Macy Schmidt on Making Her Mark on Broadway
Back in October we had the pleasure of talking with rising orchestrator, music director, entrepreneur and executive producer, Macy Schmidt. A first-generation Egyptian-American, Macy who recently was honored as part of the Class of 2022 Forbes 30 Under 30 List in Music for her work as the Founder/CEO of The Broadway Sinfonietta. Experiencing a swift rise in her career as an artist, business woman, and advocate for women in entertainment, her work has expanded into executive producing for TV/media, creative music direction for pop and Broadway stars, speaking engagements and much more. Becoming the youngest female orchestrator of color on Broadway for her latest work “Kimberly Akimbo,” the talented Macy Schmidt let us into her world and how life has been going.
Jzon Azari: Wow!! It seems that so much is aligning for you right now Macy. How does it feel to be at the center of so much recognition right now? Did you ever see things playing out as such? What have you enjoyed about your journey to this point so far?
Macy Schmidt: It feels more than a bit surreal, and it’s not lost on me that with this recognition comes great responsibility. From the moment I moved to New York I set out to build myself a career on Broadway, but the direction that career has taken, especially with the Sinfonietta, is beyond what I could have imagined or predicted. One unexpectedly special era in my journey so far was actually the period of “quiet” that the 2020 lockdown era provided us. After years spinning in a hamster wheel on productions trying to “climb the ladder,” that was the first time in my life I’ve had the brain space to ask myself “What is it that I want to say or contribute to this world?”. And then, the Sinfonietta was born, which has become the greatest joy of my career thus far.
JA: You recently were included in the “Class of 2022 Forbes 30 Under 30” List in Music. That’s quite the accomplishment. It’s not everyday that someone is spotlighted on such a prestigious list of individuals. Whom would you say inspired you to get to this milestone in your life and what was your initial reaction to the news? Also, who did you share it with?
MS: I’m inspired by so many of the women who’ve come before me, who I’ve watched break down barriers in the industry. When I got the news, I was home visiting my parents, so they were the first ones I shared it with. They’ve been so supportive of me veering into such an unconventional career path despite all the uncertainty and instability that comes with it, so to share that moment with them was extra special.
JA: You founded a phenomenal group of talented women of color who have changed the way many look and feel about orchestras. Tell us… how did you come up with the idea of The Broadway Sinfonietta? Why was such a groundbreaking moment needed now and what have been some of the joys and challenges that have come from its creation? Where do you hope to see it head as it continues to grow?
MS: I think the idea for the Sinfonietta had been swirling around in my head in the years leading up to the pandemic, but it wasn’t until June 2020 that all the pieces came together to make it a reality: the industry-wide conversations about racial and gender injustice, the pandemic putting artists out of work, and generally just the ability to hear my own thoughts and figure out what I care about in this industry. It’s come with many joys and challenges, but I’d say perhaps the greatest joy for me, somewhat unexpectedly, has been just the feeling of creating jobs where there weren’t jobs before. We aren’t going directly into male-dominated Broadway orchestra pits and campaigning for those jobs to be reassigned to women and non-binary players; rather, most of my day-to-day work is creating new (and often unconventional) opportunities for an orchestra to perform — hence creating jobs where there weren’t jobs before. We recently had our debut with the orchestra as the headlining artist with Carnegie Hall Citywide, and as the Sinfonietta continues to grow, I hope to see a shift in our work more towards the orchestra as the Artist itself, not just serving as a backing orchestra for other artists (though that’s a lot of fun too!).
JA: You’ve been quite an advocate for women in entertainment. That’s such a breath of fresh air to know. What are a few things you hope to see accomplished in your lifetime and what are words of advice you’d leave not for just your younger self but young women looking to follow a path similar to yours in the entertainment industry?
MS: What a beautiful question. I hope that in my lifetime, it’s no longer a headline to see 1 woman nominated in certain categories at major awards shows. I hope that at the end of my career, I’m telling my grandchildren stories that seem nearly impossible to believe, about the days when it was a huge deal for a woman to be the conductor of a major orchestra or win a Tony for Best Orchestrations. I hope they barely even believe me because things will look so different. My go-to words of advice, especially for anyone looking to follow a path similar to mine, is not to limit yourself by the existing structures you see, but rather, imagine and create your own.
JA: What is The Broadway Sinfonietta’s “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” backstory? What inspired its angelic tones?
MS: My favorite backstory! “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” was the result of a bunch of different little voices inside my head, planting seeds of the idea. I’d had this arrangement in my mind for a while and always wanted to do it, and I’d recently seen Solea Pfeiffer’s star turn in Sammi Cannold’s Evita at City Center, and I was absolutely awestruck by her performance of “Rainbow High.” This striking, commanding woman of color center stage, belting to “Christian Dior me”?! It made me realize how rarely women of color get to be glamorized, get to stand center stage, get to have Something To Say.
Later, once we were all in lockdown, I pulled out that half-baked arrangement and started fleshing it out, and realized along the way that I’d written the arrangement around Solea’s voice in my head. (Luckily, a cold email later, she said yes). I produced a music video with generous support from Broadway producers Jana Shea and Daryl Roth, hoping that the piece would be a message to the industry and, more importantly, a small way of providing jobs to women musicians while Broadway was shut down. The response was more than I ever could have dreamed, and the orchestra began working steadily on commission for brands, recordings, and live performance events. Since then we’ve signed to Sony Masterworks to record new arrangements, headlined our first live concert in NYC presented by Carnegie Call, and are gearing up to perform all over the country next year.
JA: Having a first still seems so surreal in today’s society but you are the first female orchestrator of color on Broadway thanks to your very recent Broadway musical, “Kimberly Akimbo.” How did opening night go? Walk us through the big day.
MS: Opening night for this production was so special. I was particularly excited to wear a traditional Middle Eastern open Abaya dress that I had customized for me just a few days prior while working in Qatar. It was my first time walking a red carpet for one of my Broadway productions, so it was extra special to get to represent Middle Eastern women in such a public way. The show was, of course, warmly received with immense critical acclaim. I’d actually flown in the night before from Qatar just for the opening, and had to fly back around 6AM the morning after, so I was probably back in my bed by the time anyone was starting to party!
JA: The joys of being a first in any career field is a reason to celebrate. However, being an advocate, what is something you’d love to see implemented in broadway culture that may be missing or isn’t as highlighted from a viewer’s eyes that may need to be seen more?
MS: This is such an important perspective to recognize — every time I see a “first” of this nature in the headlines, it’s jarring to realize that we are still in an era where these are “firsts.” Something I’d love to see implemented in Broadway culture more is having the diversity of all the hundreds of offstage names in the Playbill that created a show (from the creative team to the orchestra pit to the producing team to the advertising and marketing agencies and beyond) match the on-stage diversity of the show that they are all promoting. It’s eerily common to sit in the audience of a musical with a very women-forward narrative, or telling a story centered around the Black experience, and comb through the Playbill, only to find that the people profiting off its success rarely mirror the racial or gender identities of the performers whose life experiences are exploited.
JA: The entertainment industry can be quite critical of women of color. How does it feel to be a first-generation Egyptian-American seeing your hard work pay off amongst so many other women? Are there any other women who work alongside you that you’d love to spotlight for being just as passionate and inspiring as yourself?
MS: Another truly beautiful question! And YES, there are! Within the Broadway industry, I’m inspired by BIPOC women Music Directors of the next generation such as Cynthia Meng and Mona Seyed-Bolorforosh who I truly believe are the future of music departments. Outside of Broadway, I’ve recently been very inspired by Qatari composer Dana Al-Fardan (Qatar’s first female composer!), Lebanese orchestra conductor Yasmina Sabbah (who conducts another all-women orchestra in Dubai called Firdhaus), and of course, the many women on the producing side who are creating access and opportunities for creative women of color to show their work: Julie Ann Crommett immediately comes to mind (look her up!). I’d also be remiss not to mention the Sinfonietta’s COO Colleen McCormack — I couldn’t do any of this without her.
JA: The gift of music is unlike any other and sharing it with the world tends to bring us together and heal all. With your contributions to the art, what does your legacy look like? Thank you for taking time out of your day to answer these questions. It’s appreciated and I look forward to melding these together to create the best feature possible.
MS: I hope that one day my legacy will be associated with giving others a voice (especially women), and bringing a sense of musical grandeur to all corners of the industry.
You can find more about Macy Schmidt and The Broadway Sinfonietta please visit their website.