Chicago was always Arian Keddell’s dream. But after auditioning nine times over the course of 10 years, she’d all but moved on.
Until 2018, seven years after she’d semiretired from the stage to teach, when a friend convinced her to audition for the tour one last time. She was ecstatic to book the role of Annie. “I cried my face off,” Keddell says. “There was no way I could turn it down.” In October 2019, she was officially offered the role of Mona in the Broadway production, and moved to New York City to embrace her lifelong dream.
Of course, six months in, the coronavirus shut down Broadway. Keddell returned to her hometown of Elmira, New York, where she’d grown up training at a small ballet school. (After high school Keddell earned a degree in dance from Mercyhurst University, then danced with Ballethnic Dance Company in East Point, Georgia; in Jesus Christ Superstar GOSPEL in Atlanta; and in the international tour of West Side Story and the national tour of Guys and Dolls.)
After a long hiatus, Keddell will be back on Broadway tomorrow night. Here, she shares how she’s been preparing for the return to the stage, the worst advice she’s ever gotten, and the training that got her to the Great White Way.
On prepping for a return to Broadway:
“I have been trying to cross-train as much as possible in order to exhaust my legs. I want to make sure they are under me for those double-show days. It’s hard to push through, even when you’re in shape, and this is the longest I have been without dance since I was 8 years old. I have also been doing what I call a walk-and-sing. I put in my AirPods and turn the soundtrack of the show on, and walk uphill on difficult terrain in order to have endurance so I can sing through the show. If anyone sees me walk past their house, they’re getting a full performance.”
On career timing:
“You never know when the ‘yes’ is going to happen. As humans, we want things on our own time. We think we know best, but I don’t think I was mentally ready to be in the show prior to the time I booked it. I’m in my late 30s, and growing up there were a lot of unhealthy habits I was taught that I needed to clear out. During the audition, I was working with amazing children, and I was saying things to them that I had not heard as a young dancer—especially regarding body image. As I taught them, I myself was transformed, and better prepared for this opportunity.”
On the worst advice she’s ever gotten:
“Once, a costume wasn’t fitting around my bone structure, and a teacher suggested I should restrict my eating. That took a mental toll that would follow me into my career. I look back now and think about what I would have said to myself in that situation. Maybe I would have talked about cross-training, or adding more ballet classes, or a whole host of things, but restricting my eating was not right.”
On her most influential teacher:
“Mrs. Patty Botcher was my music teacher at Booth Elementary School from the time I was in kindergarten. She was one of those bright people who was shining all the time. She made me feel good about myself and reminded me of my worthiness even when I didn’t see it. Growing up as a mixed Black woman, I never saw anyone else who looked like me. I was one of the only people of color in my ballet school, and Mrs. Botcher reminded me of how beautiful I was.”
Her advice for teachers training aspiring Broadway performers:
“Be as open and honest with them as you possibly can. Share with them that this profession is very demanding and difficult. They will hear a lot of ‘no’s that have nothing to do with their talent or ability. Having those open conversations is one way to be able to help them clarify what they want out of dance, and understand what they need to sacrifice to make it their career.”