Your Path Is Perfect For You with Brittany Marcin Maschmeyer
I met dancer, Brittany Marcin Maschmeyer at my ten-year high school reunion. She was dating her now husband, who was one of my best friends from childhood, Leland Maschmeyer. The first thing I noticed was, “Wow, she is a tall glamazon!”
She was a Radio City Rockette at the time and I was working in Las Vegas with Cirque du Soleil. I guess you could say that we have now known each other for a long time. I have watched via social media how her career has blossomed as an incredible Broadway dancer with an amazing resume. Most of all, I watched Brittany turn into an absolute “Mom Goddess.” She dresses her New York City baby in black and never in pastel, and now 18-month-old Essex is quite possibly the hippest dressed New Yorker that I know. Brittany was able to chat with me via Skype from New York to Macau to catch up and discuss her TheatreArtLife as a performer, a mom, and a wife.
TheatreArtLife: How did you get started in your career?
Brittany: All I ever wanted to do was dance, so I started out as strictly a dancer. I ended up going to University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) to study Ballet. My teacher, Melissa Hayden was one of George Balanchine’s ballerinas, she was hardcore. She would always yell at me and say, “honey, you’re just going to be a Rockette.” And I was like, “wait! I don’t think so, I’m going to be a ballerina.” She was right because I was 5’10 and she saw something that I wasn’t aware I should look into. I knew that musicals existed but I wasn’t really aware that there was a lot of dancing in Broadway shows. I didn’t grow up seeing a ton of musicals. I saw Chicago the Musical my senior year of high school, and I just fell in love and I became obsessed. Karen Ziemba played Roxie in that production and we ended up doing my first Broadway show, Curtains, together. Everything came around full circle. I started singing fairly late – I ended up going to a regional ballet company for a little bit and it just wasn’t for me.
I moved to New York when I was 19 and started hitting the pavement from there.
When you did accept your first Radio City Rockette contract, did you think about Melissa Hayden?
I think when you grow up in the northeast, it’s such an iconic tradition. Every family goes to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Still, to this day I could be doing anything and people are like, are you doing the Rockettes this year? As soon as I did get that call, I was immediately awestruck and so excited to be a part of the huge tradition.
That job was so special because I remember the first day they said to us, “look to your right and look to your left, these are the women who will be there through your whole life, when you get married, and when you have babies.”
At the time, I was 23 and was like “ok“, but it was so true. All of my best friends were there my first and second Rockette’s season and are still in my life. We’re getting together this Thursday! It was never a catty group of women, it was a really nice time in my life that I will never forget.
Melissa Hayden was one of the most famous Ballerinas in history and such a legend. Everyone that has worked with Melissa seems to have a story about an experience with her. What is your best Melissa Hayden story?
Oh my goodness! Well, there’s so many. The amazing thing about Melissa was, as harsh as she was and for the wild stories that people have about her, she had so much heart. She would stay on us and ride us in the studio – would not let anyone slack off. But the second we left, she was a mom. She was always worried about us eating enough, she was always trying to give us chocolates. She would bring us over to her house and cook dinner for us. She would always say, “Honey, you need an orange juice!” That really shined through. But I definitely have a couple of funny Melissa Hayden stories.
She was kind of famous for kicking you out of the ballet performance. She would say, “get out, you’re not in the ballet anymore!”
One time she looked at me and said, “Honey, you’re lucky that my husband thinks you’re pretty.”
That was a funny one (Brittany laughs).
At UNCSA we had to sign out to leave campus. One day, she drove up onto the sidewalk and told me to get in her car to go to rehearsal at the Stephens Center (where we performed). I said, “no, I can’t, I need to sign out” and she just said, “get in the car!” I was on the verge of getting kicked out of the ballet at the time and so she made me do Donizetti Variations on stage, just me and my partner and one or two other people who were teetering on the edge of whether we would make the show.
That’s the person that I think I learned the most from. And the thing I will never forget about her is that when she put on a ballet, she knew everyone’s part. It could be a ballet from the 60’s and she was never in the corps de ballet. She would make us watch the video and learn a part. So we’d be trying to learn from this gritty old tape and then we’d have to do it. And she would know – that arm is wrong, you’re wrong, you go here; she had a mind like a computer, dance was in her body and she remembered it so well. I will never forget that about her.
She definitely was a huge influence on my career and I kind of owe it to her. She told me “you’re going to do Broadway, you’re going to be a Rockette” and she was right. Ballet was not my path.
What is the best role/job/gig have you done and why?
There’s so many that come to mind as being really special. For me, the show that I just felt like I was so in love with was Bullets Over Broadway. Even though it wasn’t a huge commercial success – we were only open a few months – I was able to do pre-production work with “Stro” (Susan Stroman). Watching the creation from the ground up and being part of that process for some reason made me feel so lucky to be there and experience everything with that show. The cast really was a family and it was great.
I recently had the pleasure of performing in the 25th anniversary of Crazy for You in concert which Stro staged at Lincoln Center. Stro is the person that has taught me the most in this business. I owe her so much for all she has given me. Watching her create a piece is truly like watching a master. She’s meticulous and no detail goes unnoticed. She also is lovely and kind to everyone involved on the show. I always treasure my time in the room with her and the many experiences she has given me.
What was the worst task as a performer you were given when you were starting out?
Right after September 11th I was working at a restaurant and trying to figure out how to make it on Broadway and someone said, “you should audition for a cruise ship.” I remember thinking, “what is there to do on a cruise ship” and my friend says, “you can dance.” I literally went to this audition the next day and they hired me on the spot. They told me they needed me to fly to Ft. Lauderdale for rehearsals tomorrow. I asked if I could have two days and they said sure, so I packed up my entire apartment. It was a great job because it was a safe environment for me to learn how to do a musical, but we used to have to sit on the gangway when every cruise started in these weird showgirl costumes and take pictures and I think that was just kind of dorky and would think, “I want to dance, not do this” but you had to do it.
How old were you when you did the cruise ship?
I was 20. It was a good first job but I was definitely ready to get the career I really wanted. I wanted to get started on that as soon as I was done with cruise ships.
*Hearing her young son stir in the other room, we took a short pause the interview. When Brittany returned, she laughed, said “Hashtag MomLife” and we returned to the interview again.
So out of everything you do, performer, mom, wife, everything – What do you think is your best skill?
I think I’m best a being a mom. It has its ups and down but I think I’m happiest when I’m with him (Essex) and when I’m being a mom because I feel like this is the most important job I could have and I’m very lucky that I have a husband that agrees with that. Not to put down my performing life because I love that too but it’s made me a better performer because when I have to leave him is has to be something that I love doing. I love every job but I think it’s just made me be very focused. When I do go to the studio, I feel so lucky to be there creating my art and then when I come home, I’m so happy to be a full-time mom. It’s hard to split myself in two but I do feel very lucky about that.
What do other people think is your best skill?
I’d say probably being a mom! I only say that because (and I’m not trying to toot my own horn or anything), I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me since I’ve become a mom.
It’s hard as a dancer, once you have a baby you’re like, will I ever get hired again? Will I be able to jump back in where I was? Do I want to jump back into everything?
But I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of women in the Broadway community and a lot of Rockette friends that I’ve been able to look up to and kind of see how they make it work. I’ve had people now reach out to me who I don’t know that well, and they say “I think you are doing an incredible job at being a mom and I hope one day when I have kids I can make it look as effortless as you.”
It’s not that way, but I do feel like I’m much happier. I was so nervous for years that motherhood would mean giving up everything in my career but it’s really kind of enriched my life in a way that I did not expect. I feel now happier than I have in years, and I’m very lucky that I’m married to Lee. He’s an amazing husband and father and he supports me in whatever I want to do.
I loved being pregnant, I loved labor, I’m not going to lie, being a mom is way harder than I could have imagined. But I always tell people, there is so much joy in it. You can’t even imagine your life being so full of love.
Photo by Jon Taylor
How has being a performer in New York changed over the last ten years? Where do you see it going in another ten years?
I think the whole social media thing has changed the game a lot and also reality tv. When I got here in 2000, people were just on the verge of getting cell phones, people still had pagers then. You could go out, experiment, and do shows and not worry that the footage might immediately go up on YouTube. I don’t know if it’s a better thing now that we have all this exposure, but you also wouldn’t compare yourself to people as much back then. You would hear from a friend that they got “that” job but now that people put everything out there all of the time, I feel like sometimes people can’t be so genuine. You almost can’t act like yourself so that has added a whole new aspect. You almost need to create a social media persona. People are now really caught up with how many followers they have. I do not go out for movie roles but I have heard from close friends that “it’s all about followers” or “do you have a YouTube channel”, or “were you on American Idol?” That mentality has changed the whole community a bit.
Also, I feel like when I got here, there were many more Broadway stars headlining shows. Now it’s so expensive for tickets, people want to see the “next big thing” and want to see someone from a film or someone famous in roles, where before they might not have been cast as the best fit. I’m not saying those people aren’t extremely talented, they are like there’s Hugh Jackman, but that’s kind of sad for me. There are still theatre stars, but it’s even hard for them to get a gig these days.
I do think that theatre is having a comeback with the help of Hamilton and Broadway is becoming more mainstream. For a second I thought everything was just heading towards movies and away from the experience of live theatre, but it may be turning. I’ve always said that going to the ballet, going to the theatre, there is such a ritual and something that I think should be a part of society.
I hope in ten years that Broadway is still something important the people want to do.
Regarding the workshop process, do you feel that New York is trying to create new and innovative works, or leaning more towards creating shows that are going to ultimately sell tickets?
There is just so much money involved these days. For some reason, when I first got here, it felt like even a show that wasn’t that popular would run for at least a year or a year and a half. The cost of running shows has gone up so much, there are so many long running shows now that there aren’t as many theatres open.
Now, I think people are afraid to put their money into some creative works. Which is sad because I think we do not get as many creative works as we would want to have and I would like to see more original musicals, rather than movies being made into musicals.
People want something they can relate to I guess, they think that audience don’t want something brand new and original.
I miss the classic Broadway-type shows. I miss singing and dancing and showgirls and tap dancing. Now, more modern musicals are having their moment, which is amazing too. But for me, because it’s what I love to do, I always love when the old shows come back, it will be so great to see Hello, Dolly! when it comes out this spring.
I would love to see Crazy For You come back to Broadway. I think it’s a perfect show that Broadway needs right now.
Do you think that salaries and wages have kept up with inflation in New York over the past years or do wages really amount to the role, your standing in the business, social media followings, etc?
I’m basically a chorus dancer and I don’t really know anyone who makes above Broadway minimum. Overall, Broadway (Equity) minimums have increased. When I first moved here I feel like it was much easier to make a living as a dancer on your salary. Because rent and the cost of living have gone up so much in New York City, it’s so much harder now to make it. Broadway salaries have increased over the years but I don’t think it has kept up with inflation as much as it could. There’s not much negotiating in contracts with ensemble members anymore. I don’t know if there really ever was unless the show was a really big hit. In the past, you would receive little bumps if a show was doing well, to keep you on the show because it does cost more to replace someone and maybe they producers would do the math. I think also people are sitting in long-running shows now, or you’ll get a show and it could close in 3-6 months, so there’s not a much hopping from show to show. It still happens, but I think that has decreased. Producers are smart, they know that anyone would take the job, so there’s not much negotiating since there isn’t as much power in being a performer unfortunately unless you’re a huge star. I still think that if you’re good with your money and you are smart when you are working, you can definitely make a living in the city.
If it’s a Broadway contract it’s an Equity standard rate, right?
Yes, Equity rates are standard for Broadway production show contracts. All the regional shows and tours have their separate rates too. When I first got to the city you could book a production contract national tour and you would be getting a Broadway salary plus per diem. If you got this kind of show, most people would go on the road, live off of their per diem and bank their salary. That’s how actors could afford to buy homes and stuff. But now there are hardly any shows that go out on tour with full production contracts, they’re all tiered contracts. In the past, when a show was on Broadway, the first tour was always a national production contract but now the rate is almost half of Broadway contract minimum. To go on the road now, it is much harder to make a living.
You’ve seen a wide variety of health care at shows from having a wide variety of staff, from full-time providers to nothing at all. Do you feel like producers now believe that every show should have a dedicated athletic trainer or physical therapist backstage or do performers still have to advocate for everything and receive very little?
I think it trickles down. I usually am in very dance-heavy shows and in my opinion, I could be wrong but I think the choreographer usually wants to make sure the dancers are taken care of but I do think the producers are beginning to wise up and see that if they give us some PT or an athletic trainer to take care of us that it will save them money and decrease the number of us having to file workers’ compensation claims and ultimately saving on rehabilitation and surgeries. I’ve definitely been on shows where we’ve had to ask for PT but for most Broadway contracts now, everyone does have a physical therapy group that’s aligned with the show and they usually come to the theatre twice a week. It’s not as extensive as the Radio City Rockettes who have a full-time staff and full athletic training room, but I feel they do take care of the dancers now.
There used to be a stigma around reporting injuries for fear of losing job opportunities, do you feel like that’s leveled off and now if you get injured you are told, “report it immediately!”
I feel like now if you got a splinter on your thumb off a set piece you fill out a form. I think they really want us to be sure that we are fine and when you do a small job now they say that if anything happens at least tell us. I still think there is that thing where you don’t want the choreographer or director to realize that you’re injured because no dancer likes to be injured and we all think they we’re invincible. But no, I don’t think there’s really a stigma around that anymore.
You are one of the only people that I have ever know to successfully have their pet on a national show tour. Could you tell me a little bit about how you accomplished this and what you faced along the way?
I remember before I got Dexter (@dailydex) that I was talking to someone in my first Broadway show about what I would do if I got a dog and then booked a tour. My friend said, “Well, you will just have to take her on tour!” Sure enough, right after I got Dexter, the next show I booked was a tour of Young Frankenstein. The thing is that she was my family. We actually had someone touring with a child as well and that’s a lot way harder than a dog on tour. It’s a commitment but it was worth it to me and luckily, she’s small, only seven pounds, a toy poodle. You have to know the personality of your pet, though. There were some pets on tour where it didn’t go well. Some pets have a lot of anxiety when their owner would leave the hotel and then they would bark and howl while the owner was doing the show.
Dexter is pretty chill if she has her toys and usually she’ll just lay on the bed as if understanding that this hotel room was our new home for the week. You want to do what’s right for your pet. You don’t want to bring a pet across the country on flights every week if they have high anxiety or has trouble acclimating to new places, or isn’t good around strangers. Dexter thought it was a party! I try really hard when I am on tour to save as much money as possible and on Young Frankenstein, we actually famously or infamously, decided to have a quad room (four girls in a room) so we could save all our money while on the tour. We had four girls and a dog, so Dexter thought it was always party time with the ladies. It definitely makes travel day more hectic, you’ve got to allow more time, you’ve got to call the flights ahead of time to make sure you can bring your pet. You have to be very responsible.
Every night after the show you have to walk them, sometimes in a weird place. It definitely made tour, for me , feel more like I wasn’t leaving everything behind.
Did you have Dexter become a service animal or did you bring her as a pet?
I actually did have her become a service animal. That helped a lot.
How would you describe your TheatreArtLife pre-Essex and how would you describe your TheatreArtLife now?
I love being a part of the theatre community. I love the people that are in this community and I feel like, without it, I don’t feel like myself, but it’s wonderful that I do have a life outside of it too. I think that’s so important as an artist to kind of recognize that we are our art but it doesn’t totally define us.
I love being a wife and just being “normal Brittany” and that no one in my building probably knows that I was Rockette at Radio City Music Hall or dance on Broadway. I think my life before Essex, as an artist you have to be kind of self-centered and everything has to revolve around your auditions and your show- my things and what I’m doing. I think that before I was a mom I was very caught up in all that.
I think it’s made me a better artist because, as I said before, I focus on my art more now when I am in the studio because it means so much to me when I’m there doing it, because I’m sacrificing so much at home being away from Essex.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
I think to have patience and to always be kind. I always feel like I knew that and didn’t take it for granted but it really does matter. You have to be talented, but people want to work with people they like, and they want to work with good people. I think that has actually helped me more in the long run in my career.
I’m a very hard worker, I may not be the best person they’ve ever seen at the job but I will show up, I will give 100%, and that is so important.
Regarding patience, I remember being devastated about shows I didn’t get – I would think I should have gotten that job, or in that year this should have happened, but your path is perfect for you. You can’t compare yourself to other people. There were shows that I see now, if I would have booked them, it wouldn’t have led me to where I am now with the connections that I’ve made, and meeting choreographers and directors that I love to work for, everything happens for a reason.
You have to have patience with your path. Eventually, hard work will pay off and you will get what is right for you. You may not see it at the time but I think if you just keep on going and don’t stop eventually, it all will unfold and it will be the perfect thing for you.