Everything's Coming Up Kristin Chenoweth!

broadway industry women in theatre Nov 28, 2023

Written By: Chelsea & Cynthia

"When you self-accept that you are where you need to be, and that the space you are taking up is rightfully yours, then you get that sense of knowing, of belonging. It's not by somebody's approval. No, it's by your own." - Kristin Chenoweth on the BVC Podcast 

Kristin Chenoweth is an Emmy and Tony award-winning actress, singer, and author. And let's be real, she hardly needs an introduction from us!

We were incredibly honored to sit down with Kristin and learn from her inspiring heart and soul. In addition to her life, career, and what she wants to leave as her legacy, we discuss her recent books: the compilation coffee table book "My Moment," her book of mini-meditations, "I'm No Philosopher, But I Got Thoughts," and her delightful children's book "What Will I Do With My Love Today?"

We can not wait for you to read our conversation, so let's dive right in!  

Q: The question asked in your book  "My Moment" was, "What was the moment in your life when you realized you were ready to fight for yourself?". Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for that question, the book itself, and the five women who put it together? 

(Kristen Chenoweth) A: Well, I have to give credit where credit is due. So Chely Wright a, famous country and Western singer/songwriter from the nineties, came out in a world where you just didn't do that and we're both Christian women. So then she had to deal with that aspect as well.

Chely came to me and Kathy Najimy and said, "I have this idea". She asked us, When was the first time you remember really deciding to fight for yourself? And I was like, "I don't know". I couldn't think. We both had to take some time to figure out what those answers were. 

And then we started asking a few of our other friends, those that are in the book. Some people knew exactly right away, but most didn't. From there, we decided to turn it into a coffee table book. 

We wanted to get faces in there that obviously, people recognize, but also faces that are not recognizable so that people can hear from everyone about when they decided to fight. I still pick that book up and read it and am very surprised by people's answers. 

Personally, I didn't really fight for myself until very recently, in the past several years. And mine was, you know, the pretty well-known accident that happened to me in 2012, but I didn't fight for it then. I was told if I made any kind of a stink, I would never work again.

So because of fear and intimidation, I did not fight for myself, but what happens when you don't do that? It comes out in other ways. For me, it came out in depression, came out in eczema, vertigo, and all the physical ailments. Until I finally dealt with it and forgave, even though there was not going to be an apology, it changed a lot of my perspective. 

But it's a brave thing to be able to tell your story. So oftentimes with our voice, we get stuck. It's not even technical and I know that it's been that way with me and with other students that I've taught. So I would encourage you to start implementing that question when someone's stuck or can't move forward, doesn't feel seen or heard. 

Q: In your children's book, "What Will I Do With My Love Today?" the little girl that stars in the book is adopted, just like yourself. And it was presented in the book in a way where it normalizes it. Did you start out writing the book intending to put that in there or did that sort of spontaneously come out when you were writing?

A: Well my literary agent had called me during COVID and he knew I was twiddling my thumbs. I mean, I practiced so many scales, all kinds of music, I read, I binge-watched everything. He knew I was going crazy because I like to keep busy.

And he said, you know, you had great success in 2009 with your autobiography. You should write another book. And I told him I only wanted to do a children's book. So he encouraged me to write it and then we could see what happened. I didn't know what it was going to be about, but then my mom asked me if there were any books about adoption for kids.

I did some research and I found out that there wasn't much. But I didn't want to make it about just that. So, I decided to include it subliminally, but I didn't want to lead with that. I was looking at my dog one night, and I'm thinking, I adopted her, why can't it be about my dog and me? And then I started writing the book, and honestly, it was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be!

Because of the prose and the way you write it, I had to have some help. But I wrote that book, and it took me a long time because I didn't want to give it away.  I wanted it to be about acceptance and love, for everybody, no matter what you look like, or where you're from.

Q: Transitioning to your other book "I'm No Philosopher, But I Got Thoughts", one of our favorite chapters was Thoughts About Belonging. You talk about how belonging is different than acceptance because it doesn't depend on someone else's approval. Belonging is a feeling you recognize in yourself. We're curious, how did you find that feeling within yourself?

A: I grew up in Oklahoma, so small town USA. I was the only one in my town like me - who loved to sing, dance, and act. When I moved to New York, I was like, what am I doing here? I was performing at Paper Mill Playhouse and I was living my best life. But I'm looking around, you know getting pushed around because I'm very tiny, I got made fun of because of the way I sound and I'm just not really a big city girl. I didn't feel like I belonged. I didn't know how I was going to make it work, but I decided I was going to figure it out because I love what I do.

Nothing was going to deter me. But it wasn't until maybe five years later, that I had become
"A New Yorker", and I was like, what's different now? Within myself I was asking, what's different for you, Kristin, why do you feel like you belong? You're not a New Yorker, but what's changed? And I realized it was because I finally decided that I do have space here.

You're safe. You are where you need to be. And people that don't think that, need to take a step back and re-evaluate themselves. It's not about them. It's about you knowing that you are where you need to be. So, the lesson for me was, that when you self-accept that you are where you need to be, and that the space that you are taking up in is rightfully yours, and then you get that sense of knowing, of belonging.

It's not by somebody's approval. No, it's by your own.

Q: Let's pivot to talking about your Broadway Bootcamp because everything you just said is so much of what you instill in these kids. It would be very easy for a camp like that to become the kids trying to get the approval of Kristin Chenoweth or to get Kristin Chenoweth to see them.

And that's not what that camp is. Instead, these kids come away with a sense of belonging or, and sense that they're in the right place. Can you expand on that? 

A: 15 years ago, somebody passed away in our town and left a lot of money to build a performing arts center. Then they came to me and said they were going to name the theater after me and I was like, I'm too young!

But then my dad really challenged me, asking me how I wanted this theater to loo and how I wanted to be remembered. What was going to be the handprint for me in our hometown?

So that was a big challenge. I obviously have brought in a lot of people who do their acts, like me. I brought in a lot of the Broadway shows. I'm very proud of that, that Broadway is represented in my hometown. And we have the best theater. It's gorgeous. It's state-of-the-art and designed by a wonderful architect.

But that all being said, I wanted to make a bigger impact, so I came up with the idea of doing a Broadway boot camp. I bring in some Broadway stars and experts to come in and teach. I bring in the best of the best because I want them to have the experience that I didn't have. But I also want to normalize the fact that we are just normal people. When you're sitting there with Kevin Chamberlain, he's like, where's the barbecue? We understand that we're just there to have fun.  When I ask people to come, I need to make sure that they are the kind of faculty that fit into my journey here, which is we're just all here. We're all here to be artists. We're all here to learn.

By the end of the two weeks, our tanks are full as faculty members and the kids are ready, even if they don't do this for their living. We talk a lot about life skills like rejection and being there for your teammates when they score or when they hit a transition. We see these transitions happen before our eyes and to me, it's the most important thing that I do and the thing that I'm most proud of - not for me, but for them.

Now when I'm in a town where a camper lives, that I feel is ready to perform on stage, I invite them on and it's a full circle moment for me, for them, for all of us who teach and I'm deeply appreciative of everybody involved.

It's not just me, there are so many things that go on before I get there, and I couldn't do it without my team. All I want is for kids to feel seen, and heard, have a sense of belonging, learn how to root for others, learn how to root for themselves when no one does at home, and continue to find their passion.

Our auditions start in March for anybody reading who has somebody from age 13 to 18 who wants to try out. It's worldwide now, so we have kids from all over the world coming and I'm just very proud of it.

Q: How do you navigate the extreme ups and downs in life while wearing all those different hats and finding forgiveness for some things? Do you have thoughts? You're no philosopher, but I hope you have thoughts. (😉)

A: It's a constant work in progress and I'm still learning how to navigate things. In the best of times, there's always going to be a sniper from the side that gets you. And that's not just me, that's everybody.

So I take things as they come. I am a firm believer in counseling, that's a lot of help, with prayer, and meditation. Also, I spend time alone, my time is precious to me; I'm better for others, including my husband,  when I have the room to be alone and be a better artist. 

And I love rehearsing, I still love voice lessons and learning. II don't view myself as, "Oh I've arrived", I just never will, I'll always be a student. But that's not to say that life hasn't given me some doozies. But that's called life, and I'm lucky. I have a support system, I have a great circle of gals that I rely on, including my fantastic mom, and not everybody has that.

I've watched her survive cancer three times and so pretty much anything my way I go, "How could I not try to look at things from a different way?" I have not been perfect in my life, I've made a lot of mistakes, but I have learned a lot from them and learned what I don't want to do again. 

And the main thing is, learning forgiveness. I'm so hard on myself, your classic nightmare of perfectionism, and wanting to stay busy so I don't have to think about the tough stuff. But this past year, I had to take a look at my schedule and I crumbled. I'm always the strong one, I used to wear my business it as a badge. But that's not necessarily the way I want to be anymore. I need to have time to enjoy life, I need to have time to enjoy my husband, and time to enjoy when the good things do happen instead of on to the next.

Being in the moment gives you so many gifts. Forgiving others who've hurt you, gives you the gift of freedom. I'm very sensitive to others' behavior, and I tend to take things personally when someone's nasty to or about me. But the truth is, so little of it has to do with me, right? The day you wake up and realize that the world doesn't revolve around you is a beautiful blessing.

I'm proud to say that I've graduated from caring too much. I still care, I would be a liar if I said I didn't care, but I have graduated from revolving my life around the things and opinions I can't control.

What I can control is what kind of friend I want to be, what kind of daughter I want to be, what kind of singer I want to be, what kind of artist I want to be, and how I want to be remembered. Those are very helpful things to remember as we go along in this journey. Nobody's really thinking about you as much as you are.

If you're interested in diving deeper into this interview or exploring other interesting musical theatre conversations - check out the Broadway Vocal Coach podcast! Or check us out on Instagram, and get involved in the conversation! 

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