This week Playbill catches up with Olivia Puckett, who is currently starring opposite Will Roland in Graham Techler's The Panic of '29 at Off-Broadway's 59E59 through August 20. Directed by Max Friedman, the dark, screwball comedy is set in October 1929 and casts Puckett as New York Stock Exchange secretary Dot, who skips town with a rag-tag band of misfits.
Puckett made her Broadway debut in the original cast of the Tony-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen. She played Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds in the national tour of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hamilton and was also seen in the tours of Motown and American Idiot as well as in HBO’s Winning Time.
What is your typical day like now?
I wake up, open my eyes, see that it is 700 degrees outside, and sit in my air-conditioned bedroom until it is time to face the sun. I have a morning chat with my dog, Esther, and she tells me she has to pee. I muster up the energy to take her outside and then we eat breakfast. Depending on how tired I am from the day before, sometimes I lay on the couch and go on social media apps for just a few more minutes (or until my brain atrophies). I take Megareformer pilates as both a form of torture and self love. Balance! I then walk Esther again before I head out for the day. She loves. I eat a late lunch/early dinner, swab my nostrils, and pray I don't have Coronavirus, and then head to the train and make my way into the island of Manhattan for the show. We just opened, so you better come!
How did this role come about? Tell me a bit about the character you're playing.
I was asked to do a reading of the show back in February, and I laughed the entire time. I was like, "Okaaaaay I must be in this." I play Dot, protagonist extraordinaire. Dot is the secretary of Richard Whitney, the vice president of the New York Stock Exchange. She is a determined and empathetic optimist trying to make her way in a male-dominated world.
Are there any parts of your role or the play that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
I think that sort of Depression-era sense of community is something similar to what we've experienced in the last two years. Even when things got really shitty we found support and provided shoulders to lean on.
You were part of the original Broadway cast of Dear Evan Hansen. As the show enters its final weeks, do you have a favorite memory either on stage or off during your time with the musical?
I have so many great memories from that experience, but I deeply cherish my time backstage and in the dressing rooms with my castmates. We had a lot of fun dancing and playing and laughing and being stupid. The original five understudies had a ritual of playing Bananagrams everyday. I am the reigning champ, and don't let them tell you otherwise. Meeting Beyoncé was also an okay memory.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
I want more women of color at the helm. I want audiences to walk into a theatre completely open to stories that they may have never heard. I want more original stories of the Black and Brown experience. I want us creators of color to be equally and better compensated for our work. I want people to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. I want people to be kind and respect each other's brains and bodies. I want a lot of things, okay?!
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn't already know?
I learned that I am able to adapt in times of crisis more than I thought I was! Like, go me? Go all of us? I also learned that I am a multi-dimensional artist. I started watercoloring and am now an intermediate ceramicist. I think it's really important to find art that doesn't make you any money. Art that just feeds your soul.
Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
I have been dabbling in the terrifying craft of writing a couple shorts and a pilot, but other than that...Nope! I have nothing in the works! Hear that, world?! Come and get me!
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Anything and all things supporting the environment, mental health, abortion rights, Trans rights, Black lives, Indigenous land rights, and abolishing the police. :)