WOMEN CRUSH WEDNESDAY
As a woman in this industry, and in the world, our best source of defense involves not buying into the narrative that’s so aggressively pushed on us all the time: that we are less than.
Claire Saunders, Cyrano
I work hard to not compare myself to others. There will always be someone who is shorter, taller, darker, quirkier, simpler, better. The only thing I have control over is myself. So I take dance classes, I make my voice stronger, I exercise regularly.... It’s important to me to always be working toward my best self. To set myself up for success.
Alanna Saunders, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Women Crush Wednesday: Alanna Saunders & Claire Saunders // @alannasaun, @clairesaundy
Location: New York, New York
Hometown: Kirkland, Washington
Current gig: CLAIRE: Cyrano at Goodspeed
ALANNA: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway
Female Inspirations: ALANNA: Beyoncé.
CLAIRE: Zoe Saldana, Emily Blunt, Rachel McAdams, Katrina Lenk
Current WCW: CLAIRE: Erica Schmidt, my director on Cyrano. She's the bomb.
ALANNA: My good friend and incredible artist Brittany Campbell. Her music is incredible. Go listen to her EP Stay Gold on Spotify. Seriously. @brittanycampbellmusic
The Saunders Sisters are a fiery pair that together are conquering the entertainment industry but they also maintain their own unique and exceptional flair. I met Alanna when I attended the University of Miami with her in 2010 and I soon after met her sister Claire when I worked with the two of them in Connecticut performing in the Pirates of Penzance. Since then, the two have had an incredible start to their career. Claire kicked off her first couple years in the city with a role in Robert De Niro’s and Anne Hathaway’s The Intern. Alanna kick-started her career by playing Tiger Lily in NBC’s Peter Pan Live. The two have been unstoppable since and are now working on exciting new projects. Read below to find out what they are working on next and all the curves, bumps and comforts that pursuing the entertainment industry with your sister entails.
When did you begin performing?
CLAIRE: My first show ever was a production of Johnny Appleseed with all of my siblings. I think I was...5? Alanna and I both played apple seeds :)
ALANNA: I was in my first musical (Johnny Appleseed) when I was 4. It was also the same year that my Mother started the children's choir at our church, so we were also singing in front of people every Sunday.
Did you grow up performing together?
ALANNA: Yes! We did our first show together and with our 3 brothers in Johnny Appleseed. We also performed in dance recitals and did 3-5 shows a year together from the time we were 10 years old until we graduated high school.
CLAIRE: Yes! Not quite as “twins” as often as simply doing the same show together. The two of us and our three brothers all did musicals, plays, and training at a community theatre growing up called Studio East. We began doing that consistently at age 9.
Who were your role models growing up?
CLAIRE: This is a tricky one for me. I didn’t see myself in many people in the industry. I think my look affected that. But also, I’ve always resisted the idea of “following in someone’s footsteps” or being put in a box as an actor. But I do hope that as I become more well known, that little girls (or young people in general!) can see themselves in me and be inspired by that.
ALANNA: My mom. And still is. She continues to inspire me every day.
What is a favorite show or experience you had performing with your sister?
ALANNA: It was actually very recently! We did our first professional show together since graduating college - Pirates of Penzance at Barrington Stage Company. It was so refreshing to be able to do what we are both good at and do it together! Getting to play identical twins on stage that did everything together and being able to take advantage of how similar we look - and in a high style farce? So stupidly fun :)
CLAIRE: Probably the most recent one. Two summers ago (2016) in Pittsfield, MA at Barrington Stage Company. We got to be twin sisters in their production of Pirates of Penzance. It was really fun to work and create characters together as adults. To get to be professionals alongside each other was really a treat :)
I imagine there can be difficulties being an identical twin in the entertainment industry. But I’m sure there are also comforts in having a sister by your side through this career as well. Tell us about the difficulties and comforts and how you balance them?
CLAIRE: There’s the innate issue of looking similar and therefore we are often “right” for the same parts. But fortunately, our paths have only crossed in the audition room half a dozen times or so. With different representation and different paths in this industry, it hasn’t been much of an issue. As far as having family in the business, especially one so close, it is for sure helpful with the heaviness that can weigh on you. Having someone to commiserate about a bad audition or give advice on what to wear or simply knowing how exciting it is to get that certain callback is really wonderful. We don’t really have to focus on not being competitive. It really is in our nature to just be supportive of each other. However, on the rare occasion that we have some bitterness, it is met with understanding and space.
ALANNA: The difficulties are probably obvious - going in for the exact same roles in the same shows. Sometimes it's hard when we want the same things. But also, honestly, we know that that is part of the job. It's actually shocking how little we've been in direct competition with each other. We have different representation, so that helps. The comforts are vast! Being in the same business while being best friends and identical twins means that there's a high level of understanding and support of the frustrations, irritations, anxieties, successes and literally everything that goes with this career we’ve chosen. It's wonderful and comforting. Plus, there's always a scene partner for self-tapes and audition work. Ha!
What do you do in between shows, during audition season, to keep your mind healthy and positive?
ALANNA: Work out! A lot. I’m weird because I really love it. Working out keeps me sane and confident. I love feeling strong and taking care of my body. It changes the way I exist in the world. Take voice lessons. Do everything I can to be prepared when the opportunity comes along to book that next job.
CLAIRE: My current muggle job is being a fitness instructor. I love it! It’s a side passion of mine for sure. Plus, it’s awesome to get to go into work and motivate people to push and better themselves. It’s inspiring and keeps my heart and my body happy when I’m not performing. Aside from that job, maintaining great physical health is really important to me. Also making sure I give myself space to relax outside of the city. Whether it’s going on a weekend trip. Or visiting my friends in LA. Maintaining my self-care is vital to my success.
What are the struggles in the entertainment industry, specifically as a female, and how do you overcome them?
CLAIRE: I would say the biggest struggles I’ve experienced are once I actually get into the room. I’ve had situations (with male creatives) where my voice/suggestions/questions are brushed aside or not taken seriously, whereas my male counterparts are able to speak freely in the same space. As an intelligent, capable woman, this has been quite frustrating at times. My best defense in those situations is practicing patience, with the situation and with myself and not allowing those interactions to affect my feeling of worth. As a woman in this industry, and in the world, our best source of defense involves not buying into the narrative that’s so aggressively pushed on us all the time: that we are less than.
ALANNA: It's a crazy thing we do - stand in front of a table of people that don't know us personally, to be judged by the way we sound, the way we look, what we choose to wear (oh, and our talent). There is much more of a pressure as females to look 'good.' There just aren't as many roles for women. Full stop. There are so many more of us, fighting to get into a much smaller job pool. So we have to work harder to be the best version of ourselves. My show is 26 males and 14 females. And that’s just being female. Being a person of color continues to make the job pool even smaller; there’s little representation in the stories that are being told. A conscious effort to change that is being fought for now, but even when there’s a role that is being considered to be non-white, it’s that; it’s a conscious effort because the default is the opposite. A role or a part has to be decidedly nonwhite. To combat all that, its so important to have a strong sense of self and to know who you are outside the audition room. I work hard to not compare myself to others. There will always be someone who is shorter, taller, darker, quirkier, simpler, better. The only thing I have control over is myself. So I take dance classes, I make my voice stronger, I exercise regularly... It’s important to me to always be working toward my best self. To set myself up for success.
What has been an experience in your career you are most proud of and why?
ALANNA: Probably this crazy job that I have now. I'M LITERALLY IN THE WIZARDING WORLD and that thrills me to no end. But I'm also proud of understudying/swinging on the National Tour of Fiasco's Into the Woods. Firstly it was Sondheim, which is some of the best, but hardest musically to sing. I covered only 3 tracks but within that, I had 7 roles, and 10 instruments to play, and pretty much had to learn the entire script. And I had to be able to go at any moment. But I got through it and feel proud of my work.
CLAIRE: For whatever reason, this is also a challenging question for me. As I think about it, I hesitate to answer because I am aware that my best is yet to come. Honestly, I am proud of the trajectory of my career thus far. And by that I mean, I’m proud of the fight and the struggle to get where I am now. So I guess simply I’m most proud of this moment, and the show, because of what has come before it.
What can we see you in now/next and how do we get tickets?
CLAIRE: You can come to Chester, CT to come see me in Cyrano at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre! Head on over to Goodspeed’s website and grab your self a ticket. Until Sept 2. Tickets are limited :)
ALANNA: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway. There’s a lottery every Friday for $40 tickets! Besides that, online or our office on 43rd st. in midtown :)