Lisa Gajda is currently on stage in Tuck Everlasting, a new musical which has just opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theater. The musical is based on Natalie Babbitt‘s young adult novel about a girl who meets a family who are all immortal.
This is Gajda’s eighteenth Broadway show, but she says it will most likely be her last. She is surprisingly okay with this, even though her retirement won’t be a voluntary one. Her reason for quitting the acting scene? She’s had enough of the pressure to stay young and sexy, and the assumption that there is no appeal to see women of a certain age on the stage any more.
“For ‘Tuck,’ I don’t have to be young and pretty, and I don’t have to do anything that’s not true,” Gajda explains. “The last half of my career was loaded with the anxiety of having to fight — stay young, stay pretty, stay sexy. None of those things were ever me, and it just got worse.”
“I find it a little insulting that people think what we do isn’t enough,” she says, flashing a hint of anger. “Maybe it is because our culture only understands hierarchy.”
Well that might be the case, but Gajda also freely admits she is only a passable actor and not the greatest singer, either. In fact, she has always preferred performing as part of the ensemble. Dancing was always her forte, but is age discrimination, or just a fact that given her age, she is unable to dance as well as she did when she started out on Broadway over twenty years ago?
To make it on Broadway nowadays, musical theatre performers have to be a triple threat. Having reviewed many shows, it’s easy to see that most actors have one area where they’re stronger, but the other two disciplines must be up to standard in order to carry a show. Gajda disagrees.
“No one goes to Kelli O’Hara and says: : ‘Surely you want to put on a pair of pointe shoes and do a pique circle,’” she jokes. “Not a cell in my body ever wanted to stand in a spotlight and say words.”
Now past the anxiety of not getting offered roles, Gajda seems content to know she will never make any choreographer’s A-list, and she says that unless Casey Nicholaw– director and choreographer of Tuck Everlasting– offers her a role in one of his other shows, she is done.
“My body was always fine, but I knew I would age out. I could smell the end,” she says, “and I was not ready.”
“I will not ever audition again. Not from a rude point of view — I understand that it likely means my career is over. That is O.K. The sky-blue hot pants are gone. The T-straps, that whole shebang is gone. The eye of the tiger is gone, and you can’t really audition without that.”