Q: Do you feel pressure joining such a celebrated production?
A: I wouldn’t say there’s pressure. Playing Aaron Burr has been my dream job. I identify with his internal struggle of having a legacy to uphold and being hesitant because of it. My dad [tenor Rodrick Dixon] is a performer; he was well-known in the classical and theater circuits. Most actors my age and older, specifically black men and women, know who he is, so there’s a bit of community pressure. The feeling that I have shoes to fill and would never be as big as my father was kind of a hindrance [to becoming a performer]. I found my way out of that by being honest with myself and realizing that I love performing.
“Wait for It” is my favorite song in the show. There’s so much heart in that song; the internal turmoil that we see him go through is palpable. We’ve all had that moment staring in the mirror and asking ourselves who we’re going to be. We can feel the struggle of wanting more for yourself and trying to figure out how to get there.
Four years ago, I realized that I hadn’t tried in a real way to make this my career. I rearranged my life. I asked for support from my family, and I pulled way back on my second job — I was a personal trainer and front desk attendant at a gym in New York. I spent so much time at that job that I never realized how much time it took away from my audition prep and figuring myself out.
Q: How do you deal with the stresses of being a working actor?
A: My late 20s were all about learning that if I dealt with me first and took care of me and had all the answers for me, I could figure out how to operate in the world. Part of that was physical fitness. I dedicated more time to myself in the gym instead of giving it to other people. I took yoga and tried to eat vegan meals once or twice a week.
It was a time of self-reflection and self-discovery and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I read more than I think I’d ever read in my life. As I did those personal things, I was spending more time on audition prep as well. I started putting 10 times more effort into every single audition. The more time you spend preparing for something, the more possible your potential for doing it becomes.
Q: How does fitness fit into your life now? You have some of the most athletic choreography in the show.
A: I’ve been an athlete my entire life. I learned that the care you put into your body is a part of your mental health. I spend six to eight hours in the gym a week over the course of four to five days. I keep up my cardio minutes as much as possible when I’m not too burned out from the show. I lift to keep up my physical stature and to challenge myself; I want to see how strong I can be. I’m getting more into yoga. I do yoga in the morning when I wake up and then before I warm up and get into costume, to loosen up my body and get my blood flowing.
Strength isn’t just how many pounds you can lift; it’s your range of motion, flexibility and joint and muscle health. I spend time doing those things so that I can do what I do onstage every night.
Q: What's a show day like?
A: Most of the week, we go on at 7:30 or 8 p.m. Most dancers and principals need to be in the theater an hour before the show to do a physical and vocal warm-up. Our show runs about three hours. We get out and after that is recovery, and then I spend about 30 minutes just taking care of my body after the show: rolling out and light stretches. Your job doesn’t end when you leave the stage. Recovery is part of your job.
If we go out for a drink, my day is extended by an hour or two. I’m in bed by 1 or 2 a.m. I generally wake up between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. It’s usually closer to 1 p.m. after a two-show day on Saturdays and Sundays.
Q: What do you like to eat and drink?
A: My diet is so diverse because what I have access to changes per city. When I cook for myself, it’s usually just something that’s accessible and quick: salmon, a turkey burger, sandwiches. When I’m out, I find whatever my healthy option is in the city; I like to get grain bowls and things. Getting stuck in a rut is the easiest way to get bored and tired with being on the road.
I try to drink nearly a gallon of water a day for vocal health. We lose so much water during the show because we’re under these costumes dancing and sweating. During the show, I drink about 48 ounces, and before the show, I try to drink about a gallon of water if I can.
Sometimes you’re awake for 12 hours before you do your job, and I’ll grab a cup of coffee before I get in the theater. It’s the best way to get your mind jump-started late at night. You’re going to expend that energy anyway, so you won’t be worried about being awake at night.
Q: What's your bedtime routine?
A: I found that I sleep better once I put my phone down. I try to put my phone down at least before I take a shower, and I try not to pick it up again. I’ll get some lavender essential oils or candles going. The main thing I’ve gotten into is listening to the Binaural Beats playlist on Spotify. I put that on and I fall asleep in 10 minutes, and I don’t wake up in the middle of the night. It sounds like you’re in an MRI machine or something.
Q: How do you care for your skin when you're under hot lights and in stage makeup so often?
A: Having a skin-care routine with toner, moisturizer, face wash and exfoliants. I try to do a face mask two or three times a week to keep my skin hydrated and to put something good back into it. It’s been easier with “Hamilton” because I don’t wear any makeup at all. In “Lion King,” I wore a full [face of makeup] and chest paint. I learned that just moisturizing your skin every night goes such a long way. I use African shea butter, which is wonderful stuff, on my face and body.
Q: You don't have a permanent address right now. Do you bring anything with you to create a sense of home when you're living in hotels and traveling?
A: I just got into oil diffusers; one of my favorite scents is frankincense. Having the same smell in different places helps. I keep up with my routine things like recording music. That stuff makes me feel at home. Whenever I have an opportunity to cook, I do; I do soul food and barbecue.
Q: On Instagram, you talk about loneliness and isolation. How do you deal with that when you're on tour?
A: I’m thinking about getting a dog; I’ve seen a lot of my friends successfully raise dogs on the road. I’ve learned to deal with the isolation by staying in touch with my family at home. When I need support, I ask for it. And then continuing to do things to take care of myself mentally: reading, working on my side projects. If I keep myself happy outside of the show, loneliness doesn’t hit me more than the average person.
Q: What advice would you give aspiring performers?
A: Put your joy and your happiness first. And just really try. There will never be a moment where you put in everything you had and you didn’t get something out of it. The job is not always the goal. Growth is the goal.