When actress and dancer Sherisse Springer got pregnant, she thought her Broadway career was over.
“I’m thinking, ‘This is it,’” she tells Broadway Direct. “’No one’s going to hire me again.’ That’s where my head was at.” Springer is one of many actors in the theater industry who feel like this when they get pregnant, and there are far fewer who have actually performed live while pregnant.
Laura Benanti has shared numerous times about how she was pregnant with daughter Ella during She Loves Me in 2016 and had to swallow vomit in the middle of a performance. In 2020, Patti Murin performed as Anna in Frozen on Broadway for about 18 weeks into her pregnancy with Cecily. “I wasn’t scared to tell anyone because my contract was ending, so it happened at a truly perfect time,” Murin told Broadway Direct. “I had the freedom to feel as good about it as I wanted, which I know is not usually the case with working moms in the theater.” Analisa Leaming, who starred as Irene Malloy in the recent national tour of Hello, Dolly!, performed in the show until she was six months pregnant with her son. Currently, Kenita R. Miller, who is in for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf on Broadway as the Lady in Red, is eight months pregnant, doing the show eight performances a week.
“It feels amazing to be performing this show while pregnant!” Miller tells Broadway Direct. “Not gonna lie, the Broadway schedule is tiring, regardless of being pregnant. But I think my body appreciates having the built-in exercise.”
What Springer didn’t realize was that even though she was pregnant — for the second time — her career on Broadway was far from its final bow. In the middle of the pandemic, she got a call to participate in what she thought was a workshop for The Music Man over Zoom. She read the sides and sang with no makeup on while trying to make it through the day with a toddler at home. She was nine months pregnant at the time. Turns out, it was an audition.
“I could barely breathe. I was in shock,” she recalls of being cast. Twelve days after giving birth, she was fitted for her costume for the ensemble and understudy roles of the Pick-a-Little Ladies. Two months later, rehearsals began.
The turnaround time from giving birth to bonding time with baby Bowie (now 8 months old) and into production was something Springer was surprisingly familiar with. She’d done it three years earlier, for Kiss Me, Kate on Broadway. Yes, Springer was also pregnant when she auditioned and booked the musical’s revival at Studio 54.
The common thread in this story? Choreographer Warren Carlyle hired her for both shows.
“Yes, I have hired a pregnant Sherisse twice,” Carlyle tells Broadway Direct. “Sherisse was a natural fit in both cases, first for Kiss Me, Kate at Studio 54 with Roundabout Theatre Company, and then The Music Man on Broadway. I loved Sherisse from the very first moment I saw her. She is so expressive when she dances. It’s her whole self up there. She risks it all, every single time.”
Springer credits much of her career to Carlyle, who was one of the first people who hired her when she moved to New York City from Toronto. Their first project together was a workshop for a dance show on a Norwegian Cruise Line. Then, Springer continued to be hired for projects, such as preproduction for So You Think You Can Dance and as an audition assistant.
In 2018, she booked an ensemble role in a regional production of The Sting starring Harry Connick Jr. at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey that Carlyle choreographed. She was three months pregnant with her firstborn, Jaxson.
“I was jumping off chairs, running up stairs, in tap shoes and I was scared,” Springer recalls of being pregnant and still going full-out each night on stage. “But it felt so good to be working and moving and doing something I loved while creating life.”
But Broadway, she thought, would never happen for her. “When I got pregnant, which was such a blessing, I was mourning the idea of Broadway. If I hadn’t gotten it before, then I didn’t think there was any way I would be getting it after having a child.”
For Miller, there were some nerves at first, being pregnant and taking on such a lively, energetic show like for colored girls. But she’s now settled into the 90-minute play that includes dancing. “Because I didn’t truly know what to expect as far as my body’s stamina. But it was all uphill from there. I have a very supportive team of doctors. And my cast of sisters and [director] Camille [A. Brown’s] belief in me have definitely kept me lifted and supported,” Miller says.
Broadway theatres are known for numerous staircases leading to dressing rooms high above the stage. Miller’s is close to the stage, so she doesn’t have to go up and down for her microphone or to the hair department. And the backstage team brings her everything and constantly checks in to make sure she’s OK.
Leaming didn’t tell the company of Hello, Dolly! until she was 16 weeks pregnant with Gabe (who will be 2 years old this month). “I was nervous to tell them, but I also knew and loved the team and knew that ultimately I would be supported.” Every two weeks, the female wardrobe team would let out her costume a bit and add panels to make room for her growing belly. “[They] eventually added suspenders so my belly didn’t have to bear the weight of the heavy skirts,” she adds. As Leaming got further along in pregnancy, the only adjustment she made physically was not jumping. Instead, she bounced on her toes.
Patti Murin also told her dresser the news, “because she would have noticed immediately anyway.” She only had one show where her dresser had to follow her around with a bucket in case she threw up from nausea. As soon as Murin hit the eight-week mark into her pregnancy she told the stage managers and Disney Theatricals so they knew why she was calling out once a week. “I told myself that there was no reason to push myself, and made peace with the fact that seven shows a week was a huge victory,” Murin said. She said no adjustments had to be made except a small change during the ice bridge scene “that no one in the world would notice except me and [the actor playing] Kristoff,” she added.
For Springer, she decided to rip off the Band-Aid and tell Carlyle the news during the run of The Sting. “He said, ‘This is going to be the best thing for you.’ And he was not wrong, because it gave me the gift of Broadway.”
“’It’s going to be humiliating and embarrassing. Why did I think I could do this?’” she remembers thinking at the time. “I freaked out and cried. I remember sitting in the room with everyone and trying to clean my face up. I was terrified, but the room of women was so supportive and encouraging. I left that day thinking it was the best day of my pregnancy. I never thought about booking the show.”
“I remember the utter respect there was in the room for a five-month-pregnant Sherisse as she battled her way through a very difficult dance combo. She did it,” Carlyle says. “I think it sent a very clear message to the other ladies in the room that there is space for them in this business; they can have it all. They can be a wife, a mother, and a performer. Sherisse has helped me understand and shape that narrative.”
When Springer booked Kiss Me, Kate, which marked her Broadway debut, she broke down in tears.
“I was screaming on the street and sobbing. I fell to my knees. People were looking at me because I was visibly pregnant, screaming and crying,” she says.
She thanks Carlyle for having faith in her every step of the way.
“It says a lot about that man. Not only did he know I was pregnant, he knew that the due date would be tight with starting a very hard rehearsal process. He’s always believed in me. He continues to believe in me truly more than I believe in myself. It’s astounding,” Springer says.
“I’m constantly inspired by Sherisse. She is so strong, yet she cries easily. She is so very vulnerable, yet she shows incredible determination. She loves her husband and family above all. She is a shining example of a mother,” Carlyle adds.
“This whole journey for me is a reminder for everyone that we all have things that go on our own time. My story shows you that. Just trust in your own path, because I thought that I had to let go of this Broadway dream. Things happen at different times for different people and they’re all just as special.”
But one thing’s clear: She told Carlyle that for the next show, “we’re not having any more babies because it’s getting very expensive to be the way I book Broadway.”
Last updated and effective as of January 14, 2019
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