Interview: Stephanie Klemons on Reopening Hamilton and the Healing Power of Art
Klemons is the Global Dance Supervisor of the award-winning musical.
Stephanie Klemons has no time to rest. She's in charge of getting the dance departments of Hamilton worldwide back on track for their long-awaited reopenings. She's simultaneously choreographing the new off-Broadway show A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet and running a nonprofit, called Katie's Art Project. She has two young sons, a two-year-old and a now eight-week-old.
Klemons's days are packed with rehearsals, mothering with her wife, and organizing show notes on her train rides. The true definition of a superwoman, Klemons is still finding joy in every moment and clinging to the larger purpose, to bring forth a more mindful and equitable Broadway industry and a more compassionate world for her children. TheaterMania recently spoke with Klemons about balancing it all.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You're the Associate Choreographer and Global Dance Supervisor of Hamilton. Can you explain exactly what that job entails?
So, my job is to oversee the dance department of all seven Hamilton companies. I help schedule auditions, plan bootcamps, and figure out how to fill any holes that exist within the different casts. I communicate to all of the other associates what the dance department needs, especially during rehearsals. Each individual company has a dance supervisor that maintains their show, so I also travel around to different cities to check in with them. It's a lot of management.
What has it been like getting the show back on its feet?
Our focus has really been on giving the cast and crew what they need to show up for work again. Everyone has spent 18 months away. We don't want you to just walk back in and pick up where you left off. The goal is to create a healthier tomorrow. On the micro level, we're focusing on people's mental health and what they feel in their bodies and voices. We started every morning of rehearsal with a program designed by Karine Plantadit that centers on reconnecting to each other and the space. On the macro level, we're looking at Hamilton and our structure as a company and how it relates to the institutionalized things we take for granted. We're thinking of how we can be better and be not just forward-thinking, but actually on the front edge of change.
What does the energy in the room feel like?
Oh my gosh, it's so exciting. But you know, it's also no secret that Hamilton has sometimes come under the spotlight for not doing "enough" during this time of human reckoning. And everyone is having their own experience with that. But I think we've come to find that even if there was some hurt at one point, there is something about being back in the room, and being a part of the rewriting that is very healing.
How has it been juggling motherhood and returning to work full time?
The day my son turned three weeks old was our first full week of rehearsals. I definitely wouldn't have been able to go this hard if it was my first kid. But with it being my second, I kind of knew what to expect. But I guess the answer is having a lot of help and support around me. Every parent knows the runaround of having to do things on your toes and change plans last minute. Sometimes the babysitter is going to be late, so I'm going to be 30 minutes late to rehearsal, and that just is what it is. I've learned to give into it. And going home to them is such a reset every night. The show is important, but my family is why I'm doing it all. Seeing them supersedes any stress that's happened throughout the day.
You have your own children, but it also feels like, in a sense, you're the mother of Hamilton. Have those two roles affected each other in any way?
You know it's funny because I was the only woman in the original Hamilton room. The producer, the creative team, and all of their other associates were men… I've kind of always been the only woman, and now I have two boys at home!
But I do think I bring an "It's ok, we're going to get through this" energy to everything I do, both in parenting and theater. In parenting, you have to carry your kids part of the way, but then it's important to learn when to step aside and help usher them forward on their own. Similarly, with the companies of Hamilton that I set, I always feel that if I do my job in casting the right people and setting everybody up for success, all I really need to do is eventually get out of the way and let them all do their best work.
Tell me about Katie's Art Project.
My best friend Katie had cancer and she passed away when we were in college. She was in clinical trials at the hospital at Rutgers University where I was going to school, so I was able to see what actually improved her quality of life, and one thing that was really impactful was art.
So 11 or 12 years ago when I was a swing in In the Heights, I remember telling Luis Salgado that one thing I really wanted to do with my life was connect artists with kids facing life threatening illnesses. Artists are always looking for a story to tell and these kids have so much to say. They're so wise beyond their years. Once I was a part of Hamilton, I was able to fund the organization to become a 501c3 and use some of my personal clout to start connecting people and move it forward. Through our collaborations we've published songs on iTunes and Spotify, we partnered with the Ronald McDonald House, and did a lot of Zoom workshops during the pandemic. We do any kind of art you can imagine, and we help these kids create a lasting artistic legacy for themselves.
How do you think the return of Broadway will help us all move forward in a positive way?
I think unfortunately it's possible to put blinders on and just do what you know. But what the world is asking of us, and what we're all asking of ourselves, is how to go forward not just expecting someone else to leave a mark, but to actually have a personal say in how things change. I think all the people who have chosen to come back to theater made an unspoken pact to make the industry into something better.
In the worst-case scenario, the audience basically looks the same. But in the best-case scenario, we manage to create something that draws in a bigger pool and establishes systems for people to get tickets who may not have had that opportunity before. Then people from all walks of life can share an experience together. We'll do our part to weave one piece of this quilt and set a new framework. That's why I'm here. Not to just abandon a system that might be broken, but to actually help be a part of the change.