You may recognize Catherine Russell’s name. You’ve probably seen her in the off-Broadway play Perfect Crime. Or maybe you‘ve seen her mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records. Catherine holds the world record for having played the same part on stage more times than any one in the history of Guinness. So how do you keep the creative energy going for 28 years? We sat down with Catherine to get her secrets on how to love your work.
You’ve performed on Broadway for over 28 years in almost 12,000 performances without even the common cold stopping you. What do you do to keep yourself mentally and physically fit without a sick day?
I think that when you love what you do you tend to stay healthier. I also don’t smoke or drink, which probably helps, and I don’t eat meat—just a lot of snickers bars and coffee. And I get to the gym a couple of times a week to clear my head and keep my stomach flat. I’m also a Christian Scientist, so when I feel a little sick I pray and that usually works. I believe in mind over matter and the power of positive thinking. Finally, I don’t have time to get sick.
We all have days where you just don’t feel like going to work. I call it the weekend hangover. What gets you up and out of bed when you’re feeling like that?
I may sound crazy but I have never once in my life felt like staying home and not going to work. I love going to work. I teach English to college freshmen early in the morning, I teach acting later in the day [at NYU], run a theater center, and then I go onstage at night and on weekends. And I have a great time doing all of it. I have a friend who jokes that I am single handedly raising the unemployment rate in New York, but I feel very, very lucky to be able to do the work that I do.
I tell my students at Baruch College, “When you are coming to class tomorrow morning, look around the subway car. How many people look happy to be going to work? Make sure you find work that you love to do. Life’s too short not to do that.”
I think it’s common for a lot of people feel a sense of monotony with their jobs, especially when they’ve been doing them for 27 years. How do you keep a sense of newness to yourself and your work?
I try to make every performance a little different so it never feels monotonous to me. For most of the people in the audience, it’s their first time seeing the show. So that makes it exciting. And every audience is a little different, which changes the energy in the room and the performance.
Eight shows a week might not leave much in terms of personal time. Is that difficult to balance?
I live with an amazing man who is willing to adjust to my schedule. When I get into bed at night he likes to ask me, “What time is it?” And I always wrap my arms around him and answer, “It’s the best time of the day.” Corny but true. We have a house at the beach and I try to get there for one day each week during the summer—I just bring my computer and work from there.
There is a new anxiousness sweeping through the workplace called FOMO, the fear of missing out. How do you keep yourself in “the now” without fearing that there is something better elsewhere?
Such a great question. I still manage to do other acting jobs around my schedule in film and on TV, and occasionally another show late at night, so I don’t feel I’m missing out on work. And in terms of living, I make sure to spend time with the people I love and enjoy a great play or movie or book or a great meal—life’s little pleasures.
This is something we ask all our guests: what moment in your life changed you for the better? A Rewire Me Moment where you decided that this was the right path for you?
I try to have a “Rewire Me” (great term!) once a year on my birthday in August. I make three lists—the first list is what I have accomplished over the past year that I am especially proud of, personally and work-wise. The second is what I want to accomplish over the next year, also personally and professionally, and the third is what I am afraid of. That’s a valuable list because it helps me put down on paper what might be stressing me out and or preventing me from doing what I want to do. It’s very empowering. Things tend to look less scary on paper. Then, I reflect and move forward. That’s my annual Rewire Me moment.
Catherine Russell can be seen in the off-Broadway play Perfect Crime in The Anne L Bernstein Theater, New York City.