April Lavalle considers herself a “multi-hyphenate.” She’s an actor, writer, comedian and, now, a Broadway co-producer and Tony Award nominee. Photo: Sandy Honig
April Lavalle is an actor, writer, comedian, and Tony nominated co-producer of “Hadestown.” The production garnered a total of 14 Tony nominations, the most of any show, including the big one — Best Musical. It’s the hottest show in town, in every sense, and it represents Lavalle’s first foray into producing. The Long Island native, who studied theater at Wagner College, spoke with Straus News about what it’s like to be part of a smash Broadway hit, and her plans for a future in theater.Let’s start with an easy question — When did you start doing theater?
I started as a kid, community theater on Long Island. Probably because I wanted attention. My mom was putting together a community production of Annie and asked me to audition for it. I booked it.Who did you play?
I was ensemble orphan.I was also in Annie!
Can I guess who you were?Sure.
I give up. Who were you?I was ensemble also. All the older kids got the cool roles.
Yeah, that’s how it goes.Kid roles aside, I know you were a co-producer for “Hadestown.” Do you mostly act? Is producing new for you?
It is, I’m an actor, but I realize I’m a multi-hyphenate. So I consider myself an actor and a writer, but producing is very new for me. “Hadestown” is the very first thing I produced, and it’s going shockingly well.This is the first thing you produced? Seriously?
Yeah, and definitely getting into this was just basically because I knew others.This is wild to me. What brought you into the project?
I think I had a different path to producing than most young producers. I didn’t know what producers did until very recently. That being said, I have always really, really loved the show, and I knew I wanted to be part of it in any small way. So I guess that’s a cool way to come to producing, by finding the show you want to produce first, and then producing it. This is the only thing I have worked on and am working on, producing-wise. I feel like I’m being very precious with choosing the things I want to do. But it’d be great to produce something else that I’m passionate about first, and then start producing.Did you know people involved in “Hadestown?”
I’ve been listening to it since it came out at New York Theater Workshop. But I heard the album before that. The show started as a concept album with Anaïs Mitchell, who wrote the music, and the lead singer of Bon Iver was also singing on it. This was nine or 10 years ago. Then it went to a bunch of other theaters until it finally came to Broadway. So I knew about it, and thought the writer was the coolest person ever.
The way I got into producing was different, because most producers are very rich and I am not. I came into it through one of the lead producers of the show, Hunter Arnold. He set up an initiative called Uplift, for young theater producers, because he noticed that most theater producers are old white guys. He wanted younger people to get in on the game, but you normally need a lot of money to produce things. So it’s kind of him offering his mentorship and his help. He helps you learn the ropes of producing, but he also lowers the cap of producing so it’s a doable number for poors to do, like myself.
That’s such a great idea.
Yeah, and he started this initiative with “Once on an Island,” when it was on Broadway and he thought ‘Oh, this will be my life’s work and what I do.’
Are there other producers from the Uplift program on “Hadestown?”
My producorial unit and one other person are through the program. Everyone else is a co-producer through their own thing.
What’s it like to be nominated for a Tony your first time producing?
It’s great, and it’s surprising and surreal in one aspect, but not surprising because I love the show and because I believed in the show so much. I always thought it was destined for greatness. Something very new to me is people congratulating me on my Tony nomination, but me being like, ‘Oh, no no no, I have so little to do with it.’ Because as a co-producer it’s all pre-production ... I’m not really working on it so much, you know, but I’m lucky as a co-producer. Sometimes we’re asked about our opinions on ads and that’s cool, but I did my work in December and nothing else. And it feels very funny that people congratulate me when I’m like ‘I didn’t do anything.’
You did do something though.
I did, but it feels so out of my hands right now, because now I just get to be the show’s cheerleader, which I feel like I would’ve been even if I weren’t a co-producer.
A nice little perk you get.
Yeah, it’s cool!
What do you think you want to do next?
Well, another big reason I wanted to do this, besides liking and believing in the show, was because we talk about the things we like and don’t like that are coming to Broadway, and I think by becoming a co-producer [I am] taking these small baby steps into this side of the industry. Another reason is because it’s directed and written by a woman, and there are only three shows on Broadway that are directed by women. So I would love to be the type of person who can make theater happen that I think other people want to see. I think you’re only seeing theater through the eyes of most old white male producers, so to have another perspective would be great. And if I could help people who don’t really have their foot in the door, I would love to help elevate their work.
[I’m interested in] things that are riskier in general. Not to shade these kind of shows, cause they are super necessary, when you have adaptations of movies and TV shows, it’s fun. But it feels cooler and riskier to take a show that seems like a bold choice because these shows really take off. And I think the diversity conversation should not only be onstage but backstage. If I can wedge my way in there I’d love to do that.Very well said. Thanks so much for doing this, April.
Thank you for having me! This was fun!