Former dance competition kid and current Broadway Connection Teaching Artist Sarah Bishop grew up in small town America, but now she has spread her wings and is touring the country on the Cabaret National Tour, which is celebrating the musical’s 50th anniversary season.
Bishop once participated in events like Onstage New York, American Dance Awards, Headliners and Dance Masters of America. She also attended various workshops including The School at Jacob’s Pillow’s Jazz/Musical Theatre Dance Program. Holding a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree, she can also play the trumpet and piano, which helped her land her current role.
Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Cabaret will next visit San Jose, CA; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; and Washington, D.C. Hear more from Bishop about her journey to this show, what the tour has been like and how it feels to perform this iconic choreography here.
Sarah, to start off, can you share a little about your background in the performing arts?
“I grew up in Butler, PA, which is a small town north of Pittsburgh. I danced at Lee’s School of Dance starting at age five and studied ballet, Cecchetti, tap, jazz and acrobatics. Then I went to college at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where I continued studying dance and earned my BFA in Musical Theater.”
After you graduated, when did you have your ‘big break’?
“I guess you could say my first big break is actually Cabaret because I got it right after graduating from college, and it’s my first long-term gig. My first professional job where I earned my equity card was when I danced in 42nd Street at Pittsburgh CLO my sophomore year of college. After that, I played Maria in a regional theater production of The Sound of Music. That’s all I have for professional gigs thus far, so I’m still pretty new to the industry!”
As you mentioned, you are currently cast in Cabaret, a revival touring nationally through August 6. You’re playing the character Helga. What does your role involve?
“Yes, I do play Helga! This role is fascinating since she’s nothing like myself. Helga is an ‘overly friendly’ — yes, let’s go with that — German Courtesan? Yes, that seems like a nice way of putting it. There’s less technical dancing in the show and more character-based movement, so it’s really awesome to have the freedom of developing a strong character through the choreography. It’s also fun to play an aggressive sexual character in such an iconic production, especially a show that still resonates so strongly today. Plus, we play instruments in the show, too, so we stay very busy on stage and off!”
You are performing the legendary choreography by Rob Marshall, as recreated by Cynthia Onrubia. What’s it like to perform this movement numerous times a week?
“The choreography is very physical, but not technical, so there was definitely a learning curve in figuring out how to maintain our body [for] eight shows a week. But that goes for any production you do – you will always be figuring out which parts of your body need more attention based on the movement.”
How do you keep this choreography ‘fresh’?
“The choreography is actually very liberating and open for interpretation, so that makes it pretty easy to keep fresh and in-the-moment every night. We also have a section of improv at the very beginning of the show where we come out as our characters, stretch on stage and interact with our audience, so that’s different every day. This show definitely allows you to be an actor first, and it has taught me a lot about character development and stylization.”
Overall, what’s your favorite scene to perform in the show? Why?
“I definitely love improvising as my character in the beginning of the show because that allows me the most freedom to do what I want. My favorite number in the show tends to fluctuate every night. ‘Willkommen’ is always fun because it’s the first number in our show, and we get to see and interact with the audience for the first time as a group. ‘Don’t Tell Mama’ is the easiest movement-wise and is also the most silly, so that is definitely a contrast. And ‘Mein Herr’ is almost like therapy because you can use any anger you’ve been holding in, and it’s awesome to feel the girl power!”
Based on your experience, what does it take to stay strong and always be at your best when on a national tour? You’ve been on the road for many months now!
“You just have to take care of yourself, honestly. Make sure you’re rolling out every day, soaking in Epsom salts when you’re sore, icing the appropriate places. You also have to make sure you’re getting enough sleep since it’s hard to catch up when you’re traveling a lot. And a healthy diet will always leave you feeling energized! That’s easier said than done when you have to eat out a lot, but there are definitely tour hacks to having a healthy diet!”
What’s one thing about touring that surprised you?
“I was surprised by the loneliness that you sometimes feel when being away from home for so long. But we have a great cast and are often able to visit home on layoffs. I was also surprised by how many people I knew who were spread across the country! I got to meet up with so many people whom I wouldn’t have been able to see had it not been for tour.”
As a Broadway Connection Teaching Artist, how do you seek to inspire young artists?
“I love teaching for Broadway Connection! I seek to inspire young artists by showing them that it is possible to come from a small dance studio and get professional gigs! I know when I was growing up, I didn’t have as many opportunities to learn original Broadway choreography, so I’m very excited to share this with students.
I’m also not that much older than a lot of them, so I can offer them a lot of insight about college and moving to the city for the first time. I love speaking with the students after class and offering them guidance for those exciting life steps!”
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with not only young artists but also teachers across the nation who are training students who dream of being on Broadway or in a national tour?
“I’d say don’t let anyone discourage you. There are going to be many times when people are going to try to hold you down or overlook you, and you simply must not take ‘no’ for an answer. Keep working, keep practicing, keep getting better, and one day you will come out a better artist! Being an artist is a deeply personal and rigorous career, and although it is rewarding, it is also extremely challenging. If your love for what you’re doing outweighs the challenge, then you are doing the right thing!”
Lastly, why should everyone come see Cabaret on tour?
“Everyone should come see Cabaret because it’s an incredible, iconic show. It truly is a classic piece of theater that is still so important today. It does have some adult content, so I would be wary of readers who are underage, but it is truly a remarkable show that should not be missed!”
By Chelsea Thomas of Dance Informa.