The Marquee Q & A Series: Hayley Podschun

The Marquee Q & A Series: Hayley Podschun

In the fifth installment of our Marquee Q & A, actress Hayley Podschun catches up with MTI's Tyler Paul to discuss HAIRSPRAY, PARADE, and more...

Hayley PodschunHayley Podschun, who can currently be seen at New World Stages as the title character in the brand-new musical STRAWBERRY FRECKLEFACE (based on the famous childrens book series), is all too familiar with HAIRSPRAY. Her history with the smash hit spans over several years and covers both coasts; from the Broadway mounting to the first National Tour and even to Hollywood, in the movie musical version featuring John Travolta and Amanda Bynes.

Hayley's credits go beyond that of HAIRSPRAY, however. Her career began in the 1999 Broadway revival of THE SOUND OF MUSIC and continued to blossom as she grew older. Following her experience at college, Hayley went on to land substantial roles in the Broadway revivals of PAL JOEY and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. The young actress has also received favorable success in print and television, while staying relevant within the Broadway scene.

MTI: Artists and actors, in particular, typically talk about that life-changing revelation where they discover, "This is what I need to do." Did you ever have that epiphany, Hayley?

HP: I actually had a rather polarizing epiphany; a moment of "I do not want to do this." I was in the 1999 Broadway revival of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, as a standby for two of the VonTrapp children. Being on Broadway, as a twelve year-old, was just a dream come true but when the show got its closing notice, the dream world of being an actor became a reality. I no longer saw Broadway as this magical place...I saw it as a job. Here were these adults who had a job one day and then, the next day, they were unemployed; it scared me a lot. I remember researching what other jobs I could do so when I went to college I could get a 'real degree'.  The time came to apply to schools and I found myself not loving anything as much as acting so I applied for musical theatre. I got into a school where I was a student for a year, but then I booked the first National Tour of HAIRSPRAY and have never looked back! I think having that epiphany might have helped me out, in the long run, because it reassured me that being an entertainer is what I love to do.

MTI: What is it, about the theatre and performing, that you love most?

HP: I think the thing I love most is meeting so many people; everyone comes from such different places and has different stories about how they got to where they are's really fascinating.

MTI: You have appeared in a number of different roles and productions since coming into the industry. Currently, what has been your most cherished character and/or production to be a part of?

HP: I think one of my favorite roles to play was Eva in the reading of the BRING IT ON musical. Even though it was just a reading, I had a blast doing it. Eva was the sweet, innocent one but she actually turned out to be kind of a devil child! It was definitely something different from anything I had done and I loved the music. I think my favorite production to be a part of, however, was definitely the Broadway revival of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. The show was so beautiful, meeting Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine was amazing, and getting to be the dance captain was something I really loved and had always dreamed of doing.

Hayley Podschun and Lance Bass in HAIRSPRAY

Hayley Podschun and Lance Bass in HAIRSPRAY

MTI: You may be best known for your work on Broadway's HAIRSPRAY, a show which is licensed by Music Theatre International. What was your role? Additionally, what advice can you offer to those actors and directors who may be presenting this musical and how, exactly, could an actor prepare for the demanding material?

HP: I played Tammy, one of the Council Kids, as well as understudy for Penny and Amber. My advice for anyone doing HAIRSPRAY is to run on the treadmill! It's a high-energy show and very aerobic. Also, watching some old 'Buddy Dean' clips, which the Corny Collins Show is based off of, would be great; you can see how the kids danced, spoke, and dressed. Reading material on segregation in the 1960s and about the history of Baltimore would be fabulous too! Just remember that even though HAIRSPRAY is fun and exciting, it also has a big heart. The show is filled with important messages and you shouldn't skip over any of them; they were written for a reason and everyone in the audience will walk away feeling amazing at the end.

MTI: Some may consider you a HAIRSPRAY aficionado; you have appeared in the Broadway cast, the first National Tour cast, and the popular Hollywood film version. After spending so much time with this piece, can you tell us what makes HAIRSPRAY so special?

HP: What makes it special, to me, is the people involved. We're just a huge family and love each other so much. Even though the show closed a few years ago, we all still see each other...we still celebrate birthdays, weddings, babies, jobs, holidays, and whatever you can think of.  We are all there for each other; it's really awesome and I know I'll have those friends forever.

MTI: On the surface, HAIRSPRAY is a fun 'bubblegum' musical-comedy. The material tackles a few "hot button" topics, however, including: racism, sexism, and obesity. What advice can you give to those organizations and schools that will be asked to address these issues?

HP: Don't be afraid to address [the issues]! All of the dialogue, music, lyrics and dance steps are there for a reason. Racism, sexism, and obesity are still issues happening today. This show teaches us all that no matter the color or your skin, or your weight, everyone is beautiful and deserves to be loved.

MTI: You were recently a part of the Center Theatre Group's re-imagining of Jason Robert Brown's PARADE, with direction by Rob Ashford, in Los Angeles. What was it like to be involved with such an original and unique show? How did you prepare for your role?

HP: I wasn't familiar with the original Lincoln Center version [of PARADE] at all, so I actually didn't know what had been changed for the Donmar Warehouse production; this particular version, however, was really special because Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown got to fix what they didn't like in the first version.  They were there every day, writing new things, teaching us about the history of the piece. I think that was the coolest part...working alongside them. We also all had to do a ton of research for this piece; there were hundreds of pictures, videos, cassette tapes and numerous discussion circles. Rob Ashford always took time to chat with us, as a cast, and answer our questions which were mostly about the trial of Mary Phagan, the history of Atlanta, and racism. This show is intense and we couldn't have gotten through it if we all didn't talk about it together.

MTI: You have explored many different mediums while finding success in musical theatre, television, print, and even film. Can you pass along any tips or tricks for those actors who might have the same desire of achieving artistic versatility?

HP: You have to have the drive to do it. Talk to people who are doing what you want to do and see how they got where they are. Maybe they know someone or some place that can help you learn or work! The best way to get to where you want to go is to just try to do it.

MTI: One final question, Hayley. Recently a lot has been said about the current state of Broadway and musical theatre: the popularity of The Tony Awards telecast, the struggling economy and ticket prices, the increased Hollywood presence, and more. What are your thoughts on the current state of Broadway?

HP: I think like anything, Broadway comes and goes in spurts of popularity.  Some years it might be booming and others it might not. Obviously, because of the economy, producers are scared to present 'big shows' which leaves actors, stagehands, designers, and others out of work. The great thing to know about Broadway and New York theatre, though, is that it will always be here. People come to New York to see Broadway shows and I feel like that won't change. One thing that I wish would change, however,  is that I'd love patrons of the theatre to open their minds just a bit more, in order to see new works. I completely understand that it's easier to pay for a show that you are familiar with and you know your money will not be wasted, but sometimes it's worth it to step out of the box; go see an awesome new play or perhaps a new musical that you don't know. Sometimes it's neat to see something where you might not know the ending; something original and unique.

Hayley on the Web

Visit Hayley Podschun's official site, click here.


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