THE BROADWAY STAR CALLED OUT OF A SHOW IN APRIL DUE TO RISING PANIC. HERE, SHE SHARES HOW SHE’S MOVING FORWARD.
as told to KAITLIN MENZA
was an anxious kid, or as they called it back then, “dramatic.” As early as fifth grade, I remember these crying episodes that were so bad my mom would have to pick me up from school. No one ever thought, “Let’s take this girl to a doctor. She cries hysterically out of the blue for no reason!” Everyone would just say: She’s going to be an actress, this one.
My parents are theater lovers, and they raised our family going to Broadway shows, musicals and stuff. My first show was Cats. I started doing theater in sixth grade, and never stopped. There was definitely a point at which I was like, am I doing this? Yeah, I’m doing this. I was in drama club in high school, and attended Syracuse for theater.
We had a whole bunch of really talented people at Syracuse who wound up going into musical theater. I got some great roles my freshman and sophomore years, but then didn’t get anything special my junior year. It was a good training — like, you might be good but there are other people who are just as good. I always had a drive to be better. It felt like, Okay, she can belt to that song? I will belt higher.
When I was a junior, my boyfriend at the time broke up with me, and I was devastated. Either I was sleeping all the time, or I couldn’t get to sleep. I would go grocery-shopping at 3 in the morning. It got to a point where I was like, I really shouldn’t be this upset about that guy. So I went to one of my professors and she said, “You should go to a therapist. I think you’re clinically depressed.” I went, and that doctor put me on medication.
Back then, though, it was a quick fix. I wasn’t accepting that I had some disease; it was a situation that I was treating for the moment. I went off the meds after college.
I didn’t realize for a while that anxiety is often depression’s little partner in crime. I went on with my life. What I figured out early on is that I really love doing brand-new musicals, though I learned that in order to do new musicals, you have to be willing to leave town and get paid no money and not do anything on Broadway for years at a time.
It was during the Wicked tour that I realized how anxious I was about performing. Not little butterflies, or the nervousness before opening night: I was terrified to forget a line. Like, absolutely terrified to the point where I wasn’t even acting anymore, I was repeating a line in my head before I said it out loud. So I went back on medication. The first thing I noticed once it kicked in was the feeling of, Oh, it’s just a play. It’s just a play. Even if you miss a line, you deal with it and keep going. It’s body chemistry telling you that you can’t. I didn’t notice how much my anxiety was affecting my career until it wasn’t.
Theater is a business with so much rejection, it’s kind of a miracle that any of us can get through it. I don’t know how to compare my experience of it, my ups and downs, to other people’s. But even with my conditions, another career was never on the radar. It wasn’t that I feared I couldn’t do theater; I feared I couldn’t do anything. It’s my reality. If I were a veterinarian, I’d be anxious to perform surgeries. When people ask for advice about following their Broadway dream, I say, “Make sure you really love it. That you can’t do anything else.” Because if you can do something else, then you will.
I worked on Frozen for two years before it debuted on Broadway: auditioning and workshops and a tour and reading with Caissie Levy, our Elsa. You know coming in that a show of this size is a time commitment. We started rehearsing in January 2018 for eight hours a day, six days a week; then came the weeks with our tech department, which is ten hours a day. We got through opening night, and then a few weeks later recorded our cast album. It was 14 days in a row without a day off, and I just felt it. I felt the panic attack building.
For me, it’s like the bottom of my stomach drops out. Everything becomes a little hollow. I freeze up, and all I want to do is throw up or cry. It sounds weird, but it just makes me want to heave or purge or something. On the Monday night before I called out, I was scheduled to sing the national anthem at a Yankees game. So I thought: I am not freaking out right now. I can hold this off. I woke up the next day and the hollowness was there.
I called out of the show pretty early in the day and just sat on the couch and let it happen. I texted our stage manager, Lisa Dawn Cave, to tell her what was going on, and she said, “Are you okay? Are you alone? What can we do?” And a producer from Disney emailed, Anne Quart, who’s such an incredible woman, oh my God. It’s her business, but she really cares about us. She knows that no one who feels like that can do a good job.
This was maybe my third or fourth major panic attack, and they usually last about 12 hours. My husband and I sat and watched Marvel movies — there’s something about the movement and colors. And he was so great, just asking me what I needed. The attack peters out, but the weird feeling lasts for days. I feel like I want to die a little bit. But I came into work on Wednesday because I knew that staying at home would only make me more anxious. It took a few days to truly breathe.
I posted that Instagram, and the response was incredible. I got so many messages there and on Twitter, and now most of my fan mail at the St. James Theatre is people talking about their own problems with anxiety. At the stage door each night when I sign autographs, at least two or three people bring it up and tell me it helped them.
Even inside the building, coworkers have approached me to say, “Thanks so much for that. I suffer from the same thing.” I think the theater community is just a little more accepting. More open-minded, and open-hearted, that kind of thing. It’s been really lovely.
I’m managing my anxiety with 100 milligrams of Zoloft a day. I’ve learned that when something big happens in my life, I have a bit of a post-partum reaction. After my wedding, or after our opening in Denver, I just felt this dip. Thanks to therapy, I’m learning to be more aware of where my chemistry is going. I prepared for it with opening night, but I didn’t anticipate the cast recording would make me feel like that. That’s really helpful to know.
The Tony nominations just came out, and Caissie and I were not nominated. It was a bit of a surprise, but you know? I’m not dead! I’m not sick. I’m fine. It’s an award. Two years ago, I would have felt very differently. Guess what? They don’t kick you off Broadway just because of an award. I was prepared for anything. I’m just so proud of what we’re doing. We’re sold out for the next year!
Anxiety is like some secret society. I’d like to make it a not-so-secret society.