With Waitress the Musical – Live On Broadway! due to premiere on 12 June, Sara Bareilles spoke about her career, her Tony award nomination for Into the Woods, and filming Waitress.

How does it feel to be a Tony-nominated performer?
It’s thrilling. First and foremost, it’s so important for us to come together and continue to lift up and celebrate the theatre industry, because, as you well know, it’s something that continues to struggle and try to rebuild after the insanity of the last three years. I feel so proud to be someone who got acknowledged in this extraordinary season of art. I just can’t believe it. It feels like my childhood dream. Not that it wasn’t an amazing experience to go through this with Waitress, but I just had never imagined myself as a composer. The little-kid dream was me on stage singing my face off. To see this come to life is a really tremendous moment. And I’m so grateful.

Your multi-hyphenate career also includes a lot of writing, both as a composer but also with words as a lyricist. How does it feel going to this celebratory evening in the midst of the fierce battle the Writers Guild of America is in with Hollywood producers?
It was an amazing act of generosity for the Writers Guild to acknowledge that this ceremony was really valuable for our industry. I’m so grateful for that. I am incensed on their behalf for what is not being offered to them. And I believe that the strike is 100 percent right. But one of the things I love about theatre is that it’s all about our humanity. I feel like it’s one of the industries that comes back to this very handmade, soul-giving work that, especially in and around the question of artificial intelligence and when should we use AI to help create stories, I feel like human beings deserve the right to create human stories. The theatre industry is one of those places where that lives and breathes, and it feels wonderful to get to support that. The world is very complicated and we’re in a very complicated time. But I don’t think that these industries are at odds with each other in any way.

Let’s talk about Waitress. This live stage film has been more or less an open secret for a couple years. How long has it been finished?
Not that long! It did take us a while to finish, but it’s only been done for maybe about six months or so. I’m not great with the timeline. Waitress is a very hand-made product. Everything we do is done in-house, so our process is our process. Sometimes it takes a little longer to bake the pie. But we felt like we were looking for the exact right moment to premiere this. To get the opportunity to be involved with the Tribeca Film Festival, which is so iconic to New York. This is the first time there’s been any kind of collaboration with Tribeca and the theatre industry in this way. And to be doing this giant screening in Times Square on the TSX Board is – this is all major first for our city. And it feels like a really huge, huge moment to celebrate.

How did it get filmed?
We shot two live shows, and had two and a half days of setup – we were in the empty theatre and we could bring in the big rig cameras, and have our Steadicam operator on stage if we needed to get those more intimate shots. What you see in the film is a compilation of some stuff that worked the best when the audience was there and some of the more intimate moments where we needed the cameras to get even closer, and we wouldn’t have been able to do that with an audience. But it’s kind of amazing. I really thought it would be easy to tell the difference, and I think it’s harder than I’d imagined to know when the audience is there and when they’re not. Our actors did a fantastic job.

We’re so used to seeing these release on an arguably less prestigious scale, like PBS. What does it mean having Waitress premiere at Tribeca?
It’s elevating, and it’s a kind of validation for the medium of the live capture. Even though we saw these wonderful filmed performances in the past, I think there has been an evolution in that medium and a more contemporary and more modern and more intimate kind of approach to trying to make these films. It lets them live somewhere in between just filming a stage show and what a movie would be capable of doing. 

I grew up in a little tiny town in Northern California seeing and doing shows with my community theatre, which is where I saw Evita and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Little Shop of Horrors, Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s a way to let us celebrate theatre in all its forms and to give people access to it. The first time I came to New York, I was in my 30s. We didn’t have the money to travel to New York and see a Broadway show, so TV was how we saw it. I love the idea that Waitress will get brought to families and people who watch the show are already know the show because they love the music or the movie, and they get to see it in this form.

What were the TV musicals that meant a lot to you as a kid?
Into the Woods was one of them for sure, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella with Lesley Ann Warren. Those are the two that come to mind immediately. I don’t even know how many times I watched that Cinderella. I wore it out. I could not get enough of it.

Performances like that are so important for us theatre kids. It’s almost like they get printed on our brains. How does it feel knowing that you will be that for a whole new generation of theatre fans?
Oh, man. I haven’t thought about it in those terms. But it’s unbelievable. The whole hope as an artist is to make stuff that you love. That is my number one goal. I just want to work on and make stuff that I love, because I have no control over how anyone else is going to deal with any of the shit that I make. And that has really held so very true for me, especially in the last maybe 10 years of my career. I get to stand behind this thing and know that I made this and I love it and I believe in it. I believe in the soul of this piece. I believe that we honored Adrienne Shelley’s beautiful story about flawed people making mistakes, but doing the best they can and finding ways to love themselves and to love each other—and I think that message is so important. 

I was a kid that needed to believe there was a place for me to belong in the world, and theatre became that place. I was not someone who thrived in my school setting. I felt very judged and bullied, and I felt really ugly and small and unimportant. Theatre was the first place where I actually felt like it was OK to be my whole self. So I love making stories in theatre, whether it’s Into the Woods and interpreting this wild and wonderful world of, again, flawed people making mistakes but doing the best they can, or making something like Waitress. I just think it’s essential, life-giving, soul-affirming work.

What surprised you about the show and your performance watching it during the editing process?
It is nerve-racking! And I think we did a good job of capturing what is alive about telling the story. I think it’s perfectly imperfect. Did we get every shot we wanted exactly right? No. But we made this beautiful, living breathing time capsule, a little snapshot in time. I think what surprised me is that I didn’t need it to be perfect. I just wanted it to feel true, and alive. And I think we did it.

You are engaged to Joe Tippett, who plays your character’s abusive husband in the show. How did you manage going to such dark places with someone you’re in a relationship with?
It’s about trust. We had an intimacy coordinator who worked with our company that was sort of teaching us about boundaries, and where we need boundaries. Joe and I would sort of tap in and tap out for performances. It was like, ‘OK, now we’re going into Jenna and Earl territory’. We have some really ugly stuff in Waitress. And after the show, we can look into each others’ eyes, take a big breath in, and give a big hug – and then we’re back. It was a really helpful tool that I had never heard about previously. It was a great resource to be able to go to the darker places. But I trust him with my life, so I felt very safe.