Written by Julia Stier
Image credit: Joan Marcus, Official Press Photo
Something wicked this way comes… it’s Natalia Vivino from the national tour of Wicked!
Vivino is currently touring with the hit musical Wicked for their Munchkinland Tour as the Elphaba standby*. A former LA Stage Alliance intern, Vivino graduated from Cal State Northridge last May, and only had a couple months off before jumping into her first national tour.
Vivino took time out of her busy touring schedule to chat with @ This Stage about life on tour, staying healthy while traveling, and her personal journey to Oz.
*Now You Know: As a standby, it is Natalia’s job to be backstage in case the principal Elphaba can’t perform. Vivino explains the difference between a standby, an understudy, and a swing: “Say that the principal Elphaba calls out, the next person on the list would be me to go on as the standby. But if I am also ill, then the understudy has to go on. Understudies are always in the ensemble as well, so when the understudy goes on someone has to fill in for her ensemble track, and that person is called a swing. It’s like this little domino effect.
JS: What does a typical performance day look like?
NV: I can give you an outline of what today will look like for instance. So we have a 7:30 show, it’s Tuesday. I like to get in about an hour before the show starts – I like to be early, even if I’m not on. I have my own little station in the dressing rooms, and if I’m not going on, I will do nice things that keep me relaxed and at ease.
We have monitors going backstage so you can hear the whole show, and that’s really important because then we can hear if any announcements or mid-show changes are happening, like if someone needs to be swung on. I could potentially get a call mid-show, so I always have to be listening.
I like to practice along with the monitors, so I’ll find a private space to go into and sometimes I’ll follow along with the show. I find different ways to practice my material to keep it interesting. [I once] sped typed all of my lines and lyrics from memory. I was like, “okay, this is the challenge,” and I was able to do it! It made me notice new things in the script, like with the story and how things connect. So I’m finding ways to practice, or I’m chilling out. Sometimes I have one earbud in and I’m watching a little Netflix while also making sure I can hear what’s going on with the show. I also have a gazillion adult coloring books.
There are also a couple things I want to clarify about the Elphaba standby job specifically. People ask me a lot, “do you have to wear green makeup at all times backstage?” No, the Elphaba standby is not green backstage at all times, and she’s not in costume either. Our makeup artist, in an emergency, can “green” a girl in like seven minutes. I’m just in street clothes backstage ready to go if I need to go.
How was the transition into touring?
So I’m really glad you asked me that because my journey to becoming a member of this tour is very winding and kind of crazy. At Cal State Northridge I studied broadcast journalism. I was performing on the side, but I wanted to keep other doors open for me in case the performing thing didn’t work out. A month before I graduated college, I was hired part time at CBS LA to help produce for their digital news. I was truly only at CBS for maybe two months before I got the call from my agent that I got into Wicked. It was so crazy because at that point I’d figured, “okay, I’ve been submitted for Wicked for the past three years now, they call me back all the time, but I don’t know what’s going on, or if I’m ever going to get this. Maybe I’m not meant to perform.” And then as soon as I settled into news, it was like, “no, no, no, you’re going to be on the tour, and they want you now.”
They gave me a month before I had to fly out to San Jose and start rehearsals. There are other people in the cast who only had a couple of days, I’m not even kidding, before they had to drop everything and go. It was a crazy thing. I went from one career to the next at lightning speed, and all after graduating college. It was a lot of change in a very short amount of time.
How do you keep up your energy level and health while on tour?
I’ve learned a lot about wellness being on tour. A lot of us use this thing that you get at Whole Foods called The Wellness Formula. We all have Pure Mists, and we steam regularly. Getting a lot of sleep is really important, and we have a traveling physical therapist that’s with us on the road as well.
As far as vocal health, I have things I love to do. I’ve discovered having ginger turmeric tea with raw honey is really, really good for my throat, and makes it feel relaxed and good. I always make sure to warm up really effectively if I’m told I’m going to be going on. Also if I’m on the whole show, it’s a challenge of keeping your vocal health strong while you’re on and performing. You have to pick your moments to have those really big, belty, impressive moments, and then know when to pull it back so that you don’t blow out your voice.
What does touring with a show teach you about acting, yourself, or the entertainment business?
I think every actor should aim to tour at least once. I don’t think tour is for everybody, but having that experience is really important. I also think having the experience of being an understudy – or a swing or a standby – is also really important for an actor to have because it teaches you humility, and it teaches you an appreciation for how the whole show functions.
Touring has taught me that you really need to – in this business especially – you need to be your own best friend. It’s really important in an industry like this to believe in yourself and to believe in your abilities and what you can do. It’s taught me the importance of self-love, and of believing in yourself and your capabilities. We’re capable of way more than we think, truly. Elphaba has taught me that above all.
What is your favorite memory from being on tour?
The first time I ever got green was intense for me. 10 years ago, my older sister Donna was in the first national for Wicked, and she was Elphaba. So this is like super trippy for me because, she started out as the standby, and I went and saw her as Elphaba in the tour when I turned 13. I got to watch her get green backstage with my family, and at the time, I had just become a fan of Wicked. And then it was crazy because 10 years later I was the one [getting green]. That was one of my favorite memories ever.
At this stage in my career I am…
At this stage in my career, the adventure is just beginning.
At this stage in my life I am…
At this stage in my life, I’m following my heart.
Interview edited for length and clarity.