Greer Gisy is a NYC performer, entrepreneur, designer, mentor, friend, and all around amazing woman. She spends her time…doing A LOT but luckily found some time to tell us about herself. A truly inspirational woman with a truly mind-blowing career ahead of her.
If you could conduct your own interview, what would you interview yourself about?
G: One of my favorite questions people ask in interviews is, “What’s your biggest weakness?” I think my biggest weakness is that I care too much. Everything holds a lot of weight for me. That can be a really strong asset but that can also be a huge weakness as well because it means that I take things quite personally even if they're simply circumstantial.
Where were you born?
G: Knoxville, Tennessee. I lived there for 18 years.
What was your path to NYC?
G: I started dancing when I was three. In kindergarten I told everybody I was a professional dancer - and I truly believed I was already! Dance has always been as much a part of me as the color of my eyes, it wasn't a choice I actively made, it was who I was. By the age of 9 I joined my small town studio’s dance company. About the same time I joined the company somebody told me that New York city is where dancers go, so I just always thought it was like this magical other planet - which it kind of is. But just like dancing was never a question for me, New York wasn't either. It was just about how quickly I could get there from Tennessee. I was obsessed with being as young as possible doing whatever it was that I was doing, which is funny because most of the success I’ve had has actually come in the last few years.
I graduated high school a semester early with a 4.125 GPA when I was 17. That was the earliest my school would let me out, and man I couldn't wait to be out of school. Learning in a classroom setting was never really my thing; I prefer hands-on, kinesthetic experiences. I farted around Tennessee for a while and took some community college classes. I was trying to figure out what my "backup career" was going to be, but nothing really stuck. For my 18th birthday my parents got me into the Pulse convention. My mom came to me at a lunch break and told me she found a way for me to get to New York that she could get behind. She told me about the Broadway Dance Center’s Internship Program. So I applied, got in, and moved to NYC all in 3 weeks' time. I knew one person in New York but I was fearless back then so the transition was pretty easy. The internship was 5 months long. After that my dad said, “We will help you stay in New York if you go to college”. So, I looked up CUNY schools at my mom's google recommendation, and the first one on the drop down menu was Baruch College. I applied to that one school, got in (luckily), took the minimum amount of hours to be considered full time and skipped most of them. Thankfully I made mostly A’s, but then I dropped out to do my first professional dance gig and I never went back.
What are your favorites right now?
G: For books? I love Wonder, I just finished it a while back. I’m reading Story by Robert Mckee. It’s about writing a screenplay. At some point I would really love to write a musical. Why not? I also love East of Eden. That’s what Mumford and Sons, one of their albums is based off of. There’s one called Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham. I would say it’s my favorite book of all time and every theater person should read it.
For music? I’m usually listening to whatever I have to choreograph to. We Won’t by Jaymes Young is really big in my ear right now. For movies, I just saw Three Billboards recently and last night I saw Black Panther in the theater, hands down best movie on the face of the planet. Annie Hall is probably my favorite movie and Beauty and the Beast will always be a special one for me. It came out when I was a toddler and apparently we saw it about 30 times in the theater. I used to run down to the front and dance through the entirety of the credits with my dad.
What are your mornings like?
G: I love scheduling and knowing what I’m going to do for the week, but anything that’s too consistent freaks me out. Except for my mornings. I wake up and I play on my phone for a solid 5 minutes checking all the important things - which I know you’re not supposed to do but it kind of brings me into the day. And then I get up and start the coffee, shower, get the coffee and then I sit up in my wall vanity that my husband built for me. I watch The View while I get ready. And then I’m pretty consistently still 5 minutes late leaving. I wish I could say I did a yoga flow and a morning meditation to start the day off right, but I'm pretty content with my mornings with Whoopi.
What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
G: Chill the hell out! In relationships, in career, in life in general. Just chill, it’s going to be fine. There’s a difference between knowing what you want and going after it versus forcing some sort of goal or stereotype upon yourself. I don’t think I was really in touch with who I was or what I wanted until around the time I went to Brazil to set IN THE HEIGHTS. Brazil was the hardest thing I’ve ever done to date and it made me grow up so fast but also made me understand who I’d always been at the same time. It really brought to light my priorities and also some insecurities that really had no basis. It should me that I was capable of more than I ever dreamed, and that I had to just relax and trust the work.
When you were 20 what did you envision for your life? Is it different? Were there expectations you had to combat?
G: I thought I was going to be God’s gift to broadway when I moved here. I thought I was going to walk in and they were going to be like "Thank God we’ve been waiting for you! Here’s every contract, which one do you want?" And Broadway still hasn't written down my number, let alone called it.
I am not where I thought I was going to be in any way, shape or form. I adamantly did not and still really don't want to be a choreographer. The creative responsibility freaks me out and I just don't think I'd be any good at it. But most of the things that I was not interested in have been some of the best things in my life. Things that I thought I would never be capable of doing have been some of my greatest accomplishments. Funny how life is that way.
Where I am as far as being a human, as far as my relationships go, I feel I am far past where I thought I would be. There was one night I got home from hanging out with friends and was a little tipsy. I threw on a white tank top and some sweat pants, and I think my mascara was smudged a bit. But I looked in the mirror and said, “right now be proud of yourself”. I had this overwhelming sense of contentment that where I was and who I was was exactly what I wanted when I was a kid. It was a wonderful moment of just appreciating being and just appreciating myself in a non-glamorous way, just simple and braless.
What is something that brings you joy/what is your happy place?
G: We are sitting on it. I love home. As you can see we’ve made it quite home-y in here. I like being creative and this space makes me feel creative. I love to paint and draw and write. Performing has always been, not to get too hippy-dippy about it, but the creative vibration that’s strongest. Other than that? Water. I’m all about water. I need to be on the waterfront, on a boat, anything. If I’m having a rough day, especially if it’s warm outside, I’ll walk to the park and listen to music and just stare at the water. I think I like to remind myself how small I am in this big world - this big universe. In a way it helps me to understand that my problems are surmountable.
What is the strongest/most important relationship in your life right now?
G: My husband, for sure. We’ve known each other since I was 19. We were friends before we started dating in 2012. I always say that he doesn't complete me, because I am a complete human on my own, but he provides me the opportunity and the safety to be my most complete self. No matter how ugly, messy, beautiful, or wonderful our relationship is, he’s there for me through and through. He’s also the first person to tell me that I’m being a little shit, and that’s important. Other than that, my family is pretty awesome. My Mom’s in science and my Dad’s in mathematics. My sister is the backbone of our family and a logistics genius. They’ve all been nothing but supportive.
What are your fears? Or, what were your fears?
G: I think we all fear we will never be good enough. When I got hired to teach at Alvin Ailey I was adamant about not wanting to be a dance teacher, and my best friend and mentor Michael [Balderrama] was looking at me like I was insane. I said, “‘I’m not qualified” and of course he reminded me they hired me. Of course, I made excuses like, “it’s because so and so couldn’t do it”. He told me, “You don’t put any merit on the great stuff you’ve done”. And that’s true. I can always find reasons why it wasn’t good enough. I’m always telling myself I wasn’t good enough.
There’s the fear I’m never going to have a Broadway show. And people constantly telling you that’ll you’ll surely get it one day, or that they don't understand why it hasn't happened yet, or you're so close! really doesn’t help. Because it truly may never happen. But the reality of it is, Broadway is just an address. Just because the work is not physically within a certain block radius doesn’t mean it’s not good work. And I have to keep reminding myself of this.
How do you best take care of yourself?
G: The best way I take care of myself is not telling myself I can’t have things I naturally want or feel the need for. If I want a glass of wine, or 4, I have it. And if it starts to feel like I’m relying on that glass or bottle, then I pull back. I’m slowly learning what works for everybody else doesn’t necessarily work for me. And to take what works for them with a grain of salt and use it as a jumping off point to finding out what does work for me. Working out every single day doesn’t make me happy. I exercise in ways that don't feel like working out - hiking, classes, getting in the studio with friends, walking 40 blocks instead of taking the train. I eat pretty healthy food, but can totally get down on a Twix bar or a giant slice of red velvet cake. Intermittent fasting has also been a game changer, and I feel like I'm finally in control of my body with it. And for my brain health I try to find inspiration everywhere while maintaining my salty sarcastic edge. I stay busy and stay present, and I fill my house with plants. At the end of the day just being cool with being me has been a huge health leap in and of itself.
Can you tell us a little about your career? How you started, faltered, got back up, and how it got you all here today?
G: I got to a point where I was so frustrated with the process of being non-equity I just stopped auditioning. I had an agent and I had a manager and I just waited for the invited calls to come in. But going to five auditions a year isn’t being a working performer. I took classes so often it felt like I was a working performer but Sheila Barker actually pulled me aside at BDC and asked why I was taking class so often. I told her I was working on my craft, and she told me if I’m able to take classes this often then I wasn’t working. I told her no one was hiring me and she said, “You’re not trying hard enough”. That’s Sheila Barker for you. All of that to say, I wish I hadn’t been told I deserved anything in this career and I wish I hadn’t believed them and I wish I hadn’t shown up to NYC thinking I was God’s gift to Broadway. I thought I needed to sit back and it would come to me as long as I stayed in class.. But you have to work for it. You have to reasonably work for it, and work to maintain the joy of why you started. I fell out of love with dance for a while because I thought it didn't love me back. It did, it was just waiting for me to find and love myself first.
How do you continue to challenge and push yourself?
G: My husband helps with this a lot. He’s super smart. He’s always reading everything I can get his hands on and soaking up knowledge. He’s basically my personal news broadcaster. We will discuss politics and we will discuss art and culture and the future and nature and the environment. He comes from a very liberal upbringing in Oregon and I come from a very conservative southern upbringing and I think we’ve been able to find our own way. Physically, I just have to get out of the house. I try to support as many friends as I can who are starting new endeavors. Hiking is my favorite way to stay in shape. Artistically, I surround myself with like-minded people but also people that challenge me with their beliefs and their pursuits. And I mean New York in general is a huge challenge, daily.
Who do you consider to be another badass in this industry (can be multiple people)/ who would you want in your circle of badass women?
G: In the Broadway community, my best friend, Morgan Marcell. She was the dance captain and swing for Hamilton on Broadway and she joined Bandstand and was asked to be the dance captain and turned it down because she needed a break. I really respected her for choosing her mental health over a career move. She just did Chess and then In The Heights at Kennedy Center. She also did the lab and workshop for Moulin Rouge and is doing that on Broadway. And in the middle of all of that she created a non-profit through Hamilton called The Eliza Project, and she made a documentary about it that she directed and produced. She’s also working on other film projects, and wants to be a film director. Aside from her resume, though, she's just a really good say-it-like-it-is friend. I convinced her to move in 3 blocks away from me and we have keys to each other's apartments. I think we balance each other out really well.
My marketing manager for LALUZ, Genny, is another badass. She is one of the nicest people I have ever met. She and I lived together for two years, and used to spend hours upon hours talking about life in our hallway. We still can't spend less than an hour on the phone to this day. She tried to leave the business, but when she did she booked a Broadway show, got married, and got her masters degree all at the same time as being a principle and covering the lead in her show. I don't think it gets much more badass than that.
Lorin Latarro is also just the epitome of badassery. I can't keep with her, and she's one of the most easy-going choreographers I've ever worked with. Proud to call her a friend, and thankful for her mentorship.
Jaime Verazin has also become family - I truly don't know what I would do without her. She's taught me so much about how to be a beacon of light, regardless of the circumstances. And she's taught me all about plants!
I could go on and on, but the moral of the story is that I am pretty damn blessed to be surrounded by some incredible women.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
G: One of them is "Be kind," and I think as simple as it is, that’s the most important one. My dad has always told my sister and I to "Be good, be careful, and represent." It's kind of our family mantra. And my mom told me to send out my laundry, it’s always worth the money.
What’s the hardest lesson you had to learn during your career as a performer?
G: It's not that deep. At the end of the day, we play pretend for a living. It’s deep in the way that the work can be very culturally important, and art is vastly important, but the process can't be too terribly deep on a personal level. Being the product makes it feel so weighty, but we have to remember when we are the paint, not the painting. I guess perspective is a hard lesson that I'm constantly learning.
As a woman, in this time, how do you navigate, deal with, associate with politics?
G: For the longest time I always said “I don’t really get politics, it’s not my thing." Well it kind of has to be your thing nowadays. I lean quite liberal, but I'm not usually one for commitment to anything black or white. There's always at least two sides to a story. I try to be less political and more humanitarian. If I think something is wrong for humans then I’m going to say something about it no matter what side it falls on. It just happens that I usually relate to the Democratic side, which is why I finally registered as a Democrat. As a woman, I think it is a terrifying, wonderful, exciting, interesting, and a rough time to be alive, but it’s incredible what we can do when we come together. Unfortunately, we can’t do most of it alone. It’s finding that group, that solid circle of women that can get together and change the world.