The Artistic Hustle
Hofmann in Debbie Roshe’s advanced intermediate jazz class at Steps on Broadway. All photography by Kyle Froman.
Almost all leg, Leah Hofmann defines “showgirl.” Since moving to New York in 2009, she’s danced as a Rockette, and been one of Susan Stroman’s gam girls in the national tour of Young Frankenstein and in Big Fish on Broadway. But those opportunities only hint at her ability. Her Broadway debut (as a puppeteer in War Horse), her playful work as an Etch A Sketch artist and her gig singing backup in the blues-tinged Jack Spann Band are all clues to the flexibility, passion and range that underlie her success. As any musical theater veteran knows, that success is hard-earned—even after making a name in the industry. When you’re between Broadway gigs, money must be made through side jobs, auditions must be attended and classes must be taken to keep skills honed. It’s invigorating, exhausting and frustrating—and always necessary. Knowing this, Hofmann toils diligently every day to keep her career momentum, while she awaits rehearsals for the next show she has booked, The Merry Widow (once again with Stroman).
To arrive at Ripley-Grier Studios for a 9:30 am audition, Hofmann wakes up at 7:30 am and does core and spinal stabilization exercises. “You never know what the day has in store, whether it’s a split in an audition or a hard dance class, so I try to be prepared,” says Hofmann.
On the Twentieth Century
At Ripley-Grier Studios, Hofmann attends an Equity Chorus Call. Though the contract dates conflict with The Merry Widow, she’s eager to get in the room anyway for networking reasons. “I was clear with them in the room about Widow,” Hofmann says. “If I’m committed to something in the future, it’s on my resumé. But meeting casting directors and creating relationships is important, too.”
Side Gig: Jack Spann Band
After her audition, Hofmann heads to a short rehearsal with Jack Spann, an actor she worked with on War Horse. She now sings backup for him for a variety of gigs. Hofmann practices her own material: A jazzy version of “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” shows off sparkling vibrato, throwback style and full Broadway belt. Then, they work on a selection of Spann’s, playing around with possible combinations of harmony.
On the way to her next appointment, Hofmann grabs a coffee, discussing a recent disappointing yet familiar scenario: a job cancellation. “I was in rehearsals for Broadway 4D, just a few days in, when it got cancelled,” she says. “I was sad and shocked, though having been in the business and having heard stories, perhaps not as shocked as I used to be. I was counting on that money, which now I have to re-budget. But even more disappointing, it was my first time working with Rob Ashford. It’s upsetting, but you keep trying.”
Another Side Gig: Fashion Forward
Hofmann also works as a model, often with style guru George Brescia. Today, she meets him at NYC’s Darling to try on a possible outfit for an upcoming talk-show appearance. While waiting for him to arrive, she works on an Etch A Sketch piece of a dancer in arabesque. “I picked up an Etch A Sketch at a coffee shop when I was in Chicago working on Big Fish,” explains Hofmann. “It was another artistic avenue, which I love, just like puppetry in War Horse. This summer, I’m teaching classes at The Magic House/St. Louis Children’s Museum. I love seeing people enjoy the throwback fun of it.”
Hofmann began training in ballet and tap at 3. Though being a professional dancer was a dream, she earned her master’s in physical therapy instead at the University of Missouri—Columbia. But she continued studying dance with the Columbia Performing Arts Centre scholarship program, taking summer Rockette intensives. When she finally booked her first season as a Rockette while still completing her MPT, she knew she would follow her passion: She worked with her school to finish her clinical requirements and take the gig.
Now, Hofmann says taking class is one of the non-negotiables of her schedule. “I didn’t go to school for dance, so I always have to be in class to work on technique. And coming from PT, I know muscle coordination is a matter of ‘Don’t use it, lose it.’ ” Today, Hofmann takes Debbie Roshe’s stylized jazz class at Steps on Broadway. “I love Deb’s sharp, specific, rhythmic choreography,” she says. “A lot of Rockettes take Deb for that reason.”
After class, Hofmann heads to her agent’s office to pick up a final check from the cancelled 4D. She signed with Judy Boals, Inc., after returning from the Young Frankenstein tour. “Judy was the one who asked if I wanted to be submitted for puppeteer in War Horse,” Hofmann says. “She got the part of me that explores different avenues. After two three-hour audition/creative sessions—and as the only girl in the room—I really wanted that gig. It was a master class in physical theater, in understanding ‘This isn’t about you. It’s about the story and teamwork.’ Afterward I walked around in an inspired haze.”
R & R
After a long day, Hofmann heads to meet friends who are both dancers and former castmates from Big Fish. This time is as important as all the other activities: “You work so hard, but you have to celebrate and take time to relax, which I’m trying to learn,” says Hofmann. “We live in this crazy city: Let’s stop and enjoy that. We get to do what we love. It’s hard, and yes, sometimes I wonder if I should streamline my energy, but in the end, I love creating, taking risks, having new experiences. Connecting with others brings you back to that.”
Lauren Kay dances and writes in New York.