For Lindsay Mendez, a fear of failure is not only rational—it’s beneficial.
“When I risk the most is when I tend to gain the most,” the actor says in the weeks after winning a Tony Award for her performance in the Broadway revival of Carousel, set to close September 16. “I operate really well under pressure and fear of losing my job. I love to feel like I’m sucking.”
And the role of Carrie Pipperidge offers plenty of opportunities for Mendez to risk failure. The 1945 musical is a leap from the more contemporary shows that grace her résumé, including Wicked, Dogfight, and Significant Other. There’s a different style of comedy; there’s more head voice; there’s a New England dialect.
So what’s the trick to navigating self-appointed pressure without becoming lost in self-consciousness? To start, a trustworthy base of leaders: “I always felt supported in the room, and I never left a rehearsal feeling like [director] Jack O’Brien had lost any sort of confidence in me.”
To embrace her inner soprano, Mendez worked with musical director Andy Einhorn—as well as a mentor, fellow Tony winner Victoria Clark—first by bringing the score down, then working up to the original keys. “Now, it feels like the way I was always supposed to sing.”
Additionally, the draw of a compelling character pushes her to succeed. Although a featured role, Carrie is the first in the show to sing. It’s a bold move that mirrors Carrie’s assertiveness in her friendship with Julie Jordan, whose tumultuous relationship with Billy Bigelow is at the center of the story.
“Her thoughts on life line up with the audience’s on what kind of trouble her friend is in, and I think it totally lines up with a 2018 kind of glimpse,” Mendez explains. “Even if she says things not at the ideal time, she says what we all hope one would say.”
Mendez is no stranger to standing by her convictions. One thing she didn’t have to alter to play the role was her name.
“I was told it would be hard for me to get cast in roles that weren’t Hispanic with [Mendez] on my résumé,” she says, calling back to her Tony acceptance speech, in which she revealed she was once pressured to change her name to Lindsay Matthews.
The actor hopes her visibility in a show like Carousel demonstrates that theatre can “mirror what I hope we all see in our world: all of us living in a community, working together.
“There’s a place for us—in all of musical theatre. And those walls are being broken down person by person.”