Broadway Performer, Visalia Native Betsy Wolfe
May 26, 2018 11:00AM
● By Jordan Venema
By Jordan Venema
Photos courtesy of Betsy Wolfe
THE ACTING LIFE isn’t exactly peaches, hustling from auditions to rehearsals, working odd jobs in between just to pay the bills and barely scrape by. Before actors reach the big stage, they’ve usually worked behind a bar or waited a table or two, so it’s almost a cruel irony if an actor’s breakout role is to perform exactly the job they’ve been trying to escape. But that’s exactly what Visalia native Betsy Wolfe did.
Whether or not she ever served tables, Wolfe is no stranger to “pounding the pavement” to reach her goals, so of course she was eager to land the lead role in Broadway’s hit musical “Waitress.”
“‘Waitress’ was my most recent show, and it was such a wonderful, defining moment for me, realizing that I was actually leading a show. I’ve dreamed of doing that since I was a kid,” Wolfe says.
Wolfe grew up in Visalia and graduated from Golden West in 2000, a high school known for theater and the arts. But her passion for theater began even sooner.
“I think I was always a bit of a ham,” Wolfe says with a laugh, “and I definitely just wanted to be doing what my sister was doing” – performing in local, community theater – “because I saw how much fun she was having. I was always creating commercials at home or with friends at school.”
Wolfe’s mother also worked sets at the Enchanted Playhouse, providing Wolfe a behind-the-scenes look at production and costumes and sets. Wolfe also credits Visalia’s dedication to the arts with inspiring her to pursue a career in theater.
“It’s a great place to grow up with a huge focus on the arts, and I didn’t realize until later that our town was so unique in that aspect,” says Wolfe.
After high school Wolfe attended the University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music where she earned a degree in musical theatre, but she says the degree wasn’t necessary to making it on Broadway.
“I knew I wanted to go to college, and I knew I wanted to get a degree, but it was something important to me personally. Just because you got a degree in it doesn’t mean you necessarily go into that profession.”
But, she says, the endgame was always Broadway.
“That was something early on that I always wanted to do,” says Wolfe, who grew up attending shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles. “I knew I wanted to be doing what those actors were doing, and I knew that New York was where it was all happening.”
At 15, Wolfe traveled to New York for the first time, a moment when her passion “became very real to me,” she says. “I could see it, could feel the audiences’ excitement, and see the people waiting outside to be let into the show.”
That experience was when Broadway became possible for Wolfe, a tangible destination, and it wasn’t long after moving to New York that she landed her first role in the musical “Ragtime” at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2005.
“Oddly enough, it was the second musical I saw on Broadway, and one of my favorite musicals growing up,” says Wolfe, who idolized Audra McDonald, the Fresno actor who had played the role of Sarah.
After “Ragtime,” Wolfe went on to land a number of roles, including the 2012 revival of Rupert Holmes’ adaptation of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” written by Charles Dickens.
“That was one of those few that’s won the Triple Crown in a way – best book, best lyrics and best score when it first premiered,” says Wolfe.
Now after more than 10 years on the Broadway stage, Wolfe knows the industry is more than just theater for theater’s sake. “I love my job, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else, but it can be equally as exhausting as it is really thrilling,” Wolfe explains. “There’s a big misconception that your commitment is just the hours you work on stage, but that’s just not true. There is an overarching business to what we’re doing, and ultimately everything has to function for the bottom line.”
That Broadway fundamentally is a business means actors must bring more than just talent to the stage.
“It’s a perfect combination of luck, and talent, and opportunity striking at the right time,” agrees Wolfe. “I know insanely talented people who have never had the opportunity. But some of it comes down to what you put into it.”
Wolfe’s pounding the Broadway pavement eventually culminated in her 2017 performance as Jenna Hunterson across Grammy winner Jason Mraz in the musical “Waitress.” She debuted on the critically acclaimed show on June 13, but left a few days early on January 9 to headline a series of Seattle Symphony concerts.
Following that breakout role, Wolfe now is writing her own solo act cabaret, which will debut in San Francisco in September.
Despite landing leads on Broadway and writing her own shows, Wolfe is still making time for home, and will return to Visalia in October for an event.
While there are still some moving parts, Wolfe will announce details for her upcoming solo show in San Francisco and the Visalia performance on her website. For the opportunity to catch a little Broadway close to home, be sure to catch Wolfe while you can. •
Sequoia Symphony Concert, Oct. 6
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