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How the Women of Waitress Are Changing Broadway Behind the Scenes

4 minute read

The actors auditioning for Broadway’s Waitress stopped short when they walked into the audition room. Instead of the usual nerves that accompany trying out for a role, they found themselves in shock. Behind the table of people who they were auditioning for sat all women.

“I think actresses would often just walk in and we were ready to roll up our sleeves,” says director Diane Paulus. “It was always the actors who would stop and say, ‘Look at all those women!’

Alongside Paulus sat Sara Bareilles, who wrote the show’s music and lyrics; Jessie Nelson, who adapted the book from Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 movie script of the same name; and Lorin Latarro, the choreographer who says, up until then, she’d primarily worked with men.

Each woman says, though, that the best part of how they came to make Broadway history is that it happened organically—no one set out with the goal of putting together an all-female team. It wasn’t until after they started working together that they even realized it.

“I’m glad it was pointed out, and it is a moment we are acknowledging,” Paulus says. “But what’s important to me is that every woman is in the position on this team because they’re the best person for the job. So what does that mean? It means that women are on the top of their game.”

Of course, it’s not going unnoticed in a space like Broadway, which has historically spearheaded by men. Even The Clinton Foundation chose to honor the show as part of its #CeilingBreaker campaign by giving away tickets.

The show follows the story of Jenna, a waitress and pie chef who is pregnant with her abusive husband’s baby. With the help of her sisterhood at the diner where she works, she and her cohort of waitresses come to terms with their lives on professional and personal terms.

Shelly, who not only wrote the film’s screenplay but also appeared in the starring role, died a few months before the movie’s premiere in 2007. But Nelson hews pretty closely to the original script. The story, both on screen and stage, is far from a regular fairytale, fittingly in line with today’s choose-your-own-adventure feminism.

“Each of the three waitresses is having this adventure with a man,” Nelson says. “I thought it was such a unique part of the script that [Shelly] wasn’t heading towards like, ‘Oh, we hope they get married to whoever they’re sleeping with.'”

Bareilles, who’s used to working as a solo recording artist, says she was influenced by the companionship of the team.

“This experience has really educated me in terms of reflecting on my own hiring practices, remembering to look for and seek out women to fill roles that are sometimes traditionally filled by men,” she says. “I think ideally we get to a place where the gender isn’t even a part of the conversation.”

Each woman is quick to shut down the idea of their work together feeling particularly feminine, though they did bond over sweets and a type of sisterly friendship for one another.

“There was a lot of love of chocolate and making sure that when one person went out to get coffee, everyone was taken care of,” Nelson says. “There was more of a sisterhood, and not a cattiness.”

Latarro, who’s worked alongside Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, said what surprised her was that the work didn’t feel that different without the men around.

“It’s just nice to be around women sometimes,” Latarro says. “And we strive for empathy, so there might be something I might see in telling a woman’s story that someone else might not see, like when we choreographed a ballet around having contractions.”

The show’s story highlights the mess that can be made when you have all the right ingredients but aren’t quite sure how to make room for everything. But for these women, the recipe seemed to work out pretty well once they were all together.

“I don’t see why, as women in the world, we can’t remember that there’s enough for everybody,” Bareilles says, “if we all make room for each other.”

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