Margo Seibert discusses finding harmony in In Transit, her philanthropy organization RACKET

Margo Seibert

In Transit, the fresh, innovative a cappella musical set in the subways of New York found its Broadway home at The Circle in the Square this past December. 36 previews and 145 regular performances later, and the cast of In Transit will take its final bow this weekend on Sunday, April 16th. Not to worry, though — Broadway’s first a cappella musical will live on in the form of its cast recording, which is set for digital release on April 28th.

Conceived by a collaborative team including Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Sara Wordsworth, James-Allen Ford, and Russ Kaplan, the production contains only sounds created by the human voice. Contributing to the show’s success is performer Margo Seibert, who stars as Jane, an aspiring-actress-slash-office-temp who struggles with the seeming irreconcilability of her Broadway dreams and a financially stable life.

Seibert has returned to the Broadway stage after a two-year hiatus since her Broadway debut as Adrian in Rocky, and now plays Jane, a character she feels a quite personal connection to. But Seibert’s voice has not been limited to the walls of the theatre – through her personal philanthropy, RACKET., Margo is shattering taboos and bringing much needed relief to the streets of New York, all the while bringing light to audiences each night onstage. Seibert chatted with StageDoorDish about In Transit providing hope and joy through theatre, her philanthropy and its potent affects on our community, and the role of artists as activists in our current social climate.

I saw In Transit and your character is so unbelievably relatable. I just think she’s such a joy. Can you talk about the process of learning about and working with this character through this production?

It wasn’t entirely all that difficult, because I’ve been in New York for about 7 years kind of doing what Jane has been doing. I know the story is obviously very close to Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s life, so it was really great to compare stories and talk about all of our survival jobs. I nannied a ton, I used to work at the Tenement Museum giving tours. When I lived in D.C., I’d worked in an office before, and worked retail, so I think the reason this story is so relatable is that if you’re pursuing performance in any way, or the arts in general, you’re likely having to do something else on the side just to make it happen, especially in an expensive city. So that kind of relationship with Jane was very easy. Also, the doubts of whether or not you should continue to pursue what you thought you wanted to pursue. I’ve had many friends and mentors who have talked me down off the ledge of wanting to do something different or feeling like this is not going to work out for me. Also, it’s super fun to be singing songs about somebody who wants to perform, and illustrating it through song in this particular piece. So, I think she is very relatable because she’s very relatable to me, and to what led me here.

A lot of people at the stage door will say things like ‘This isn’t your real story, is it? It’s not really like that.’ But it absolutely is. I happen to be fortunate enough to be a part of this cast – the last time I was on Broadway was two years ago, and it’s been countless auditions since. Some worked out, and most of them didn’t. It’s the never-ending cycle of it. It’s also a good way to keep myself humble – to play a character every night who’s currently going through the struggle. I am a huge proponent of doing what you love (obviously, because I live this crazy lifestyle to do it). But there are moments in this show every night where Mrs. Williams, or Moya’s character, sings ‘Why struggle toward a goal when it makes you feel like shit?’ And in that moment, I never have a good answer for her. Sometimes when she sings that lyric, I’m like ‘Let me get back to you.’

Can you talk about the a cappella involvement?

 It’s interesting, because when I heard the concept of In Transit as an a cappella musical, I never would’ve thought of classically trained artists like James Snyder, who I’ve heard with such beautiful orchestrations. James is a huge a cappella nerd – he’s hilarious! And I don’t have experience with a cappella other than watching my little sister perform at the University of Maryland. So for me, it was very different. I love the challenge of it though, especially when it comes to anything musical. Eleven-part harmony is pretty intense, and Deke Sharon’s arrangements are no joke, as you probably could hear. So it’s a totally different kind of singing for me. The fact that there are eleven voices is incredibly exciting and exhilarating, and I think nothing draws an audience in more than hearing eleven voices so intimately. It’s crazy to hear eleven voices in my head, because we all have these incredible in-ears. So, we’re actually able to hear all of those parts inside of our own heads. It’s very, very different than singing with an orchestra, but it kind of glues us together. If somebody’s out and we have a new voice, the whole mix is different, and that’s not usually the same if you just have a different oboist that night. It’s an incredibly sensitive ensemble, so we also have to really love each other!

That’s a good transition to my next question – here’s this small group of really talented, established performers. What’s the fellowship like between all of you at the theatre?

I’ve never been in a piece where I’ve sung the entire time and been a backup for everyone’s number – and in turn, they are a backup for my number. We’re all the underscoring. It’s funny – we can hardly talk to each other backstage. We can’t really joke around, because we’re singing at the same time. We have to change our clothes while singing, or figure out the best measure in which to take a sip of water. At the same time, though, we’re always incredibly present to one another. It creates a very intimate experience for us, because if somebody needs to clear their throat, or cough, or cuts out on a note, I can hear who it is. I can tell when something’s up, because they’re in my ear, which really bonds us in an intimate way. Everyone knows what’s going on with everyone else, because we’re singing for an hour and forty minutes tenderly in each others’ ears.

I feel like In Transit is one of the most perfect musicals to hit Broadway right now in terms of the social issues and the context of the show. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Absolutely. I think we were a little surprised to realize how timely it was. Our final dress was the day after the election. We love how joyful this piece is, and I don’t think we realized how much people need a dose of joy right now. After that day, we started seeing our audiences come together – either they live in New York, and they’re like ‘This is my daily experience on the subway,’ or they’re a tourist, and they’re like ‘This is what I’ve heard about someone’s daily experience on the subway.’ It’s eleven stories woven together through people showing each other kindness. You know, the crazy thing about New York is that it seems so chaotic, dirty, and loud, but at the same time, you have this incredible community of people who are actually looking out for one another. Right now, in our country, we have to be reminded of community. We really are here to love and care for one another, whether that means holding the door for someone on the subway, or marching together. We are so much more divided as a country than any of us really realize or want to face. So, I think that In Transit, even though it is a musical comedy, is all these little moments of truth. Some of them are quite serious, you know – difficult conversations we try to have with our family, or whether or not the work you’re pursuing is worthy, or letting go of the things that are holding you back . . . they’re all very universal themes. People come out of the show and thank us for a dose of hope. They thank us for giving them something joyful. They say, ‘I’ve gone, and I’ve seen all the shows right now, and everything leaves me kind of upset.’ They’re beautiful pieces of theatre, but we need to be lifted up right now, and I’m so happy to be a part of a story that does that.

Something I really wanted to talk to you about was RACKET., which is this incredible philanthropic project you have. Can you tell me how the idea was conceived?

Sure! The idea was actually conceived through a long bout of unemployment. I needed to get out of my own head, and I needed to give back to my community. I started volunteering at a dinner for the homeless on the Upper East Side, and an article came out in the Huffington Post about the challenges of having your period while being homeless – which I have absolutely never thought about. One of my best friends and I joined together volunteering, and we were like ‘What can we do about this?’ People who menstruate not having what they need . . . it seems like such a ridiculous problem that shouldn’t even exist anymore. So, we decided to take a look and see if there was anywhere we could volunteer. When we couldn’t find anyplace to specifically help people get these products, we decided to start our own project and see how it went. We as RACKET. wanted to combat the shame that surrounds topics of reproductive health, specifically related to ‘period shame,’ and how taboo this topic is to even talk about. A huge part of reducing the taboo and the shame is directly related to the products that they actually need. It’s such a personal choice, you know? Culturally whatever you grew up using, or what your family wanted you to use – pads, tampons . . . some women really need panty-liners. If they don’t have multiple pairs of underwear, they can have one that lasts a long time. Some people don’t believe in using tampons. We’ve also gotten a lot of requests for baby wipes. If you’re on the street and you don’t have access to a shower, it’s much easier to clean yourself up with wipes. It’s all these very personal, specific details that we had no idea about until we started cold-calling other shelters and organizations to see if they indeed needed these products, and what women needed the most. We never, ever wanted to assume that we knew, based on our experience in life, what other women need. And taking it further than just women, we didn’t realize that there’s a whole family of ‘menstruators’ out there who aren’t female – who are trans, or non-gender conforming. We realized that that population also needed to be served and represented. So it just kind of kept growing. We had our first drive in the fall of 2015 on Broadway, with 12 theaters participating. In 10 days, we raised over 10,000 products. That was the beginning. Now, what we really strive to do is empower people to hold their own drives and give them the tools to do the same thing in their communities. It’s not about everyone doing it through us, or being all New York-based – we have drives in Texas, and we’re having a meeting on Monday night to assemble these kits that we make. We also want RACKET. to be a space to bring the community together – for people to not only talk about period shame and their experiences, but also to just give an open forum about what’s going on right now in our country, and how people can be most useful in making some kind of change. There’s something about coming together and working with your hands for someone else that we’ve found to be truly powerful, and I think people are really missing that right now. So we will continue to make a RACKET, as much as humanly possible.

Broadway and the theatre community is such a special place, especially in terms of rallying around these wonderful social causes. Like you said, there were 12 theatres who initially helped you. Can you talk about working within this community and being someone who is leading a cause within it?

I was actually just at BroadwayCon two weeks ago on a panel called ‘Actors and Activism’ with Tina Landau and Celia Keenan-Bolger and Okieriete Onaodowan was moderating. It was a really beautiful opportunity to talk to other people in this community who are doing exactly that – who are using this beautiful community and their own beliefs, talents, and platforms to carry a message and rally right now . . . and make sure people know that the arts and the theatre will always accept you. There’s no way that we couldn’t, you know? We are here to be as empathetic as possible and to share everyone’s story. Theatre and the arts can powerfully be used as escapist, and that is also important, but I feel like we have an opportunity while providing that escape to also speak some truth. I think that’s what good storytelling does. I have found a great deal of support within our community. There is still some resistance – when you go in talking about periods, not everybody is always super excited. But at the same time, the theatre community can be such ambassadors for these causes, and I have a great deal of faith that the current inspiration and fire that people are feeling is only going to grow. And I think we have a lot of work to do.

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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