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Gutless & Grateful: a musical feast

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Amy Oestreicher
September 3, 2012

What is your job on this show?
actress/director/writer.

When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
From the time I was a child, I was either forcing my dad to tape me so I could make these really hammy home movies, or putting make-up on my older brothers and talking them into performing in the skits that I'd write. Theatre has always been in my blood - performing has always been my way of connecting to the world. I love that as a performer, I can share a message I feel passionately about, and give the audience a glimpse into what I'm about as well. There are no words to describe the feeling of portraying Anne Frank and delivering her message of strength to the world, or singing "On My Own" as Eponine in Les Miserables and feeling the heart-wrenching passion that she feels, if only for a moment. As early as I can remember, I have always identified as a performer who shares her story, passion, and zest for life with the world.

Complete this sentence: My show is the only one opening in NYC this fall that...?
involves an exploding stomach! Yes, this one-woman show is my own personal story. I was a rambunctious, audacious teenager who had my life all planned out: go to college, win a Tony, conquer the world. But life took an unexpected detour when the week before my high school senior prom, I found herself in unusual pain. I was rushed to the emergency room, and due to a blood clot, my stomach exploded to the ceiling of the operating room. After both lungs collapsed, I almost died. Months later, I awoke from a coma covered in tubes, bags, and drains, and was told that I had no stomach anymore,I could not eat or drink, and it was not certain if or when I would ever taste one bite ever again. It took 24 surgeries and over three years, but eventually, I was miraculously reconstructed, and with the intestines I had left, was given a system that digests food. Come for an evening of inspiring story-telling and song as I share the disappointments, the triumphs, and the humor - the challenges, the battles, and ultimately the gifts of what I received from this experience. It is a story of hope, determination, and perseverance a way to share my gratitude and strength with the world. Through the ups and downs, my fight proves that you never know what you are capable of until you are asked to the challenge and the human spirit can prevail over any odds. Through seven years of surgeries and medical crises, I never let myself feel like a "patient" or "victim." Rather than mourn my hunger, I started a chocolate business, a food blog, learned karate, starred in musicals, put up three art shows, and taught nursery school. Through it all, I have always kept her spirit alive and my appetite for life ravenous. Now where else are you going to hear that this season?

How did you meet your fellow artists/collaborators on this show?
The TODAY show with Kathie Lee and Hoda heard about my story, and a year ago, had me on for their "Everyone Has A Story" segment. Kathie Lee and acclaimed musical composer David Friedman wrote a song for me which they performed on the segment, titled "Still Alive." From there, I started getting together with David Friedman, fiddling with the idea of putting together a show based on my struggles, triumph, and unique outlook on life. David has been such a wonderful source of inspiration in putting this act together, and I am excited to have him be a part of it - all thanks to the TODAY show!

People who like which of the following recent Broadway shows would also probably like your show: THE BOOK OF MORMON, ONCE, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, CLYBOURNE PARK?
I would have to say "Book of Mormon", because my story is certainly shocking, and even though my story seems tragic, I have always managed to put a comedic spin on things - my sense of humor is what has gotten me through.

Who are your heroes?
My true heroes are all of the children and families who I lives with in the ICU for months. For me, they are the real examples of what true strength is. In a heartbeat, they were zapped out of their normal lives, and were forced to make the best of whatever situation they were handed. Yet, I met happy, grateful chlidren - children who wanted to live the life they were given. In the theatrical world, I've always idolized Sondheim.