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Where theater and psychology intersect. Blog, interviews & insight from a psychologist, about the shows YOU love.

Molly Hager – What’s Inside

Molly Hager – What’s Inside

Molly Hager has been in the hit musical Waitress (ensemble and Becky understudy) since the show opened on Broadway, as well as having been a swing in the cult off-Broadway dark comedy hit, Heathers the Musical. The 31-year-old actress spoke openly about how, in spite of that success, she has struggled at times with self-doubt. I recently interviewed the delightful and funny Hager, during which we spoke about how she manages that self-doubt and audition anxiety, the resonance of Heathers, the power of Waitress, and how cast albums led her to a unique fourth grade show-and-tell.

How did you first start acting?

I have been around show business my entire life because my parents are both involved. My mom is an actress, Terri Garber, and my father, Chris Hager, was a grip for many years. My step-mom is also a costume designer. Living in L.A. you sort of grow up with that. I realized that I liked acting but also singing and dancing, so theater was the easiest way to combine all of them. I fell in love with it.

Do you get audition anxiety? How do you manage that?

I get insane audition anxiety. I think that one of the great and difficult things of being in a Broadway show is that the auditions have become fewer because I’m already working. So when the auditions come up, it feels like I am a little out of practice. For me the best thing has been to be extremely over-prepared. If I get the material with enough time, I always try to be off book. I think things would go a lot smoother for me if I just took a breath and a moment when I walked into the room.

Does your audition anxiety manifest in any physical symptoms?

Yes. My heart beats really loudly and it seems like I can feel it in my face. I break out into a rash all over my chest and up my neck. And I shake, so it’s a really, really flattering, beautiful combination that I’m sure makes everyone want to work with you. Red, flushed, shaking, pulsating person in front of you begging you to give me the job [laughs].

The singing is actually easier to do when I am shaking and nervous than doing a scene. With a song, you have to keep tempo and slow down to stay with the music. With scenes, even though I feel like I am listening, I end up rushing because I am going to my own inner metronome.

At the opening night of Heathers: The Musical! at New World Stages (Photo: Bruce Glikas

You were in Heathers: The Musical!, which has a strong cult following. Why do you think that show has resonated so strongly with its audience?

I think that most people don’t realize that most people’s high school experience was difficult. It’s nice for the outcasts and misfits to see themselves represented in the characters.

 

What it was like to get the call that you would be making your Broadway debut in Waitress?

That was one of the best moments of my life! I had initially been told that I wasn’t right for the show so they wouldn’t see me for awhile so when I got the audition, it was actually relatively close to final callbacks. I think I had gone on the audition on a Friday and it was the following Monday that I was waiting for the call. I was on edge all morning. I was waiting for the subway to grab coffee with my friend, Jessica Keenan Wynn [Beautiful and Heathers] when my agent called me and I answered frantically. When she told me I had booked it, I just ran up and down the subway platform.

There have been so many amazing firsts with this show. The first preview I was hysterically sobbing from happiness afterwards. It was such an incredible experience and I had been working so hard for so long in New York. I had experienced moments when I questioned if I was in the right business. You have those self-doubts, I had been in a dark place, and when this audition came around, I just knew that I was right for it.

 

Christopher Fitzgerald, Molly Hager, and Kimiko Glen in rehearsal for Waitress (Photo: J. Countess, Getty Images)

You’ve been with the show for over 2 years. How do you keep it fresh?

Honestly, I don’t have to work too hard to keep it fresh. The whole cast really loves each other so much, we have such a good time. One of the benefits of being in the ensemble is sitting on those banquettes [on the set] and getting to catch up with your friends all while singing these great songs and getting paid for it. Also, the audience is different every night and no two audiences are the same.

Can you feel that on the stage, the energy from the audience?

You can 100% feel that on the stage. The audience is your scene partner. I feel like being an actor has actually made me a better audience member, I try to be as audible as possible with my laughter because it’s amazing how much an audience can really make or break a performance for the cast.

The show achieves a difficult balance between comedy and drama, with the main character, Jenna, dealing with domestic abuse. Do you hear from audience members who have experienced domestic violence and how they have been impacted by the show?

I think the women playing Jenna, Sara Bareilles [music and lyrics] and Jessie Nelson [book writer] probably hear the most feedback on that topic. At the end of the show, people are invited to write comments on a guest checks and place them on the wall. We have read some of them as a cast and there were a few that said that the show helped them to leave their abusive husband.

Molly Hager and Sara Bareilles on the set of Waitress (Photo: Marc J. Franklin)

You have done these hilarious Instagram Live streams from backstage during intermission of the show that you have dubbed “Friday Night Live”. It’s such thrilling access for fans of Broadway. What was the genesis of that idea?

It was sort of a fluke! During understudy rehearsal one day, I was saying to my cast mate Stephanie Torns that I didn’t understand why people did Instagram stories or live streams and she said, “Oh, we are going to do one right now, you would be great at it.” It was fun and such a great way to answer questions from fans in an immediate fashion, so I wanted to make it a regular thing. We try to do it every Friday night but that’s not always possible.

Why do you think theater matters?

Like we were saying about Heathers, people are really thirsty to see their own experiences represented up on stage. And it exposes you to different experiences. For me, that show was Rent. I was in fourth grade when my mom brought home the cast album and I was so obsessed with it that I made my mom take me to volunteer at AIDS Project L.A. Musicals can do that, they make fourth graders learn about AIDS and bring condoms to show-and-tell and get in trouble for that [laughs]. That’s a true story!

I feel so concerned hearing about how arts programs are being taken out of schools, it’s a travesty. For kids who are unable to express themselves or go to therapy, being in a show can be really helpful for them.

What better way to have ended this interview than discussing theater as therapeutic. Art matters. I am eager to see what art Hager continues to create.

Best,

Dr. Drama