a bright star rises

Hi guys!

I had the opportunity to interview and write a profile on a friend of mine, Maddie Shea Baldwin, who is currently on Broadway in the musical Bright Star. She kindly showed me around backstage and I've included some photos, as well as the profile, below!

Something I strive to do in my life is support incredible women and their endeavors. We live in such a pervasive society of "girl hate" and I want to break the cycle. If you know of someone of note you think I should interview, please go to the "talk" section of the blog and submit them! I would love to interview more lovely ladies kicking butt on this blog!

Maddie Shea Baldwin on the Cort Theater's stage

Maddie Shea Baldwin on the Cort Theater's stage

“If you knew my story, you’d have a good story to tell…” croons Carmen Cusack, the leading lady in Bright Star, a new musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. While Cusack sings about the events to come in the next two and a half hours, a smaller star watches in the wings. Maddie Shea Baldwin, just 23 years old, is a swing in the Broadway show, and her short life is a more serendipitous story than one could even imagine.

Maddie trudged into Joe Coffee on the Upper West Side during a particularly dreary April downpour, but her beaming smile and warm hug as a greeting made it feel like the circumstances outside were different. For the next hour, Maddie chatted openly about her education, career, and personal life, with a grin not once leaving her face. It’s not hard to imagine why. With a blossoming career, great family and friends, and a brand new kitten, her life is something of a fairytale.

Ms. Baldwin’s love of performing began at birth, though she was the only musically inclined member of her family. “In preschool, I would swing on the monkey bars and sing ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from Titanic,” she giggled. Growing up, Maddie had separation anxiety from her mom, which led her parents to enroll her in acting classes as a distraction. Maddie was fortunate enough to live near the San Diego Junior Theater and the Old Globe Theater, which gave her plentiful professional opportunities from a young age. The King and I was her first production in third grade. From there, she went on to do 13 shows, along with attending school and singing in a contemporary Christian band at her church. 

By her senior year of high school, Maddie was ready to take the next step and attend a musical theatre program for college. She ended up at Indiana University, but was rejected from the BFA Musical Theatre program there. Maddie was accepted as a BA Theatre major at IU instead and decided to attend, going with her feeling that she “felt like she needed to be there.” The rejection made Maddie became more determined to pursue musical theatre as her career. She trained harder on her own, attended auditions, and developed a deeper drive. IU invited her to reaudition for the program, and this time they said yes. Maddie only had positive things to say about the school, and was impressed with their strategy of supporting the young actors’ natural talents, rather than making them into a “cookie cutout” triple threat type.

“There were originally 11 of us, but only 7 when I graduated,” Maddie said, recounting the difficulty of the program. She met some of her closest friends and supporters at IU, including her boyfriend of 4 years, Luke Denison. He is currently living in Tennessee while applying to medical school, but they maintain a strong relationship despite the distance.

This past year has been full of rapid speed for Maddie. The momentum leading up to her Broadway debut began in May 2015 with her graduation, move to New York City, and senior showcase, all happening within a span of 3 days. After being scouted at her showcase, Maddie signed with Nicolosi and Company, a talent agency in New York. They sent her out for auditions over the summer, including the fateful Bright Star audition in August. The process took 4 weeks of multiple auditions and tapes being sent to Brickell and Martin. “I still don’t really get how I’m a part of it,” Maddie mused. Nicolosi’s trust in her paid off. Few actors can say they ever made it to Broadway, let alone that it was their first job out of college.

Maddie was cast as a swing, responsible for understudying the roles of three female ensemble members and one lead role. The 4-week rehearsal process began in Washington, DC, with the show’s limited run at the Kennedy Center. The show then transferred to Broadway in March. Martin and Brickell, Maddie says, were there every step of the way with support. “We had this back row reserved for creatives and we would always reserve this one seat for [Martin]. After the lights went down, he would come sit down in his fedora and he would always leave before intermission and hide on the fire escape, and then he would come back out. It was so funny because no one knew he was there!” Maddie emphasized Martin’s shy yet generous personality. Brickell is the wife of Paul Simon and lives in the South, but still made frequent trips up to visit with the cast and work creatively on the show.

Maddie’s average day varies greatly, but is consistently demanding. She has 8 shows a week on Broadway, but it is unknown to her which ones she performs in until the last minute most of the time. On top of that, she has rehearsal twice a week for the roles she is in charge of as a swing. She only has one day off a week to complete all of her adulthood chores such as grocery shopping, laundry, and cleaning. At such a young age, this is a lot to balance, especially without family nor her significant other living nearby. Her family has always been close, and she is able to see her parents every few months. 

Bright Star takes place in North Carolina during the 1920s and 40s, with a plotline that follows two couples and their development in these differing eras. It is unique because of its “true Americana bluegrass” style, as described by Maddie. While there is an element of traditionalism in terms of a happy ending that would make Rogers and Hammerstein proud, Bright Star is unique for Broadway with its focus on a strong leading lady, played by Carmen Cusack. Maddie describes her as “the most incredible human being” she’s “ever met.” “[Carmen] was offstage doing her quick change and would ask me, ‘How’s it going?’ ‘Are you having fun?’” Maddie recounted about her first time going on as the lead. Apart from her kindness, Maddie describes Cusack as having “ridiculous raw talent”, which is apparent to anyone who sees the show. Bright Star is running through October at the Cort Theater.

In terms of what’s next, Maddie isn’t sure. “You hold onto the moments you have and you live day by day, it’s kind of a gypsy life,” Maddie says of acting as a career. She says she is open to any next step, including film. Her main goal is “just to continue a career and not be unemployed”, which is harder than it sounds for actors.

As Maddie led me backstage and showed me around the Bright Star world, her professionalism, talent, and kindness shone through. After a warm welcome and tour, Maddie took the train home to take care of her latest adventure, a rescued kitten she named Zuzu Bailey, before another full day of shows. Whatever Maddie’s next move ends up being, her story will be a good one to tell for a long time to come.

Hope you all enjoyed reading Maddie's story! Feel free to leave your well wishes in the comments below for her! I will be publishing my coverage of the Women in the World Summit next week, as well as a post on a fun little pop-up in the Meatpacking I visited last Sunday. 

and drumroll please......

I officially secured my ticket to Lollapalooza! C+C will be covering the event in Chicago this July, so be sure to subscribe because there will be some fun travel posts in the works this summer.

Thank you for reading!