March 10, 2018
The Pittsburgh tour stop of Waitress has extra meaning for Emily Koch and Arica Jackson. Both women are Carnegie Mellon University graduates and swings in the National Tour of Waitress.
Waitress tells the story of Jenna, a waitress and pie maker in an abusive marriage, who finds out that she’s pregnant. Jenna must now find the strength to reinvent her life both for her unborn child and herself. The music is written by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles.
Koch graduated from CMU in 2013 and Jackson in 2017. They’ve been on tour together for five months, but their time at CMU didn’t overlap. Jackson started CMU a year after Koch graduated.
“I was a “Big” at CMU’s showcase last year when Arica was a part of it. Being a Big is basically being a guide through the process of moving and starting a career. I met Arica there – I was a Big for somebody else – and saw her showcase and was blown away. When I read the press release about Waitress and saw she was in the cast as well I was so excited. She is the best.”
The two are both very happy to be performing in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is Jackson’s final stop with the Waitress tour; she’s leaving to be in the Broadway production of Head Over Heels.
Koch is originally from LA, “a real life Valley girl” she laughs. Her mom is a music teacher, and her dad is a talent agent, so she grew up around the business. As a child, though, Koch was not pressured to perform. Her parents wanted to her to just be a kid and have a normal childhood.
Koch went to an arts boarding school, Interlochen Arts Center, for the last 2 years of high school. There she began doing theatre more seriously. “If I hadn’t gone to Interlochen, then I wouldn’t have gone to Carnegie Mellon, which was my dream school.”
Within three months of her graduation, Koch was working out in LA and then was in Wicked for two and a half years on Broadway and on tour as Elphaba, the green wicked witch. Now being back in Pittsburgh for a week, she’s ecstatic to perform here for the first time since her graduation. Her stint with the Wicked tour took her near Pittsburgh, but never back. She’s been planning everything to eat. Referring to a popular breakfast spot, “I just need my Pamela’s!” she says.
Koch considers her time with Wicked her master’s degree. “I got my education at CMU, but I got my master’s at Wicked,” she says.
From Wicked Koch learned how to take care of herself both physically and mentally. The first time she played Elphaba on Broadway she had an hour’s notice, which she says was good because she had no time to overthink it. It was one of the most exciting nights of her life. She learned a lot during her time as Elphaba, but her favorite part of playing the role of Elphaba was seeing how the show and Elphaba inspired kids.
Koch has always known that this was her life. She can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to perform. She jokes that it’s the only thing that she’s been good enough to do. She’s now a swing in Waitress, which means that she covers six different roles and understudies the lead role of Jenna.
“I’m not a great swing,” she admits. “There are people who have so much more of the mind for it, but the company is graceful in making mistakes. You have to be ok with it, you’re covering six parts. My mind is getting better though. It’s all about being calm.”
Waitress is a fun filled show full of upbeat songs and truly delicious looking and sounding pies. Each pie has a unique name and makes your mouth water. The cast is incredibly talented, the sets gorgeous. The musicians are onstage which adds to the atmosphere of a cozy Southern diner frequented by regular customers. The music is fun and the songs will stay with you for a while after seeing the show.
Arica Jackson, one of Koch’s cast mates, loves that the audience comes out of the show singing along. She hopes that people walk away with the music in their minds along with the message of the show.
“Waitress is about everyday people,” says Jackson. “It’s about an ordinary woman who has something crazy happen to her, but she changes and becomes a better person for it. You always have to go through hard things to have positive change; it’s a powerful message. Hope survives and things change.”
Jackson saw Waitress when it was on Broadway and is excited to be a part of the tour. She tries to be part of shows that have political agendas and expose people to things that they aren’t used to. She loves that Waitress’s creative team was all female and their message of female empowerment. She especially likes that the show sends the audience out with the power of community.
“Abusive relationships aren’t a good thing, but you can walk out on it when you recognize it. The power of community, sisterhood, is a huge thing, especially in times when you feel isolated or like you’re being pulled apart. I’m thrilled to be a part of this project and watch it come to life, how it’s been received. I’m glad to see this kind of story being told.”
While she was at CMU, Jackson was already performing in shows that had strong political messages: The Rover and Ragtime. The Rover was very hard for her because it was happening as Trump was elected. The Rover was about sexual exploitation and rape while dealing with rape culture. Jackson says that it was hard for her and the cast to come back to rehearsal after Trump’s election. They had a whole new perspective and felt that they were fighting for something. Though it was hard, she says, it was very important.
Ragtime was the musical that CMU did during Jackson’s senior year. She played the role of Sarah, the wife of a ragtime pianist. Ragtime is Jackson’s favorite musical, and she was thrilled to be able to play Sarah. Sarah’s big song of the show is “Your Daddy’s Son,” and that was actually the song that Jackson sang for her audition for CMU. The stars were aligned, she says, because she never thought that she’d get to play Sarah.
Jackson is going back to CMU during her time in Pittsburgh to see the campus and speak to an audition class. She’s happy that Pittsburgh will be her final week in Waitress.
Pittsburgh, she says, can expect a lot from Waitress. “There’s tons of comedy along with the craziness of motherhood, sweet intimate moments, especially among the three waitresses. There’s strong woman power when they support and push each other. They can achieve their goals, and I hope that the audience walks away with that – and awesome Sara Bareilles songs!”