The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
Renée Elise Goldsberry's most recent claim to fame is as part of the original Hamilton cast, playing Angelica Schuyler — a role that not only landed her a Tony in 2016 but, as of earlier this week, an Emmy nomination, due to a filmed performance of the original-cast version of the runaway-hit musical being released on Disney+ in 2020. But the Broadway vet is known for so much more, too, including onstage turns in The Color Purple, Lion King and Rent, and, most recently, on TV in the Tina Fey Peacock comedy series, Girls5Eva.
"I thought this was a small pandemic show," Goldsberry tells Yahoo Life about the series, "and it ended up being just the love of my life." She says she's excited to go back and shoot the second season, as well as continue to work on an upcoming album, with plans to release singles in the coming months. But her latest premiere is a sort of love letter to NYC and Broadway — Lego Store: The Musical, the show-stopping promotional video of a new Fifth Avenue flagship.
Below, Goldsberry shares her thoughts on the Lego project, the pandemic shutdown, dealing with racism in the theater world — and why her Emmy nod is "scary."
Congratulations on your Emmy nomination! The buzz is all about how you're now that much closer to an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). How does it feel?
Oh my goodness. You know, I get a little freaked out about that. People say it as a compliment, but it's a scary thing to think about! But it is absolutely fun. And an honor to just be in a conversation with some of the most talented people in the world, who have already pulled that off or are on the run in the race. I'm actually just happily showing up for work every day. I have to keep it that simple in my own brain, but if at the end of the day, somehow or another, I had a couple more letters in that EGOT, I'd be as shocked and excited as my mom!
I'm excited about going to the Emmys. We didn't get to have a big box office opening party, but they made a really beautiful decision, and that was to release Hamilton in the summer of COVID, because it was the right thing to do. And I think that behavior was rewarded by the Emmy committee. There's no shortage of amazing limited series that they could have celebrated.
Tell us about the new Lego musical video. Why did you decide to be a part of it and what does it mean to you?
You know, I was a Lego kid. I have Lego kids. And I think that musical and the idea that Lego had to do it is a part of this great tradition of people stepping up in a very hard time and coming together and making surprising alliances and celebrating the best of us. We really leaned into some very sentimental and really positive ideas without any reservation, I think, over COVID. And I mean, it seems like a no-brainer, right? New York City, Broadway. If you can build it here, you can build it anywhere… It's also an opportunity, I think, to celebrate our resilience.
How did it feel for you when Broadway first went dark and how did the lasting shutdown affect you, emotionally?
Surreal? And it's still surreal. I mean, even as everyone's preparing to go back… I mean, "the show must go on" is our motto, but everything shut down. Sports shut down, the world is shut down, and our focus was on our families and being in a safe place and trying to do whatever part we could do… So it wasn't until deeper into the pandemic, where we started to feel that pain of the loss of what we do for a living, which is coming together. We had… Zoom, but you can't sing together. You can't dance together. And then there's just a devastating loss of income, right? That's the most catastrophic thing that we can't even assess yet… There are so many unsung heroes from this time, many of whom we won't even know. But yeah, it was devastating. To calculate the loss is not even possible yet, but what we can start to calculate is the spirit of us as a people and as a community… I think we deserve to be overly sentimental. I think we deserve to dance in the streets.
You have a 12-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. How was getting through the pandemic as a family?
You know, the beauty, I think, of having children in that time, is it forced us to put on a good game face — I couldn't totally lose it, because I had to pretend that everything was somewhat normal. I tend to be best when I have a job to do, and at that time, my job was to make sure my kids didn't go crazy, and thank God they didn't. And we did the unplugged thing — you know, we did puzzles and we built Legos and we read sometimes… [Laughs] I'm not gonna lie to you, we watched a whole lotta TV! But we also turned it off and we played together, and that's something that I think we're going to take with us out of the pandemic — some of those lessons we learned, of that unplugged opportunity to spend time together.
Meanwhile, this country had a racial reckoning, which the theater world was certainly part of. What's been your experience of being a Black woman in theater?
Viewing yourself as a Black woman, in any environment, is not something that's new… it's always been your reality. So we talk about the summer of Black Lives Matter, or the year of Black Lives Matter, as though it's event-specific, but our lives always matter. This is something we've done, it's not new to us. What is new is a larger conversation. What is new is the opportunity I believe we are taking, because we were at home, because we were grounded — the opportunity to really think hard about what we need to do better. I mean, you know, my profession is in a community of pretty enlightened people.
Artists are pretty enlightened — we're protesters… but we're also guilty. That's what I love about this particular time: that we all started to investigate our privilege… the micro-aggressive things that we do, even in this enlightened-artists community. We all started asking questions about, wait a minute, where is diversity, and does it only need to be on the stage? Does it only need to be in front of the camera? What are we doing wrong? What about who's telling these stories? What about access?
These are the kinds of questions we started asking, and it's been controversial. I mean, some people want to have a kumbaya kind of conversation, so that everyone shows up and it's comfortable, and some people don't want to do that. Some people want to say, "We see you white theater!" You know? Even that fight of how to have the conversation and what to ask for is an important fight to have, so that that's where we are in this community. And that seems a little newer.
There are seven plays by Black writers in the upcoming theater season. Does that give you hope that the change might stick?
It absolutely gives me hope. The greatest indicator of what the future is going to be is really just the economics. Producers can only do so much, they have to do a much better job… these writers have always been around with wonderful stories to tell. It's our job to show up and see them. It's our job to go to the theater, to watch them to talk about it, to report about it, to acknowledge them in our award ceremonies. It's our job to be more than trendy. And that's what I hope we're going to do.
Between this reckoning, raising your children and tending to your new projects, how do you practice self-care?
I'm terrible at it! You know, it's funny, when I look back at the pandemic, I was so stressed out about what I was not doing, because everybody was like, "Did you learn a language? Did you start a cooking show? Did you start a podcast? How many followers did you grow?" I mean, like, it was so stressful, and I was really worried.
I think when I first heard about the vaccine, my first thought — this is shameful — was, "Oh God, no, I'm not ready. I have nothing to show for this." [But] my second thought was, if I get out of this without having rested, I'm going to regret it for the rest of my life. Because that was our opportunity to rest.
What I marvel at a lot right now is the fact that I don't think the world will ever shut down again in the same way. It cost too much money, and too many people died anyway, so I don't know that we'll ever do that again. And I spent too much time during that whole thing [being] anxious. I realized that, you know, anxiety is not specific to what's happening — it's 100 percent specific to your ability to control your own narrative. And I'm not great at it. But [knowing] how bad I am at it is the first step, you know? Regardless of what's going on outside in the world, I have to figure out how to rest.
I have to figure out how to do the kinds of things that make me show up fresh the next day. And that's something I do think I learned. Because the world is moving really fast again, but I think I'm at least aware of it. I don't think I was aware of how fast I was going. Now that I'm aware of it, I need a COVID weekend. And if I need a COVID quarantine weekend, I'm going to have to make it for myself… I have to take an opportunity to do that. That's on me.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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