I met Sharone at an event for The Band’s Visit where I first felt and heard the heartbeat of this beautiful show. You could feel the pulse of everyone’s passion for bringing a new story to Broadway- a new ethnicity to Broadway. Sharone shared with me her excitement and pride for representing her lineage on stage for the first time and immediately I knew her Fit for Broadway story would include a deeper narrative of her roots. Her story inspired a shift in the conversation- a spotlight on the layers, struggles and triumphs that often go unnoticed and the deeper roots we miss in Broadway stories and the narratives of Broadway performers. I’m honored Sharone is bringing this conversation to light and redefining what it means to be Fit for Broadway.
NOTE FROM SHARONE: Hi! My name is Sharone Sayegh and I am a Broadway actress in NYC. I am first generation American, my parents moved here from Israel, and I was born and raised in Los Angeles. About half of my family is in the states and half is in Israel. I am currently originating the role of Anna in The Band’s Visit on Broadway. As an actor of Israeli/Iraqi descent, it’s incredibly exciting to bring this new Middle Eastern musical to life. Other Broadway: Mamma Mia!. Off Broadway: Anna in The Band’s Visit (Atlantic Theater Co, World Premiere), Title role in Scheherazade (Prospect Theater Co) and the world premiere of The Wildness (Ars Nova). Regional: Mrs. Jesus/Ens. in Escape to Margaritaville (La Jolla Playhouse, World Premiere), Maria Elena in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (The Muny), Aouda in Around the World in 80 Days (Florida Rep), Vidya in Disconnect (San Jose Rep, BACC Nom.). Workshops: Escape to Margaritaville (Dir. Christopher Ashley), Hazel (Dir. Lucie Arnaz), Sheila Levine… (Dir. Susan Stroman), Hooray For Iceboy (Dir. John Rando), War is F*cking Awesome (Dir. Leisl Tommy), Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Lark). BFA: Syracuse University.Q: Sharone, our initial point of connection was a celebration over you playing your ethnicity on Broadway for the first time ever. What an amazing gift! I’m sure it’s been such a journey to this moment. Where did your journey to Broadway begin and what led you to aligning with this beautiful story?
A: It is such a gift! Once I moved to NYC and started I auditioning, I realized that the way I looked, where I was from, and my name played a big part in how people viewed me and how it would affect my career as an actor.
The first audition I ever went to in NYC was for the National tour of Hairspray. I had seen the show and loved it, so I woke up really early to sign up on the Non-Equity list with a friend around 6am. When the call started at 10am, I remember a casting assistant came into the holding room and made an announcement. I don’t remember her exact wording, but very kindly she said something like “We will be typing out since there are too many people here to be seen. Hairspray is a story about race and the divide between white and black people in America in the 1960’s. So if you’re not white or black, you can head out”. As I started walking out I remember thinking “Ok, that makes sense since this show is about two specific groups of people that I am not a member of, so from now on, I should probably just audition for Middle Eastern roles and musicals. Except wait…are there any?”
As I continued to audition, I learned that sadly, at least on Broadway, they were almost non existent. My first professional job in NY was playing Hadia in the workshop of Rajiv Joseph’s new play Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo. It was an amazing experience. All of my lines were in Arabic, and I only knew a few Arabic words and phrases from my grandparents, so I viewed it as a really cool challenge. I started realizing that at almost every audition I had, I was asked to do some sort of accent or speak in a language other than English – Middle Eastern, Indian, Israeli, Latina – I rarely got to speak in my voice, as just a girl from Los Angeles. At first, it was really fun, because I love languages and accents. After a while, I started to realize that it was about more than just accents – I was only being viewed as “other”. In a way I was being told that American audiences would only look at me and relate to me if I was presented as an outsider, or someone different than them.
Over the course of my professional career, I have been very fortunate. I made my Broadway debut in 2009 in Mamma Mia!, I originated roles in 2 world premiere musicals Off-Broadway at The Atlantic and Ars Nova, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the creative process working on many readings and workshops, and I’ve worked at amazing regional theaters around the country including the La Jolla Playhouse, The Muny, Florida Rep, San Jose Rep, and The Hangar.
But ever since that Hairspray audition back in 2006, I have longed to represent my own ethnicity on Broadway. I’ve longed to share my people’s story. I finally have the opportunity to now that The Band’s Visit has arrived on Broadway. I am so grateful and honored to be in the first Broadway musical ever set in Israel. The first Broadway musical to be set in a real place in the Middle East. It is so special for me to speak Hebrew on a Broadway stage. To hear Arabic spoken on a Broadway stage and to listen to the type of Arabic music I listened to growing up being played on Broadway. To do a show about people – not politics, not stereotypes – just people who happen to be Middle Eastern. I am so grateful.
Q: How have health and fitness been a part of your journey?
A: They’ve been a huge part! A couple of girls that I shared a dressing room with in Mamma Mia! were also personal trainers and taught me so much. They taught me how to take care of my body while doing a long running show. Mamma Mia! had a raked stage, which was very tough on our bodies, especially my back and knees. They taught me the importance of rolling out after shows, and keeping my core strong to prevent injury. I also learned so much about nutrition that has really changed my life. I now view food as what my body needs to work properly, rather than indulgences that I crave. I try to think of food as what I want to be eating to make my body feel good, rather than what I don’t want to eat or what won’t serve me. One of my cast mates in Mamma Mia! once told me “Eating healthy food and treating your body well is like keeping your oven clean. If you clean it every day, it will work better, and when you have a messy spill, it will be easier to clean. If you let the grime build up, it will not work properly and will only get harder and harder to clean”. To keep my body and mind feeling good, I practice yoga multiple times a week, and I am sugar free.
Q: We have a podcast episode coming soon called “Fit Fierce Females” because I’ve been so inspired by the strong amazing women I’ve met throughout the years on Broadway. You are one of only four females on stage each night! How has that empowered you, especially in regards to representing your ethnicity?
Since there are only 4 female roles in our show compared to the 10 male roles, I feel a responsibility to represent women in this story, specifically the women of Israel. The Israeli women in my family are intensely strong, smart, loving, and in the true sense of the word: fierce. I feel so proud to be representing them on stage every night.
Q: The music in this show is stunning and I’m sure so fun to sing. What are your top 3 tips for vocal health?
- Do a full warm up everyday. Speeding through a warm up doesn’t work and never feels as good as a slow, gradual warm up. Take the time to fully warm up everyday – it doesn’t have to be long, a good 15 minutes is all you need!
- When warming up – investigate your chords, don’t just “get them going”. Find out how big they are today, how far apart they need to be today, etc. Allow your voice to be where it is each day. This is all learned from my amazing voice teacher Aaron Hagan.
- If your chords are swollen or tired from overuse – being strict about 2 days of vocal rest always helps me. True vocal rest for 2 days usually makes any swelling go down.
A: SO important. One of the challenging things about being on Broadway is the schedule. Since you mainly work nights, weekends, and holidays, attending big life events with your family back home like weddings, birthdays, etc, tend to be a challenge – especially since my family is far away in LA and Israel. Throughout the years I’ve made it work, and skype and frequent flyer miles have been my saving grace – but making sure that you create a family for yourself in NYC is so important. My friends in NYC are truly my family as well and have gotten me through the toughest times of my life. They are so vital because we are going through this NYC jungle together, and we lift each other up and support each other in any way we can. My NYC support system has also introduced me to people who help me succeed on Broadway, like my amazing acupuncturist Sabbath and Physical Therapist Joe at Silver Spring Wellness. They keep my body and mind healthy to get through those 8 shows a week!
Q: Fill in the blanks…
A: The best part of working on Broadway is… connecting with the audiences during the show and afterwards. I find it so fascinating how different audiences on different nights will have a personality as a group, which can be affected by so many things that are unrelated to the show, the weather outside, the news of the day, what they ate for dinner. It’s so cool how the audience response can be so varied night to night. It’s also been amazing to connect with people after the show at the stage door and hear about their experience. Recently I’ve met quite a few young actors who are of Middle Eastern descent who have told me how special it was for them to see themselves portrayed on Broadway for the first time. That is so incredible to hear and I’m so grateful that I am a part of that experience for them.
The most challenging part of working on Broadway is… the demand it puts on your body. Every show is different, but I find that the physical toll on your body that comes from doing 8 shows a week is the most challenging. That’s why eating well and working out are so important!
Q: Who or what inspires you?
A: My mother inspires me. She is such a strong woman with an incredibly positive outlook on life. She turns every situation into something good. She cares so deeply for her family and friends. She is so talented in many different ways and she is just one of those people who makes things happen. She connects people, she helps people, she gets the job done. There’s a wonderful word for a woman like this in Hebrew: Balaboosta. She’s the best kind of Balaboosta and I strive to be like her.
Q: What’s your advice for aspiring performers who have their sights set on Broadway?
A: Learn about yourself and let what makes you unique shine. When I moved here and started auditioning I thought getting a role was all about being the best singer, the best actor, or the best dancer for the part. I thought it was all about who was the most talented. Over the years I’ve learned that almost everyone auditioning is talented. Everyone can sing, everyone can act, everyone can dance. What then makes you stand out? How are you unique? That is what will get you the job.
Q: BROADWAY INSPIRES ME TO BE _____________________.
A: Broadway inspires me to be empathetic. Playing so many different kinds of people forces you to look at life the way they do – which sometimes can be very different from the way you look at life. It makes you see the world in new ways, it makes you understand people who are different than you, which I find to be such a gift. It inspires to me to put myself in other people’s shoes and try to see where they’re coming from when it’s different from where I am coming from.
Q: I love the deck of cards I received from The Band’s Visit with “spark conversation” questions. I wanted to ask you one of them! “Where would you take a stranger in your town?”
A: I would take them to one of my favorite restaurants – Alta in the west village – it’s a small place tucked away on 11th street that has some of the best tapas I’ve ever tasted.