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The insanely busy dance-maker talks about her long road to Broadway
How's this for a cool move? When Ellenore Scott made her Broadway debut as a choreographer this spring, she did it with two musicals that opened the same week! To make things even more challenging, each required distinctly different skill sets. For the lavish revival of Funny Girl, the 32-year-old dance-maker created flashy, old-school production numbers alongside the show's tap choreographer Ayodele Casel for a cast of more than two dozen. Meanwhile, for the new screen-to-stage musical Mr. Saturday Night, she worked with an intimate ensemble of eight, including a few mature actors with limited dance experience (yes, we're looking at you Billy Crystal). This summer, Scott's pulling double duty again: she's currently rehearsing the new musical Hood at Florida's Asolo Repertory Theatre before flying back to NYC to prep Titanique Off Broadway. "How many shows can I do at the same time and not lose my mind?" she asks rhetorically with a laugh. "I'm very lucky but also slightly overwhelmed!"
It's quite a feat for any choreographer to have two shows open on Broadway in the same season, but it's even more noteworthy when the artist in question is a woman of color like Scott. Of the 22 Broadway musicals currently running, only eight (including Scott's two) were choreographed by women, and most of those other women are white. Scott knows she's part of a small club, but she believes it's getting bigger. "I think the people that are running the rooms are going to start to shift and expand and diversify," she says. "I do think that it will be slow. It's going to go up and down, but we're heading in the right direction."
Trained at Alvin Ailey, Scott earned her shot on the Main Stem through years of work as the artistic director of her own company, ELSCO Dance, as well as dancing on TV shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and Smash. Starting in 2016, she began racking up Broadway credits as an assistant or associate choreographer. While collaborating on 2018's Head Over Heels, she became friendly with the show's Tony-winning director Michael Mayer, and the next year he hired her as the lead choreographer for his new project: a starry Off-Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors.
"I am just so grateful that Michael saw my work ethic and saw how I interacted with the dancers," Scott says about the career-changing opportunity. But five months after the critically acclaimed production opened, the entire New York theatre industry closed due to the pandemic. In spring of 2020, like all her peers, Scott found herself sitting at home wondering how long it would be until she was back in a rehearsal room.
Yet even the shutdown couldn't stop her ascent. A TikTok superstar with more than 1 million followers, Scott was tapped to choreograph the viral hit Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, which began as a fan tribute to the classic Disney film and ended up as a professionally produced benefit for The Actors Fund. "I literally never met anyone that was working on the production in person," Scott says. "I rehearsed my dancers over Zoom. It definitely made me realize what an honor it is to feel people's energy in a space."
Now that theatre has returned to actual theatres, Scott has not only picked up where she left off creatively (she has Mayer to thank again for bringing her on to Funny Girl), she's also incorporating life lessons learned over two years of personal reflection and cultural reckoning. "So many of us were able to just be with ourselves and find a sense of self and mental clarity," she says. "This is something I talked about before, but I feel like it's really resonating now in a lot of the rooms that I'm coming into. Dancers—especially ensemble dancers—used to fear speaking up against something that made them feel uncomfortable. They'd think, I just need to do what the director or the choreographer says because I don't want to get fired. I can see the difference in the actors and the dancers that do things out of fear versus love, and I always run a room with humor and love. And I can 100% see that that translates on stage."
Scott's commitment to the well-being and individuality of her dancers supersedes any preconceived creative ideas she may have coming into a production. "I love getting in the room before auditions begin, to start trying to figure out how a show feels and moves," she says. However, "I'm not the one performing the moves eight times a week. I want to make sure the folks that are performing feel comfortable, confident and that they can collaborate with me. That is such an exciting way to create." Instead of imposing a signature style, she finds the right movement for the project at hand. "I'm hoping that although I have a bunch of different shows in New York, you can't necessarily go, 'That's the same choreographer.'"
Later this month she'll have a fourth musical running in New York showcasing her choreographic diversity: Titanique, Tye Blue, Constantine Rousouli and Marla Mindelle's send-up of James Cameron's 1997 Oscar-winning epic Titanic as seen through the eyes, songs and vibrato of Céline Dion. A concert performance of the long-gestating parody was live-streamed during the pandemic, which Scott also choreographed, and she's excited to get the full show on its feet.
Also on Scott's schedule this month: Mr. Saturday Night's Tony Awards performance and auditioning dancers for another production. But you won't hear her complaining about being too busy. "It is such a blessing to be surrounded by shows and dancing and movement," she says. "I'm very lucky that a lot of the shows I'm working on make me laugh when I'm watching them. I couldn't be happier."
TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for Titanique. Funny Girl, Mr. Saturday Night and Little Shop of Horrors are all frequently available at our TKTS Booth in Times Square.
Regina Robbins is a writer, director, native New Yorker and Jeopardy! champion. She has worked with several NYC-based theatre companies and is currently a Core Company Member with Everyday Inferno Theatre.
Top image: Ellenore Scott.