Episode 3: Heather S. Auden
Jordan: I’m Jordan Werme and this is Table to Stage. Let’s get the pod started.
This episode is Heather Spiegel Auden. She is a performer. She touches nearly every media you could imagine. She’s in theater, puppetry, voice acting, you name it. She was nice enough to sit with me to discuss a variety of different topics including the renaissance fair and recording audio books. It was a really great conversation and I hope you enjoy it.
Before we start that, I do want to take a moment to mention another podcast that I think many of you might enjoy. It’s called Couch Grouches. If you’re into nerd culture, kind of like I am, comic books, movies, video games, all kinds of other topics, you should definitely give Jim, Joe, and Gonzo at Couch Grouches a shot. It’s available on Podbean and Apple Podcast and you can visit them on facebook.com/couchgrouches. It’s definitely a not-safe-for-work pod, so be warned.
Don’t forget, you can comment and rate the podcast if you enjoy it. If you have a comment or a question, you can email me at email@example.com or you can send me a message on Facebook. Here’s my conversation with Heather Spiegel Auden.
If you were putting together a resume today…
Heather: That has to be the first question.
Jordan: Yeah, of course. And you had to discuss…
Heather: It would be 15 pages long.
Jordan: But how would you describe yourself?
Heather: Seriously eclectic. If there’s something that can be done, I have probably done it at this point. Possibly up to in including brain surgery. I’ve done a little bit of everything. You know a lot of people say that, but I really have done a little bit of everything. It’s crazy.
Jordan: Yeah. I know you do stage work, you do voice work, puppetry, renaissance fair.
Heather: Renaissance fair’s do the north pole express.
Jordan: That’s a good time. The kids love that.
Heather: It is. The kids love it. That’s just the artistic stuff. I also pay the bills by doing all kinds of other stuff.
Jordan: Oh, the boring things.
Heather: Well, I do breaks on cars and I have a woman who needs help with some stuff around her house and I help her out with that. I do house painting. I do all kinds of crazy stuff. Including some of the corporate nonsense but I die in that environment so I try to avoid it as much as possible.
Jordan: Yeah, the corporate environment’s a little soul-crushing sometimes.
Heather: I think that what’s frustrating about that is I think a lot of people say, “Oh, yeah. I hate my job, too.” I don’t think that they understand that for some very artistic people, it’s like water torture. Everyday is worse than the one before and you literally can’t do it.
Jordan: Right, because if you have that creative nature, if you have an outlet for it…
Heather: It’s crushing. Really, it’s deadly. I don’t do well in that.
Jordan: You’re originally from Connecticut?
Heather: I’m originally from Connecticut. I moved out to California for several years when my parents got divorced as a teenager and then I moved back here to go to Harrt School of Music. I decided I liked New England.
Heather: Yeah. I’m a New Englander at heart. I really am.
Jordan: It’s funny. I wasn’t born here but I can’t live anywhere else.
Heather: People are too friendly here. It freaks me out.
Jordan: You went to San Diego State?
Heather: I did. I went to San Diego State.
Jordan: For the music department there?
Heather: I was actually in the theater department. The joke about the San Diego State is that it takes five years to graduate from there, four to go to classes and one to park because there are 40,000 students there.
Jordan: Is it that big?
Heather: It’s huge.
Jordan: I had no idea.
Heather: Yeah, it’s really huge.
Jordan: Wow. What was that like being out there?
Heather: As far as college was concerned, it was great. I enjoyed the theater department. I got to really experiment with… I wasn’t really a musical theater major, I was just a theater major, so I got to experiment with some really interesting weird shows. I get to stretch my legs a little bit.
Jordan: What the theater department like? I know Juilliard is all student-run and all that kind of stuff where they’re doing workshops.
Heather: It was. There was a lot of workshopping. A lot of the plays that we did were student-run. They were fun. We had a good time. I got to do a lot of weird shows there.
Jordan: What involvement did you have? Were you just performing or did you do writing, directing, anything like that?
Heather: In college, I was mostly acting. I was mostly performing at that time. It took when I got older to start directing and getting more involved in tech and design. I’ve never been a writer. I give a lot of credit to writers because it’s just not my bag. Most of the other jobs involved, I did more when I was an adult.
Jordan: Where did you start to find that love of theater that made you decide you needed to go to college for it?
Heather: From the time I was a little kid.
Jordan: Just performing in the living room.
Heather: I’m hard-pressed to remember a time where I was not performing in some way or theatrically involved. Three and four years old, I’ve always done it. I had a really supportive mom.
Jordan: That’s great.
Heather: She can be a little overly supportive, standing ovation for finishing your broccoli and all that but it’s better than the alternative, I think, which is not having any support.
Jordan: When you came back out to Connecticut after being in San Diego, did you notice anything? Obviously, the weather’s different but in terms of the theater culture here, was there anything that stood out for you?
Heather: I think in general, San Diego struck me as a very transient place. I think a lot of the young people out there or people who are in the process of moving from one place to another, whereas I think Connecticut is more stable. It is harder to get to know people here but when you do make friends here, they’re friends for life.
I think that that is similar to the theater environment here is that people seem to take it seriously. You wouldn’t find yourself in a show here where somebody just wouldn’t show up to a performance because something else came up, which would actually happen out in San Diego.
Jordan: I can’t imagine.
Heather: You’re like, “What?” Exactly. As a New Englander, you’re like, “What?”
Jordan: I’ve seen people with fevers or broken appendages.
Heather: Oh yeah, half dead. Absolutely. We don’t have understudies so you get your butt on stage. That was a different atmosphere. People are more serious here in general. They’re serious here in New England. We’re serious people.
Jordan: Do you think anything that has to do with the proximity to New York or Boston? Because there’s major stuff going on in those two cities.
Heather: And San Diego’s closer to LA.
Jordan: We’re sandwiched in between those two cities.
Heather: We are more of a theater-driven community out here than a film and TV industry, which was definitely a huge difference. It was much more about looking right out there and I think that the craft, for lack of a better term — I hate that term, so pretentious — but the acting craft is taken a little more seriously here. Maybe it’s pretentious of me. I think that theater people tend to be more serious on the acting side than TV actors are.
Jordan: That’s interesting. I’ve never really interacted much with TV people. I’ve met a few here and there.
Heather: You don’t meet a lot here because we’re the theater side of the country.
Jordan: That’s interesting.
Heather: They don’t make all the movies in New York, but the play’s in New York.
Jordan: How did you get into puppets? It wasn’t just Sesame Street as a kid or anything, was it?
Heather: No. Word to the wise out there, I have fallen into 98% of the things that I’ve done in my life because I went “I guess I’ll try this for a little while and see how it goes.” That was absolutely the case. I actually know the people who run [inaudible 8:54] puppets personally. They’re personal friends. They basically said, “Hey, we’re starting up this puppet troop. Do you want to give them a shot?” I said, “Sure.” I’ve always done voice work. For me, it’s just acting voice work where I’m actually getting some exercise at the same time.
Jordan: Okay. Are these more hand-sized puppets? Are they larger creations?
Heather: They’re not as big as Avenue Q Puppets but a little bit smaller than that, but that style of puppet. Like a muppet kind of puppet.
Jordan: Did you have to learn the technical aspects of that as well as just lending your voice to it?
Heather: A little.
Jordan: I would assume that moving a puppet around in a semi-realistic manner isn’t something everybody can do automatically.
Heather: It’s really fun because if you watch Jim Henson’s crew, one of the things that is really exciting about puppetry is that in order to make something come alive, it has to always be moving. It really gets you in the headspace of paying attention to yourself and other people when you’re having a conversation. “What am I doing when I’m listening? What am I doing when I’m talking?” So what is the puppet doing when it’s listening?
They’re always breathing. We’re always moving, we’re always breathing, we’re always interacting and reacting. I think it’s a really valuable way to improve your craft as an actor, too, is to be aware because when you’re aware of your puppet, which you have to be, you’re also aware of what you’re doing as a person. It’s really neat. I’ve really enjoyed it. I will sit sometimes with my kids. My kids will tell you we have the sock puppet from an old party and I’ll sit and watch movies with my kids and I’ll just have the puppet there with me and she’ll be reacting to the movie and making commentary. They think it’s hysterical.
Jordan: A little mystery science theater.
Heather: A little bit, yeah. My little sock puppet.
Jordan: That’s great. Where is [inaudible 10:55]
Heather: [inaudible 10:56] puppet’s, the owners are in Torrington. Mostly what we’ve been doing is working for Hartford Performs which is for kids in Hartford schools. We were bringing in a series of Cinderella stories to do a compare and contrast for the kids from different cultures. We were doing a Mexican Cinderella story and an Irish Cinderella story and doing different stories so that the kids could learn.
Jordan: That’s interesting.
Heather: Yeah, it was fun.
Jordan: What’s the reaction like from them?
Heather: It’s really wonderful. What was amazing to me, I didn’t know what to expect how the kids were going to react because you never know. But the age range were very varied. We had preschoolers all the way up to 3rd grade. All of them really seem to get something out of it.
Jordan: That’s good.
Heather: The little ones, they like looking at the puppets. They like the funny voices and screaming at weird sounds. The older kids really seem to understand the gist of the stories and they wanted to know about the design of the puppets and how they work and how you do the weird voices and all that.
Jordan: That’s great.
Heather: It was really fun.
Jordan: Fostering a curiosity.
Heather: It really was. It’s really neat. The plan is to pick it up again next school year. We’re done for this school year.
Jordan: Is it strictly schools that you guys work in?
Heather: No, we also do private gigs. Whatever comes up.
Jordan: That’s neat. How many people are involved? How big is the show?
Heather: It’s a small troop. Generally, there are three or four of us involved with the show.
Jordan: And how many different characters are you doing?
Heather: One of the shows has something like 12 different characters in it, so we’re taking them off and putting them on.
Jordan: And it’s all three or four of you doing them all?
Heather: It’s just two of us behind the puppet stage and then one person who’s a narrator. Yeah, those puppets are flying. They’re going off and on and back and forth. Voices are changing back and forth.
Jordan: How do you keep that straight?
Heather: It’s exciting. I have no idea because you have to be thinking a couple seconds ahead.
Jordan: Yeah, you have to.
Heather: You have to think, “Alright. So the mouse puppet’s going to come on in half a page. I got to remember to pop him on and do it.”
Jordan: I don’t really do voices per se but when I have had different things that I’ve needed to go from one style of talking to another, it’s really hard to keep just two of those straight so doing a handful of them…
Heather: I love that challenge. I really do. One of my favorite things in narrating audio books is having an argument between two characters. When it’s a well-written argument and you’re bopping back and forth between the characters cutting each other off but you have to go from voice to voice, I love that. It’s really fun.
Jordan: Since you bring that up, the audio books, you’ve done nine of them so far, is that right?
Heather: If you say so. I’ve got more in the works. I’ve got some more that I’m recording right now.
Jordan: I’m an Audible addict right now. I love Audible and podcast. I looked you up on Audible; I found nine of them. The most recent one, two of them? The Fantasy Island: Cyn’s Dragon and Moxie’s Vampire?
Jordan: I didn’t read them. I didn’t listen to them.
Heather: They’re not for your entire audience.
Jordan: Just looking at the pictures, I figured that’s not my demographic. I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover and all that but…
Heather: They’re really fun. They’re supernatural romance novels.
Jordan: Yeah. They screamed Twilight at me.
Heather: They kind of do. Getting more toward the naughty end of things.
Jordan: Fifty Shades of Twilight.
Heather: Yes, which is always entertaining. I don’t generally record with my kids in the house. It pays the rent.
Jordan: What is that like? Some of the books that I’ve listened to are 25, 30 hours, the same person reading a very long, very complicated book, going back and forth between so many different characters.
Heather: You have to take notes. You have to remember if you’re in page 15 and this character comes up, you have to write down, “Okay. So this is the maid character and I did her in this style of voice in this general…” You have to pay attention to the dynamic of your voice and say, “Okay. So I’m doing it in a mid-range forward tone.”
Jordan: You have to be able to do it on the fly as you’re going.
Heather: Yes. Some people probably do pre-read their books. I don’t do that. I read cold.
Jordan: That’s so much time with one book to be able to do that.
Heather: It is. It’s a lot. For things like ACX where you’re doing you’re own editing, you have to go back and edit it.
Jordan: And re-record [inaudible 15:50]
Heather: Yeah, re-record that you mixed, missed, whatever.
Jordan: How did you get involved in audio books?
Heather: I initially auditioned for a company called Tantor Publishing out of Old Saybrook. They are a professional company that does audio recording. They have a studio there. They have editors there. I started with them. I did a couple of books with them. I myself and some of my friends who have worked for them I think are coming to the conclusion that a lot of us haven’t gotten some work from them for a while and we’re thinking maybe that the market’s getting pretty saturated by things like ACX. I’ve been doing work on my own now that I set up my own home studio. I’ve been doing work on my own with ACX and that’s really where the majority of the work is starting to come from now.
Jordan: That’s where you submit a sample to them, right?
Heather: You audition, basically. There’s a whole search option out there. You can search the kind of work that you’re looking for. You can weed out the kind of work you don’t want to do. Note everybody wants to do the naughty stuff. I don’t care. As long as it’s not hate speech, I’ll do pretty much whatever. I will not do a Nazi manifesto.
Jordan: How would you screen something like that? It could be page 350 before something like that comes out.
Heather: You know what, honestly? I think if that happened, I would cancel my contract because I feel strongly enough that I will not do anti-LGBTQ or hateful or antisemitic or anything like that. That’s just my own personal feeling about that. But soft core porn? Whatever. What do I care.
Jordan: That’s great. Voice work and stage work, they both rely heavily on the sound and producing but you don’t have the added benefit of body language or playing off of another person. You don’t have an audience there to give you instant feedback of what’s going on. What are the unique challenges that you have to deal with when you’re doing audio book?
Heather: I think that actually harder than audio books have been some of the podcasts that I’ve done where I’m just recording only my part of a script from home and then it’s being edited with another actor being in London and doing their part of it. That’s more challenging than the book. At least with the book, I have me to play off of. It is challenging. I think what’s challenging is keeping the characters fresh enough. If you have a lot of different characters in a book and you’re only one voice, you can do accents, you can do different ranges vocally but still, depending on how many characters you have, after a while, you’re like “Okay. I’ve done this sort of character already.” That’s the hard part.
Jordan: You’re talking about doing the remote recording. You have to anticipate how somebody’s going to…
Heather: How they’re going to read their line.
Jordan: …be reading the line that comes after yours. How’s that even possible?
Heather: It’s not.
Jordan: Because you don’t know these people.
Heather: It’s not. You hope that the editors fix it all in post and it sounds good. The different voice thing, too, I remember reading Watership Down to my kids when they were little and that was one of those books. I always read to them in voices. I remember getting halfway through it and going “I can’t come up with another British rabbit voice. I’ve got thirty different British rabbits going on here.”
Jordan: Oh my God.
Heather: The podcast, they’re challenging in that way. They really are. You’re acting off of a non-existent actor.
Jordan: I’ve never really thought about that before but that’s got to be impossibly difficult to anticipate that.
Heather: It’s hard. It’s either really hard or really easy because you just say your lines and if they don’t like it, they’ll let you know.
Jordan: Maybe I overthink it or something.
Jordan: Alright. Let’s jump from audio to the more physically present Renaissance fair.
Heather: I was very, very lucky to be cast as Queen Elizabeth last year in the Connecticut Renaissance.
Jordan: Was it your first?
Heather: That was my first year there. I’m hoping that they’ll cast me again. I think they do try to keep their royalty consistent. I’m hoping that they’ll want me again. It’s really fun. It’s so much fun.
Jordan: That’s what I hear from people all the time.
Heather: Renaissance fair people are like theater people on steroids. They’re a whole different group and they’re really fun and weird and entertaining. It’s a whole different kind of theater.
Jordan: There’s a lot of improv.
Heather: Tremendous amount of improv.
Jordan: Have you taken improv classes before?
Heather: I’ve done a little bit of improv but mostly it’s just been, again, throwing myself into it.
Jordan: How do you do that? How do you throw yourself into something that you’re not getting a script. You’re getting, I would guess, a character description?
Heather: We do have rehearsals. Last year, they do have a script that runs throughout the day of the fair. They do have an ongoing script and an in between the chunks of scripted stuff, you’re just improving.
Jordan: These are like the stage shows that they have?
Heather: Yeah. Little stage shows throughout the day.
Jordan: Like the jousting, they have the stage with the combat, all that stuff.
Heather: Right, all that kind of stuff. My character’s a little different than some of the other actors who are hired because their roles are more free wheeling. As the queen, I have specific behaviors that I need to follow all the time.
Jordan: Or that you need to make other people fall in love.
Heather: I know. That was the hardest part of doing it last year. I’m a pretty self-sufficient woman. I do most of my own stuff. Suddenly being thrown into this situation where everybody is telling me “I don’t have to do anything for myself.” Yeah, I can get used to it with some effort.
Jordan: Getting back into normal theater after that would be a little difficult.
Heather: Yeah. It’s like “Wait, why aren’t you bringing me a drink?” As far as improv is concerned, I don’t know. How do you learn to improvise? That’s a hard question. I think it’s just talking to people. I don’t think it’s a whole lot different than being a podcast interviewer where you just have a conversation. You’re having a conversation.
Jordan: The one thing I hear from improv people is that the most important part of it is to listen to the other people that you’re working with, whether you’ve really taken classes or you know how to do it. Listen and be present is what I hear from people.
Heather: Absolutely. Acting is reacting. That’s what you always hear people say. “Part of the craft is that acting is reacting.” Improv I think even more so. With improv, it’s just a matter of picking something and going with it. I think you have to not worry so much about always being funny or having a particular response from your audience. I think you just need to pick a character and run with it and unapologetically run with that character, however insane or weird or bizarre it may be.
Jordan: I’ve made a choice, see where this goes.
Heather: I’ve made a choice and I’m going with it. That’s what makes it work or not work. If it doesn’t work, you drop it and you move on to something else.
Jordan: In that setting, how do you know when something has not worked?
Heather: For me, it always works as the queen because what I say goes. That’s where I’m really lucky.
Jordan: How do you tell everybody else that it’s not working?
Heather: Well, I get to just order them around and make them change their character. How do you know if something isn’t working in improv? I think the only bad response is a lack of response from an audience. If you’re making them laugh, pissing them off, disgusting them, you’re getting a response, you’re succeeding. I think when you lose them and they start spacing out on you or walking away, that’s when it’s not working.
Jordan: A lot of cellphones glowing.
Heather: Yeah, a lot of cellphones, right. That’s when it’s not working and that’s when you need to change your direction.
Jordan: That’s got to be a difficult read to make. If they’re not into what we’re doing now, what direction can we take this that’s going to get them to pay attention again?
Heather: Especially when you’re working alongside other people because you all have to work together to change that focus.
Jordan: Especially with Renn fair crowd, it’s quite often the same group coming back year after year after year so as somebody who was new to it last year, what was that process for you to integrate into what is essentially an established troop?
Heather: They’re a very welcoming bunch. I was really pleasantly surprised to see how warm and welcoming. Shout out to the Connecticut Renaissance Fair in particular because we had commentary from [inaudible 25:55] and people who travel to Renaissance fairs throughout the entire country who said how wonderfully warm and greeting the Connecticut Renaissance Fair in particular was.
Heather: I think that’s really true. It was a really inclusive group of people which I felt very lucky about. I did work at a Renaissance fair when I was much younger, 16, 17 years old at the San Bernardino, California Renaissance Fair, which was one of the first and largest RenFairs in the country. I was a street performer out there so I had that experience in my past. When you said this is my first time, it wasn’t really my first time.
Jordan: Okay. First time with Connecticut.
Heather: With this group, they were just really welcoming. I don’t know how else to answer that other than I didn’t feel like an outsider form the beginning. I didn’t feel like I hadn’t been involved before. They didn’t make me feel that way so we all just worked together as a team. We had rehearsals and we put on a great show.
Jordan: How long is the rehearsal process for something like this?
Heather: For this RenFair, I believe it was 3 weekends of all-day Saturday, all-day Sunday.
Jordan: It’s got to be pretty intense if it’s just six days.
Heather: It was very intense but really fun. I had a lot of fun.
Jordan: What is it, it’s weekends for close to two months, right?
Heather: Yeah. They just upped it to 7 weekends this year. It was 6 last year. They were very successful in their new location in Lebanon, which is out in the middle of cow country but it’s a beautiful location. It’s a great space for getting away from the modern world.
Jordan: Last year was actually, I can’t believe it, but it was the first time I ever actually went to a Renaissance Fair.
Heather: Oh, really? So you went last year?
Jordan: I did. I went last year I think specifically because on Facebook, I noticed that I knew ten or twelve people that are in it. I just thought “I have to go. I have to support the people.”
Heather: Got to check it out. Wasn’t it a beautiful location?
Jordan: It was. It was really nice.
Heather: It’s really nice because you can’t hear a truck go by or anything.
Heather: You’re just out there.
Jordan: It’s nice. It’s very immersive.
Heather: It is.
Jordan: They have so many different things going on.
Heather: I hope more people go because I really think that one of the real pleasures that we got, and I always get, is watching people come in in their street clothes and looking around like “What the hell did I get myself in to?” “My wife dragged me here. What’s with all these crazy people in tights running around.”
You see the same dude walking out in half Renaissance garb and he’s smiling from ear to ear and he’s had a blast. You ask him if they had a good time, and they’re like, “This was the most fun I’ve had in a really long time.” Just because it’s so weird and new and different and fun.
Jordan: It’s completely different than anything else.
Heather: It is. People should go. They really should go.
Jordan: Oh yeah, definitely. I went to, I don’t remember what it was called, three years ago. We took the kids to a pirate festival, something like that.
Heather: Is it Mystic?
Jordan: No. It was up in Northwestern part of the state somewhere. I don’t remember. It was a few years ago. The kids were young. They were still in a stroller. I remember looking around thinking “These people are having more fun than I think I’ve had.”
Heather: Yeah. Pirates are a blast.
Jordan: You can tell that the performers are enjoying what they’re doing.
Jordan: It really comes across. I think that really adds to the enjoyment for everybody that goes to see it.
Heather: They’re very immersed in it.
Jordan: It was the same at the Connecticut Ren Fair last summer. Everybody was enjoying themselves so much that it was infectious. The kids had a great time.
Heather: It’s one of those careers that people involved in it love doing it. Theater. Performing. You go to the North Pole Express and the people who are there are really enjoying entertaining the children. You go to the Ren Fair and the people who are there really enjoying what they’re immersed in. They love the costumes and the language and the people and the environment. The people doing it are having fun. When somebody is doing something and having a great time with it, you’re going to have a great time with it.
Jordan: I think it always adds to the enjoyment as a consumer.
Heather: Absolutely. When you go to get your taxes done, does your tax accountant really love his job?
Jordan: I think some of them might.
Heather: Some of them might, not to knock any tax accountants out there because we need you guys. But I don’t get that whole thing.
Jordan: You bring up the… It’s not the North Pole Express, is it? Is that what it’s called?
Heather: Yes, yes. North Pole Express. It is not The Polar Express.
Jordan: Right. I can’t remember which one.
Heather: At Essex.
Jordan: That is also largely improv, right?
Jordan: With musical theater built into it.
Jordan: And lots and lots of children up past their bedtime, hopped up on Coca-Cola and hot chocolate.
Jordan: There’s not just the performance aspect of that. There is the saintly patients.
Heather: I got to tell you something. I wore my FitBit and the length of the train car, and you’re going back and forth and back and forth. You’re walking miles and miles or running or dancing miles every night. It’s exhausting. It’s a lot of work.
Jordan: I did not get to go this past year because I was ill and stuck in bed but the kids have gone now a couple of times.
Heather: Thank you for staying home if you were stuck in bed. I’d like to put that out there. Can you please not come into a sealed up box with fifty sick children. Some of us would like to not get sick all winter. It’s hard because you paid for the tickets and you’re like, “Well, if you’re done throwing up let’s go get on the train.”
Jordan: Yeah, I was sad to miss it because there were again performers I knew that I wanted to see but it was also an opportunity to give those tickets to another family that wasn’t going to be able to get to go. It was passing that opportunity to see that kind of live theater on.
Heather: Which is awesome.
Jordan: My wife still took the kids and they all had a good time. The level of energy and excitement there has is mind boggling.
Heather: It’s insane. It really is.
Jordan: It’s not one show a day.
Heather: No, they’re adding a train this year, too.
Jordan: Another train?
Heather: Yes. The standard will be like free shows back to back to back.
Jordan: Acting job’s available is what you’re saying.
Jordan: What is that experience like? Have you done it just one year now?
Heather: This will be my third year this year, so two years I’ve done it. It’s terrifying the first time you do it. Once you do it, you realize “I’m playing with children.” That’s what I’m doing. I’m playing with kids. Fifteen minutes of the show is scripted. It’s music and it’s a song that we’re supposed to do. People who have been coming for years and years and years sing along with you. They know the song. And then it’s a series of games that you play with everybody on the train. Again, the improv comes in. You have to, as a performer, you have to read your car of people and see if they’re a wild bunch, are they a subdued bunch, what kind of games go well for these kids. Are they generally little little little kids? Are they older, teenagers who are rolling their eyes the whole time because they don’t want to be there? It’s a lot of flexibility. You have to be really, really flexible. The people, the actors and the Santas and the elves and everybody who works. Honestly, everybody who works at the train are just amazing people. The guys who run the train and the trainmen and everything, they’re a great bunch. Everybody gets really into it. They’re a wonderful bunch of people to work with. They really are.
Jordan: It is a talented group, too.
Heather: They really are.
Jordan: I’ve never seen, not that I’ve been there a ton of times, but the people that I’ve seen, outstanding. Talented singers and performers.
Heather: All those actors come up with their own characters.
Jordan: What is that like? How do you come up with your own Christmas-themed?
Heather: For me, for some reason, it was very, very simple because my character is Auntie Freeze, I’m Santa’s sleigh mechanic. It’s very me. It’s very me. I wear candy striped overalls and my character has a Southern accent. She’s a human, she’s not an elf. She’s very down to earth and that’s just the character that I was comfortable with. That was really easy for me to come up with.
Jordan: What resources do they give you to come up with that character? Do they provide costumes or is it all on you to…?
Heather: They help with the process but we do come up with our own costumes. If we need assistance, they are there to help us.
Jordan: Is Essex the only place that does this?
Heather: There are other…
Jordan: At least in Connecticut.
Heather: Oh, absolutely in Connecticut, yeah. There are other trains throughout the country but ours is the most of a performance. Ours is probably, I don’t want to say the best in the country, but it’s probably the best in the country.
Jordan: It’s easy to believe.
Heather: It sells out in a heartbeat.
Jordan: Oh, yeah. If you don’t get tickets today, they go on sale. You’re out of luck. At least until after the holidays.
Heather: Right. People absolutely love it. The love it and they go year after year and they show up in their jammies and families show up in their matching jammies, like the whole family. That’s awesome.
Jordan: That would be my family. I do love that I know other families do that.
Jordan: It’ll be me.
Heather: You’re not going to show up in your onesie?
Jordan: It’d be me. I’m not doing that.
Heather: Yeah. You’re kind of a poop, Jordan. You really are.
Jordan: I’ve never heard that before. It’s a fun time.
Heather: There’s that. That’s another thing that I do.
Jordan: That’s it?
Heather: Well, no. There’s more.
Jordan: Okay, what else?
Heather: I do whatever comes along, too. One of the things that I think is happening in our modern society and watching young people and stuff is that the whole concept of you go to college, you get out of college, and then you get a job that you do for forty years. It’s just going away.
Jordan: [inaudible 36:38]
Heather: Yeah. I think most people wish it would go away because businesses aren’t giving people what they used to give them. The loyalty just isn’t there. I think younger people are growing up and doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that. For me, I like it because that’s the way I’ve always been. It’s nerve-racking sometimes when you have to pay your mortgage or feed your kids but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. I really like having all these different jobs.
Jordan: Your whole family is this creative, artistic bunch at this point, right?
Heather: Very true.
Jordan: Go ahead. Plug what they’re doing.
Heather: My kids, I guess you talk about my kids. They’re so awesome. My kids are so awesome. My daughter Abby, who’s fourteen, is a musician and a writer and an actor. She actually acted with me in the Renaissance Fair last year. She was one of the actors and she was brilliant. She is trying to play her music out more. She’s written a lot of really good original work. She performs at Imagine Main Street in Manchester as well as some open mics. We’re trying to get her some recording done and stuff like that. She also writes a lot of short stories. My son is also a brilliant kid. He’s a painter and he’s also my math wiz. I don’t know where he comes from but he’s a math genius.
Jordan: Not going to be an accountant, is he?
Heather: You know, somebody in the house needs to make a steady paycheck. We’re going to need them to support me when I get older. They’re both really creative. I’m very lucky. I’ve got some really, really great kids. Noah’s a singer as well. He has a beautiful singing voice. They’re just pretty cool.
Jordan: If anything, have you found challenging about fostering all of that creative need?
Heather: I live in a jock town. I really do. Good for people who are into athletics. We are not an athletic family. You can’t see us over this podcast but we’re not an athletic family. It’s very frustrating because I just don’t feel like the arts are, in my town, are as supported as they could be. Abby did an after school theater program where the teacher who was assigned to help the kids out was really [inaudible 39:37] it in. He wasn’t the least bit interested in doing anything theatrical. The kids ended up putting up their show themselves and Abby, because she kind of had the most experience out of her peers, did most of the work which is all fine and well because they’re learning something, but I didn’t feel like it was very supported.
Jordan: I think a mentor, somebody that can really show you the ropes is really important.
Heather: Which is very disappointing. It’s very disappointing. To foster them, I try to encourage my kids in whatever they want to do. I really do, within reason of course. I take Abby to open mics and I go and see all their performances. You can see the table is covered in Noah’s paintings right now. I’m going to try to get his stuff out there and seen. I just try to allow them to feel free to express themselves in whatever way works for them.
Jordan: When did they first start showing interest in doing all of these things.
Heather: Abby’s been songwriting since she was like eight. Noah has always, visual arts, he’s always been into color as long as I can remember since he was little little. We’ve always been a singing family. We always sing together and tell jokes together.
Jordan: That’s great.
Heather: We’re just an animated bunch. We’re not shy when we go out in public about laughing and having a good time. We goof around a lot. I can’t remember them not being that kid.
Jordan: That’s awesome.
Heather: They’ve always been that way.
Jordan: My kids are also still very young but they’re exuberant. I hope that doesn’t fade too quickly.
Heather: Your [inaudible 41:23] likes being on stage. One of them does.
Jordan: Yeah, one of them does. They’re all about to try together [inaudible 41:28] so that will be interesting.
Heather: Oh, really? That will be interesting. And with dad?
Jordan: No, no.
Heather: Oh. Not this time?
Jordan: Just for the kids this time. There are a couple of segments I like to do on the show.
Heather: Okay. It’s not going to be a test, is it?
Jordan: It is.
Heather: Oh, great.
Jordan: But if you pass, you win.
Heather: What do I win?
Heather: Story of my life.
Jordan: The first one is, I just call it front row sider. I’m just getting a few questions, whatever pops into your head first. There are no wrong answers except when they’re wrong.
Heather: Except when I trail off and run away from the mic screaming.
Jordan: They’re not diving questions. First one. Better RR: George or Tolkien?
Heather: I’m a Tolkien fan.
Jordan: Yeah. I saw the book when I was coming here.
Heather: George, stuff gets a little harsh for my taste. I’m more of a fantasy kind of person.
Jordan: I liked that Tolkien finished his stories.
Heather: Yeah, there’s a whole ending thing that works really well for me.
Jordan: Still waiting on that book, George.
Heather: In his defense though, if you don’t know that things are going to explode like that and then you’re like “You know what? I don’t really feel like finishing the book.” I’ve felt like that. I don’t feel like doing that.
Jordan: I don’t want to feel sympathy for him. I want that story.
Heather: No, that’s fair. That’s fair.
Jordan: The best meal you’ve ever had?
Heather: Wow. The best meal I’ve ever had. Oh, can I come back to that one? That’s a hard one.
Jordan: Yeah, sure.
Heather: Okay, I got it. I think the best meal I’ve ever had is when my kids and I were on vacation visiting my cousin in DC and caught up with a good friend of mine who lives in Kentucky and we all had… Oh, great. The kind of food isn’t going to come to mind. Ethiopian food. It’s all served on this big basket.
Jordan: I think of Kentucky, I think of Ethiopia.
Heather: You think of Ethiopia, yeah. Actually, we were in DC, not Kentucky. I don’t think they have Ethiopian food anywhere in Kentucky. No, it was all served communally on this big basket tray in this little piles. Everybody tried everything. My kids tried everything and we laughed and we tried something new and we were on vacation and it was just this whole feeling of just exploration and fun. I loved it.
Jordan: That’s the best part of food.
Heather: It was great.
Jordan: I love trying new things.
Heather: It was so great. Even the stuff that looked really gross and tasted really gross. We tried it. It was just such a great experience.
Jordan: That’s awesome. Favorite role you’ve ever played? Everybody’s got one.
Heather: I really enjoy, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the musical Ruthless. It’s a dark comedy about a stage mom with a little girl who kills off the competition to get the lead in the play The Pippi Longstockings Play in her elementary school. It’s a black comedy. It’s very funny and I got to play the mother who actually transitions from being a very 50s housewife character, Judy Denmark, into this actress, very self-centered, narcissistic, actress type, sexy kitten, Ginger Del Marco. It was just a really, really fun role to play.
Jordan: I’ve never heard of that.
Heather: You got to check it out. It’s really funny.
Jordan: One place everyone should visit before it’s too late?
Heather: Before it’s too late? Earth.
Jordan: There’s another bus already.
Heather: Before it’s too late. I can’t say that I’ve been there yet, but I’d really like to see Machu Picchu before anything awful happens to it because that just seems like it would be an amazing place to go. My friends who are going there in September and I’m really jealous. That sounds really amazing.
Jordan: That’s a good one. Greatest live performance you’ve ever seen? Theater, music, stand up comedy, whatever.
Heather: Wow. I don’t have a very good long-term memory. I really liked seeing Russian concert. They were pretty amazing. Pink Floyd was really amazing in concert. But greatest live performance? I don’t know. I really don’t know.
Jordan: Too many of them?
Heather: Yeah. I was very lucky. My mom took me to see a lot broadway musicals when I was a little kid with the original casts. I get to see a lot of that and those were all great.
Jordan: Of course.
Heather: The best, I’m stumped. I’m stumped. You stumped me. I don’t know.
Jordan: Finally stumped somebody.
Heather: I got to go back through my old files and see what I’ve seen and see who was the best out there.
Jordan: Alright. That’s fair. Now, I want you to sell me on something.
Heather: Oh, boy. I’m not a sales person.
Jordan: Something that you’re into right now that you think everybody should check out. A book, new music, theater you saw, movie that you saw, something that has captured you recently that you think everybody should see or hear.
Heather: What am I really into right now? I’m just way too self-absorbed to be into anything else. That just occurred to me. If you haven’t seen Stranger Things yet, I think that that’s something that you should definitely see.
Jordan: I was surprised at how much I like that show.
Heather: I really, really enjoyed it a lot.
Jordan: I was not expecting to be as drawn to it.
Heather: Oh, the books that I’ve read. Just plug those.
Jordan: Sure, go ahead.
Heather: I just saw Avengers so people should probably go see that.
Jordan: That’s an emotional rollercoaster.
Heather: But we’re not going to get into that right now.
Jordan: No, no. Spoilers-free episode.
Heather: I’m pretty out of touch right now, honestly. A lot of the stuff that I look at is older stuff. I listen to older music. Fresh, new things. What am I going to tell listeners? Go read 1984. That’s a really good book.
Jordan: I really should read 1984 or as they call it now, the morning newspaper.
Heather: Yeah, exactly. I think mostly what I’m trying to do is just avoid topical things. I’m living in the past a little bit right now.
Jordan: Sort of a new need for escapism.
Heather: I’m just putting on old episodes of House and just tuning out and trying not to think about what’s going on in the real world.
Jordan: Well, it happened on House, it certainly didn’t happen in the real world.
Heather: Yeah, that’s definitely true.
Jordan: Alright. You’ve got anything, any projects coming up?
Heather: I am going to be… One of the projects I’m doing this summer, that frankly I’m a little nervous but excited about, is the Essex Riverboat has hired me to do a pirate show. That’s all mine. It’s all written by me, it’s performed by me.
Jordan: That is exciting.
Heather: On the Becky Thatcher. I’m actually performing on the boat.
Jordan: That’s the biggest of their boats.
Heather: Yeah, which is really cool. Right now, it’s a children’s show for campers. They’re bringing in camp kids to do it.
Jordan: That’s awesome. Is it available for anybody to go? Does it have to be a camper?
Heather: I think right now, I don’t know if they’re opening up to the public. Right now, you probably have to call Essex Team Train and Riverboat and find out about that because it’s fledgling. We’re trying it out for the first time this year. We’re going to see how that goes.
Jordan: Good luck with that. That’s awesome.
Heather: That’s exciting, writing and doing my own thing.
Jordan: A little while ago, you said you don’t write.
Heather: I know, which is why I’m really surprised they hired me to do this. I think it’s good. I guess we’ll find out. If I get thrown off the boat, we’ll know that they weren’t happy.
Jordan: That sounds awesome. If it does become available to the public, I’d definitely want to check that out.
Heather: That would be really cool. That’s one of the things I have coming up and just more audiobooks and whatever else comes up. I’ve got some stage readings that I do and different things.
Heather: A little bit here, a little bit there.
Heather: I’m not good at plugging. I got to learn how to plug if I’m going to interview. That’s what they always do on TV.
Jordan: I got to learn that, too.
Heather: I’m doing this new thing that’s why I’m talking to you.
Jordan: Really unsubtle about it. Plug something. Tell me what you’re doing. Alright. Thank you very much.
Heather: Thank you. This was fun.