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The Distancing Diaries: ‘Jagged Little Pill’ Star Kathryn Gallagher on Keeping the Theater Community Alive Online

March 23, 2020 by Suzy Evans
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Kathryn Gallagher (Photographed by Nathan Johnson)

Welcome to The Distancing Diaries, where we chat with members of the theater community about how they’re staying creative and inspired in the time of social separation. While we can’t go to a show (for now), we hope that by sharing stories from the field, you’ll find comfort, solace, and maybe a few new ideas of how to pass the time. 

When Broadway officially shut down on March 12, Kathryn Gallagher jumped into action. Here evenings were no longer filled playing the conflicted high schooler Bella in “Jagged Little Pill,” but she still wanted to find ways to bring joy and music through art. 

“It has been really cool to see that even though Broadway has gone dark the performers did not,” she says. “I’ve seen more concerts from my Broadway idols in the past week than I have in my life — all from my phone. When you’re a performer, you’re going to find a stage no matter what, and that’s been really cool to see so many people be so generous with their talents.”

From performing an acoustic cover of Alanis Morrisette’s “You Learn” to hosting a virtual dance party benefit with her friends Ben Platt and Noah Galvin, Gallagher is exploring creative ways of sharing her artistic gifts. 

“I keep thinking about the message of our show now more than ever and how important it is,” she says. “I think ‘You Learn’ is the perfect song for right now. I keep trying to tell myself that. There’s going to be a lesson in all of this. I can’t to see everyone when it’s safe to do so. But until then, thank God for the Internet!”

Read more below to find out how Gallagher has been spending her time, from cooking gourmet meals to watching “Cats”!

What was your initial response when you found out about COVID and how it was affecting you and your show?
Anyone in my show will tell you I was watching the news very carefully for the 10 days before we shut down. I was like, “Guys I think this might happen. I think we might have some time off.” At the time, it sounded like I was a total conspiracy theorist. Everyone was like, “No come on. Broadway doesn’t stop.” It was all-consuming for me because I was watching these numbers climb in the rest of the world. I had a feeling it was coming. By the time that our last day in the theater rolled around and we were hearing reports of it hitting close to home, there was a very sobering energy in the air.

No one has seen anything like this. It’s hard for theater professionals especially to get their heads around because we’re so used to being the bringers of joy during times of distress and being medicine for the soul. At this time, that’s not the medicine we need.

Lauren Patten, Derek Klena, Kathryn Gallagher, and Celia Rose Gooding in “Jagged Little Pill” on Broadway.

What inspired you to join in and share your talents in the Living Room Concert?
I started out as a songwriter so sitting alone in a room and playing guitar is something that I’m pretty much always doing. Being in a show eight times a week, there have been so many covers I’ve written and moments I’ve wanted to share but haven’t necessarily had the time…It was such a no brainer to sing “You Learn” because at the end of the day there is a lesson in everything.

How did the dance party come about?
Noah, Ben, and I had been up here for a couple days, and we did some things together and we were talking about what was going on in the world. I though of “Gilmore Girls” — as I pretty much do in most conversations. I mentioned how they had this dance-a-thon and how fun would that be if we did that on the Internet. We could donate it to charity and we could have a dance part on the Internet and see how long we could go. Then we were all like great, we can do that.

It was really just how are we going to best lift spirits right now and make money. This is a time when our entire community, for the most part, is out of work. We know that there’s a need for resources. We know there’s a need for support. If we can raise spirits and raise money at the same time by dancing around the living room then why not?

What is keeping you inspired during this time?
I think there’s nothing more inspiring than times of uncertainty and times of introspection, and right now, I’m alone in a house with nothing to do but think. We live such fast-paced lives that it’s so rare you get an opportunity to slow down and take stock of what you’ve been learning and what you’ve been seeing and what you’ve been experiencing. On a macro level, to look at all of the things that we have in common as people. This virus is such a great equalizer. It doesn’t play favorites. It’s keeping us all remarkably humble and it’s brought everyone to a moment of stillness and isolation right now.

You also don’t have to be super productive right now. You can also take a step back and read a book or take a nap and let your body reset, which is something I’m not probably very good at. But I am trying to also take this moment to catch up on some rest and not put too much pressure on myself to constantly create but let that creativity come to me and see what happens with that.

Sound of Music

What are some of your favorite things you’ve watched?
I watched “The Sound of Music” the other night, which I hadn’t seen probably since I was a little kid and that was extraordinary. I’ve actually never seen “Cats” so I’m going to watch the “Cats” movie tonight, which I’m really excited about. We were listening so much to our dance party playlist in preparation, which is all these really really fun pop songs that were so uplifting. I’m a big puzzle fan. I find that doing a puzzle is a really great way to keep my hands off my phone. I’ve really been spending a lot of my time on FaceTime catching up with friends that I don’t get to talk to all the time. Lots of cooking.

What have you been cooking and do you have any recipes you can share?
This challah recipe was pretty good (see recipe below!), and then we made challah french toast the next morning, which was aces. We made a vegan chili. We made a cauliflower pizza. We’ve been eating very well. I got some new cake pans. I love to bake cakes so I’m hoping my next move to conquer is a spice cake. Noah Galvin and I were actually talking about doing a split Instagram live, baking the same thing at the same time.

How are you staying in touch with your company during this time?
We have a text thread that has been nonstop pretty much since the moment that we found out. You’re in such close quarters with everyone. You know everything that’s going on with everyone. You know what everyone had for dinner. It’s so intimate to being entirely isolated. We all feel a bit discombobulated so we’ve been sending each other updates and well wishes and making sure we check in and that everyone feels loved and seen. It’s such a good reminder that when you work on Broadway, yes it’s a job but it really is so much more. It really is a family.

As a performer currently in a show, how are you making sure you’re physically and vocally ready to return?
My pilates teacher actually just started this on-demand app that she had coming out regardless, and it just so happened to come out a few days ago. So I’ve been doing that every morning, which has been really helpful. I definitely know how hard it is to get in shape and ready for a Broadway show to keep your stamina up so I’m trying to not lose that. Otherwise when we get back, that opening number is going to be a lot harder than when we left.

Finally, how do you think people can support theater and the arts and engage with it during this time?
It’s all about keeping the community alive right now. Of course, if you have the means to donate to The Actors Fund or to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS could not be a more crucial to get that support because so many people are out of work.

If you can’t donate, I think just keeping the community alive and checking with people when people do livestreams, or create your own content or your own contribution to the community. I think just reminding people that theater has been such a reprieve of the stressors in our life and the world around us and such a safe haven, the more we can celebrate that community, the more we can keep it alive and ready for us when it is safe to return to actual live theater. Listen and share your favorite cast albums. Tune in to the live performances you see on the Internet. Just remember that theater is the best, and it’s a resilient community. I think we can all do whatever we can to keep it alive.