The Actors’ Equity Association “Gypsy” Robe has been a Broadway tradition for nearly 70 years.
The term “gypsy” has been used for decades to describe a certain type of veteran Broadway performer—adaptable to any number of roles, a true “triple-threat.” But times are changing. As Actors’ Equity (the union for professional stage actors) and the Broadway community have become more sensitive to the history of the word “gypsy,” the decision has been made to change the Robe’s name before the coming season. But that doesn’t change what it means to be worthy of receiving the Robe.
We sat down with Broadway veteran Jenifer Foote to talk about the Robe and the traditions and lifestyle that go along with it.
BI: You’ve been in the ensemble of 11 Broadway shows. What are some of the challenges of being a Broadway performer and what makes it fun?
JF: I've been working on Broadway for the past 15 years, and what a lucky life it has been. It will never be lost on me just how I lucky I am to get to walk through a Broadway stage door. This is often a very fleeting business and profession, so any time I get to be employed in the theatre, specifically with a Broadway production, I am grateful day in and day out. Being a Broadway performer has given me a lot of varied experiences over the years, from Stephen Sondheim's Follies to Rock of Ages. It's been a joy to work on such varied styles of productions with a collection of creative teams and actors.
BI: When did you fall in love with Broadway? When did you know you wanted to work here?
JF: First and foremost, I am a true fan of musical theatre. I started consuming cast albums and all things show tunes when I was about 11 years old. I bought cast albums of shows I'd never heard of, or composers that I wasn't familiar with and educated myself on show after show. As I am walking down the streets of New York, I am still listening to showtunes, every day.
BI: You’ve received the Actors’ Equity Robe several times. What shows were you working on, and does one time stand out as particularly special?
JF: The Robe is such a special tradition and it has been such an honor to have received it. It is given to the ensemble cast member who has the most Broadway ensemble credits. I received the robe for the revival of Follies starring Bernadette Peters, Holiday Inn, and Hello, Dolly! Each was memorable and meaningful for different reasons. A tradition that celebrates an ensemble member is a rare and special thing.
BI: Are there any rituals that go along with it?
JF: The recipient puts on the robe and then circles the stage counter-clockwise three times while every member of the company and crew touches the robe for good luck. Then, the recipient goes to each dressing room in the theatre while wearing the robe and the theatre is "blessed." As ensemble members, we're often share group dressing rooms, so I loved having moments with Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters as I "blessed" their dressing rooms on opening night.
BI: Where in New York do you like to go when you aren’t performing?
JF: My partner and I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It's my dream NYC location, mostly because it reminds me of the backdrops of the Nora Ephron movies that made me fall in love with the idea of NYC. I live near the pier at 72nd and the water, and love to walk along the wooden planks of the pier and sit along the benches next to the water. It is such a little gem of a NY spot. Being near the water brings me a little piece of California (even if it's the Hudson River instead of the Pacific Ocean).
BI: What is particularly fun, special, or challenging about working on Hello, Dolly!?
JF: Hello, Dolly! has been particularly exciting because this revival feels so "iconic Broadway" to me. It's been such a thrill to witness two legendary actresses take on this incredible role. What has been most fun about working on the show has been the cast, the cast, the cast. It has been a joy since day one of rehearsal to work and play and gossip and laugh with such incredible coworkers.
BI: What show on Broadway right now are you dying to see?
JF: I'm a big fan of The Band’s Visit. I've been lucky enough to have seen it twice, and it's the show I'm recommending to everyone. There are so many exciting new shows beginning for the Spring season. I want to see them all, but I hope to start with Angels in America.