Rachel Dratch on going from 'Saturday Night Live' to 'POTUS' on Broadway
In some ways, Broadway's Shubert Theatre, where the farcical play POTUS: Or Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive is currently playing, isn't all that different from the Saturday Night Live stage. It's in New York, lots of celebrities are there, and Rachel Dratch is one of them, doing political comedy. But in other ways, according to Dratch, it's very, very different. In a good way.
"The biggest thing I noticed was the laughs are louder because it's such a big theatre," said Dratch. "There's a roaring crowd of laughers for the whole show. So that makes it really, really fun." She did add, though, that "when you're up there, the stage feels pretty normal sized."
With that kind of nonchalance, you'd never think POTUS marks Dratch's Broadway debut — especially since her role as Stephanie, a sheepish secretary who soon goes absolutely off the rails, earned her a 2022 Tony nomination. (Her reaction to the news began "'Hammaflabbbagggahhhtthhththtpthththappaddooooaaahhh!' (Repeat for 5 hours.)")
Then again, Dratch has decades of experience in the Chicago improv circuit and on SNL, so a Broadway comedy is a natural next step for her. She grew up watching SNL and Carol Burnett, which would eventually lead her to fame as an SNL cast member herself in the early aughts. She created popular characters like Debbie Downer and, more recently, impersonated politicians like Senator Amy Klobuchar.
But, she was also surrounded by theatre: "I was the little kid that saw Annie way back in the day and all that. I've [seen] a ton of Broadway shows. So it was definitely on my list to do a big comedy like this. My wishes came true."
"I'm already having the time of my life up on the stage every night with our ensemble of mega-talented lady superstars," she added.
In POTUS, Dratch and six other famous women — including Vanessa Williams, Julianne Hough, Lea DeLaria, fellow 2022 Tony nominee Julie White, and more — collectively play a group of White House women surrounding a problematic president. They begin their day scrambling to clean up his latest PR crisis but end up with bigger problems of their own by lunch. Between Selina Fillinger's script and the ensemble's utterly chaotic physical comedy, the laughs come hard and fast.
Dratch, for one, gets to run up and down the aisles of the Shubert in an inner tube, "power pose" to boost her confidence, and dance for the audience alongside Hough, to name a few of her highlights. The fact that Stephanie is a wild comedic role where anything can happen is Dratch's favorite thing about her: "She gets to play so many different funny energies. In the beginning, being that mousy person [who's] super low status is really, really fun for me. And then she gets to just bust out."
She doesn't deliberately perform "bigger" than she would in Chicago or on SNL to accommodate the Shubert — "she's [Stephanie is] out there, so nothing really needs to be done," said Dratch — but in rehearsal, she'd think about, "'Oh, what can be fun here? What can be fun here?' Not that I sit down with a pen and paper, but just being on my feet and doing that."
"There's so much to add to the page in this part, little physical bits or moments," added Dratch.
All this made POTUS a "more physically demanding" challenge than SNL, though she still called SNL more rigorous. Since Dratch was also a writer for the show during her tenure, she didn't just have to worry about performing, but also writing and submitting her own material on deadline without even knowing if her sketches would make it into the show.
"That's very nocturnal, so you're up all night writing," explained Dratch.
Like SNL and even Chicago improv, though, POTUS is a collaborative effort. All seven women "bring their own energy to it" and "create this thing together," said Dratch, and they're all given permission to thoroughly enjoy themselves — which rubs off on the audience.
"I'm very used to being goofy with other women from SNL and everything," commented Dratch. "I want to see a woman be stupid or fall down, or everything that a guy would be doing. I think I learned that from the improv world in Chicago. If you just are going to play the woman who's like, 'Here's your coffee, sir,' then you're not going to have any fun. So for this, it's women doing all the stuff men would do and being funny."
Photo credit: Lilli Cooper, Rachel Dratch, and Vanessa Williams in POTUS. (Photo by Paul Kolnik)
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