Industrial Arts is where we talk to some of our favorite Boston bartenders, servers, and other hospitality professionals about their involvement in the non-culinary, non-mixological arts.
Lea Madda, who recently appeared in theLongwood Players’ production of “Kiss Me Kate”, has a degree in classical voice from BU and has enrolled in an acting program at UCLA. Sadly for us, that means leaving Brick & Mortar, in Central Square, Cambridge, where she has served us some very strong drinks and gotten some very strong arms shaking those drinks. When she’s not studying, Lea can now be found at West Hollywood’s Harlowe.
We chatted with her, between slurps of ramen, at Backbar, before her move out west.
Brayden C. Burroughs: How did you get into singing?
Lea Madda: My mom was an opera singer, actually. She did classical voice for two years and then her very conservative Irish father convinced her to stop. […] She became a nurse.
But then, when I was around twelve or thirteen, and I started expressing interest in it, she was all gung ho to support me on it.
And it wasn’t anything weird. My parents weren’t making me go on auditions or anything. They signed me up for voice lessons. I was in choir. I did do dance, a little bit. I was doing the shows in high school and then, around junior year of school, it became clear that I was probably going to stick with it. I did the Tanglewood institute for high-schoolers, out in the Berkshires. It’s like a summer program for instrumentalists and singers. That was when I pretty much decided I was going to pursue performing arts.
BCB: Will you continue singing as part of the acting thing?
LM: Oh, yeah, definitely. I just came from a voice lesson today, actually.
Yeah. I’ve always been interested in the musical theater that’s not hoity-toity cheerleading dance-focused. Which is kind of unfortunately what’s on Broadway right now. Like, what’s that movie? “Bring It On.” It’s one of the major musicals on Broadway right now. You know, that cheerleading movie?
Christine Fernsebner Eslao: Yeah.
BCB: Oh. Oh, we know. This movie is very important to people we know.
LM: That’s one of the biggest-grossing musicals in New York right now.
CFE: Are all the biggest-grossing musicals movie tie-ins at this point?
LM: Right now, yeah. “Big Fish” is about to debut. “Shrek” I think just closed. “Aladdin” was at the Tonys this year. That one’s bringing in a lot of dough.
Broadway’s a weird place right now. There’s a lot of backlash against that, from the oldschoolers.
BCB: And how did you fall into bartending?
CFE: You make it sound like it’s not a choice.
BCB: People fall into all kinds of things.
LM: So, I graduated from BU and I got cut off immediately. So, I started hostessing at Deep Ellum. I hostessed there for about three months and then I became a server. And then there was a opening over at Brick & Mortar, so I moved over there. I worked at Brick & Mortar for a year, and I annoyed them until they agreed to train me at the bar.
BCB: I think I was there on your first night.
LM: No way. Serving or bartending?
BCB: Serving. You were asking a lot of questions and making jokes like, “I don’t really like cocktails” and “I don’t know what any of this shit is.” I couldn’t tell if you were joking.
LM: I was joking. I intentionally was a shithead when Evan Harrison and Kenny [Belanger, currently at the Kirkland] were working at the bar.
BCB: Makes sense.
LM: It was way too much fun to annoy them. They made it easy.
Evan’s grimace is so satisfying.
But I paid my dues. And I still serve, actually. It’s nice […] to be on the other side of the bar one night a week.
BCB: I feel like working there in any capacity is like paying your dues.
BCB: How has singing and acting influenced your bartending?
LM: I think it has a lot to do with personality and ability to talk to people. I think I came already with a lot of confidence in that respect, just from being in the performing arts, because you’re collaborating with people so much.
Sometimes I do feel like I’m literally putting on a show, at Brick & Mortar. You’re creating their whole experience. You’re introducing them to the bar and walking them through what you have to offer them. Making a drink is also a performance.
If you’re not automatically an extrovert, I can imagine bartending would be somewhat fraught.
BCB: I asked this of Tyler [Wang], and it annoyed him enough that I thought it was an appropriate question—
CFE: Do it.
BCB: Has jazz hands influenced your shake technique in any way?
LM: Jazz hands? [laughter]
Back in May—this is only mildly related—back in may I had to take three weeks off from bartending while my show “Kiss Me Kate” was open. I was doing dancing in that, and there was this great picture of me on the web site, where my arms were extended like this, and I looked jacked.
And I showed it to Corey [Buono], my coworker, and I was like, these arms are not from dancing. It’s from shaking all the fucking tins. These are bartending biceps.
BCB: Have you been looking at all for bartending gigs in LA?
LM: I haven’t. UCLA—I’ve been in contact with my guidance counselors and professors and whatnot and they’ve explicitly told me that they don’t want me to commit to a bartending gig, at least in the cocktail industry, because they recognize that it is kind of a full-time commitment in this day and age. People take it very seriously. It takes homework.
They don’t know how crazy I am, how many hours I’m willing to work in a week.
Even though I’ll have class during the day and rehearsal at night, I’m like, I can still work a brunch shift and a night shift at least.
BCB: Is there a cocktail that sums up or expresses your artistic pursuits?
LM: So, in undergrad, at BU, as far as the voice program goes, I was always known as a comedic singer, which is rare for classical voice. It’s always considered a very serious dramatic art form. And I often feel like the lighthearted silly comedic stuff — there’s gotta be a drink there. But I can’t…
CFE: You can think about it.
I was going to ask sort of the inverse of what Brayden asked earlier, about your performing career influencing bartending. Obviously you’ve been singing longer than you’ve been bartending, unless you were working at a very illegal age. But is there anything about bartending that has influenced how you approach performance?
LM: Just from a physical standpoint, at least at a place like Brick & Mortar, it’s extremely taxing on your vocal chords. So I’ve spent my entire last two years there trying to figure out how I can speak in a healthier manner, so I can sing the next day. I’ll have an $85 voice lesson the next day that I don’t want to blow and sound like a horse or something. Or when I had a show going on, I’d have rehearsals the next day. It took a while to figure out how to get through a twelve-hour shift and maintain healthy voice practices and whatnot.
CFE: Is there a role that exemplifies your bartending career?
LM: Puck, from A Midsummer Night’s dream. A little spritely poltergeist. At least considering my role in the Brick & Mortar staff of bartenders.
BCB: So, do you have an answer [about the cocktail that represents your artistic pursuits]?
LM: Oh, yes! A Smith & Cross pineapple daiquiri. It’ll crush you, but it will taste good in the meantime.