Ep38 – Caitlin Kinnunen & Isabelle McCalla

In This Episode

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Alan: Welcome to the theater podcast, intimate personal conversations with theater's biggest names. As always I'm Alan Seales. 

Jillian: And as sometimes I am Jillian Hochman. I want to be [00:19 inaudible]. Caitlin. 

Alan: I just want to I want to just be a fly on the wall and watch the conversations. They have I think just the two of them. This episode is with the wonderful Isabelle McCalla and Caitlin Kinnunen and we recorded this episode actually right before the Tony Awards.

Jillian: No matter what happens we are incredibly proud of Caitlin and the prom and everyone who has nominated this year. But we don't know who has won the Tony’s yet. 

Alan: This episode with Izzy and you Caitlin absolutely phenomenal. This was actually very specifically requested once we announced we were going to do the prime takeover month for May. Several people wrote us who would like please to Izzy with Caitlin and Caitlin with easily Izzy and we got her the two of them together they're awesome. And boy they did not disappoint.

Jillian: They reminded me of me and my sister and how like just we talk nonsense forever together. They seem like their actual like close, they're friends. They're going to be friends for their lives and it is very apparent.

Alan: I think they are our actual soulmates. They trust each other implicitly. They support each other both on and off stage. And I think they're both going through the same point in their lives where both of them have just been thrust into this spotlight. And like they're in mid 20s and thrust into the spotlight and this is the first time ever that like they haven't had to struggle for a little while and they're like, what do I do, how do I adult now. 

Jillian: Adulting is so hard. 

Alan: Adulting is very hard. 

Jillian: They're doing so great. I'm so proud of them. 

Alan: Yeah. The two of them together, Listen to this episode everybody. It's so incredible. And there's no particular story Jillian you're just telling me that was your favorite was in the middle of a show Caitlin actually called out.

Jillian: Yeah. She was having a panic attack and she had to saying she was able to breathe through some of them before and today open about mental health and her depression and anxiety. Yeah so, but she started a show and she was having a bit of a panic attack, she got through the first act when she started the second act and said You know what I need to stop. I know my body, I know myself and this is something I can't compromise on right now. And through the magic of Broadway the magnificent understudy came on and they completed the show and she knew it was the right choice and she was not afraid to say hey this is what I need right now. I really admire that.

Alan: Yeah me too. So everybody before we get into the episode please take a moment and visit us online at the www.theaterpodcast.com. You can follow us on Instagram and Twitter @theater_podcast. And actually we just created an additional patrion tier, a lower tier. So we moved the benefits of the lowest here to this new lower tier and then the five dollar tier that was the lowest now gets you advanced access.

Jillian: So if you go to the www.theaterpodcast.com/patrion and if you pledged five dollars a month you will get to know who we're interviewing in advance and you will be able to submit questions that may be answered by your favorite Broadway people. 

Alan: Everybody please enjoy this episode with Isabelle McCalla and Caitlin Kinnunen.

Alan: Today I had the absolute pleasure of being able to record another multi guest episode. My first guest made her Broadway debut last year as Jasmine of the production of Aladdin after coming off the tour of the same name and now stars as Alissa in the prom. My second guest made her Broadway debut in 2008 at the age of 16 and is now nominated for a 2019 Tony Award for her performance as Emma also in the prom Isabelle McCalla and Caitlin Kinnunen welcome to the theater podcast. 

Isabelle: Way to say both of our names correctly. Yeah, awesome. Nailed it. 

Alan: People don't get it?

Isabelle: Oh yeah. 

Alan: What do they say. 

Isabelle: [04:37 inaudible] McCall doesn't bother me as much because here's the thing. It is my family station, when I'm around their family they've go, McCullough so they say. McCullough so like my dad says McCullough. So I don't really, I say McCalla, but it doesn't bother me when people say McCullough because it kind of sounds similar. It is a combo. 

Caitlin: And people just saying all versions of what Kinnunen could be. 

Alan: What is Kinnunen? 

Isabelle: Finish. And it's actually a very common Finnish last name, it's the equivalent of Smith in America. 

Alan: Oh really. Well that shows how not worldly traveled I am I guess. 

Isabelle: I mean I have never been. So I just know that that's like a random fact. 

Caitlin: Getting some Finnish culture today. 

Isabelle: Ask me anything else and I will not know the answer.

Alan: Where is Finland. 

Caitlin: It's a country. 

Isabelle: They sing about it in [05:27 inaudible]. 

Caitlin: Did get it?

Alan: You win. Ding ding. Congratulations on seven Tony nominations for the promise show. The show is incredible.
I love that it is I guess pretty much the only original show on Broadway at the moment with all these nominations. And we'll get into that. But on the podcast normally we talk about your humble beginnings where you grew up and I want to get of course Caitlin you didn't come from Finland. Where you came Finland, but you didn’t come from Finland. 

Caitlin: Many generations ago. 

Alan: Your DNA comes from Finland. Yeah lets start where you grew up. Who wants to go first?

Caitlin: Izzy go. 

Isabelle: Oh God. Okay. I was born in New York City actually. Lenox Hill Hospital and I lived in Queens for the first five years of my life with my mom and dad, tiny apartment. And then we moved to Rockland County New York which is the poor man's Westchester across the Hudson River. Yeah, Forty five minutes north. And I kind of did the majority of my growing up there until I went to the University of Michigan for college, lasted four years there and I studied abroad in London for a semester and I went to Lambda, was really awesome. It was really fun. And then yeah after graduation we showcase in New York and I’ve kind of been here ever since. 

Alan: And Caitlin you're from Seattle.

Caitlin: Yeah. I'm from outside of Seattle Komodo Island technically. Which is actually like a relatively large island north of Seattle, like compared to Manhattan it's huge but there's no one there.
So I grew up there and I grew up doing theater in Seattle and it's a quiet Washington and that's kind of like all I did. I was homeschooled and I just did theater. And then when I was 15, I auditioned for Spring Awakening. And I ended up booking that, I moved out to New York when I was 16 with my mom. My dad and my sister stayed in Washington and they had a long distance relationship for two and a half years and sacrificed so much so that I could follow my dreams. So I’ve been living in New York for eleven years now and it's amazing. But yeah so I just kind of in both.

Alan: So what were, like both of your parents were supportive. Obviously [07:54 inaudible]. 

Caitlin: Mine were incredibly supportive from day one. 

Alan: Izzy did you have like sort of an equal amount of support or do you like screw these guys I'm doing my thing.

Caitlin: It's kind of a mix of both. Like growing up academia was very important in my family and my mom actually was an act, both my parent are ball room dancers, professional ball room dancers and they just say, there's no money in the arts. And my mother was an actor for a time until she switched to dance and knows personally how difficult this profession is. So she really urged me away from it for the longest time and wanted me desperately to be a nuclear physicist. Well it was a joke but she really wanted. I mean she met she like taught some nuclear physicists and they were like they know what happened at Area 51. See clearly not nuclear physicists. 

Isabelle: That was incredible. 

Caitlin: She just wanted to know the secrets but also wanted me to make money. 

Alan: Well if you know the secrets, you wouldn't be able to tell her 

Isabelle: Exactly. But they were also very adamant. They're like if you really want this you got a train really hard for it. Because you know it's not worth it to do it unless you can actually succeed.
So even up till like my senior year I wasn't, at high school I wasn't sure whether I wanted to go to school for academics or for theater. And luckily I got into university of Michigan which kind of gave me the best of both worlds and I could get my BFA training and also take you know an English lit class with physics majors you know. So it's was kind of the best of both worlds for me. And once I had gotten through all of that. Now my mom like even though she's kind of my biggest critic, she's also my biggest fan. So they're very supportive of me now and honestly once I got into school they were very supportive as long. Because I kind of just with all of their warnings and feedback I still wanted it and I wanted to make this dream happen and I was like Yeah I know it will be hard sometimes. But like that's a worthy sacrifice for me. So yeah, So they're very supportive. 

Caitlin: You took some cautionary tales.

Alan: Do you have any siblings either of you? 

Isabelle: Yes. I have an older sister, who's a photographer. She's awesome. 

Alan: Has she come and photographed you. 

Isabelle: She does all of my headshots. She's amazing. She hates doing them because I get so angry. But yeah I forced her to take my headshots. She's very good. 

Alan: Kinnunen, it's Finnish, which is on the planet of Earth. 

Isabelle: Yes it is. Where? Who knows. Who knows. Somewhere over there I'm pointing. 

Caitlin: I have a younger brother. He's going to be a senior in college.
He's out in California. He's in applied mathematics major but he's also an incredible actor and he's also very handsome. I feel like the listener should know that. Yeah follow him at J.C. McCalla. You won't be disappointed. And he dances hip hop. He's like he's a go getter, he's you know he's like I'm going to make money but I also want to act. So who knows what he's going to do, but he's very talented.

Alan: I heard this morning actually I was listening to armchair expert by Dax Shepard. Love that podcast. He is interviewing Will Ferrell and something that Will's dad gave him was it was the advice, when Will's like Dad I think I want to do this comedy thing. And this reminded me Izzy what you said a second ago about what your parents told you about going into this reminds me of this and he said, his dad told him, I'm horrible telling stories. His dad told him that you should do it if you're going to be happier failing at that than succeeding at something else.

Caitlin: Yeah that's a very [11:44 inaudible]. 

Alan: Which is interesting because your parents were like well you got to succeed at it. 

Isabelle: A little bit of both. Like the knowledge that you will fail. And That's okay. And it's very difficult to succeed. So just I think it's their philosophy is wrapped up in that thesis statement that Will Ferrell dad so eloquently put that I took a lot longer to say. But yeah I think that has truth to it. Because when all of us under this field there is no guarantee of anything. And I think if you come in with expectations you will be sorely disappointed regardless of what happens. So it's kind of having that resilience and vulnerability to be open to the possibilities of what can happen because your life can literally change in a day. 

Alan: Oh he added on to that saying that, Sorry I love Dax Shepard. He added onto that by saying that it's a lot of talent. I mean. So you're going to be good at it right. So like his dad knew he's good at it, but the rest of it is all luck. And you just have to be the right place at the right time.

Caitlin: Yeah. And it's I think it's a combination of luck and hard work that like you have to be talented. You also have to work your ass off to continue to be good at it. But then also luck is a huge factor that people don't really think about. 

Isabelle: Because there are plenty of incredibly talented hardworking people who don't get the success that you know we've been lucky to have. And you know I think the important thing too is like comparison is kind of the death. 

Caitlin: Comparison is a thief of joy.

Isabelle: Yeah that kind of stuff, I had one of my professors in college who was brilliant. He said you can't move forward when you're looking to the side which I always loved. Because it's so true. Like there's just absolutely no way that you will find and be able to hone your craft to the best of your own ability and find your happiness in that while you're comparing yourself to you know somebody who is the same age or maybe looks like you or not. You know it doesn't, it just like there's no rhyme or reason to this. And again you're setting this yourself up for failure. 

Alan: All right. Caitlin you came over here in a way you said, And it's spring awakening. And then I was looking of course researching this, the next Broadway credit was Bridges of Madison County in 2014. So talking about luck and perseverance and struggle and so what happened in those six years?

Caitlin: Many things. I went and I did the National Tour of Next To Normal after Spring Awakening. In between that I did like a few film and TV things. I did a lot of readings. I did a lot of workshops that never saw the light of day. And I just kept going and kept auditioning and kept showing up and kept being the one who got told no over and over and over again. But I just stayed and here I am. You know and it was like I think actually like it's funny because I don't think of that time gap as like the one that was challenging. I think of the time gap between bridges and prom as the one that was like the most challenging. Because prom made it so, I’ve been working on prom for four and a half years. And within that four and a half years we were supposed to come to Broadway three times I think and so it was like, we're going clear your schedules. Oh wait we're not going. So like good luck. And so there was like a four and a half year period of me having this job, but not having it. Because we actually weren't doing it. So there was a four and a half year time period of like me being a nanny and dog walking. And like being on Medicaid and like almost applying for food stamps because I was trying to make ends meet between Broadway shows and people don't think about that. They say, it's actually interesting because I remember talking Fernal, who was one of our ensemble members about it. He overheard me talking at a talk back after one of our shows and saying that like, people who assume that you book your Broadway show and after that it's easy and it's just like one Broadway show after another and it's like, No I booked Bridges of Madison County and then didn't have another Broadway show for five years. So like you got to figure out how to make ends meet between those things and as you said theater is not a lucrative profession all the time. And so doing like little out of town gigs does not necessarily pay rent so you got to figure out how to do it but also be doing what you love and finding creative outlets but then also surviving. 

Alan: It makes a lot of sense. And I see that with a lot of people from my personal history is that they moved to New York. They had to act. And they just started struggling and then they got the flexible jobs are often the ones that keep you out at night, so that you can't get up for the 6:00 a.m. Ensemble calls whatever the case if you don't have your equity card, you can't book a slot. And it seems like this horrible cycle. That at the same time when it succeeds it's the best thing ever. So Izzy you're a little bit younger I think. So you made your Broadway debut in 2018 And you did the tour of that in 2017. Were you with Mary Anthony on that one?

Isabelle: Love of my life. This is our fourth contract together.
I worked with her on my first professional job out of school. We did West Side Story at Oslo Repertory Theatre and she was Anita and I understood her and then we did the out of town tribe the prom and then we went on the Aladdin tour together and now we're back on Broadway with the prom. We joke about it that it's written into our contracts that we have to work together, we're not allowed to do shows that... 

Alan: I love her. She and Teddy and Becca, I interviewed them on this podcast. They were incredible. So you had that in 2017, came here in 2018 you were Jasmine on Broadway and did either of you when you started to get like these roles and you saw them coming. Did you sort of getting sort of a sense of like what you're saying of now the next thing is just going to fall in my lap and I can go spend all my money. 

Isabelle: No I'm leaning how to deal with money right now currently.  Because there's actually that, my fear is different. For me I started, I have a heavy dance background and I thought for years that I would dance and ensembles and understudy principal roles and like that was going to how it was going to be how I made money and Casey kind of plucked me out. Casey Nicholas gave me this incredible opportunity of playing Jasmine in the national tour and my fear actually grew. Because now I'm like OK now I'm at a higher level, hopefully I want to maintain this level. But that means opportunities are going to be fewer and farther between. So I mean even now I have this fear that like oh my god am I ever going to work again after this. Like I want the show to run forever and the fear never goes away. 

Caitlin: And because this business is so unpredictable. You can be told yeah you're going to Broadway tomorrow. And then tomorrow be told actually no, we're not going to do that. 

Isabelle: Yeah. I had actually one of my legal contract for another show I was on they had offered me a Broadway contract and the next day took it away from me. And it just say you can never put all of your eggs in one basket in this industry because they can be ripped away from you at any moment. And I think the most anxiety like that I get is being like I can't rely on anything in my life. [20:34 inaudible]. At the end of when bridges closed, because bridges again like we ran for three months. And that was it. And so it was like okay well I have, I luckily like saved this money and that money like made it so I could pay my rent for a while, but then after that money goes away very fast in New York. Even if you're not spending it like truly if you are like bare bones just paying your rent and buying food, money goes fast. Because rent is expensive. Utilities too. I mean like there's just so many ways it goes. I'm working with a financial adviser now who's trying to like I'm trying to stabilize and get a plan for adulting together. [21:26 inaudible]. 

Caitlin: I'm trying to adult so hard because I'm so good at avoiding it. 

Isabelle: She says that but she's like the most put together human being ever. She’s just like the most eloquently spoken smart individual who like knows what she wants to lives. No but it does. Like you so clearly know what you want out of your life and you are very driven to get it and you are taking all of the correct steps to get it. And like putting your well-being ahead of other people's nonsense and like that to me as being a successful adult. So I think gold star. 

Caitlin: I love you babe. 

Isabelle: [22:08 inaudible] we'd like to harmonize really badly together too. 

Alan: It sounds really not good.

Caitlin: Yeah. It worked down to our favorite thing to do is sing the beginning I’ve fallen by Alicia Keys. 

Alan: And how does that go?

Caitlin: It goes, [singing] Oh that's another thing that you lie about, Izzy claims that [22:49 inaudible]. Can you do one of those things where you like splice into this conversation what I'm talking about. So the Bridges of Madison County cast recording. We recorded it all in one room with the band and the cast all in the same space without any barriers put up. It was the most incredible experience. But because of that it was really challenging to fix mistakes. And there is one part during State Road 21 where it's supposed to be, [singing] on the cast recording it's not that, its like and I will not cry. Because that to me is a riff, like a three note like descending scale is a riff.
It's horrendous.

Isabelle: You were acting, in that part of the song you were so overtaken by you will not cry. 

[Speaking Altogether]

[Music]

Caitlin: Babe you can do it better than you think you can. 

Isabelle: I you know. Yeah.

Alan: I love watching. [Speaking Altogether]

Isabelle: She deserves it. 

Caitlin: You guys did a really great picture today.

Isabelle: I did, I posted an Instagram story, not story. 

Caitlin: Like the day she found out, the moment she found out. That's beautiful.

Isabelle: I like to keep it real. So it's just a picture of me crying.

Alan: So you started crying and then you selfie that while you were crying.

Isabelle: Yeah. Because like this is like kind of a depressing story but actually like one of there was a year that, Oh my God what is his name David Hyde Pierce did. I forget what he was presenting. I think he was presenting like a lifetime achievement thing or maybe just making a speech at the Tony’s. But he spoke about Alzheimer's and that people always say I’ll never forget this moment. And you actually don't know that, because anyone can get Alzheimer's at any point in their life. And so you say, I’ll never forget this. But in reality you probably will. And so there are like certain things in my life that I document. And that's one of the moments. It sounds so much more depressing than it is. But like I probably won't get Alzheimer's, but like I might not remember this day because I still have a lot of life left and I want to remember this moment. So I took a selfie of my face and now I have an image that recalls all of the emotions that I was doing and I posted it on Instagram, but I didn't talk about Alzheimer's. 

Caitlin: So if your future lover, are you going to give your Instagram who handles them, this can be your own personal notebook. [inaudible]. 

Isabelle: And that's why its like one of those cool new trends on Instagram is like only having like a couple photos posted and I'm like, I am like my Instagram is like... There is like people who like only ever have like 15 Instagram posts and they go out and delete that. 

Caitlin: I don't like that. 

Isabelle: My Instagram goes back to like 2011. Peak Caitlin and her like most destructive years and they're just horrible. It's really atrocious. 

Caitlin: My favorite Caitlyn Kinnunen post, please scroll through her Instagram feed and you will see I woke up like this.

[speaking altogether]

Caitlin: But the one she had longer hair, it was really just like how she would wake up like kind of half of her face with makeup on still. 

Isabelle: Hair sticking up in a corner and just like staring dead into the camera like I woke like this. 

Caitlin: it's they're so good. Because it brings truth like the reality of life. 

Isabelle: Social media is a very interesting thing for me. Because I find a lot of fault with it and I really despise people who project, I don't despise is not the right word. I don't understand people who reject the perfect image of their lives online and then you run into them in real life and they're like actually my life is miserable. This is what I'm going through and I'm like, why don't you talk about that. Because everyone is going through that and because you're like putting out this perfect image of yourself. People think you are perfect and they tried to live up to that. No one is perfect. 

Alan: Because everyone has anxiety. 

Caitlin: Exactly. So like with my Instagram I do post like perfect moments of my life. But I also try to be very honest and very upfront when I am struggling or am going through something and I do I woke up like this photo's, because everyone always posts to like beautiful like, I'm wearing makeup but it doesn't look like I'm wearing makeup. I'm wearing makeup from last night that I forgot to wipe off of my face and I look gorgeous.
That’s a lot of word vomit sorry. 

Isabelle: No it's important word vomit. I think like especially now it needs to be an ever evolving conversation. Because we're still trying to figure out you know the balance of it. 

Caitlin: And like and especially because we're in a position now where we have followers who are looking up to us. They are like, people in a position of quote unquote power because of this show and so we have like all of these young kids following us on Instagram and I never want to give them false hope of perfection. Because that's not realistic. 

Isabelle: It's really not. And as we know my mind works in horrible ways where I think everyone is going to end up with Alzheimer. I really like to put that into the world. 

Alan: If you take nothing out of this podcast you take that you should document all of your ugly words because you will lose your mind one day. 

Caitlin: I kind of love the ugly moments. 

Isabelle: I think Putting it that way is like really accurate. They like it might not be Alzheimer, but you will lose your mind. 

Caitlin: I mean at some point it's already happening to me. You know I’ve cried like 17 times this past two week. 

Alan: This past hour. 

Caitlin: Isabelle has been. 

Isabelle: You said my full name. 

Caitlin: I did because this is a serious moment. She has put up with so much bullshit from me over the last month and a half. And she's an angel from heaven. Who is the most graceful caring wonderful human being who I love and appreciate to the moon and back. You because she holds my hand when I'm crying and then doesn't get mad at me when I yell at her not to touch me when I am sobbing in the dressing room. 

Alan: Did you know each other before prom? Really. So you've just become soulmates. Found your soulmate.

[30:06 inaudible]. 

Caitlin: That's part of our relationship too. I'd like to try to make her as uncomfortable as possible. I think that's vice versa too. 

Isabelle: Oh 100 percent. 

Caitlin: Yeah. She discovered the thing during tech that my cheeks are extremely flexible like that right now. She is like pulling her cheeks apart. Oh my God. Stop it. So we often can be fined intertwined and just holding odd parts of each other's bodies,
Not in a sexual way. 

Isabelle: Everything I take, everything is sexual. 

Caitlin: Not really. 

Isabelle: That's why it is not in a sexual way, because people will take it there. I don't say it's not. 

Alan: I don't quite know where to go from there. 

[speaking altogether]

Alan: Yes so the people looking up to you, people looking up to you not in a sexual way. The audience feedback. I'm trying to bring you back to the moment. Tell me about what you're hearing and getting in the mail and what you're hearing at the stage door and seeing you're getting feedback that people are seeing themselves represented in a way that they hadn't previously been seeing.

Caitlin: Yeah that's, it really is just that, it's all of these kids and young adults and full adults reaching out and saying whether it's at the stage door be a fan mail on Instagram, all of the ways they can get in contact with us just saying that they feel seen and they feel heard and represented like they haven't before. And that means so much and especially because we're doing a piece of musical theater you know. Like we're doing a musical.
We're doing a musical comedy and yet we still are having this impact on people's lives that's positive and we're representing these LGBT youth characters in a way that they've never been represented before on stage and that is so special and unique and needed. The fact that this has not happened before to me is horrible. 

Isabelle: But that's why I think theatre is so important because it can be a piece of social activism, like our show is. And the fact that it starts conversations between parents and children about sexuality and their own sexuality and you know we get stories all the time that the show gave these kids the courage to come out or they want to come out now or want to address who they are and be comfortable with who they are or and even better or not even better. But you know as a added bonus we get the parents who come and say I didn't understand until now and I'm so sorry. Or those bullies who think twice now about not calling people gay you know as an insult. Because like what does that mean? You're just saying that they mean it is stupid, what you're actually saying is you know that gay is stupid.
So you try to rework their thinking and the amount of reflection that is happening from the audience members I think is the best that it could possibly be. 

A; You have a story that stands out. 

Caitlin: Yeah I do too. Mine is, I don't stage door very often. I have a lot of social anxiety and it's hard for me to stage door. And so I don't do it very often but when I do I try to be as present as possible and there was one day where I was actually states dooring and this girl was behind the barricade and she like grabbed onto my shoulders in a very gentle way, not in an Lake alarming way. But she's like held onto my shoulders and she said My mom is behind me. I haven't come out to her but I'm a lesbian and I don't know what to tell her, but I just want to say thank you. And just like tears in her eyes like being so honest with me, so close to me and yet so close to her mother behind her telling me these things. And it just, we get so many moments like that and it's so overwhelming and so beautiful and heartbreaking and touching and like all of these things and emotions wrapped up in one and it's just that's always the one that sticks with me the most. Just a sweet 13 year old, 14 year old girl being like I'm gay and I haven't told the woman who is standing directly behind me.

Alan: Izzy what’s your story. 

Isabelle: Yeah. Stuff like that. And then also just last week I think it was this, Our house manager brought me to meet this girl who literally the curtain came down and she turned to her mother and said mom I'm gay. And she wanted to thank us. And she was like I was watching Alissa green. The song I sang and she was like everything she's saying is how I feel, which is a testament to the writers. There's a feeling of you know having to be someone you're not in order to please the people that you love and you lose sight of yourself because of that. But seeing Emma go through it and Alissa go through it, what they go through helped her realize that she is not alone and that she can do this if she just trust the people around her love her and embraces who she really is. So she luckily had a wonderful mother who was like, that's okay, that’s amazing. And like hugged her. And so I got to meet the daughter and the mother and I'm sure the mom had the way she acted I'm sure she kind of knew. But like the fact that this show gave her the courage to do that as the curtain came in was unbelievable.

Alan: That's incredible. I was thinking Caitlin you were saying your story that you know the person grabbed you and was like thank you for telling the story. Do people have a hard time separating the actor from the role?

Caitlin: I think so, yeah. This whole experience has been very eye opening is not the right word. Like enlightening I guess I could say as to actor fan relationships. Most of the time it's fine. But there are circumstances where it does get like sticky and tricky and they think we're one in the same and we are and we're not. You know like there are some things that I identify very strongly with Emma and I think we are very alike in some ways, but then we're very not alike in other ways. And there are some fans who only want to see you as Emma or Alyssa or whoever you are playing and it's weird and that's, I don't know so it's been a weird learning experience for me of how do I differentiate who I actually am and how do I express Caitlin's thoughts vs this character I play. And I'm so honored and privileged to be playing such an amazing character who is so awesome in her own right. And so it's, I don't know it's just like I then feel like I have to step up and be as awesome as her in my day to day life. And then I'm like Well I'm not. It's just, it's there are so many different elements that go into it that are all so challenging and difficult. And yeah it's weird. It's hard for me.

Alan: Yeah. Emma and Alissa are written to be great. They're really awesome characters. So why do you beat yourself up for being a real person.

Caitlin: I don't know. Because I don't know it's I think it goes back to like we're put on this position where people look up to us and I don't want to let anybody down you know and especially this community and this group of young individuals who are looking up to something to be there like beacon of hope in life. I don't ever want to be the one who like crushes their dreams, because that sucks. 

Isabelle: Yeah I think there's something also to be said for the fact that they're like, as playing these roles we have become advocates you know. As rightfully so and we're very happy to accept the responsibility that comes along with that. But the important to remember too is that you can't stand for anything without detractors, without people wanting to tear you down. You know so that is difficult to like push all the negativity away and remember why we are doing this and I think it also goes back to our social media platforms and I think what we both try to do is similarly to the characters written in the show. Women spent like there we luckily of writers are writing women that are diverse and our varied and complex people and that aren't just one stereotype. And I think we try to show that in our daily lives yet our social media too to be like, hey we have those days where we look fly as hell and other days when you know the shit hits the fan and we're goofy and we don't take ourselves seriously or we do and we struggle with whatever. But it's a show that like, I can be sexy and smart and dumb sometimes and clumsy and irreverent and you know all of these things and fight for the causes that I find important. And it's not like just because I believe one thing I can't act in another way. And I think that's important to keep presenting at least for me. And you know I think we agree with that. 

Alan: I want to add in that I think a healthy dose of emotional support either from friends who have each other. Which is incredible or professionally I think in this country therapy is very [39:53 inaudible]. I don't understand it. 

Isabelle: I mean its because I for balance with this hectic crazy life that we have. It's the one that keeps the same. I will tell you this.
I don't anticipate winning this Sunday but like I do have a list of people just in case who I will be there gang and my therapist is on that list, 100%. 

Caitlin: I think it should be like I celebrated that you have a safe space to go in and just let go of all the bullshit and just drop the facade and be like, my therapist said to me the other day which kind of blew my mind and I'm still talking [40:39 inaudible] I was just talking about what I thought I was supposed to be [40:38 inaudible] what was happening and she stopped me and she stopped me and she goes you know you don't have to entertain me right. And that hit me like a ton of bricks. And so since that I’ve kind of been re-examining it's like and if you feel like you're being your most authentic self, there's always something else that maybe you're not in tune with that you need to you know keep working on. And I think having that you know other person, the mirror reflecting you know a few well is really great to work through all the craziness. 

Alan: I'm glad you said that. That's very helpful just in general. 

Caitlin: It blew right mind. I'll never forget that. I mean just. She's amazing.

Isabelle: My therapist one of the things that she told me that I am like so reliant is that she said I'm a baby adult in the way like I am an adult. But there is still so much to figure out you know just because I'm a 27 year old woman who presents having her shit together doesn't mean that there is still so much more life ahead of me and like right now I'm focused so solely on like the now, that it's like oh well if this doesn't happen it won't ever happen again and she's like, No you are a baby adult. You still have so much left of your adult life, like you're fine. It's really not as heavy is what your therapist said, but it's been very helpful. 

Caitlin: Well because I think there's also easy to think that we have everything figured out and we get how this world works and we get our life works and I kind of like being called out for my own shit to be like, there's a lot more you don't know than you do. And I think being open to that and like the more open, I think I don't know for me life is easier to cope with when I am receptive to the idea that so much can happen that I have no control over. 

Alan: It's Luck. 

Caitlin: And it's also like not putting my entire worth into my job right. 

Isabelle: How do you do that? 

Caitlin: I'm working on it. It's not easy. But it is a practice. It is yeah that's something that I have to like meditate on and work on with myself because it doesn't come easy. It's not, I am trying not to make Alissa Green in the prom. My everything. And that's very difficult but it's the truth. 

Isabelle: That is so not where I'm at.

Alan: You'll get there. 

Caitlin: I'm not there either. 

Alan: Well do you have a lot of anxiety in general?

Isabelle: So much. Oh God yeah. Yeah I’ve been struggling. Because I don't think struggling is the right word. I think I have been learning with anxiety and depression since I was 16 and it ebbs and flows and sometimes I am not anxious and I'm more depressed, sometimes I am more anxious and less depressed. Sometimes I'm a lot of both right now. That time. Yeah I just said, its a never changing thing, a chemical imbalance in my brain that I'm totally cool with. But it's an interesting thing to do with. 

Alan: Something that I’ve realized about myself after in the middle of talking with Patty Miller and about her own struggles with anxiety. Was she said something that resonated with me really hard. It was. And I'm going to butcher again. She said something about, it's not about ignoring it or making it go away. It's about learning how to integrate it in your life and not let it control you.

Isabelle: Yeah. And adding to that it is about integrating and learning to accept it and live with it and being okay with one you can't do that. I had an instance like a month ago now where, because I get panic attacks frequently and they are something that like I have learned to just like not accept fully, but I’ve learned to be able to function through them. And right after the Tony nominations came out, it was a very stressful time and still is. I had a panic attack right as the show was starting and that's happened to me before where a panic attack is come on quickly during the show and I’ve been able to like breathe and work my way through it and it's been great. But for this time, it started and I thought I was okay, I thought I was okay, I thought I was okay. And then halfway through act two I realized I am not okay and I cannot keep going and I need to stop and so I called out one number into Act Two. Because I listened to my body and it said you cannot do this right now. And that in itself is like accepting and living with it you know and figuring it out like, yeah it's an ever changing thing that like living with it is important in learning how to accept it into your life. Because if you try to fight it, you will never succeed. Ever. So you just kind of have to learn to accept it and say, okay this is what's going on right now. I'm going to do my best to handle it and we'll see what that means. And like that day it meant that I needed to stop. 

Alan: What happened during the show? Did they stop the show?

Isabelle: They did. They stopped the show and they switched me out with my understudy and she is the most amazing human in the world and she stepped in with like grace and poise that I did not have at the moment and she killed it.

Alan: Wow. Good for both of you. How much of, we talked about like you have to put yourself into the roles and the audience has a hard time differentiating, but how much of the character is reflected back on you. How much do you walk away with. Are you two the same people now that you were before the prom?

Isabelle: Emma has taught me so much. I think it's hard to believe, it's done every self-deprecating thing I have said today. But I am a much more confident human being because of Emma and I have a much easier time speaking my mind and standing up for myself and my own rights, because of the way Emma stands up for herself in the show. And like I was not that way four years ago at all. 

Caitlin: Yeah. I think for me it's kind of the opposite in the sense that Alissa is so much of who I was that I know deeply what it feels like to need to be the best at everything and to succeed at everything and make sure that the people around you are happy, like a dog. Like a dog that you just want to please everyone, you do want to do your tricks you get your treats and just you lose sight of yourself and I for a long time lost sight of who I was and what I actually wanted. Because I thought I had to be something in order for people to like me and I put my worth in other people and how they viewed me. So that was a huge Shift, a wakeup call for me that happened like three or four years ago. So in that sense the show almost feels like regressing a little bit. So I need to find balance outside of it to make sure that I am the strong confident person I am outside. And luckily Alyssa has a great arc where she does you know does come to terms with who she is and fights for her soul and the person she loves despite the fact that it will hurt her mother and that's something I'm learning too. Actually now I’ve been dealing with this in my life as this past year my Mary Anthony, very smart woman I was talking to her about a relationship I was in and I was just like so wrought up and I hate hurting people. I don't want to hurt anyone and she said that's a lovely sentiment, but like you can't go through life without hurting people. It's you know it's a fact of life that just happens and that is something that I’ve been grappling with this year. And I think Alyssa grapples with too. So I feel like we're kind of parallel going side to side by side and that sounds like fighting our demons and fighting our desire is to please people so much. And I'm grateful I get to work through it as she does and also remember that, like its a good reminder every night that like you're not what people make you out to be or want you to be. You are your own person.

Alan: Feels like good theater is really therapy in its own way. Because you get to repeat and repeat and repeat and try different things. Which even though the words are written on the page. If your co-star as everybody else on stage is in the moment reacting, it's going to be different. And I think, yeah I think it's a beautiful thing. You're talking about relationships.
How do you identify. 

Caitlin: I have only ever been in relationships with men. However I have had relations with women. I guess I identify as a straight ally but I'm open to, I'm attracted to women, I'm attracted to men but I’ve only ever been in relationships with men. Fluid I guess. 

Isabelle: I had only ever and then kind of similarly I had only ever identified as a straight ally, had relations with women and then recently had started dating a woman. And it was lovely and so I'm in this boat of like, I don't identify as bi, I don't identify as straight. I don't identify as queer. I just am kind of, I think who was, who's talking about it. There is some BuzzFeed article or something I read Anton. I'm so behind on any pop culture references. He was talking about having dated women and men and how his sexuality is truly fluid and that like really resonated with me, it's like no I don't need to identify as anything. I am a person who like deals with what comes at me when it comes at me and like whether or not I end up with a man or a woman or whatever, it doesn't matter. It's just is what it is, fluidity. Sexuality is a spectrum and I am somewhere floating around. All of it.

Caitlin: I agree with all of that. I think it's like I hesitate to claim the identity of or you know bisexual identity because I haven't had to face the oppression that so many of gay culture, people in the gay culture have.

Isabelle: So interesting like this because in June and its pride month and all of these people who are like posting and talking about their pride and the struggles that they have facet coming out, it's like I am a white straight presenting woman. I have never had to go through any of that. I am very privileged for that. And so to identify as bi or queer, I feel like is a disservice in some way because I don't want to claim that I have struggled at all in this front. I have struggled with other things in my life, but never have I faced oppression based on my sexual preferences. And so I don't ever want people to assume that I have and then say that like I am claiming something. 

Caitlin: And I think this is a conversation that we have constantly, the two of us talk about. Because it is evolving and we are evolving in it. And you don't want to ruffle any feathers.

Isabelle: And again it comes back to like the platform that we are right in social media right now. Looking at us. And it's like I don't, I have never wanted to put words into the mouths of LGBTQ plus people who come into the show and feel seen by it. Like that has never been my intention. But I am trying to like figure out my own sexuality again whether... 

Caitlin: And tell the story hopefully and respectfully as we can in the parts that we have. 

Isabelle: And all of that being said it also doesn't matter. You know like that's like, love who you want to love. It doesn't matter as long as you are not hurting people, you're fine. So do what you want to do.

Alan: Yeah. Love is love. 

Isabelle: Exactly. To quote the great Lin Manuela.

Alan: All right. So we are going to wrap up here. And so my three standard questions that I ask everybody. Izzy let's start with you. What motivates you.

Isabelle: This is something so stupid. My thirst for knowledge of things I don't know, like I'm really curious. 

Caitlin: That's like so accurate. 

Isabelle: Yeah I know it's so cheesy. 

Caitlin: Actually coming from you it's not cheesy at all.

Isabelle: Okay. I'm glad you were backing that up. I read a lot of books and I want to do a lot of traveling and I like, I want to keep learning about things I don't know. 

Caitlin: From an outsider's perspective that is so your authentic self and what you present to the world. 

Isabelle: Thank you. And that's why I love acting because I'm stepping into shoes of people that I don't know and I could get to figure that out through them. 

Alan: Caitlin what about you? 

Isabelle: The face she's making right now. It's pressed up against the mic or [54:59 inaudible]. 

Alan: She's had time to think about this too. 

Caitlin: I know, it's not going well. I think right now and having in this show's journey, my whole like outlook on life and everything is using my voice for good and doing things that make a difference in the world. Whether it is small change or large change. That's what it's like driving me forward right now, just trying to be a good person. It's hard sometimes. 

Isabelle: You got this. 

Alan: You got it. All right. So Caitlin we'll start with you for the second here. What advice would you give to your younger self and younger people now starting out down a similar path.

Caitlin: Just keep going. It sounds really simple but it's actually really hard. Just always put one foot in front of the other and don't give up and don't pay attention to what other people say.
Keep going. 

Alan: Izzy. 

Isabelle: I am going to go back to don't compare yourself to other people. It's not worth it. It causes a lot more heartbreak and yeah just focus on staying in your lane and what makes you, you. 

Alan: All right and okay so either of you can go first. If I could only see one show for the rest of your life, but you can see it as many times as you want.

Isabelle: A theater show? 

Alan: Any show. 

Isabelle: Like a TV show too. 

Alan: Any show. If you just like, This is your. 

Isabelle: FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. 

Alan: FOR THE REST [56:41 inaudible]. 

Caitlin: I know this, the office, the American office. All nine seasons are fine with me. I think it is an incredible ensemble cast with the best writing. [57:02 inaudible]. Yeah I think that's my go to just because that is this show I go back to always when I want something in the background or feel like I need a pick me up. Because I think the cast is so diverse and that perspective is so diverse and it's just so raw and funny and painful like life is. 
So the office. 

Isabelle: You're taking this question way too seriously.

Alan: Chrissy Behar existential moment where he wanted to see the prom over and over again, but with him in it knowing that he could never do it. He kind of like I saw the sprinkles and the smoke start coming out of his ears. 

Isabelle: [58:05 inaudible] My roommate would. My roommate watching her watch Jeopardy is the best thing in the world. I would watch, Can it be like a general statement. I would just watch like really crappy reality TV for the rest of my life. No no no like I'm talking like botched and like Naked and Afraid.

Caitlin: Oh my God. 

Alan: You two are in now almost 40 episodes, you two have never picked a theater show.

Isabelle: If I picked a theater show it would be Phantom Of The Opera.
 
Caitlin: Oh my God. 

Isabelle: I am obsessed with it. I don't understand how anyone can sing that high. 

[singing]

Caitlin: We are professionals. Tony Award nominee. 

Isabelle: Yeah baby.

Caitlin: That's my favorite thing to say now whenever I like pick a wedgie or fart or any like bodily function like Tony Award nominee picking my wedgie.

Alan: Well that title will never leave you. You're always going to be Tony nominee Caitlin Kinnunen.

Isabelle: Its pretty cool. Picking her wedgie. 

Alan: Picking your wedgie, burping and farting.

Caitlin: Anyway bye. Where can we find you on the socials?

Isabelle: You can follow me @izzymccalla on Instagram. 

Caitlin: I don't tweet, but Instagram I will be there. 

Alan: Facebook?

Caitlin: No. 

Alan: Kids these days aren't into the Facebook. 

Caitlin: I kind of deleted mine. It was giving me anxiety. I was. Facebook was giving me anxiety, but instead of deleting it I did move it further away on my phone. So it's harder to get to. I have to do three swipes. Open a folder and then click on Facebook to get to Facebook. It hasn't stopped me from using it at all. But that was what my therapist and I came up with. 

Alan: Where can we find you.

Caitlin: You can bring me on Instagram at @Caitlin.Kinnunen. That’s me and that's the only place that I publicly say anything. I have Facebook and Twitter, but they're private so they can stalk people. 

Alan: All right. You can get more of me at the You can get more of me at the www.theaterpodcast.com, @Theatre_podcast on Instagram and twitter, facebook.com/officialtheatrepodcast. Of course leave a reading if you're listening on a player right now, it helps.
This is produced by Jillian Hochman, edited by Matthew Hendershot and thank you to a jukebox the ghost for the intro and outro music. Caitlin and Izzy this has been so much fun.

Caitlin Kinnunen and Isabelle McCalla are not only co-stars of The Prom, but real life besties. Playing Emma and Alyssa respectively, they have a strong sense of trust which is clear to all on and off the stage.

Tony nominee Caitlin Kinnunen made her Broadway debut in 2008 at the age of 16 in Spring Awakening.  She went on to star in The Bridges of Madison County. Most recently, Caitlin received a 2019 Tony nomination for her performance as Emma in The Prom. Isabelle McCalla made her Broadway debut in 2018 as Jasmine in the production of Aladdin after coming off of the tour of the same name, and now stars as Alyssa also in The Prom.

This episode dives deep into their amazing friendship (dare we say they are soulmates!?), what they love most about performing, the support from their family, and why they continue to do what they do.  They discuss figuring out their own sexuality, and what their respective roles in The Prom have taught them about themselves. They are both strong advocates for mental health and therapy and deal with their own stresses and anxiety in strong and unique ways.

Interview content begins at [3:29].

Closing standards begin at [53:30].

Follow Cailtin and Isabelle on Instagram:

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