Audrey Thelemann celebrating 10 years as a Rockette
The Radio City Rockettes, is one of the most iconic performances in the Big Apple of Manhattan. Having originally premiered in 1933, the Christmas show has developed a cult following, and the Rockettes themselves are among the most recognizable figures of the holiday season. Joining the cast at the ripe age of 18, and having just wrapped her 9th season, 2020 will ultimately mark Audrey Thelemann’s 10th season and a full decade as an “out” Rockette.
Audrey discussed the show, her tenure as a performer, what it is like being the “out” one of the group, and what she does to stay in such great shape.
Later this year, you will have been a part of the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes for a full decade. How did you originally get involved, and moreover, continue to be asked back season after season?
Audrey Thelemann: I first discovered the show during high school. I had grown up participating in ballet and jazz programs. For several summers, I attended the Radio City Rockettes Summer Intensive program. Instead of going the ballet company route, after going to college for a year, I auditioned for Radio City. I was able to join the line on my first try. That is a great accomplishment. I am very proud of that to this day. I will say that once you get into the company, you must maintain a strict level of athleticism year after year in order to be brought back. We typically perform 16-17 shows a week during the season. We all take care of ourselves just as much off-season as we do during the show. I am constantly taking different classes and trying different fitness boutiques to keep my stamina up and my body in shape.
How do you manage that? What is your routine or go to?
AT: I continue to take a plethora of ballet classes, including routinely attending Steps on Broadway. On top of taking a variety of classes in character heels, I make time to go to the gym myself with a regimen of my own I sort of developed over the years. I really enjoy going to SLT (Strengthen–Lengthen–Tone). Their fitness regimen is akin to Pilates albeit much more intensive, and truly tests your body. When we are in rehearsals, they last for six hours a day for six days a week. So, we need to maintain a level of fitness consistency throughout the year.
How do you train to get that iconic high kick move?
AT: (Laughs). We have to make sure our hamstrings are completely stretched out at the beginning of rehearsals before we jump into the kick line, and we must maintain center, which in turn involves a lot of ab workouts. You always want to bring the tips of your toes directly to the center of your eye line in front of your nose. Picture everyone across the board, a line of 36 women, doing this.
The show has clearly evolved over the years. What has changed and still makes the show special?
AT: We completely revamped our finale number, “Christmas Lights.” We brought some new exciting choreography to the stage. We also try to interpolate tiny tweaks throughout the show to give our loyal fans who attend annually something different to look forward to. We re-imagined the rag dolls number a few years back where we spell “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year” with our blocks. My favorite segment, while the show has evolved over the years, which I view as a special moment, is “New York at Christmas” when the Rockettes take everyone on a whimsical tour through Manhattan to see the tree and visit Central Park with featured ice skaters.
The show is very rigorous, with multiple performances a day. However, what happens during off-season? What do you do?
AT: I teach all summer long as part of the Radio City Rockettes Summer Intensive program. Having been a student at RSI prior to becoming a Rockette, it feels great to give back and help mold the future of the Rockettes. During off-season, I try to stay active. I attended SUNY Purchase, so I often work with a couple of smaller projects that my college friends also partake in. I also teach ballet classes at various studios and stay active within the hospitality industry.
What is it like being an “out” Rockette? Was it hard to fit in, or were you embraced from the beginning?
AT: The Rockettes features women of all ages, from 18 which is the youngest you can be to join. There is no age cap. Thus, there is a large variety of different ages and personalities across the board. I came in at 18 when I was more self-conscious about keeping that kind of information to myself. The only people who knew were Rockettes, who I became friends with. Around the time I turned 21 I felt as though I had a lot more in common with the other cast members, and my sexuality just sort of became shared knowledge at that point.
I will say that this job as a Rockette as a whole has helped me identify with my femininity. That is something I view as one of the best values of being a part of this company. I am part of a strong sisterhood of women who are so different across the board, yet we are all very accepting of one another, we joke around, and there is nothing different about myself versus anybody else.
I have introduced ex-girlfriends to the cast; I have gone out to dinner with the cast and planned activities on days off with some of the girls. We are one big circle of friendship, even if we do not collectively see each other for nine months out of the year.
I am sure there is competition. With that said, do you find you work well as a team, or, is it a more cutthroat environment?
AT: (Laughs). Nothing along any of those lines actually. There is not much competition with anything that goes on with this company. We are all extremely supportive and excited when we hear of other opportunities that arise. For example, one cast gets to do the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while the other cast has the day off. And it rotates, especially for events of that caliber. At the end of the day, we are all just trying to build one another up. It is a very positive environment between all of the ladies, which is very valued with this role in that we are all strong, smart, resilient women who are here to do the same thing. We say together we are better because you need the rest of your 35 Rockettes on stage for it to be the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes. I made some of the longest friends I have had in my life through this job, who I know will remain in my life forever.
What was the most memorable moment you have had in your decade-long career thus far?
AT: Personally, having my parents attend the show three rows away from the stage. There are moments during the show when you can clearly see the faces of our audience members. When you get to connect with a familiar face, especially when I recall how proud my parents were the day I received the offer, is amazing. Now, professionally speaking, recently, the Rockettes got to be on Saturday Night Live in Jennifer Lopez’ opening monologue. This was an extremely exciting opportunity for us. J-Lo is extremely sweet, and another strong female choreographer/dancer who welcomed us with open arms.