You know that feeling you get at a Broadway show (or any theater performance, really) while watching? It’s an escape to something magical. Whenever I’m watching a show, I’m simply in awe. Of everything. Well, Hannah Shankman, 31, gets to help bring that joy to people every day of her life. Hannah is an actress on Broadway who has been in some of the biggest shows out there (Wicked, Hair, Les Miserables, to name a few). Though, it hasn’t always been in a walk in the park. She’s been told “no” plenty times, she hasn’t always gotten the role she’s wanted, but she pushes through, and keeps going because this is her passion and what she’s meant to do. She is insanely talented and is truly living her dream. Keep on reading for what her favorite part about acting is, what a day in her life looks like, advice for those wanting to become a professional actor/actress, what inspires her, and much more.
How long have you been acting and singing?
I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. I used to sing all the Disney songs as a kid and pretend to be the characters! But I’ve been doing plays since I was in 3rd grade. I started with school shows and then started doing after school theatre programs, and now I’ve been acting professionally for about 10 years.
Did you always know you wanted to be an actress and singer? If not, when did you decide this is what you wanted to do?
I was very fortunate that I have always known what I wanted to do. Both my parents are actors so I was exposed to the theatre at a very young age. I have a distinct memory of seeing my mom play Peter in Peter Pan and thinking “I want to do what she does!” And now, I do!
What is your favorite part about what you do? Most rewarding? Most challenging?
My favorite part is probably the stories I get to tell. It’s so wonderful to tell stories that can help shape people’s lives. There’s something so rewarding about seeing kids in the audience so attentive and excited about the show and then to get to meet them after and see their faces just light up! Theatre is a great way to help people through tough times by being a speck of joy or understanding in the world.
Walk us thru a day in your life. I imagine no two are the exact same!
An average day in my life…well, I suppose no two are the same and totally depends on the day. Let’s say it’s a two show day: I usually wake up around 10am and play with my dog. He is the sweetest. His name is Charlie and I love how playful he is in the morning. Then I’ll make coffee. My fiancé and I just got an awesome coffee maker that we are really excited about. We are both coffee fiends. Then I’ll walk Charlie and go for a run. In the winter, I’ll go to the gym, but as soon as it gets about 55 degrees I run outside. Then I’ll shower and get ready to go to work.
I have to be at the show 30 minutes prior to curtain but I like to get there a little earlier. So I’ll usually get there around 1/1:15. Then I get ready for the show (make-up, hair, vocal exercises) and then it’s show time! After the show I’ll usually grab some dinner with my fiancé or a friend or sometimes I just hang out and watch tv on my iPhone in our green room. Our break is only 90 minutes on some days and 2 hrs on others.
I also will go to Physical Therapy to keep my body intact. Our show is extremely physically demanding so it’s vital to keep your body in good health! Then it’s show number two! After the second show I usually get home around 11pm and walk the dog again. My fiancé and I will make a snack; our favorite is nachos and put on some music or a movie and spend some time together. Nighttime is usually our time to hang out and reconnect. Then it’s off to bed!
What inspires you?
What inspires me? That’s a tough question because there are so many things. I’m always inspired by great theatre. It’s a reminder of why we do what we do. I’m also constantly inspired by my fiancé. He works so hard and is such a generous and compassionate person. He is constantly surprising me with his capacity for kindness. He inspires me on a daily basis to be a better version of myself and to care for others.
What motto/quote do you always try to live by?
I don’t really have one, but I do always say “keep pushing.” And I also like to say “I got this!”
What advice would you give someone wanting to make acting and/or singing their full time job, like it is yours?
My advice would be to always be true to yourself. Never try to be someone you’re not, because individuality will only help you. Another thing I say to aspiring actors is that in this business you hear “no” a lot and usually it has nothing to do with you. It is rarely a reflection of your talent or who you are. It is usually something completely random and out of your control. So just keep working, keep learning and just be you!
I imagine auditioning is never easy – do you still get nervous? What motivates you?
Yes! I still get nervous, especially when an audition is really important. I also get nervous every time I go on for Elphaba in Wicked. It’s such an iconic role and it’s a lot of responsibility. I always want to do the story and the character justice so I get nervous right before the show!
On that same note, how do you push through if you don’t get a specific role you really wanted? How do you keep on going without letting it get you down?
When I don’t get a role I try to remember that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes it’s easy to let it go and move on and other times it takes a few days or even a week or two to move on. I just try to tell myself that it wasn’t meant to be and so far it hasn’t steered me wrong. I have has so many wonderful jobs and they have lead me to some amazing people and amazing moments. I do believe you just have to push forward because you have to live in the now!
What’s been the biggest ‘pinch me’ moment of your career, thus far?
The biggest pinch me moment was when I got the call that I had booked my first Broadway show. I was spending the summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and I got the call that I had booked Hair on Broadway and I just was in shock! That was probably one of the best days of my life!
Where can people currently see you on stage?
I’m currently understudying Elphaba and Nessarose at Wicked on Broadway.
Thanks so much, Hannah!
Read past interviews here.