*Electronic Urban Report caught up with the beautiful Nita Whitaker, a vocalist and performer currently in rehearsal for the upcoming Pasadena Playhouse production, “Breaking Through.” The play, which started out as a HOTHOUSE staged reading at the Pasadena Playhouse, is a world premiere musical that captures the journey of a treacherous music industry as seen through the eyes of a young, talented singer-songwriter who learns she must fight to find her way back to her own authentic self.
As a full-fledged player in the real-life game, Whitaker has some very strong feelings on the topic — seeing as it is one that she, along with many of her fellow cast mates, live each and every day.
For artists who seriously pursue the music industry, with the hopes of being “discovered” one day, the production will feel familiar. From every indication it will beg the question “how bad do you want it” and “how far you are willing to go to remain true to yourself” without putting your authenticity up for sale?
In an industry that has sadly morphed into being trendy (“we are looking for ‘the next big’…insert name here”), Whitaker talks about her own journey and the similarities she has faced as a result.
Whitaker, who has been seen in the national productions of “Ragtime,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “The Ten Commandments,” plays the role of Amanda in the production. She is one of 18 cast members led by Allison Luff (Broadway: “Matilda the Musical,” “Scandalous,” “GHOST the Musical,” “Mamma Mia!”) and Matt Magnusson (“Floyd Collins” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, “American Idiot” at The Vortex Theatre), as characters “Charlie Jane” and “Scorpio” respectively.
Below, Whitaker shares her feelings on the music industry and her own experiences in the fight to maintain her authenticity with EURweb senior writer and editor, DeBorah B. Pryor.
DBP: Seeing as the foundation of this story is based on the real life experiences of a colleague, someone who was coming up in the music industry, describe how her experiences may resonate with yours in the industry and why?
NW: Having the dream of being in the record business is one many of us in the cast share. We have our individual and collective stories of what worked and what didn’t and how that all affected and shaped us in our careers and professions.
This is an important story to tell because often the outside just sees the glamour and lights of the business, but not the hard work and dedication it takes to become an artist of note, and often what you have to sacrifice in the pursuit of that dream. Personally I was really lucky that I’ve worked with some wonderfully kind people in the business, but I’ve been around enough big stars to know that with [a] level of fame comes some deficits in other areas of their lives. And there are some sheep in wolves clothing though I haven’t had too much experience with that.
DBP: What are the benefits (and setbacks) of performing in a play which may so closely mirror your real-life experiences?
NW: The benefit of performing in a play that has similar real life experiences is that you have a sense memory to draw from which should add a true sense of authenticity. But the hard part is wanting to play yourself and not the character whose shoes you are stepping into.
With so many of us being performers, that could be the trap. Our job with this piece is to bring people into the world of the play and let them experience the story, not tell them our own.
DBP: Sheldon Epps (director) hit the nail on the head talking about “authenticity” and “remaining true to yourself.” With all the “sharks” circling in the music industry, have you struggled with staying true to your own brand? Please explain.
NW: Yes, that has been a struggle for me. I’ve been told that I was too similar to another artist early in my career and I enjoy performing many genres of music. The business likes you to be one genre. At some point you get it that music is the voice that speaks through you and for you; that you have something to say and music and lyrics are the outlet.
That’s where I am in my journey. I sing because I have something to say. It may not bring the fame and branding but if it reaches people group to group and gang to gang, then it is still meaningful. If you touch people with your songs, it is important work. Not everyone can be Whitney or Beyoncé, but we can all be bright flowers in the musical garden.
The music business is changing so much with the addition of social media; the record labels still function but have lost some of their appeal because they were taking the lion share of the artist’s monies, yet still are the way to best get your music out to the masses.
Then there is Macklemore – that rare, independent artist who defied the business as usual and did it a different way. More people are getting discovered on Youtube and Instagram, and it is rare now getting to sit in front of execs if you haven’t been on “American Idol ” or “The Voice,” or have more than a million hits on social media.
Still becoming who you are and staying true to your art can happen, i.e. Stevie Wonder, Peter Cetera. But most artistry is still dictated by what is popular. If one of a kind is popular, usually there will be five more signed just like it, whether it be a boy band or British invasion. That has not changed. And sometimes to get in you have to conform and play the game.
DBP: Let’s have a little fun here: If you were to write a HEADLINE that best describes your “climb” to this point in your career, what would it say?
NW: Hmm….that’s a tough one. I’ve have wins and losses, triumphs and disappointments. I’d say:
Nita Whitaker, On the Verge.
Because I’m not done yet.
“BREAKING THROUGH” runs October 27 – November 22 at
The Pasadena Playhouse, located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101.
The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Tickets, priced from $25.00 to $87.00, are available online at PasadenaPlayhouse.org; by calling The Pasadena Playhouse at 626-356-7529; or visiting The Pasadena Playhouse Box Office, Tuesday – Sunday from 1:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. during non-performance dates. On performance dates the Box Office is open Tuesday – Saturday from 1:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information, visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org.