Broadway-bound babe Brittany Bartlett has been singing and dancing her whole life. She sat down with Luna Luna to talk to us about her dedication to musical theatre. Plus, we got to talk about her strange, extensive skill set (African dance and vogueing?!) and plans for the future.
You prefer Broadway acting to film acting. Why?
I think Broadway better suits my skill set. Above all, I’m a singer and always strive to highlight that. I do think it would be awesome to do TV and film, but theatre is my first and main love so I’d like to “make it” there first.
I also love performing live for an audience. It’s much easier to keep your energy up when you can see and feel your audience. There’s also instant gratification in a live venue- you know right away how the audience feels about you.
Talk to us about your introduction to musical theatre. Who are some performers that inspire you? Where did your dedication to musicals start?
My family has been a huge influence on my love of musical theatre and music in general. My mom has one of the largest and most varied music collections I’ve ever seen. We were always listening to music. My grandmother had me watching Rodgers & Hammerstein movies before I could walk. And my late grandfather exclusively played musicals and singers like Judy Garland, Tony Bennet, etc. I was always encouraged to sing along.
The start of my dedication is hard to pin down. I do remember the first time I saw Cher on tv and I told my mom that I was going to be that when I grew up (she was in the infamous black outfit with the headdress- I think my mom was nervous). She took me to see a lot of shows at all of the regional theaters in MA from a young age. I think she saw there was something there. Or maybe my family was tired of hearing me belt “Memory” from my CATS cd on the highest volume dial. I thought it was a fun game to try and be louder than my boom box (yeah 90s!)
I’ve always been inspired by performers who have long careers and people who are glamorous. I’m very into Liza Minnelli, Bernadette Peters, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Barbara Cook. People who can sing and tell a story. I also like male performers but I guess I’ve always focused on emulating female performers. Current performers I love are Kristen Chenoweth, Sutton Foster, Audra (love of my life) Mcdonald, Megan Hilty… Really anyone who can sing their face off and who take their work seriously. People with multifaceted careers. Oh, and always and forever Christina Aguilera.
You have extensive training in both singing and dancing. Devotion, too. Like, you’re so devoted to singing that you’ve taken to learning other languages in order to perform non-English pieces to your best ability. Talk to us a little about that.
I love languages. I have an amazing voice teacher in Boston who wanted me to focus on classical repertoire as well as my musical theatre songs. I was amazed every time he would sing (period) but especially when he sang in other languages- I really wanted to be able to do that too. I also grew up (and continue) to sing in choirs that frequently focus on renaissance music or madrigals. My first job was as a church cantor and a lot of that, mass parts etcetera, is in Latin.
I wanted conservatory classical training but not as my main focus, so I decided to go about it my own way. I also wanted to be able to comprehend what I was singing and to sound authentic. I wanted to do my own translations- in books they have translations, but really the difference between the words “passion” and “desire” are huge in terms of acting directives and I wanted to know which one it was. I took French for 7 years in middle school and high school, but found that I loved singing in Italian the most so I studied that in college. I have German and Russian next on my list, although I probably will only learn the basics.
What about dancing? You have quite the vocabulary when it comes to dance and movement. What are some more strange, less conventional dances you’ve studied?
That’s a good one! A large amount of my focus outside of musical theatre styles has been on rhythm tap, which isn’t strange but is less common than classical tap.
I studied African dance in college for a few semesters, and I took a class in Vogueing. Also in college I had the amazing opportunity in a dance history class to do some Balinese mask work as well as learn some Bharata Natyam hand gestures. I once went to a contra dance, which is similar to square dancing but focuses on not being gendered in the way that a lot of partner or ballroom dances focus on the male and the female. I had to do a step routine in a show before, which was laughable. I also took a few belly dancing classes- that I’d like to actually delve into in the future. I’d like to learn some Irish step and reels for fun too.
What came first, by the way? Singing or dancing?
It’s hard to say. I guess dancing in an official capacity. I started dancing when I was three after being obsessed with doing Richard Simmons workout videos with my mom. But I’m sure I was singing at that time. My first documented singing experience was at age four, when I came in second to be the face / voice of the Oscar Meyer Wiener jingle- I won a Wienermobile instead, which seemed like a fair deal to me then.
You’ve taken your talent to various places… Like Disneyworld. Wow. How did that happen?
I moved to NYC to start college when I was 17 after not being accepted to the performing arts programs I had wanted to go to for college. I had been very confident before that and had a hard time bouncing back. I wasn’t ready to be in the city yet and hated school. I always had no money and felt like, in taking required classes, I wasn’t doing what I loved and wanted to get out. I applied for Disney’s college program on a whim, auditioned in Rochester, NY after taking an 8 hour train ride there (who knew NY state is that big?!), and got a letter a little before Christmas saying I had been accepted into the program as a character performer. I worked there full time, then seasonal, then back to full time for two years. It was an amazing opportunity.
Would you go back?
Probably. It would depend on the offer. I loved working for Disney but I wasn’t that into living in Florida (especially since I still don’t have my drivers license!). If I were cast in one of the stage shows where I would be singing then I probably would, but I would need to negotiate that contract with housing and transportation options. I’m getting smarter as I get older I think. I would also have to convince my Brooklyn-grown boyfriend that Florida is a cool place to live, which would be a challenge.
In recent years major motion pictures and television have spotlighted musicals. What sort of impact would you say this mainstream attention has had on theatre? How do you feel about it?
I have mixed feelings. Everyone is always saying that theatre is dead or dying or irrelevant or whatever- I don’t buy into it- but being in the spotlight does help with the business. If being in the spotlight encourages more arts funding or corporate sponsorship of theatre then I’ll tolerate it.
Negatively, I don’t think the quality of the work is up to the same standard as live theatre. I get frustrated when theatre actors (or at the very least, actors who can handle the material) aren’t used in motion pictures or television versions of shows. Using “names” to get more publicity both on stage and in other mediums; I understand it, but I don’t like it. While it can be exciting to want to see how a name actor will handle the challenge, we’re mostly all waiting for them to fail, and that’s disappointing and doesn’t do justice for the piece.
I also dislike the portrayal of the life of the performer or how the industry works in shows like Glee or Smash. I do watch and love both, but the inaccuracies are large and I don’t want young people to think that’s how life is when they’re thinking of moving to NYC to pursue a career in the arts. If only my life were as easy as Karen Cartwright!
If you could take any stage musical and have a film adaptation made, which one would it be and why?
Hard! My favorite musicals are My Fair Lady and The Light in the Piazza but I’m not sure about a My Fair Lady remake (unless I’m playing Liza, then I’m into it) and I don’t think Light is mainstream enough to make money as a film. Into the Woods is already in the works, and so is Wicked, which probably would have been my choice. I wouldn’t mind seeing some remakes of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classics, or even some Gilbert and Sullivan but those don’t have as much mass appeal. Maybe CATS with real cats instead of actors? That sounds like it would be a YouTube sensation!
For movie musicals I want made into stage shows: Hercules and Burlesque. There are others I’m sure but those are at the front of my brain right now.
Now, aside from performing, you’re also teaching. How’s that going?
I love it. I love passing on the knowledge I’ve gained either from experience or the fact that I live at the NYPL for the Performing Arts. The more you know, the more prepared you can be- and everyone should be prepared!
My senior capstone was writing a musical theatre curriculum so I’m trying to put that to good use. In the past I’ve worked with a few public schools in the city either in their after school programs or their musical productions so I hope to continue to do that this year. I also teach workshops at The New School through MTO, an organization I started a few years ago with Shaunice Alexander. Some of the topics are audition prep and materials, social media and self promotion, career toolkits, repertoire, and vocal health. I’m reaching out to some of the places where I was trained growing up- regional programs and my public schools- to see if they’re interested in master classes and coaching. I occasionally teach tap, ballroom, and musical theatre dance classes at my home dance studio. I also do vocal coachings in the city, mostly just for my friends (and usually for free or very little money, because my piano skills are nonexistent).
What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I’m recovering from a foot injury and just got the okay two days ago from my physical therapists to start working out again, so I’m excited to get back in the gym and dance classes! I’ll be auditioning and taking classes. I have a production company with one of my best friends associated with my (our!) alma mater so I’ll be working with them on cabaret showcases and workshops. We’re planning to put up a production of Songs for a New World early next year. I’ll also be teaching- some dance, vocal coaching, maybe some other classes. I’m redesigning my website with the help of one of my graphic designer friends, Ashlee Beggs, so that relaunch should happen soon. I also hope to travel a bit, just regionally. Other than that, I just hope to keep seeing great theatre and go where the world takes me; it’s corny, but I’m just trying to have larger goals in mind and let the rest work itself out.
If you could give pass on one piece of advice to aspiring performers, what would it be?
Want it, keep moving, be prepared, sing your face off. It isn’t one piece but it’s my current mantra.
Brittany’s website for latest news & projects: www.brittanybartlett.com
Images: Michael Cinquino
Renée Aubern is a California born, New York bred poet, writer of songs, and kook. Constantly on the move, she documents the world around her in photographs and notebook scribbles. @reneeaubern