BY CARY GINELL
VCOS: Tell me about your first time on stage with the show.
NATALIE: I did my put-in in D. C. but the company then went on a week layoff. So I was flown back to California for a week, where I just sat at home and sweated, obsessively practicing every day because I had the whole week off. Then I flew back to St. Louis, where I had my first performance.
VCOS: How many shows a week were you doing?
VCOS: How many would you do per city?
NATALIE: Eight. Usually we were in cities for a week at a time. A couple of the cities we were there for two weeks, but only a few. We started in St. Louis and were there for two weeks and then we went to Memphis. We had a lot of little tiny layoffs throughout the winter. I’m not even sure why, but I got really lucky with that so I was able to come home for the holidays. After Memphis we had a layoff and then came back to New Orleans. Then there was another layoff for Christmas and New Year’s and then it really started. Non-stop.
VCOS: Did you always travel by plane from place to place?
NATALIE: Usually. We traveled by bus if the travel day was under six hours. Due to equity rules, they couldn’t bus us longer than that. Most of the cities weren’t very close to each other so we ended flying most of the time.
VCOS: Did the tour seem like it was going in a logical progression geographically or was it kind of random?
NATALIE: It seemed like we were zig-zagging across the country (laughs)! We had a really interesting winter because we traveled through this polar vortex winter and everywhere we went seemed like the epicenter of the polar vortex. For MONTHS. It followed us or we followed it. It was my first time dealing with sub-zero temperatures for a significant amount of time, being from Southern California.
VCOS: Doing a show night after night for this long a period, how do you keep it from getting tedious?
NATALIE: Part of me wants to be that wonderful artist who says, “Oh, I never get tired of being on stage,” but the fact is that after doing a show for a certain amount of months, you say to yourself, “OK, I think I can do this in my sleep now.” Although it is true, I think that acting, for me personally, is so much fun and such a new opportunity to explore a character you’re playing, regardless of how big or how small it is. So there were always new moments that I would have with my cast mates. That’s kind of how I kept it new for myself. Our interactions on stage would be different. There were times when I was bored out of my mind and would say to myself, “I can’t do this another time.” Most of us were at a level where we wanted to enjoy ourselves. We’re all actors here and we had a really good chemistry, both in real life and on stage. It really is hard to keep it new, but being in a new city every week helped a lot with that.
VCOS: What about the different theaters you played?
NATALIE: THAT was very interesting to deal with! You think you have “A Show” and that’s the way it’s going to stay, but it’s true. We went to these magnificent theaters all across the country, but some of them have NO back stage. Some of them have NO place for the ensemble to change. I remember at the Auditorium Theatre in Rochester, New York, the entire ensemble of nuns had to change in what was like a closet. When that happens, you can’t do anything but laugh because that was just the way the theater was.
VCOS: Did you have a lot of costume changes?
NATALIE: I did. I had many costume changes. Along with playing a nun, I played a specialty waitress character, I played a seventies dancer…the nuns changed quite a bit because we have different performance habits that we start to don. So I played a few different characters as well as my nun. The nuns are extremely busy in Sister Act. We’re always changing and running around back stage.
VCOS: What were some of the more interesting cities you visited?
NATALIE: My favorite cities were usually those places where there is the best music scene. Before this tour, I hadn’t traveled a whole lot in the U.S. I had been blessed to go to Europe where I studied in London , but never the U.S. Everyone asks me what my favorite city is and I can’t pick one, but some of my favorites were New Orleans, because of the culture, the architecture, and the music. The people in that city are just amazing. I loved Memphis for the soul and blues music, being able to visit Graceland, the Sun Studios, and Stax. Washington, D.C. was incredible. Nashville was a blast. A couple of places I was pleasantly surprised by were Portland – I loved the arts scene there and the food was amazing. I’m a craft beer fan so that was amazing as well, and then Minneapolis, for their lakes and an incredible bike system. I loved the Northeast but a lot of the time we were there it was zero degrees, like in Madison, Wisconsin or Schenectady, New York.
VCOS: Aside from cramped dressing areas, were there any other eccentric theaters that you recall?
NATALIE: At that theater in Rochester, our dressing room was up on the sixth floor, and you’d either take stairs or one of those old ancient elevators, where you have to close the gate and take up, so we had to go way up there and had nowhere to change. When there’s a back stage that’s very small, a lot of your sets are cut. It wasn’t that odd, but it was a little different when you notice “Oh, that backdrop’s not there” or when the dining room table that we use that’s usually more upstage is now down. Those were the only really weird things I can think of. When it’s cramped and there’s a cast of 33 people and all of the crew back stage, it’s really crowded and you have to formulate your patterns of what corner you’re going to sit in before you go out on stage.
VCOS: Did all your sets go with you?
NATALIE: Yes. The crew were the real heroes. I don’t know how they did it. We did two shows on Saturdays and two shows on Sundays. Then immediately after our second show on Sunday, they were loading up. All the sets, costumes, and everything into trucks. We had two trucks that drove immediately to the next city.
VCOS: So with eight shows, did you have any days off?
NATALIE: Only Mondays. And when you say “days off,” that’s a travel day. So it’s not really a day off. It’s usually more exhausting than doing the show because we’re up in the morning, early, getting on a bus, and driving to an airport. Then we usually have connecting flights and get to the next city in the evening, or if we’re lucky, in the late afternoon.
VCOS: So your recreation time was when?
NATALIE: Recreation time was Tuesday through Friday during the day. I love traveling and I love being active, so I had to learn how to balance how much I was going to try and do during the days and then still be able to do eight shows a week. I would pick one day, and say, go hiking on Friday, but I’d rest on Thursday. At first, I was trying to do too much and I exhausted myself, and it’s so easy to get sick, especially in the winter. So that was a learning experience for me.
VCOS: Did you ever get sick?
NATALIE: I got sick. I had a bad winter. Being sick in a hotel and not being able to do your job, that was my first experience of actually not being able to do my job and having to call for a sub. Everyone in the ensemble understudied the leads. So everyone was always on call. Sister Act is a really challenging show, vocally. The woman who played our lead, Ta’Rea Campbell, had an unbelievably challenging part. It’s so unbelievably vocally taxing. We had two amazing understudies for her. With the winter, the temperatures, and the traveling, everyone got sick. When you walk into the theater, there’s a call board that tells us who’s out for that show and who’s on, and all the information we need for that show. There was one day where there were eight people out. But we had these amazing swings who had to sometimes play three parts in a show and just figure it out. Sometimes we were just missing a nun because there was nothing we could do. But you just kind of adapt on the road. As long as everyone is giving the same quality to their performance, the audience never knows.
More about Natalie’s tour with “Sister Act” in Part 3. Visit VC On Stage to learn more about what it is like to be on a national tour of a hit Broadway musical.