Andi Alhadeff grew up in the theater scene and performed in plays at Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences (SAAS) before getting her degree in musical theater at Northwestern. After a stint in New York, she returned to her hometown, where she won the role of Emma Goldman in Ragtime at the 5th Avenue Theater. When she’s not on stage, she teaches music for productions at the Lake Washington Girls Middle School and performs in Diva Tech, a ’90s R&B cover band. (Disclosure: Andi and I are technically cousins, but we’ve never met.)
Jewish in Seattle: Your parents are Kenny and Marlene Alhadeff, philanthropists and patrons of the arts. Did that influence your choice to go into theater?
Andi Alhadeff: I grew up in a theater-oriented family, and both my parents are pretty strongly involved in theater now. They took me to the theater a lot growing up. Going to the 5th Avenue is a strong memory.
When did you realize theater would be your professional path?
It’s so funny. I had always loved music and storytelling. I would put on my own shows in my bedroom with my stuffed animals. But in eighth grade, I played Nancy in Oliver at SAAS. I fell in love with that experience. That felt like the first time I was like, this is what I want to do with my life.
And you made it. How did you do it?
I went to Northwestern University and got my certificate in musical theater. Weirdly enough, I played Emma Goldman in college. I moved to New York right after college. I lived there for five years. I was very lucky in that my first show out of college was at the 5th Avenue [in Seattle] playing Joanne in Rent. So I got my Equity card very quickly. There are a lot of actors in New York who don’t get their Equity card for a long time. It definitely eased the path a bit.
What made you decide to return to Seattle?
I kept coming back to Seattle to do things. I found myself enjoying the work here. Then last year I came home because of some family medical issues. It opened my eyes to the fact that I want to be here in Seattle. What was going to be temporary — now I live here. And I absolutely love it. This incredible show came along. It’s total kismet.
What have been some of your most interesting experiences in the industry?
There are so many things. I would say — just what it takes to live in New York. Because I got my Equity card a little earlier, I saw my roommate get up at 5:30, take a shower, warm up, head out the door, wait in line at 6 a.m. for a spot to be seen. You spend all day waiting in line. Maybe you get seen. Then maybe you have to do a shift at a restaurant. It’s this convergence of different lifestyles: Sometimes you feel like you’re being two different people.
A lot of what I did in New York was 29-hour readings. Basically, you have 29 hours to learn all the music and lines for a show. And you present it after 29 hours. It’s the first time the writers are hearing it. You really get to create this character, and you get to be the first person to bring life to these things. Also, the first production I was in was Jasper in Deadland. For its off-Broadway debut, we were in this tiny little theater in a church in the Upper West Side. We would have shows, and while we were performing our shows, you could hear the choir downstairs. I think in New York that happens a lot. You don’t have a lot of room, so you make things work. But some funky things can happen in the meantime when two things happen at once, and you get a gospel song when you’re singing a musical. I think it’s a wonderful thing in the end.
What’s your most memorable role?
The one I just played, Emma Goldman in Ragtime. When I was in Ragtime the first time, I was very excited about playing Emma Goldman, but I don’t think I was aware of who she really was. I did a Wikipedia search, but I didn’t have the weight of who she was. This time around, I was really interested in who she was as a person, what climate she was in, and where she ended up. I’m learning a lot about how she got deported and how she ended up dying in Canada and what the country looked like around her. How far have we really come?
To be playing a female immigrant who is fighting for the rights of people being oppressed, I think that there is something that feels important about that as a human. We were only so far into our rehearsals when we spent an additional 2-3 hours doing table work, which means we sat down at a table and we went through the play. What is this about? How does this represent race? How are we talking about religion? How are we handling this? Our director, Peter, said we all need to be responsible for each other’s stories. If as a country we did that too, that would be a beautiful thing. It’s not just my story. I want to hear and be responsible for your story, too. Playing this part has made a big impact on me as an artist and as a person.