Broadway debut…
ES: Saying all this out loud is very magical for me. I’ve been obsessed with Sondheim my whole life so it was such a blessing to get to cover the Emily Skinner role because I wasn’t supposed to. She sings everything you’ve ever wanted to sing and the second act opens with everybody singing, “Company” and then it goes right into “Ladies who Lunch.” So nobody had called out yet and two weeks ago on a two show day, Emily was like, “Just so you know, I’m not feeling well, I’ll probably get through this first show, second show you’ll be on.” I watched from the balcony incase anything happened and then ten minutes before intermission James Gray finds me and says, “Get your stuff. You’re going on for the second act.” It was kind of the perfect way to do it because I didn’t have time to think about it. I’m flying down the stairs, then back up the stairs, throwing makeup on my face, warming up, putting my wig on, get her mic on me…so I made my Broadway debut singing, “Ladies who Lunch.” My friend ran from Harlem, and got to the show in time for my second song of the second act. Then seven of my close friends came to the second show and Sarah Bareilles was also in the audience. I ended up going on five and a half times in a row. My dad and sister saw it three times and my mom and my brother saw it two times.
AF: I know this is just the beginning of an incredible career for you. I have to ask, when you have hard those hard days or stressful auditions, what/who is your biggest motivator to keep on going in this business?
ES: It sounds weird but having a lot of interests outside of theatre puts everything in perspective. You have to have a full life so if work isn’t going great…it’s a season. Of course there are people who I’ll call but it’s mostly focusing on beautiful flowers and putting them in my room and fixating on that, or whatever interests you have! You live once!
AF: It’s so inspiring to meet with actors at all different points in their career. What would you say are your words to live by?
ES: Do things that genuinely make you happy. If I want to take a pottery class that will make me really happy, that will translate in that audition room because I’m going in as a full human.
AF: Well cheers to the ladies who coffee!