Laura Bell Bundy is an actor and singer known for her Broadway turns in Legally Blonde, Hairspray
, and Wicked
along with her work on television. Connect with Laura on Instagram and Twitter at @laurabellbundy and at http://www.laurabellbundy.com
Welcome to the fifth episode of Audition Secrets!
Laura confesses her love of Lil’ Sweet, and she talks with Justin about meeting in L.A. — while he was filming a Diet Dr. Pepper commercial and she was wrapping the television series, Anger Management. Laura shares some stories from the set and speaks candidly about working with Charlie Sheen: “When he put his work hat on, he was better than anybody. And he loves to work.”
Anger Management filmed two forty-five page episodes every week, and because it was an incredibly rhythmic multi-camera sitcom, there was not much room for improvisation. Laura loved being Charlie’s scene partner, particularly because they share a sense of comedic timing.
Laura admits that there may have been some occasional drama around the project, but she thrives in chaos. She and actor/director Michael Arden, who was also on the show, made the most of their downtime on set by scheming over future projects for themselves.
Video didn’t kill the Broadway star
Laura articulates some of the differences between working in film/television and on Broadway. While she’s never had the challenge of navigating a fellow actor’s personal life on Broadway, managing her own becomes more of a challenge. Laura is fueled by her personal life which informs her work and feeds her performances.
Oh my god, you guys
Laura’s biggest challenge comes with the body’s (understandable) deterioration while performing eight shows a week; choreography uses the same muscles over and over. Laura recalls the physical toll taken on her by Hairspray (those heels! that jumping!) and Legally Blonde (what a demanding score). This is all exacerbated when you’re taking your show from out of town tryouts to Broadway through Tony season. With Mondays spent promoting the show, days off aren’t really days off, and there is little time to rest and restore.
Justin remembers the physical demands of Wicked (like those aching shoulders from Fiyero’s rope swing). When a muscle is tired, others will compensate for them, but three to four months of that domino effect will wear a person down. Sometimes, even still, a patch in Justin’s quad goes numb. He hopes his and Laura’s conversation will put the myth of “the easy life of an actor” to rest.
Laura Bell Bundy might actually be a doctor?
Laura compares being a Broadway performer to being an athlete: there’s a warm up and a cool down, icing, and sometimes physical therapy. Laura does one session of physical therapy a week, in addition to acupuncture and osteopathic visits (for her quad). Laura even offers Justin a bit of free medical advice.
Shutting up is healthy
Laura and Justin discuss how to take care of your voice, first and foremost recognizing that everyone is different. Laura feels that being on the road as a musician can be easier than working on Broadway; with days spent on the road, a voice has more than twenty-four hours to repair. According to some of the medical professionals in Laura’s life, a full 36 hours of not speaking at all can do incredible repair to your voice. If she loses her voice and knows she has a show the next day, Laura “shuts up.” Beyond vocal exercises and ongoing vocal coaching, she also makes time for bodywork to loosen her neck and shoulder muscles and release tension overall.
Some other pro tips from Laura include adding vegetable glycerin or licorice drops to water: anything anti-inflammatory so you don’t end up with a vocal bleed! (Obviously, please consult a medical professional before doing anything.)
Let’s get surgical
Laura talks with Justin about her vocal surgery which she underwent because of vocal hemorrhaging and a small nodule. She was in good hands with Dr. Steven Zeitels (he did Adele’s surgery and Steven Tyler brings him on the road). Laura and Justin agree that it’s abnormal to use your voice as much as they do in the entertainment industry. They also discuss the fears of medical intervention, citing the worst case scenario story of Julie Andrews’ vocal surgery that essentially stole her voice.
Laura seriously considered surgery when she lost a large part of her vocal range. She has been singing her entire life, so she felt as though she lost a piece of herself. She opens up about struggles with depression during that time, noting that the emotional component was far more painful than the surgery itself, but Laura calls it the best thing she ever did. The surgery repaired way more than she ever imagined it could. She was given back the notes and the tone that she thought was lost forever. Most importantly, she was so happy (and singing all the time) for the first time in forever).
Vow of silence
Laura’s recovery involved four weeks of complete silence. She admits how hard this was for her, a self-proclaimed talker. She gave herself crafts and projects to do around the house. She used whiteboards, notepads, and modern technology to communicate. She discovered how many unnecessary things we say on a daily basis. She was forced to communicate only the essential and describes the whole process as a sort of spiritual experience.
Eventually, she started to speak, then hum, then do some very specific vocal exercises (under the guidance of medical professionals). She felt a difference immediately after the surgery, but six months later when she could sing again, she felt “amazing.”
Laura has been auditioning since she was six, so her Rolodex of horror stories is deep. Back when her mom was still managing her career, Laura remembers auditioning for Oklahoma! Laura is, admittedly, “a mover, not a dancer.” (So is Justin!)
Laura grew up dancing. She can tap (a fact that no Broadway producer has taken advantage of). But the lyrical and ballet often featured in Oklahoma! are simply not her wheelhouse. Laura recounts the nightmare of this dance call, looking at the dancer next to her for help with the moves, and eventually getting cut. In her words, she “shit the pants.” It was so traumatic that she swore she’d never go to a dance call again — and she didn’t!
When you’re an Idiot, you’re an Idiot all the way
Justin reminisces about his auditions for American Idiot, in which he executed the spastic, athletic choreography of Steven Hogget next to actors who just closed the West Side Story revival on Broadway. After being cast as a replacement, Justin remembers having two weeks to learn everything, so he asked Steven to put it on film. Justin poured sweat, tears, and possibly blood into learning it all rapidly, in his hotel rooms and at home.
An dancer who acts
Laura discusses how dreamy a process can be when working with a choreographer like Jerry Mitchell, who likes actors who move, who can feel what they are dancing, who can create a character through their movement. Laura knows she can do that, and she knows that the audience is looking for a deep connection, a palpable passion that transcends choreography.
Laura remembers working on The Honeymooners at Paper Mill Playhouse, a very dance heavy show. She asked for a video from the choreographer and hired a dancer friend to teach it to her prior to first rehearsal. When she worked with director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall on Sweet Charity, whose process is more organic and rehearsal-oriented, Laura didn’t have that luxury.
That’s her new philosophy
Laura believes that we, as performers, have to do the work. Even if we don’t know we have the job, it is our job to do the work before the audition. 50% of acting, and auditioning, is getting over the fear. Preparation is the easiest way to battle that fear.
Laura goes into the audition room focused on the work, not about what the people on the other side of the table or camera are doing — or think about what she’s doing. It’s about the work. Laura finds auditions satisfying: "I did a day’s work. I had fun, I played, I did what I do.” She’s not focused on getting the job; she loves what she does, and she just got an opportunity to do it. Sometimes, she says, the abandonment that comes with that mindset shift can free you up enough to get you the job.
Be your best self
Laura and Justin discuss the root fear of auditioning: looking like an asshole. Laura will do insane amounts of preparation to avoid that, and if she doesn’t feel prepared, she’ll cancel the audition. She doesn’t want to share the non-best version of anything.
Laura describes her new found love of self tapes (over in-the-room auditions). She makes the whole scene happen, incorporating props and costumes as necessary, and she finds that doing so drops her into a better, more honest performance. Sometimes, Laura will even submit two approaches to the same scene or character (ex. one with an accent or one without). “It’s about filling up the scene for yourself.”
Laura talks about auditioning for Scream Queens, when she put three versions of the character on tape. When she was offered the job, she had to ask, “Which version do you want?”
Do it like they do on the Discovery Channel
In her vibrant career, Laura has learned that she hasn’t learned everything. She had an epiphany during Legally Blonde (around the 200th show): she tried something totally different in a scene and got a laugh she’d never gotten before. She clocked that moment as interesting: “As actors, we have never arrived. There is always something to learn. There is always more to discover within your performance, within your character.”
During long runs of a show, actors must figure out how to keep it exciting and alive. Laura identifies as the type of person who gets better with time. She’s always interested in going deeper and discovering something new. As Laura emphasizes, even Meryl Streep is still discovering things.
Justin shares this exploratory sentiment and reiterates the value of trying new things. He recalls a production in which Patti LuPone (from Episode 1!) said she discovered the true meaning of a line on closing night. Material is a living, breathing thing.
All work and no play makes Justin a dull boy
We play parts and play music, so we must prioritize that sense of play. If we can get over our fear and push through it to get to the discoveries, something incredible may happen. If you try something, it might not land — but it might! A little egg on your face won’t kill you.
Baby Bell Bundy
Laura and Justing gush about Laura’s adorable baby Huck (pictured in the episode image)! She doesn’t yet understand how fundamentally parenthood may change her career, but she’s starting to see the shift. Laura recounts a recent audition that she had to cancel when Huck ran a high temperature and needed to be taken to the children’s hospital (talk about a perspective on what’s important in. life). She didn’t think twice about canceling the audition. No one has ever been able to come before Laura’s career before!
Laura foresees parenthood, perhaps, making her more selective in her jobs. “Is this character really something I haven’t tried before? Is the material good? Does this contract make sense for me logistically? What makes it worth it to be away from my son?” It’s an ongoing navigation, as is anything in this life.
Follow Justin at @justinguarini on all social media.