Conceived and directed by Laura Bell Bundy, Double Standards is a star-studded benefit concert celebrating women’s rights, health and empowerment. We spoke with Laura about why this concert is so important to her and what it means to feel empowered as a woman.
Can you tell us about Double Standards, a concert which is celebrating women?
What sparked it all was watching the election process go down last year and seeing how scrutinized Hillary Clinton was compared to our current president, and how he got away with doing things that were highly inappropriate. I felt quite a sense of a depression after the election happened, thinking of the possibility that for the first time ever we could have a female president.
I think many women felt the same way and I was kind of paralyzed by those results. I was reading everything on Facebook and not quite sure what to post or what to do and feeling like I needed to do something – of course, I wanted to go to a women’s march. A good friend of mine said we have to activate and stay active and have to stay woke about this because clearly we have an issue of sexism in this country and we are risking losing some of our rights. She quoted Nina Simone, who said, “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times”.
Then I had this idea of doing an album called Double Standards which is like singles doing duets on a jazz standard. I posted it on Instagram and I had a lot of people respond, then a friend of mine said, “this needs to be a concert,” so I started to figure out how to make it a concert. My friends from iS Clinical Skincare (which I am not even joking, it’s like the best skincare I ever used) came on board and were like yes, we will support you and we will sponsor this event. Then it just took a long time to get it to where we are right now.
We had the women’s march in January and we were all fired up. Those same issues exist right now. We have to stay awake. We have to remember there is work to be done. There are things we will not tolerate, and so I think this concert should stand as a reminder of that, where we are, how far we have come as women, celebrating the fact that it’s the 100‑year anniversary of women getting the right to vote in New York, that it’s the centennial anniversary of Planned Parenthood. There are some great things to celebrate, but there are also some issues that we are going to be dealing with that we need to face head on and we need to support each other and support the organizations that support us as a gender. That’s the way to activate. If we raise enough money for ACLU and Planned Parenthood, then we help them with what they are dealing with as they fight this administration and anything that’s going to discriminate against women.
What song are you performing and why did you choose it?
I am doing a combination of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business But My Own” which is a Billie Holiday song and “That’s Why the Lady is a Tramp.” It’s got a little bit of a twist at the end. “That’s Why the Lady is a Tramp” is basically a song of a woman who has an independent spirit and who doesn’t hang out with barons or earls and doesn’t dish the dirt with the rest of the girls, but she is called a tramp because she is not high falutin’. She is just down to earth. She is a cool girl, with a reputation of being a tramp. So we picked that song because people often don’t know what it actually means. I am singing with Linda Hart who played my mother in the original cast of Hairspray– she always told me she was going to sing this at my wedding. I am also doing an opening number with Adrienne Warren and there are a lot of people singing with each other, duets and some group numbers.
As a woman, what makes you feel empowered?
I think it’s the example of other women. When I see strong independent women unafraid to express themselves openly and effectively, that makes me feel empowered, that makes me feel like I can do that too. I feel empowered when I am listened to and I am respected and when I say things effectively as well. As a performer, I feel very empowered on stage because I have the mic and I am expressing myself openly. I think taking that feeling and bringing that to the rest of my life has made me feel a sense of strength, for sure.
So many amazing, strong ladies are singing in the concert. Who are you most excited about?
They are all so phenomenal. I am directing this concert, as well as singing in a few of the numbers. They are so creative, there are quite a few of them that are hilarious and there are quite a few of them that are really poignant and powerful. I don’t think there is going to be a dull moment in the concert. You are either going to be laughing hysterically or it’s going to hit you in the gut of what it is that these women are singing about.
One of my favorite, most inventive song collaborations is Morgan James and Adrienne Warren. They are doing this mash‑up of “If I Were a Bell” from Guys and Dolls and Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy.” It sounds like an explosion in your ears, you can’t believe you are hearing this. There is “The Man That Got Away” and “It’s a Man’s World” with Eden Espinosa and Lena Hall and their voices are just so powerful. Of course, Sara Bareilles is incredible and going to be singing with me and Jessie Mueller. A cappella with a horn.
There are some really cool moments. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think you could not care about women’s rights at all and you could come to this concert and be like, “holy crap.” These combinations of women are incredible and the songs that they are doing have never been done before; mash‑ups of things with a big band orchestra. It’s really going to be pretty amazing. It’s definitely not for a hoity‑toity crowd. It’s irreverent and it’s powerful as a result of it.
How did you first become interested in theater?
I was always singing and dancing a young child and funny enough, I won a pageant at five and won a brand new car. From that I had the opportunity to go to New York City. Who gives a five‑year‑old a car? My mom basically took that money and we went to live in New York City for the summer. I began modeling and doing commercials and while I was up there, I also saw Broadway shows. I think it was around then, after that summer of seeing all those shows. My first show was Starlight Express and I think the very next day I saw Cats and then I saw Les Mis from the very, very top row, way back in. We could never afford expensive tickets, but my Mom introduced me to theater and put me into theater classes and I eventually started to audition for things because I became a child actor. I was discovering theater and loving it, and then within three years I was put right into it.
The New York theater scene was my first professional gig when I was nine. I did the Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular. It was a really fun place to work as a kid because there are camels and donkeys in the show and ice skaters and an ice skating rink. I mean, it’s crazy. But I realized of all the things, theater was definitely my favorite.
What is the most difficult part of originating a role on Broadway?
I think the most difficult part is figuring out their voice. I work from a voice first perspective in terms of how do they speak, how do they carry themselves, are they a light character, are they a dark character. Are they super grounded, or are they kind of in the clouds. Simultaneously as you are figuring out that character, what’s the best voice for the lines. The lines inform the story. The storylines informs. The music informs and the lines inform, so what’s the funniest way to say these lines and does that line up with what you think the character’s voice could be. A lot of that is the hardest part. Once you have got that down, then everything takes on a path and you got to keep it grounded. Also, if you are originating a part that was in a movie or in a television show first, you gotta figure out the essence of what that character originally was and then embody it so it feels real for you. And that whole thing is a process. It just takes time and eventually you don’t think about it anymore and you become them. You just step into the character like a coat. Step into a coat and you are stepping into the character and you are you for the rest of the time in the coat, right?
What is the most challenging part of juggling all of the events and opportunities that you have?
I think the most challenging part is doing my best at all of those things when you are juggling and having a personal life.
Do you have any advice for women who want to pursue a career in the arts?
I would say if you want to be a child forever, figure out a job in the arts. I think we all sort of mourn our childhood in a way and we do one of two things: We get a job in the arts or we go out and get totally hammered so we have the excuse of acting like a child. You don’t really need an excuse to act like a child if you are an actor or a musician. You get to just do it. You get to play, you get to play music, you get to do a play. So if you have that in you and you want to re-harness that childlike spirit of yours, the arts is the place for you. If you are afraid to do that, it’s not for you because it really requires that you act like a fool.
If you were asking me as an actor, as a performer, as a musician, 50 percent of your job is getting over your fear because you need to be able to give raw emotion, you need to be able to take risks. Whether you are writing a song or performing, you have to take a risk and reveal something about yourself that is scary. The good news is, you get to do it as a character and not as yourself, or write a song and you never have to reveal why it was written. That’s some of my advice.
Art is ever flowing and moving. There is no right or wrong answer. It’s always just learning. Every time I step onto a stage, I learn something. Even if I have done a performance in that role 500 times. The 501st time I do it, I still learn something new. So you are always a student. As an artist you have never arrived. You will get to an old age and you can look back at everything you have learned, but there will still be more to learn and more to create. So stop your egos. No egos here.
What’s your favorite new musical that you have seen in the past few years?
I would have to say Hamilton, right? It seems like the obvious one, but I did sit there completely riveted with what I was seeing. It was very dense. It was surprising and I felt educated. I felt moved. I also really loved Waitress. I know I am working with Sara Bareilles on this, but I think if Waitress had come out in another year she would have won best score. The music is some of the best that I have ever heard in a musical that I really genuinely love to sing along to. It was so pleasant on my ears that I just loved it and it was quirky and full of funny characters.
I loved Groundhog Day. I thought it was really clever. Andy Karl was delivering a tour de force performance and it’s so hard to be able to know where a character is in like 300 different days. To do a person’s process like that is hard work. I am one of those people, I do mostly comedy and occasionally I do drama. Right now I am doing a show called Good Behavior which is drama. Drama is so much easier than comedy. Comedy is hard, you have to be nuanced. The timing is imperative, you can get off of a delivery of a funny line by just a tilt of a head. It is so specific and I think it’s very hard to put actors in a category where one is doing drama and crying their eyes out and one is doing comedy, because it’s easier to look at the one crying and go, “that’s the best actor.” People totally underestimate how difficult it is to do comedy. All I will say is I loved Groundhog Day and I thought they did a great job. Some of the most brilliant lyrics I have heard and I thought Andy Karl’s performance was incredible and I do believe that a comedic actor like that does not get their due as they should because it’s difficult.
I also loved Dear Evan Hansen, and I think Ben Platt’s performance is going to go down on the books as being one of the most incredible performances I have ever seen and I thought it was an interesting show, for sure.
Performances by Rosie O’Donnell, Sara Bareilles, Laura Bell Bundy, Ingrid Michaelson, Annaleigh Ashford, Ana Gasteyer, Lena Hall, Denée Benton, Liz Callaway, Deborah S. Craig, Eden Espinosa, Linda Hart, Cady Huffman, Morgan James, Leslie Kritzer, Judy Kuhn, Lesli Margherita, Jessie Mueller, Orfeh, Adrienne Warren and more!
ALL proceeds benefit the National Breast Cancer Coalition, Planned Parenthood of New York City Action Fund and ACLU.