When I purchased my ticket to Cabaret, I jumped at the chance to interview Linda Emond again. I believe I’ve mentioned this on the site before, but that first interview with Linda completely encapsulated why I created Broadway Master Chat. So, naturally, the second time around I had pretty high expectations of just how much cool stuff I would learn from chatting with her. As expected, Linda did not disappoint, and blew my mind with all things Broadway. In this interview, Linda shares just how she brings Fraulein Schneider to life every night through her Tony nominated performance!
MC: How did the part of Fraulein Schneider come about? What was the audition process like?
LE: I didn’t audition…I was offered it last April, so a long time ago now…You’re going to think I’m silly, but I actually turned it down at first. There were many reasons why, but honestly I didn’t give it enough thought, which was a mistake. But one of the reasons was because I felt that the part is usually played by someone older and I felt that I’d have a chance to play that along the way…The silly part of me is that I didn’t think to talk to Sam Mendes the director. It would have been smart. There were also a lot of other reasons I said no really right away.
Then, they immediately came back to me, which I really appreciated. [They] said: “We don’t want to take no for an answer, please think about it and talk to Sam.”
Of course I realized that’s what I should have done in the first place. So we do make mistakes sometimes [Linda laughs], but in this case I was saved from it. I did get on the phone with Sam. I learned right away that, of course, they didn’t want me to play it older (even though Danny and I do play it a little bit older than we are). They actually wanted to go a bit younger this time with this production and also, Sam and everyone involved (including Alan certainly) were very committed to not wanting to just have it be a revival of a revival of a revival. Alan, for example, had apparently said he had no interest in doing that, that he’s older himself and he wanted to be able to know that he could come at it anew and see it with fresh eyes and different eyes and that everything about the production would be up for grabs. That’s how it’s been from the beginning.
Can you talk a bit about the rehearsal process for the show? What was it like to work on finding a character opposite a few people who’d done the show before?
We had the benefit of Sam, the director, having worked on it so many times and over so many years. He, too, changed many things in this production. We had the benefit of [what] he had learned over the amount of time he had worked on it—what really works well in this particular production of his. I certainly always relied on his input and judgment on things, overall. The only people that were returning were Alan and one of the Kit Kat Klub girls, in terms of the actors. And I wasn’t in the rehearsal room with Alan a lot, until we got into run-throughs, so in terms of working in the room, Danny and I were both discovering it anew.
Yes, there were times things were said about how it worked or what worked and usually we took those with a grain of salt if they came up. We very much wanted to find it ourselves and, in fact, there were a great many things we changed. I added lines that were in the original script. The script for this, the book part of Cabaret, has gone through a lot of changes over the years. There’re a lot of different versions of it and Joe Masteroff, who wrote it, has been very open and willing to change things. I went back to the original script from 1968. I found some things in there that were really good and it’s a shame they were gone. Just bits and pieces, here and there.
And then we also made little cuts in places. Then there are things like costumes. My costumes are quite different than they were the last time around. William Ivy Long (the great costume designer) was very willing to look at things anew based on what I saw. That’s true for Danny [Herr Schultz], too, he saw Herr Schultz in a different way visually. So we just tried very much to find what we could find.
Did you and Danny do a chemistry read like they do for movies?
I knew him just enough and I knew his reputation to know that he’s just a really good guy. I knew that it was going to be okay. The rest of it though, you never really know until you’re in the rehearsal room if sparks will fly. You just don’t know till you get working on something and sometimes you can be halfway through a rehearsal process and sparks haven’t flown and suddenly they do. You just never know. It’s a bit of a mystery.
For Danny and I, it just sort of worked right from the beginning. We were just very fond of each other right from the start so it felt easy…[Our story line is] the story really of the show, of Cabaret. The story of what happened in Germany and of the Nazi uprising and that story is told through those two characters primarily. I’m so happy and so proud of the show as a whole. But I’m so happy that I’ve been able to lend a richness to that storyline.
You were explaining when I came backstage how Studio 54 was redesigned to fit the show and feel like the Kit Kat Klub. How does that help you every night when it’s that immersive?
Yes, it’s a great space to work in and you can feel at the beginning of the show the audience loves that aspect of it. I always go down at the very beginning of the show and I watch from the wings as Alan comes through that door. And part of the reason I do that is that I just love hearing the audience and I like to hear them right before the show and they’re all in a cabaret environment. You feel that even the people upstairs feel that; that’s the feeling of the whole space that Robert Brill so brilliantly designed. Because he didn’t just design a set, he really designed that environment to make it be the Kit Kat Klub. It’s one of the reasons programs are not given out at the top of the show because then that puts into everyone’s minds right away: we’re coming to see a play. Rather than wanting an audience come in and be in the Kit Kat Klub and let themselves be there…
Even though my scenes are not in the Kit Kat Klub, the Fraulein Schneider scenes are not there, the whole energy in the theater is so great and your word is a perfect one, immersive, you can feel that from the audience. And we’re so close to them and we basically don’t have much set as you noticed. There’s a wall behind us with three doors and there are a couple of chairs onstage most of the time or a trunk, but very little. It’s just us on that little tiny space, it’s not a big space, the acting space we’re actually on, and the audience right there, it makes it really alive and wonderful and exciting every night.
Last time we talked about someone’s phone going off during Death of a Salesman. And Cabaret has some character audience interaction, so what has been the strangest thing so far?
An audience member just last night yelled out something, while Michelle was singing “Cabaret.” We’re not completely sure what he yelled out, but it was very much in support. He was very much in it and at a particular moment, he was overwhelmed by something and he just went “Word!”
You do hear, sadly, I hate to report it, you do hear cell phones and it’s a bummer. It really is. In this show you have to get used sometimes hearing ice clinking because people are actually drinking cocktails sometimes…And sometimes you can hear someone drop their cup. But they’re really small interruptions. I don’t know that anything will ever compare to that cell phone that ring in Death of a Salesman right at the very end of the play. That was as about as bad as it gets.
At least you can handle it all!
Yeah, you get used to different things. You know sometimes little things happen with the microphone or somebody spills a little something on the stage. You know every night there are always little flub-ups or a little funky note from the orchestra. I screwed up a line the other night, Danny did last night, you know, they just happen here and there and it’s part of what it means to do live theater. And usually an audience is not aware of them and if they are, it’s usually a tiny blip and it goes by. It’s part of doing something live every night!
What’s the difference for acting in a musical versus a play?
Well, this production has been really a blast to do and this isn’t because of me singing or not. I will say that I really have had to prepare for it differently each day and when I get to the theater. I remember talking to you about my preparation for Death of a Salesman and you heard how I got to the theater really early and what I needed to do. I had to go really early, as you recall, and I had a whole routine because it was difficult. I had to start the play in such a difficult place…Actually, quite a number of plays that I’ve done over the last years have been like that where there’s been a necessity for me to come to the theater and be prepared to go to very difficult and challenging places right at the top of the show…
[Cabaret] ends up in a sad place but at the top of this play, [Fraulein Schneider is] really very happy and it’s an exciting time. There’s love in her life for the first time in years and years, and she has this possible tenant, you know, in very hard times to have a little bit more income is going to be very good and exciting and she wants that to happen. She’s been through so much. She’s strong and within sixty seconds of when I walk out on stage, I’m singing that first big song so I’ve got to be ready for it in all ways. But I don’t have to be ready in a way that is dark. I have to be ready in a way that is excited and up and so I’ve been having a very good time going to the theater and being able to prepare in a way that allows that to happen.
There are definitely considerations on a daily basis because of the singing but a lot of work I have done in straight plays has been very vocally demanding. Working on Tony Kushner is vocally demanding. Shakespeare certainly is. Death of a Salesman was, in it’s own way. Arthur Miller is complex and challenging. So I’ve [always] had to be concerned about things like vocal stuff—in this case definitely.
I don’t know if I have said this to you before, but you really do, as an actor when you’re doing a show…have to think like an athlete and you have to plan your life that way while you’re doing it. It requires a lot of discipline but it’s discipline for a very good reason and it’s discipline that’s really rewarded every day. And in this case, for me, it’s rewarded with a great deal of joy, even though the play is hard and does end in a very hard place. It’s so purposeful and meaningful and important and the show as a whole is such a great musical—one of the greatest ever—and so there is great joy in being a part of it.
What’s your pre-show routine for this one?
This one, roughly, I get to the theater…a couple of hours before: sometimes not that early, sometimes an hour and a half before. I read a little bit. (I actually have been going back and rereading the stories on which [Cabaret] is based by the writer Christopher Isherwood. I’ve been rereading those but sometimes I just goof around in my dressing room a little bit.)
I have a great dressing room, as you saw.
Yeah, very colorful!
And then I steam; I steam before every show…Then I put on good music and do my makeup and I tend to drink tea while I’m doing that. I partially dress. And then my wig gal comes in to put on my wig. While she’s doing that, that’s about a half hour before the show, I change and I put on German music and I also start talking with a German dialect at that point. I talk to her in a German dialect, for example, while she is [putting on my wig]. From that point on until I am done with the show, even when I am back stage, I [talk in a German dialect]. I then warm up. While she’s there I warm up a little bit with my speaking voice. And then when she leaves I finish dressing and I do about a ten or fifteen minute speaking and singing warm up. Alan always pops by right before he’s about to go on stage and as I told you I go down at the top of the show and stand in the wings because I go on pretty quickly into the show so I like being there at the top of the show and having that energy…
You’re nominated for a Tony for the third time! What do you most look forward to during Tony season?
It’s an odd thing that when you’re in a show most of the time you are on the same schedule and you don’t get to see [the other shows], so it’s fun to go to the events and see people that you don’t get to see all the time or even people that you don’t know. When we had a press event recently for the Tonys, I saw Sutton [Foster] and I haven’t seen Sutton in a while. I adore Sutton and [we] worked together on a workshop for something two or three times and just had the best time. We don’t stay in touch that much, you know, but when I see her, it’s really lovely to see her or Audra McDonald. I love seeing Audra and I don’t get to see her very much but it’s lovely to run into her at these kinds of things. So that part is really fun.
Of course it’s a wonderful thing to receive the respect from your peers. So I have really enjoyed, do you know about the Tony luncheon? That’s a really nice thing. I think the story is that Laura Linney helped create that. Do you know that story? I think, if I’m not wrong, she was nominated for a Tony one year and said something to someone who organizes the Tonys that it’s just a shame that everyone involved doesn’t have just one time when they can just celebrate and relax. Some of the other Tony events are very press related so you need to be doing that. They thought she was right and so they decided to organize this Tony luncheon. So there is this one event. It’s on a Tuesday and you all just get to come and there is no press and have lunch and see each other and talk to each other and have a nice lunch…
What’s something valuable you learned early on in your career that you still live by today?
…You can feel as an actor that you want to be able to figure things out, the part you’re working on, for example, that you want to be able to figure it out and know how it works, and kind of own it, and that can make you feel safe. But the truth is, real magic on stage or in any aspect of this field, I think, happens when you’re willing, in fact, to let some of that go and to not feel safe. That there’s a sense of, in order to have it really be alive out there for audiences or even if it’s captured on film, is that it becomes necessary to not necessarily know everything about what you are doing, not know what the next thing is. The mysterious part of what we do, and for me the mysterious part of life, is what’s most beautiful. That’s definitely proved to be true in the work I do and in life, that when you try to figure it all out, you are inevitably limiting yourself. And the truth is, there’s great mystery to life. There’s great mystery to relationships. There’s great mystery to art and theater and music. It’s a kind of magical mystery to get on stage each night with nearly one thousand people in the audience and make something happen. The best thing you can do is go into that and not try to be too safe and say, “Let’s see what happens.” ♦
Photo Credits: lindaemond.com, Joan Marcus