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BWW Interview: At Home With Heather Villaescusa

The formidable Ms. Villaescusa has a lot to say about life, the business, and mothers & daughters.

BWW Interview: At Home With Heather VillaescusaHeather Villaescusa is an artist with a very particular style, a point of view and a voice all her own - something essential to the life of a nightclub performer, but also something that some have difficulty achieving. Pretty and puckish, Villaescusa has a way with a quiet song, a touching ballad, a heartfelt moment... but most often it is her overwhelming sense of comic timing that leads her performances. Virtuosa Villaescusa is always a revelation, which is probably why her shows sell so well, and definitely why she won the MAMA'S NEXT BIG ACT competition in 2017.

Always curious about the clowns and where they get it from, how they maintain it, and where they find balance, I reached out to Heather with an interview request and sat back to await what would, surely, be a fascinating set of answers to my questions.

I was not disappointed.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced in its entirety.

Name: Heather Villaescusa (Haddad - married name)
First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): Heather Villaescusa at Mama Rose's, just a few years ago in 2004
Most Recent Cabaret Show: The Happiness Project - a 10-week guide
Website or Social Media Handles:
YouTube Channel: Heather Villaescusa YouTube (see the latest self video I created, shot, and edited!) "If I Were a Bell"
Instagram: @heatheravillaescusa
Facebook @heathervillaescusa

BWW Interview: At Home With Heather VillaescusaHeather Villaescusa, welcome to Broadway World - finally! I've been wanting to do an interview with you for the longest kind of time. Thanks for joining us today.

HOLY COW, thank you so much for asking me. You have been such an amazing force of good for the cabaret world, I am still in a bit of shock you asked me!

I'd like to start with the simplest question, the blunt ask, to help our readers who have never heard it spoken aloud: will you please tell us, phonetically, how to pronounce your last name?

AH!! Yes!! Happy to...Vee-uh-SKOO-sa, accent on the SKOO. It's Spanish, meaning humble home. 23 and Me tells me I am only 7% Spanish. Which means the only thing Spanish about me is my last name.

You began your performing career on the musical comedy stages, and comedy is a particular interest of yours in your nightclub work. Would you say that you are a funny person in real life, or just particularly adept at comedy on the stage?

BWW Interview: At Home With Heather VillaescusaThat is a tough question. I think you might need to ask my friends and family that question! My husband says, "yes!" but he has to say that...he's my husband. I can say that I always have been a bit quirky, and as I've gotten older, I have settled into that more. And nothing is more freeing than digging your heels and teeth into a song to see how big it can really get while still being honest.

It is said that your mother was the driving force behind your early beginnings on the stage - when did the act of performing organically take root inside of you as a life focus?

BWW Interview: At Home With Heather VillaescusaI was an incredibly overachieving student in high school. I was in every extracurricular activity possible. While I wasn't achieving great grades, I was very focused on being as busy as humanly possible. It was the way to separate myself from a not so amazing home life. And the positive side is I truly loved it. But it wasn't until the aptitude tests were being given in high school that I realized that I didn't really have any other focus or desires. When I entered into college, I decided to double major in acting and education. Within the first month, I dropped my education major and focused only on acting.

When you took a decade off of work to focus on family, did you think that your performing days were over, and was it scary going back to work after ten years?

Stephen! These are tough questions! Whew!

It was a gradual process, I think. I remember being completely burnt out. I wasn't landing any gigs, let alone any callbacks. I was quite unhappy and felt very unfocused. So, taking a break was the right thing to do for myself, my marriage, and the family we wanted to build. (Which is another story in and of itself.)

BWW Interview: At Home With Heather VillaescusaHonestly, it always felt like just a break..."I'll go back soon!"...that went on for 10 years. HA! Around year 8 and 9 I remember listening to music and have that inspiration of, "Oooh, I could build a show around this song". That thought grew into a consistent voice yelling at me in my head..." HEY! WAKE UP! SING ALREADY! TELL A STORY TO SOMEONE OLDER THAN 4 YEARS OLD!", I could no longer avoid it. And I think it was 2014 when I stepped back out, in a safe way, with Lennie Watts and Steven Ray Watkins and started singing again in small class spaces and open mics.

You have a young daughter - as a woman whose mother was active in early decisions regarding career paths, how are you approaching those conversations with your own child?

Oh my gosh! My mother! First, I was going to be an Olympic swimmer, then I was going to be a concert pianist, and then (jazz hands in the air) Broadway! She had all sorts of dreams for me...I mean herself...I mean me. In the end, she just wanted to see me married with children.

BWW Interview: At Home With Heather VillaescusaBut, my own daughter, I try to listen to her and what she is expressing. I try to help guide her. I am far from knowing what path she can take to have the most success and joy in life. That is not up to me. That is her path, not mine. She has always been a very creative little human. She has such a creative mind and loves writing stories, loves to paint, draw, and bake. I feel my job as her parent is to nurture, share my own experience, strength, and hope. And I then try to lead by example. (hopefully, she won't swear as much as me.)

And how has it been, having the whole family constantly at home with you for eight months? What occupies your family's days?

Only eight months? My how the time flies...

Support groups, zoom calls, long hot showers to cover the sobbing, therapy, negotiating screen time, negotiating bed time, negotiating ever damn thing, and how many cookies have YOU really had (how many have I had???), more support groups, did I mention therapy, FaceTime with friends, crying with friends, parenting therapy, nag my husband to sing a duet with me at an open mic, sing alone at open mics, color my hair almost every month (green, blue, purple, pink), gain a few pounds, cut off long fried, damaged hair, realize that wearing earrings now looks absurd, wish hair would grow faster so I could put it up and possibly color again, game night, movie nights, puzzle night, question why I haven't written the next show I wish to do, have mini-me help me create videos, wonder who are behind the masks on The Masked Singer, teach her to roller blade, take walks, crank music and dance around as much as possible, embarrass her in public, move out of NYC, watch YouTube videos to learn how to replace faucets in bathroom sinks, decorate new rooms, see stars again in suburbia, unpack, argue where that picture should be hung, discover that I love to create, design and edit videos for reels, organizations, loved ones, and of myself for a new way to perform, eat more cookies, support groups (Awareness: that I can't stop eating cookies, Accept: myself as one who loves cookies in large quantity and then take ACTION: to make and buy LESS cookies. And, last but not least, and should have been first, snuggling with my daughter as she falls asleep.

These are complicated times, with the health crisis, black lives matter, the me too movement, and the terrifying political climate. How do you and Jay navigate family discussions about the unrest with a pre-teen?

BWW Interview: At Home With Heather VillaescusaEat cookies? Stay in bed all year? It has not been easy. Deciding what to share and what not to share with your young child is very difficult. Our daughter is also very sensitive. It's kind of hard to know what knowledge is good for her and what can be damaging. As we navigated through the past 4 years, we turned to a fair amount of books for her age. Our underlying theme was and always will be - all humans are equal. This is our core belief. There are amazing books out there for young kids that help teach them that we are all equal, and standing up for others is valuable. Her favorite books over the past few years are "I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark", by Debbie Levy and "A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo" by Jill Twiss. COVID has been hard on all of us, but especially our children. Our best bet is to have compassion, humility, and lead by example.

Heather, I hear you are a feline fan - are you currently Mom to any fur babies?

BWW Interview: At Home With Heather VillaescusaDO I HAVE FUR BABIES?!?!? Do I have cat hair on every piece of clothing I wear??? The answer is yes. I love cats! I actually think I was a cat in a previous life. I currently have 3 cats. We were only looking to have two at the time, but we fell in love with brothers/littermates, so we have three and they are all rescue cats. I honestly have never picked a cat to take home...they always pick me. Tabby, who is a...wait for orange Tabby. Then came the Nutter Brothers, Cashew, and Walnut. They were left in a box beside a tree and they both, as kittens, climbed the tree and couldn't get down. Who does such a thing?!? They are all gorgeous and certifiably insane. They bring a lot of laughter (and sometimes tears) into the house. The next step is to add a dog to the equation, but that might push me over the edge. If I had my druthers, I would live on a farm and rescue all the animals.

You have been a guest vocalist in a number of group shows over the years, shows like Cabaret Sisterhood and last year's Teen Suicide Prevention Benefit. Do you put it out there that you are open to these guest appearances, or do people reach out to you unsolicitedly? When doing an event like this, is there an opportunity to commune with the other artists, to bond, to make new friends?

I have done both. I was incredibly lucky to be asked to join the Cabaret Sisterhood. It was quite humbling to sing Meg's personal music and also to be blessed to sing with Lisa Viggiano in that show. I have also reached out to others. Candice Oden's fundraiser was something that I strongly believed in and I adore her and her amazing talent. When I saw that she was putting it together I reached out to her. I am always willing to contribute if one will have me. And there really is no better way to get to know your fellow creators than to do group shows. That is how I have met some amazing people and made new friends. I will admit, and no one ever believes me, I am horribly shy. I have to push very hard against the desire to retreat. My motto is this, "if you don't ask, the answer will always be 'no'". The same goes for making new friends in our cabaret world.

Your performance of the song "Velociraptor" is outrageous. Where does the ability to be so big and comical come from? Are you that abandoned in real life?

I have always been a huge Joe Iconis fan. And when I heard Velociraptor, it just felt right...theme song of my life, socially awkward, late bloomer, terribly shy, always trying to fit in and have people like me. Whatever you do, don't ruffle feathers! I certainly felt like I was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. As I have gotten older and surrounded myself with loved ones who accept me for who I am, I certainly can get that abandoned. Nothing's better than making my husband and daughter laugh. But, it's usually them that is making me laugh.

BWW Interview: At Home With Heather VillaescusaI remember the first time I went BIG during a song in rehearsal. I was working on Bacon by Mary Liz McNamara with Lennie Watts. I am not sure the exact words Lennie said to me, but I know he was stressing that I wasn't making it my own. I remember thinking, "ok, let's go..." and I never looked back. The thing about being big is, you can always scale back...and as long as you are telling your truth, someone in the audience will be able to relate.

Going back to Velociraptor, I think the majority of us spend much energy trying to fit in and at some point, we crack and our true selves shine through. She's a freakin' Velociraptor...of course, her true self is going to peak through no matter how hard she tries. It is at that moment in the song (for me) that she just can't contain it anymore, and what a freaking amazing relief it is to just scream like she was intended to do when created! I think everyone has moments like that in life, which could be why it has such a reaction with the audience.

Put a picture in my head of Heather when she isn't in a huge comedic moment.

Bedtime for my daughter since the day she was born. Until she no longer fit in my lap, rocking her (and now, as I sit at her feet on her bed) and I sang through my 4-song rotation, stroking her hair and breathing her in, "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" (what my mom sang to me) "Over the Rainbow", "You are my Sunshine" and "Lullaby of Broadway". (and now I'm a bit teary)

Thank you, Heather, for chatting with me today. I am so glad to have some Broadway World time with you.

Thank you for helping the arts stay present and forward in people's minds. We need creativity and art more than ever right now. I thank you.

BWW Interview: At Home With Heather Villaescusa

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