A Chat with WAITRESS and WICKED's Emily Koch

(Joan Marcus)

(Joan Marcus)

  • Karen Stahl

Emily Koch is a woman who knows how to jump around. She just finished her brief Broadway run in Waitress on June 2 after touring the country with the show as a swing. Koch also spent time in Wicked both on tour and on Broadway as the Elphaba standby. She currently resides in New York City.

Karen Stahl: “What’s the difference between tour life in Waitress and Broadway life in Waitress?”

Emily Koch: “I’ve toured a couple times now. With Waitress, the stops were a little bit shorter than what I was used to. I thought I wouldn’t like that, but turns out I actually really did. I like the traveling. It helps me, strangely, with getting anxious. If I’m sitting in one place, you start having a routine, and you start thinking you have to have that to perform. I kind of liked that, because I knew I was traveling every week and that I was never going to have a routine. I was like, ‘Of course, I can do anything without anything.’ I will say though that doing the show here, it’s so nice to be able to live in your own house and not worry about picking up your prescriptions at a different place. It’s little things like that, where you’re like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even realize how stressful that can be.’ It takes the stress out of it.

KS: “So how does your anxiety play into you as a performer in your professional life and in your personal life?”

EK: “To tell you the truth, I didn’t have struggles with anxiety or performance anxiety at all for a really, really, really long time, up until I did Wicked. I think just the demands of playing Elphaba, it started to make me really nervous kind of in the middle of it, which is so weird. I started to think that I needed to rely on other things and I had to go to doctors and I had to do this and I had to do that. But since I’ve gotten out of Wicked, I kind of re-came back to myself like, ‘No, the only thing I really need is me.’ It helped me to come back to myself. Waitress really helped with that too, especially being a swing and never really knowing what I’m going to do. It’s like, ‘I can make myself miserable and worry about this, or I cannot.’ And so that’s kind of been the journey with that.”

KS: “That mindset, is that something you got from training somewhere or is that something you kind of came to on your own?”

EK: “Definitely through some of the training. I went to Interlochen Arts Academy for the last two years of high school in Michigan, and then I went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. And both of them are very much like, ‘You have all you need inside of you, and you can rely on your training and rely on your gifts.’ And they were very big on coming back to that. But I think as far as long-running stuff, school can’t teach you how to handle that. So that’s kind of something I’ve discovered from working on my own from working in shows.”

KS: “You’ve had really long runs with two incredible women. How do you keep performances from getting mechanical?”

EK: “Mostly the other actors. I feel like any time I’m starting to question if I’ve been doing this for a while – it’s starting to feel stale – I rely so heavily on other actors. I’m like, ‘Just look at them. There’s something in them.’ So I love going on in other cities, I love going on with other people. I feel like actors are the people that save other actors.”

KS: “How does your connection to other actors – what’s that relationship like onstage when you’re playing these really powerful women who face a lot of adversity?”

EK: “That’s a great question. I think it was Stephen Schwartz who said – he did a masterclass when I was at Carnegie. He was like, ‘Even if the character is sad in a song or angry in a song, singing is a joyous act. It will always be a joyous act.’ Playing people a lot of the time that are hated or abused, like Elphaba and Jenna are, it’s still a very joyous act. And I like actors that know that deep down. There’s a sense of fun and play, and you can go even harder and more into it if you know that they’re joyous actors. I think it’s really amazing to be hated onstage. That’s cool, because it feels very safe.”

KS: A lot of times we talk about openings on Broadway and the glamour of a Broadway show, but what’s it like closing and waking up the next day?

EK: “That’s also a great question. I’m not a big celebrator, to be honest. It’s kind of like, ‘Okay let’s flip out, and then I’m done.’ But the waking up the next day is kind of like the most amazing freedom. The day I woke up knowing that I did not have to sing Defying Gravity ever again if I didn’t want to was unlike anything. I was like, ‘I can literally do anything I want.’ So the day after feels very free, and like you kind of went to a spa. You didn’t realize how much you were thinking about doing that show at night until you’re not doing it. And then a week a later, at least for me, my mind goes totally blank. I don’t remember anything about the experience for a while, and then memories start kind of coming back to me, like mourning it a little bit.”

KS: Tell me a little bit about swing life. Is it a different part of your brain you have to flex when you’re swinging roles?

EK: “Definitely. I had never swung before even – because the Elphaba standby is kind of like you’re playing it. That was the only coverage situation I had ever done. You’re doing two shows a week usually, so it really feels like you’re doing it. So I had never covered multiple parts like that before. It’s definitely a different skill, and it’s a skill I didn’t think I was going to have, but I did, which I’m happy about. But when I signed up to do it, I was like, ‘I don’t think my brain works like this.’ It’s actually made me more of a peripheral actor. I knew everyone’s parts from Waitress, basically. I was able to put things together character-wise easier. It makes you think about the show in such a different way that you become way more present on stage, because when I would be on as Jenna, because I’m like, ‘Oh, I’d be doing this if I was this track.’ So it makes you very present. I actually kind of liked it, and I didn’t expect to.”

KS: What is your dream role?

EK: “I really want to be Violet. I love Violet. I’ll do it in a barn in the middle of Michigan. I’d do it anywhere. And I’d love later on to be Dot in (Sunday in the Park with George). For sure.”