Tamra Hayden, a Broadway singer with a lovely personality, recently spoke with me in Balboa Theatre on Solace Beach Estates in Second Life. We sat in elegant Windsor chairs in front of a marble staircase and heavy, old theater-style drapes. Tamra wore a beautiful sleeveless, wine-colored gown, her hair was in an upsweep, and she wore a short string of pearls.
Though I’m finding more time to check out the wonderful talent on Second Life, I’d learned about Tamra by attending Avalon Town’s grand re-opening and through a new friend. Curious to know more about her Broadway experiences, I asked if she would be interested in an interview.
Tamra tells me her real last name is Hayden, but she goes by Sands for that was one of the Second Life names available. She’s wanted to be a singer since she was a child.
“My grandmother was an accomplished singer and musician. She would play the piano and sing and play the marimba and sing. She performed mini concerts for us,” recalled Tamra fondly. “I knew I wanted music in my life. I was so drawn to it.”
Her mother played a game when company was over, asking “Tamra, to tell everyone what this note is.” Clearly, she had good pitch and her mother wanted to show it off. Tamra didn’t start singing until her sister took voice lessons. The first instrument Tamra learned to play was an accordion. She was only five. By ten years old, she was determined to learn how to play the guitar. Her mother knew how much she wanted the instrument. One day she led Tamra into the office and gave her a guitar she bought from the janitor. She was so touched by the gesture.
“Then I really begged for a violin,” she said. “For me, any stringed instrument, I really wanted to learn. My mother would play the piano and I would sit down and play by ear whatever she played.”
In junior high school, Tamra got involved in musical events. In the string choir, the teacher taught them Beatles tunes. Tamra couldn’t figure out why she would have to sing when all she wanted to do is play an instrument. Though, she found out that singing was just as much fun. In high school, she auditioned for the choir, was accepted, and began auditioning for musicals.
“We had a really great team there. The high school choir director, Don Arnold, was really wonderful. He’s passed away,” she said with a sigh. “Ken Foster was the head of the theater department. He lives in San Francisco now. He was a wonderful educator, so I feel I had a really great start in high school. What they taught me held up even to the professional level.”
Don Arnold helped her audition. She was accepted into the All State Choir and Orchestra. Then Don helped her get a viola scholarship. She switched to viola in high school because, she said, there was more of a need. At that time in her life, she was playing viola, violin and cello. Tamra said they are all strings, but take a different intensity. They feel different in your hands.
Tamra attended music school at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. Her classes focused on singing and playing the viola. She taught violin and conducted orchestra. She was involved in all the plays and musicals, as well.
“I finally said, ‘I really wanted to just sing,’ ” she told me. “So I dropped my viola major and really started focusing on singing. I really grew. I loved playing the instruments, but felt I was a better singer. What’s interesting, is now after all this time, coming full circle with Broadway, a lot of the shows they want you to play more than one instrument. I just did an audition a few weeks ago where they wanted you to play string instruments, woodwind and percussion,” she related.
Tamra laughed, admitting that she learned how to play drums from her niece. She played her guitar, viola and sang. She doesn’t really play woodwinds, but in college she had to learn it, so she could have. It seemed like an extreme amount to ask of anyone auditioning. More than, learn three songs and sing them during an audition.
“Who knew that I would need these skills now,” she said. “My final call for Cabaret, I actually had to sight read with the viola and then switch instruments and do the same with the violin. I could, but I thought how many people in New York could do that?” So that’s the competition. I got in the show. I’ve had to play violin or viola in five or six different shows now. I knew cello from years ago, but had to relearn it for a show.”
Tamra was involved in musicals in college and then moved to Denver. Working at the local theaters she had a few seasons at the Denver Center, which she said was a very well respected regional theater. About the time she received her equity card, there were a lot of people coming from out of town to work at the center, so she talked to them about how she wanted to audition for “Les Miserables” and “Phantom” because those were the popular Broadway shows in the late 80’s.
“So this one young woman said just send your stuff here. She gave me the address of the casting director, Johnson-Liff. (It is no longer an agency now. But, was one of the Top agencies for many years.) I sent them a professional tape that I made. They received it Dec. 28, 1988 and six months later, I actually got married and moved twice. They found me and they were going to audition “Les Mis” in LA and said, ‘can you be there next week?’ I just happened to be going to LA the next week. It felt like it was meant to be.”
Tamra auditioned and had the job a few weeks later. They called and put her on the road. She began by understudying the role of Cosette. Three months into the position, the young woman performing the role, sprained her ankle and was out for a couple of shows. Tamra was in a few shows. She was told by production that they wanted to move her into the role of Cosette in another production touring company. She went on to play the role over 1,800 times!
Tamra spent almost two years on Broadway performing in “Les Mis” and sixth months with “Cabaret.” She toured two years with “Les Mis” and toured nine months with “Phantom of the Opera.”
I asked which productions was she the most emotionally involved in and she replied, “When I heard the soundtracks to ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Les Mis’, I immediately fell in love with ‘Les Mis’. I had started to say I was going to do Cosette on Broadway and people were like “what?”
“Another chance I had, not just anyone could do it, I think. The first time I was an understudy, I was performing out of Country Dinner Playhouse. Now that’s gone, too. It was a place I went to ever since I was a kid,” she mentioned. “My parents said, ‘wouldn’t it be great if you got a show there? Wouldn’t it be great to be a barnstormer?’ And I told them ‘no.’ I wanted to play Maria in ‘Sound of Music.’ I got cast in ‘Sound of Music’ and the director was going to play Von Trapp, but he felt he was too old to play opposite me and so he hired someone else, more fitting for his age.”
She tells me that he broke his neck after an accident. Thankfully, he was okay, survived it, but he couldn’t do the role. His understudy took his place. Even to this day, the director said he should have cast Tamra.
“The woman I was understudying, it was the first time I had ever done this, and I thought I had better be ready. In these cases, the rehearsal period is two weeks. It’s quick and so I hadn’t had a rehearsal yet. I just was watching rehearsals. Well, she got sick. We opened on a Wednesday night and were snowed out on Thursday. Somehow she lost her voice. I was called in the afternoon and was told I was on tonight. I said ‘what?’ ” Tamra said and laughed as she recalled that moment. “I was told to just do my best and go on.”
Luck have it, Tamra had just rehearsed her lines with her sister so she knew them, but that didn’t mean she knew where to be on stage. Through stage direction, she was literally told where to stand, what to wear, which got her through the production.
“They were so amazed that I did the show with no problems. Because of that, a director was working on shows in Casa Manana Theatre in Fort Worth, Texas. He hired me to do a couple of shows down there, so I got to play Julie Jordan in ‘Carousel.’ That happened because I was ‘lucky’ to go on in a strange situation where they go, ‘Wow!’ I just had a feeling. I just wanted to do it, you know? I would say that was one of the big ones for me,” she claimed, in regards to opportunities.
It was Tamra’s dream to be on Broadway in ‘Les Mis.’ She loved the role in ‘Carousel’. It meant so much to her and was meaningful. She had acting experience for all her performances having been Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” in college and having performed as Fiona in “Brigadoon.”
Call it fate, but a friend who is a Broadway producer recognized the growth and potential for actors and musicians in Second Life seven years ago.
“He felt it was a nice way to bring Broadway to a virtual world. So he asked if I would sing the first concert on their Broadway Live Island,” she said. “So, he played the piano and he sang with me for a half hour. We couldn’t imagine how people would sit there for a half hour. We had no idea. It was very jolting to me because I’m use to having people in front of me. We had the computers in two rooms so we could have separate sounds. We were still learning.”
She stated what’s kept her in Second Life and what has made her determined to continue is considering her performance as a public service. Instant messages directed personally to her offer appreciation for her time and performances. They often thank her as they would never have had the opportunity to see her perform professionally in a theater.
Tamra is doing what she loves to do, that’s why her friend Ayesha created the Balboa Theatre. It allows them to present a stage representation and people love it.
Tamra also performs at Kaya Angel’s Rose Theater. She loves his beautiful light shows.
“Those are the places I really enjoy performing because it’s not just standing and singing. There’s something visual going on,” she said and then added how much she loves Lauren’s Place. “They’ve created these places where people come to visit and communicate with each other. I think it’s really special.”
Tamra said Second Life has grown a lot since she started. During the first couple of years she recalls doing only three shows. She had to travel to a friend’s apartment in the city to stream with him. Her friend then started producing real life shows and was too busy to perform on a virtual world.
“People kept asking me when I was going to sing again and I said let me see if I can do it. I looked at what equipment I had and found that I had a mixer, but I didn’t have a way of putting it in. Trip Potvin helped me. He’s currently a Broadway producer. Also, we formed a business together. We’ve been creating musical apps for Apple products. We’ve maintained our friendship for over 10 years now. Broadway Live Island was the main place we performed.”
XanderNichting Writer, a violinist, was the first musician she dual streamed with. Tamra said Xander took some time off, but he’s been performing more on Second Life. She’s actually met him in real life by attending a Netherlands Jam. Also, through Second Life, she met an organist who plays in Vienna. Tamra was able to go there and perform with him at St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
“I was singing at one of the big events, one of the jams that year. It was like my first year of really performing so I didn’t know anyone. It really leveled the playing field for me,” she said. “I’ve been on Broadway, but no one knows who I am. A lot of times you don’t really know if someone is who they say they are. I had to start over and gain the trust of people. Xander heard me playing one day and asked me ‘what are you doing here?’ We started dual streaming and talking about the jam. At the Montreal jam, Tamra met Funkyfreddy Republic and began recording and dual streaming with him.
Tamra has been to eight or nine jams. She believes they were a great way to connect and deepen her virtual experience.
How often she performs in Second Life depends on her real life schedule. Until recently, she was performing three times a week, but now she prefers four to eight times a month. During Christmas time, she managed to go on a virtual stage sixteen times.