Today is October 15 and the Navigate the Chaos post to consider is “how often do you say yes even when you are unprepared?” Those who navigate the chaos understand the strategy of saying yes even when they are unprepared. This may sound like a counterintuitive strategy but rest assured today’s post include two stories from different theater actors illustrating such a way to navigate the chaos. The first story comes from actor Barbara Tirrell who posted her story to Facebook on September 11, 2022, where she recalled the events leading up to her last-minute invitation and her decision to say yes even those she was unprepared.
“Yesterday, Friday, afternoon out of the blue I got a phone call from my agent with an offer to be the offstage cover for three roles in the Broadway production of Funny Girl: Mrs. Brice, Mrs. Strakosh and Mrs. Meeker. I was driving to my mothers in Massachusetts when the call came in. I accepted, they negotiated, and then they asked if I could come back today, Saturday and watch the matinee. So, I left Massachusetts this morning at 7 AM to arrive in New York by noon and attend the matinee at 2 PM. But at 10 am, while I was at a rest stop in Connecticut, the Funny Girl stage manager called me and asked if I would be willing to go on in the show today in one of those roles with the book in hand! Because they had nine understudies on and simply didn’t have anybody else to play the part. (I would learn that if I had said no, they would have had to cancel two sold out performances!) Of course, I said yes! I arrived at the theater at noon, did a quick fitting of another person’s costume and wig, quickly ran through the scenes to know where I was to stand and move, fudged my way through the music that I didn’t know. And at 2:15 pm while carrying the script, I played my Broadway opening performance as Mrs. Meeker, in Funny Girl. This is the theater. You just can’t make this stuff up!!!!
The second story for today’s reflection involves another theater actor, Theresa (Tee) Boyich. On March 19th, 2018, with both primary and understudy actors out sick, Boyich made her Broadway debut as Janice in Mean Girls -- a role she doesn't understudy -- with only 3.5 hours to learn the role. As Amy Marie Stewart wrote “This could have been a nightmare -- instead, she was a massive success.” At the time Boyich was only the standby for Cady Heron, Gretchen Weiners, and Adult Women (Mrs. Heron, Mrs. George, Ms. Norbury) in the Original Broadway cast of Mean Girls. To recap, the lead was sick, the first understudy was sick, and the second understudy was also unable to go on. Enter Boyich and 3.5 hours to prepare!
In an April 18, 2018, interview Boyich provided insight on how she navigated the chaos of preparing to go onstage in less than four hours and said “Directors want quick, smart, talented actors. I think there is absolutely no reason not to be as prepared as you can possibly be. The more prepared you are, the higher chance of success. And trust me, you never know what will happen. You could find yourself making your Broadway debut with three and a half hours’ notice and in a role you did not study.”
As director Nyk Sutter-Downs noted in his Facebook post about Tee Boyich’s remarkable performance on such short notice “Coming into rehearsal prepared is your gift to the cast, it is not the time to learn your part, it is the time to learn everyone else’s part. Boyich’s experience just goes to show that just because you were not cast in a particular role or as an understudy for a particular role, it does not mean an opportunity won't arise for you to go on. Pay close attention in rehearsals, learn the entire show and not just your role. Congratulations to Tee Boyich for making her Broadway debut in a role she does not cover with 3.5 hours’ notice. INSANE!”
Here is a perfect example of chaos in action and how one person responded in such a way to navigate her way on to Broadway and translate one of her dreams into reality. We know how Boyich went from the cast of Mean Girls to making her Broadway debut, but how did she get to even be a part of the cast itself? Boyich originally enrolled at DePauw University Indiana, in the school of music for vocal performance, where she attended for two years. Boyich transferred to Kent State her junior year to follow vocal coach Jay White as he took a position as associate professor in the university's music department. Boyich's first lead in a college production was performing as Mother in Ragtime in her junior year at Kent State.
The commencement speaker for Kent State in 2013 was composer and Kent State alum Jeff Richmond. Richmond, husband of actress Tina Fey, needed a female vocalist and reached out to Kent State faculty for recommendations. Theatre professor Terri Kent recommended Boyich, as Richmond needed someone "who could sing any style... and not intimidated to be working with Tina."
Boyich recorded a few demos, including the theme song, for a show intended for NBC under the working title "Tooken", which eventually became the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. She recorded the female vocals for the opening theme as well as the various female vocals for seasons 1-3. Boyich maintained her professional relationship with Richmond and Fey. That relationship resulted in Richmond and Fey inviting Boyich to test and record demos for their workshop of Mean Girls.
As if we needed further evidence that Boyich navigated the chaos to Broadway, she also openly discusses suffering from anxiety disorder. So, the next time you feel anxious about doing something you have never done in order to translate one of your dreams into reality, recall Boyich who, while managing anxiety, had three and a half hours to prepare for her Broadway debut.
How often do you say yes even when you are unprepared?
If you have said to an opportunity because you were unprepared, why do you think that is?
Are there opportunities you missed out on because you said no?
How often are you intimated by working with someone who has achieved a high level of success?
How often are you managing your anxiety in order to navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality?
How often are you prepared for the opportunity before you, even if that opportunity means only have 3.5 hours to prepare for your Broadway debut?
Do you view each day as an opportunity to succeed?
What will you do today to prepare for the next opportunity?