Caitlin Houlahan made her Broadway debut earlier this year in the hit musical Waitress about Jenna, a woman stuck in an abusive relationship. The young actress has an effervescence in her performance and her personality. I recently spoke with Houlahan about audition anxiety, what her character Dawn dreams about and how theater can change lives.
How did you get involved in theater?
When I was in third grade, our town’s high school was putting on The King and I in the spring and were looking for young students in the school district to play the King’s children, so I decided to audition as well. I sang “Do Re Me” from The Sound of Music and I was chosen! I developed a love of theatre from that experience.
Did you study theater in college?
I went into college at Baldwin Wallace University and entered as a Music Therapy major. I had always loved theatre but it was never something I felt I could do realistically or professionally. About halfway through my time there, I felt drawn to the Music Theatre program, auditioned and made the change to this new major.
Do you get audition anxiety?
I get anxiety of all kinds! I combat the audition anxiety through breathing deeply and preparation. The anxiety I feel is mostly from uncertainty so the more prepared I feel with the material, the more confident I am. I have control over what I can present and then it’s out of my hands.
What do you do to take care of your voice during an 8-show week?
I have to skip the after-show drinks in loud bars so that I don’t attempt to talk over the noise. I try to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. I drink water like it’s my job! I warm up before and during the early scenes in our show. I’m currently relearning how to get through the week with our new performance schedule, two shows both Saturday and Sunday.
What was it like making your Broadway debut?
It was a combination of probably every emotion you could possibly have. I had to accept the reality that I only had two weeks of rehearsal before taking over for the role. It felt like being shot out of a cannon. By the end of the show, I felt incredibly supported and overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from each person who had been there. It was an experience I will never forget!
The character you play in Waitress, Dawn is afraid of taking risks? Are you more a risk taker or risk aversive?
I suppose that would depend on the situation. I feel that in an audition setting or rehearsal setting, I am more willing to take risks. In my personal life the opposite is true. I like things to be safe, just like Dawn.
What is Dawn thinking about during the trio “Soft Place to Land”? What is her dream that “needs believing”?
I think that around her friends, Dawn feels very safe. That pantry with her two closest friends is a place where she can let go of the anxiety to make way for the dreams and hopes that bubble up from deep inside her heart. Her dream is similar to so many of us, to find that special someone who is going to love purely and unconditionally. She is aware of her quirks and is terrified that there might not be anyone out there who will accept her for her.
Waitress is famously the first all-female creative team on Broadway. What role does sisterhood play for you on and off the stage?
I feel a deep sisterhood with the women who have played Becky. We share a dressing room and the connection that we have offstage smoothly translates to Dawn and Becky’s relationship onstage. There’s a similar feeling to all of the women who have played Jenna. We have created a family here at the theater, including those who work tirelessly offstage to make sure that the show is running smoothly and beautifully.
Jenna is dealing with an abusive husband in the show. Do you hear any feedback at the stage door or through fan mail from people who have survived domestic violence?
As you exit the theatre, there are blank meal tickets for audience members to write feedback or comments about the show. Many have included stories of abuse and how this show helped them to leave. To think that our show has such a significant impact on an individual’s life is astounding.