An Interview with Broadway Actress Elisa Winter
For our latest Artist Interview, we sat down with multi-talented Broadway actress Elisa Winter! Elisa wowed in the 2005 Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd and has performed in productions around the country since she was young. She also teaches music lessons and is the co-founder of Play On! Studios- a company that offers after school classes, summer camps, and private lessons in theater and music. In addition to granting us an interview, Elisa will be volunteering her time and talents to perform in “Growing Up ~ Reaching Out”, our fourth annual silent auction and cabaret coming up this Sunday, April 29th- it’s a performance you won’t want to miss! Check out Elisa’s interview below:
In three words, describe yourself as a performer.
– Dirty saucy banana.
Ha! An interesting description for sure. Okay…What made you realize that you wanted to perform professionally?
– For a long time my focus was music (piano, cello, voice) and books, so I always thought I would be a musician or a writer. Then, when I was 10, my children’s choir decided to audition for the tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which starred Donny Osmond and was coming to the Chicago Theater. After a pretty crazy audition process, we were chosen to perform on a rotating basis. It was my first experience performing in a musical and I fell in love quickly. After that, my focus slowly shifted to musical theater… But thank goodness I kept up with my instruments, because that ended up being a major factor in booking my first job!
What a wonderful experience and great introduction to the world of theater! Could you share with us a story from your childhood that describes you as a performer?
– Almost every year growing up, my family would put together a performance for my grandmother’s apartment building. My dad played piano, my mom sang, and my grandmother, who had been a professional musician, was still an amazing pianist. I would also play piano, cello, sing, and eventually perform my own compositions (usually on guitar). The music ranged from musical theater to classical, Argentinian tango to Russian folk songs. This continued through college – at this point for my grandmother’s retirement home – and even when I was on the First National Tour of Sweeney Todd, a few of my fellow actors joined us and it was a blast.
I had no idea how much this “variety show” would define me as a performer. Being part of the creation process was incredibly rewarding. I loved the combination of different musical styles and instruments and getting friends involved. Today I consider myself to be an actor/musician in the fullest sense and love doing shows (and being in a band) that involve both. In addition, the idea of music as a community and family event has really stuck with me. There will always be music and performances in my house and in my life, and I try to instill this same feeling into my students.
That’s quite the family past time! You’re very lucky to be surrounded by people who are so supportive of your craft. Who in your life, either professionally or personally, do you look up to or admire and why?
– My grandmother is a huge inspiration. Aside from being an incredible musician, she and my grandfather (who died when I was four) clearly lived life to the fullest. After surviving the Holocaust they moved from Tangier to Madrid to Buenos Aires (where my Dad grew up) and finally to Chicago. As professional musicians they never made a lot of money, but they always made sure they had time to travel, relax, and enjoy life. Both her positive outlook on life and her profound love and understanding of music have affected me deeply.
Wow… You and your family are truly an inspiration! Thank you for sharing such touching personal stories with us. And it sounds like your family are quite the international travelers! If you were trapped on a desert island with only one musical score, what would it be and why?
– I’m not sure which score I would choose, but it would definitely be Sondheim. Maybe A Little Night Music, maybe Pacific Overtures, maybe Sweeney [Todd] for the additional memories…? Regardless, not only could I study his music forever without getting bored (or going crazy), but years later I would still discover something new and amazing that I hadn’t noticed before!
Who helps you get through your professional tough times?
– Well, I have two pups and a kitty who will always lift my spirits. My boyfriend and my parents are endlessly supportive and always ready with a reality check. But it’s my students who provide an escape and artistic outlet that has become indispensable. Lena Moy-Borgen and I started a business, Play On! Studios, that offers after school classes, summer camps, and private lessons in theater and music. I teach private piano and cello to over a dozen kids and adults and it is wonderful. I can be having the worst day, but my students require 100% of my attention and the moment I start teaching any negative thoughts are forgotten. I always leave my lessons feeling inspired, creative, and like I’m doing something amazing with my life: I’m giving people music!
Well said! And that’s exactly what we’re about here at Arts For All- making a positive impact on people through the arts. What is your favorite play- to see and/or to perform in?
– Anything new, inventive, and daring. I love it when a playwright takes on a controversial issue (The History Boys), makes me question the way I think (Doubt, Touch(ed) at Williamstown Theater Festival), changes my definition of theater (Sleep No More), or uses music in a different way (Spring Awakening, Once, any of John Doyle’s productions). These are the productions I want to see and perform in. And anything Sondheim.
What advice do you have for aspiring thespians?
– The sad truth is that most actors cannot make a living off of acting alone, at least not in the beginning of their careers. I’ve seen a lot of people get burnt out from inconsistent, physically and/or mentally draining non-theater side jobs. They either end up taking acting jobs that they don’t really want or drop acting altogether. Finding a rewarding second job is not a “backup plan”, it’s a way to continue acting in projects that mean something to you (and many of those don’t pay well) and to persevere in a very competitive business. It’s not a bad idea to start thinking about that sooner rather than later.
You’re absolutely right- that’s very practical advice! Thank you for your time and for sharing such wonderful stories and anecdotes with us, Elisa! Readers, don’t miss an opportunity to see Elisa and other Broadway actors share their talents in a very special performance benefiting Arts For All! THIS SUNDAY, APRIL 29th, join us at The Kitchen performance space for our fourth annual silent auction and cabaret. Not only will you enjoy a night of wonderful entertainment, you’ll be helping us bring artistic opportunities to NYC’s in-need children! Click below for more information and to reserve your ticket:
We hope to see you on Sunday!
~The Arts For All Team
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”