True, Condola Rashad has showbiz lineage — her mom and aunt are legendary theater and television actresses Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen and her father is former football star and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad — but she’s also worked hard at carving out a niche of her own. She made her theater debut in Lynn Nottage’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning drama Ruined and further created a splash on Broadway with her first two shows in Stick Fly (2012) and A Trip to Bountiful (2013), which garnered critical acclaim and Tony Award nominations.
Now, the 26-year-old California Institute of the Arts alum is making waves as the female lead in Shakespeare’s beloved tragic love story Romeo and Juliet. She’s the first Juliet on The Great White Way since 1987. “It feels great, it’s an honor really,” Rashad says. “It’s a lot to take on. I’m learning that even more so than I thought — and I don’t mean just the text, I mean what it requires out of a human being to do all the time. But it’s great. I’m having a great time.”
In between bringing the legendary bard’s prose to a new audience eight times a week at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, Rashad is working with her band, Condola and the Stoop Kids, to put the finishing touches on her first music project. If that sounds hectic, read on for the complete rundown of a recent Saturday for Rashad, who makes her home in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
I woke up a little later than usual. Normally, I would wake up around 9:30am so I would have time for me to be at home for a little bit, but last night I had a lot of friends come out, from different groups. So I hung out with them for a little while, and I got home a little late. I’m looking at my phone and saw all of these emails from different people I have to respond to. My band and I are in the middle of mixing the new song that will be the first single coming out in a couple of weeks so I’m dealing with that. Also, [veteran theater publicist and family friend] Irene Gandy hit me up about some contacts to invite to an upcoming show we’re doing.
Now I’m in a cab headed to Manhattan. It’s Saturday so it’s usually the day that I take my dog Penny [a 13-pound cocker spaniel poodle] with me. When I walked her I had to stop at the ATM because the subway is not working in my neighborhood. I think this is the last weekend hopefully that the train does not work. It’s a disaster. So I take a cab to get around. I was planning to listen to different mixes of one of our songs called “Nomadic Heart.” We get to the Williamsburg Bridge, it’s nothing but traffic.
I started warming up and practicing my lines in the cab and the cab driver is looking at me like I’m crazy.
Down the block from the theater, I get out of the cab. I go to Chipotle, which I go to regularly. I didn’t have time to eat at home this morning so I order my regular burrito bowl, chips and clementine soda.
Once I’m in the theater, I head straight to my dressing room to eat some of this food, and then start the hair and makeup. I missed our usual warm-up ritual. What I do is — it’s kind of fun — there’s a lot of cast members and we warm up in the house. It’s also kind of like a meeting ground for us. We’ll just sit in the house and talk and catch up with everyone. My warm-up is funny and Christian Camargo, who plays Mercutio, always makes fun of me because my first move in warm-up is literally walking out to the stage and crumbling to the ground for like 10 seconds. That is my trademark start of a warm-up. It makes me realize that I have to do this play right now.
I’m still very tired because I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. I do my own makeup … it doesn’t take very long because I’ve mastered it. At first it was real hard because I use individual lashes instead of the lash strips. For a while, it used to take me about 20 minutes to do that, but I’ve gotten better at it so now it takes me five minutes and it’s kinda like second nature to me so it goes by quickly. My clothes are already there in the room, and I only have help getting into them because some of the costumes have to be zipped up in the back. But the most trouble I have is the hair because I wear a hairpiece. So Rick [Caroto] comes in and put the hair on while I’m doing makeup.
As it hits five minutes before the show, I like to be still and be real quiet for a second. With me and Orlando, we have this thing that we do where we say a word that we focus on during each performance, like we’re jumping today, or we’re leaping today, or we’re flying. So with this show today, it’s flying.
The first act was like climbing uphill. It was like I had to muster up the energy to get it done. By intermission, I got my momentum back.
The difficult part is really for me, in terms of getting into it, is preparing for the second act. The first act kind of just happens — my first entrance I just run across the stage in a flash and instead of it being a big moment, I just run across. And because the first act is so fun and full of life — and with our production the first act is comedy, it’s hilarious. It’s upbeat, upbeat, upbeat. And then when you get to the second act, it’s like a downward spiral. So really the hardest part for me is preparing for the second act, and the only way I do that is staying in my room and just sitting there, sometimes I’m just listening to music to focus my mind because I have to get really excited and get really sad in literally a matter of 30 seconds. Just making sure that my heart and my mind is open enough to go to those extreme emotions almost simultaneously. So if I’m distracted or scattered or talking to someone too much, I can’t do it. So I have to zone everybody out and focus on breathing.
Normally on two-day shows, after the matinee I like to get Thai food between shows, but since I didn’t finish eating my Chipotle, I’ll finish eating that. And then I’m curling up with Penny and taking a nap for an hour or so.
I took a nap from 5:30 to 7:30pm, which ends up being not so great because it’s better to take shorter naps because you feel more awake. After two hours my body is saying, “We should just stay asleep.” Time for me to wake up right away.
We had a full house for the second show. It was really exciting to see. And we got a standing ovation — that is always nice. I’m going to go out for a drink with some cast members. Leaving the theater can be a little tricky too. There’s always a lot of people outside the stage door. You have to be strategic about it. The best way to do it is to come out right after Orlando because after he comes out, it calms down a little bit — it’s not the craziest crowd. I often wait a little bit until other people have left and they think you’re not coming out, but overall talking to the fans is fun. They say that they really love the performance, and we notice that what they are really loving is our take on the characters. They say it’s so refreshing. With a lot of productions, Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy through and through, and we don’t approach it like that. In our show, the first act is a comedy. So I think they like to see the vibrancy we bring to it.
We head over to Bar Centrale after the show. I love their fish tacos and usually have a glass of sauvignon blanc. That’s what I drink. It doesn’t matter the brand, whatever they got, I’ll get that because I know I’ll like that.
Made it home and I chat with my boyfriend Joseph. We just talk about our days. He doesn’t come from the theater world, so it’s cool to just talk to someone who has a completely different day than mine. He’s a former model and he’s kind of transferring into the world of healing and essential oils. It’s more about checking in with each other. I usually fall to sleep watching TV. My favorite show is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I love that show. It’s hilarious and genius and wonderfully written.