Bright Star Swing Maddie Shea Baldwin: Singing on the Monkey Bars

“I kept singing ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from Titanic on the monkey bars in preschool,” Bright Star swing Maddie Shea Baldwin says when I ask her if she remembers when she knew musical theatre was what she wanted to pursue. Fresh off of her first Broadway show, Maddie conducted herself with grace and confidence, the latter being something she says took time to build. Her unique journey to Broadway is something that reminds me of so many of my friends who are starting their journey to becoming actors and actresses. Maddie’s honesty about her experiences in the business thus far is so inspiring. She graduated from college just last year and is establishing her place in the New York Theatre community. However, she got her start on the opposite end of the country in San Diego.

Maddie Baldwin

“Where are you from and what impact did your hometown have on you?” I ask.

“I grew up in San Diego, California which is a very beachy, surfy town, but it has a really amazing theatre scene. The Old Globe, where they actually did Bright Star for the first time, [is there], as is La Jolla Playhouse. I started doing theater when I was in third grade, so I think just the wide variety of opportunities they have there [impacted me]. I also worked in professional theaters in 5th grade. There was always something to audition for. It’s very artsy, which is funny because it’s also the polar opposite: it’s very artsy but also very surfy, like eat a burrito and go surf, so I kind of had best of both worlds. I went to the beach all the time after I had rehearsal. You know what I mean? So it’s kind of cool to have that balance, which I think impacted me now [because I] have other hobbies and other things that I enjoy,” she says.

“What are some of the places where you did theatre growing up?” I ask, curious about the vast opportunities available for young actors in San Diego.

“I did my first show through my high school. I went to the same school from Kindergarten through 12th grade, so if the high school would do a show and they needed kids, they use them from the elementary school. So we did King and I and that was my first show and I was like, ‘I have to do this for the rest of my life.’ I was obsessed. So, from there I started doing [theatre at] the San Diego Junior Theatre and it’s in Balboa Park, it’s the community theater there. I did classes and then I started doing mainstage [where] the cool kids [performed], but I looked up to the cool kids, I was a youngin’. I did my first show there in fifth grade and did that until I was a senior in high school. And at the same time, across the way is The Old Globe. It’s the same location. Literally across the street, the Old Globe was there and it was the professional theater. And they would hold auditions every year for How the Grinch Stole Christmas, so when I was in fifth grade, my mom was like, “You have to audition for The Grinch,” and I was like, “No, I’m so nervous!” But I auditioned for The Grinch and then I did that for three years in a row around Christmas. I was a Who in Whoville. And then I ended up being too tall. I was taller than the Grinch. And they were like, ‘Maddie, we’ve got to [kick you out.]’ I was a really tall kid,” she says, with a smile, her eyes revealing her fond feelings for her hometown.

“Do you remember the moment when you knew theatre was what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?” I ask.

Suddenly, an embarrassed smile breaks across her face and she lets out a little giggle. “I remember singing on the monkey bars, thinking, I am doing this! [Even though] it wasn’t anything, no one would watch. But you had a crush on the guy in the sandbox and you’re like, ‘I need to sing for him!’ But yeah, it was my favorite. That’s my moment. But I just have always wanted to. My whole life, I’ve never wanted anything different,” she says with a determination that she seems to have had her entire life.

“That sweet,” I say, thinking about how hard it must be to hang upside down on the monkey bars and sing at the same time.

“Who inspired you as a young child?” I ask.

“Bernadette Peters. Bernadette Peters! Mostly Bernadette Peters. [And] Julie Andrews. I watched all of the classics growing up. Who else? Oh my gosh. Bernadette Peters was truly one of my favorites. Oh, Barabra Stresiand! My favorite record/ album collection. I was just listening to it last night I have like, truly I think I have 30 records of hers. I’m obsessed. Judy Garland. Just classic ladies who own their talent and are confident. I just looked up to them because I watched all of the classic stuff. Bernadette Peters is crazy because she came to the show and Michael Mulheren is friends with her, and he kept saying backstage, ‘Bernadette’s going to stop by,’ and he kept saying, ‘Bernadette, Bernadette, Bernadette,’ and finally I went up to him and I was like, ‘I’m sorry, are you talking about Bernadette Peters? Or like another Bernadette?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, she’s a friend of mine.’ And I was like, ‘I’m going to crap my pants.’ He was like, ‘When she comes back, I’ll introduce you.’ I was like, ‘I get nervous around famous people, don’t do that!’ And he pulled me aside and I was like, ‘Bernadette!’ I just gave her a big hug, awkwardly. But she’s so nice, luckily. I am such a fan. Such a fan! [Also] Audra McDonald. I’m not a soprano like her and I bow down to sopranos, so her voice was always like…goddess, she’s a goddess. And she’s just a beautiful woman and a genuine woman. And now Carmen [Cusack]. Carmen is now my role model. I told her a million times. She’s the most genuine, down to earth human being and she is so talented but so kind and cool and collected and so herself. She’s a friend, but I think I’ll continue to put her up there as a role model. I want to be like her for sure. I know she’s my new one for sure,” she says.

“How did you choose where you went to college and what impact did your college have on you?” I ask, one of my standard questions.

“Woah. Okay,” she says, caught slightly off guard. Collecting her thoughts, she begins, “My college story is kind of, it’s an intense story, it’s a little bit of a longer story if you want to hear it,.” I nod, intrigued.  “So I was a musical theatre kid, I liked straight acting, but I knew I wanted to do musical theatre. I knew I wanted to move to New York and I said, ‘I’m moving to New York when I’m out of high school.’ So you have unifieds, [which are auditions for many schools all at once] and I had eleven schools I was auditioning for. All the big ones, you know, Michigan, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Carnegie Mellon, all of them. Originally I wanted to go to school in a city, but I didn’t know where I was going to end up. I was just going to see what happens. I ended up getting into no schools. I got into no schools, which I think is important to say because, at the end of the day, you know, I don’t think that necessarily happens to everyone, but I got into no schools. I really had a hard time auditioning at that time. I was auditioning for the Junior Theatre where, and I had been auditioning for them my whole life, so it was easy. Suddenly, I was in these rooms with people I don’t know and it was the most nerve wracking experience for me. I wasn’t confident in myself and I knew the auditions didn’t go well and I got into no schools. So that was probably the hardest thing I’ve gone through. That was four years ago. So I looked at my options, I was waitlisted at Boston Conservatory, but that was it, so I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. I thought this was what I wanted to do. Should I not be doing this. Am I not good enough?’ It was really hard for me. And so I decided on Indiana University, it’s a big school and I think education is really important, so that was a big thing for me because I think as an actor, you need to have knowledge of the world. Be a person, right? To understand different types of people. So that’s good, and it’s got all of the ‘ra ra’ stuff, you know, it’s got games, so I thought that was cool because I never did that in high school. So I chose that and they had a BA program that anybody could be a part of. So I was like, that’s cool. There’s a BA program, I’ll go, and I will see what happens. But I was really upset, I was so upset. So I went on a whim and that whole first year, I followed the curriculum of the musical theatre class, you can your freshman year. So I followed the curriculum and I just worked on myself. I was in the practice room every single day, I auditioned for everything. I did some plays that year, I did some musicals that year, Just worked on myself, really, really hard and sort of rediscovered my passion for it. I realized, ‘This is what I want to do. I can be good enough.’ And I found my confidence! So I ended up doing this musical and it was this mainly a two person musical and the guy in it was a sophomore musical theatre student. So all of the musical theatre faculty came to see it. And they were like, ‘Hey you should audition for the program next year.’ I and I was like, ‘I did and I didn’t get in.’ And they said, ‘you should re-audition.’ And I was so nervous, obviously, but I auditioned and it went great and I got in. It’s such an important thing to know as a human being, that your own passion is what matters most and what you make out of a situation is what matters most. So I’m not perfect, I’m still not perfect and it’s a time that really helped me and now I’m more confident and I’m still working on myself. But you need time to be like, ‘Alright, is this what I want to do? Yes! This is the only thing I want to do with my life.’ So that was my experience and I know auditioning for schools is the most I nerve-wracking thing and I remember feeling like that was the end all be all, but at the end of the day, you’re going to make the most out of every situation you’re in. And no matter what program you go to, BA or BFA, whatever you make out of it is going to be what you get out of it,” she says.

“Wow,” I say, surprised that she had such a humbling start to her career. “So let’s talk about Bright Star, what was that experience like?” I ask.

“Um, Bright Star was crazy for me. I still don’t even get that it happened really,” she says, with a sense of awe and disbelief.  “I graduated school in May and I auditioned for it in August. It was one of those things that I went to like, ‘I’m not ready for this, but I’ll go and do my best.’ And it worked out. It’s always when you least expect it. It was just incredible. The story was something that I was passionate about. It’s a beautiful story, which is [amazing because] you do a lot of theatre and you don’t always have your heart on fire for it, but this truly was a beautiful story to tell. Everyone was lovely. Everyone was so genuine and kind and a true reflection of the story. Being a swing is insane. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done and probably will ever do. It’s a hard job. Going into it, I knew what a swing was, obviously, but I was like, Okay…I can’t believe they’re trusting me with this. Being a swing is a whole different set of skills than anything I’ve ever done, because you’re doing everything times four. It was almost like studying for a test, you know, I had notecards and packets that I had typed out and written out to remember it and I had sticky notes in my script and I had five different methods to learn all of the charts. But you really don’t know it until you go on the stage. And you go onstage and you feel like you’ve never been onstage. You go on for the first number, and you’re like ‘I’ve never done this track.’ And then you’re like, you know what, being on a Broadway stage is just like being on any other stage, it’s just like home to me. And it would feel the same way to you, it’s like it’s Broadway, you’re on Broadway, but it’s just a theater. You’re with your cast that you know and it suddenly becomes comfortable. It’s scary and for Bright Star, we didn’t start rehearsing onstage until we opened. So the craziest part for me was previews because that’s when a couple of people got sick so I went on during previews, before I had rehearsed. So that was crazy. But luckily, our creative team is so lovely and we had a rehearsal during the day so they let us go through everything. But you know what Emily Padgett said, because she was a swing for her first time that she ever did a Broadway show, she said, ‘Be fearless. Because you just have to go onstage and trust that this is what you’ve been doing your entire life. Trust yourself and be confident in yourself.’ Like I said, I’ve always had issues with confidence, so it really pushed me to be like, this is what I do, I’m a performer this is my job. My job. I have to do it. So it’s so good for me. I learned more than I’ve ever learned in my entire life in a span of less than a year. It was truly one of the coolest experiences and I made some incredible friends. And I can’t even believe it’s over. It’s kind of weird to me now, like what do I do? But it was very very special. And I think it will always be that special,” she says, reflecting on her past few months.

“What’s your favorite part of the New York theatre scene?” I ask.

“It’s so small. I’m doing [a lot of] concerts and and I know a ton of people from doing a concert with them or a show with them or I know them through a friend. I know of or have met almost everyone, so it’s kind of crazy how small it is. And I like that. I like how small the community is. It truly feels comfortable. It feels kind of like a family. It almost makes it feel less scary. It makes auditions less stressful because you know people and everyone’s just an artist here and we’re just performing. It’s starting to become a comfortable environment,” she says, giving me a glance into what it’s like as a new actress in the Broadway community.

“That’s so cool,” I say. “Is there any advice you have for young aspiring actresses?” I ask, confident that she must have some bits of knowledge that she’d like to share.

“Yes! These are things I’m learning. I’m not trying to say I know everything because I really don’t. That’s one thing. One thing is that you’re going to feel like when you get to this point where you’re an actor in New York that you’re going to feel differently, like you’re going to be more mature or whatever. And yeah, you grow up, but I’m still feeling inside my head the same I did in middle school. You’re always going to be you. This business is really hard, there are a lot of people saying no, but I think what’s important is to know yourself. Be confident and love yourself. Be able to just leave things at the door and leave and be able to have friends and hobbies or learn an instrument and do things where you don’t have to constantly have pressure on yourself about one audition. That makes it so much easier. An audition is just opportunity to perform. So I had to kind of find that out when I got here and it was because I was sitting next to people I recognized from Broadway. And I was like, ‘I’m a nobody!’ Instead, I had to say, ‘This is three minutes to sing a song I’ve been working on. This is my opportunity to read these sides as myself and bring myself into my character and be different than everybody else because everyone else is different than I am.’ I try to look at it as an opportunity to do my little show. I go in and do my little show and then I’m done and I leave and I go to the park or I go home and work on my next thing. I study it. Maybe it’s a new character I get to do. I don’t get attached, obviously, because we don’t book everything, but it’s just an opportunity to work on something new. And I’m learning that. I’m learning how to be confident enough that I can just leave my things at the door and move onto the next thing. I just think that it’s important to love yourself. We’re all still just on the monkey bars singing!”

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