There is a light inside Marissa Rosen that shines whether you see her on stage, in a concert, or run into her on the subway. She is truly a beacon of joy. She’s also one of the most in-demand performers in New York . When I first interviewed her in 2012, she talked about how, in her opinion, Bette Midler was the ultimate diva. “She created something out of nothing. People said she wasn’t pretty, she couldn’t sing, and wasn’t talented but she went to the gays, as we all do, she found her niche and created this powerhouse talent.”
The truth is, I and everyone who works with her knows that Marissa Rosen is a powerhouse talent unto her own. Today, we talked about finding yourself and how there’s no time limit on your dreams.
From the outside looking at your social media, you seem so busy. It seems like you’re always singing in a concert, doing a reading, booking a show. And you seem really happy doing all of it. Do you feel that way?
Yes, in the very best way. I feel like I definitely set my mind to making this year about me. You can feel selfish making things about you but it’s really about prioritizing self-love and self-care in all aspects of your life. My career, my fitness, my sleep patterns. I feel like all of that has translated into me being more open and available to my family, my friends and my business. Especially in a business where you always have to be seen and always have to be heard, I feel like this year I’ve been a part of so many projects I’m proud of and I’m not doing them just to be seen or heard. I’ve been able to be a part of so many readings, recordings, concerts, and productions that have sort of been like dominoes. A week before one gig would end, another would pop up. It’s been a busy year.
When you were younger, you dreamed of being a performer as an adult. Are you, today, living the dream you had when you were younger?
Looking at it right now, I’m living better than I ever thought I would. When you’re young, you have that one big dream. I feel like if your dream is to be a singer, you want to be Frank Sinatra or Cher or Bette Midler. As a performer, you want to be Ethel Merman on Broadway and sure, that’s what I saw as the dream then too. But I’ve got to say, my dreams over the past decade have been to work, to be artistically fulfilled, and to be respected and I do feel I’m doing all of those things. So young Marissa never would have foreseen that this life was an option; to be so creatively active in so many projects while still feeling fulfilled.
You mention Ethel Merman on Broadway. Is that particular stage still on your list of goals?
The goal is absolutely Broadway. Not only for the credit and the consistency of work, but I want young Marissa to know we did it. It doesn’t feel so far away anymore. It feels like I’m actually waiting for the right thing for me. I feel like in our heads, we tell ourselves we need to be on Broadway by 18 or 20 or 25 but for me, my type is very unique so I will either be this bizarre thing that’s typed exactly into a show or I’m going to live my dreams in my 40s and 50s. But I’ve lost that sense of time constraint so there’s truly no limit on when I get there.
Was there a point where you came to that “the limit does not exist” moment?
I think as I started to be surrounded by people who were in Broadway shows, they said to me, in the most positive way, it’s not the end-all, be-all. Some even said that though they’ve been in 12 Broadway shows, they wish they were doing what I’m doing. I realized what I was doing was stretching me as an artist, putting me in front of the people who need to see me, and making me happy. I have a really great friend who’s been a mentor to me for many years, Doug Shapiro, and he always says that whenever you take a gig, you need to have two out of these three absolutes: it needs to be good for your heart, good for your wallet, or good for your resume. I do usually think when it’s not good for your heart, you should think hard about it, but if the job isn’t two out of those three, then let it go. Saying no was the hardest lesson to learn. You get to a point where people ask you to do things and you want to do everything for everyone but in doing so, you lose yourself, your sanity, and your ability to give your all because you’re being spread so thin.
You work with a lot of people who are considered big names, above-the-title type people. Is there anything specific you’ve learned from being around these people who’ve worked for so long?
They’re just like us. I’ve been able to surround myself voluntarily and sometimes involuntarily with the best people who are some of the biggest names in the business and to be able to forget that, to forget they’re a big name, has been my favorite part. I guess how I feel about being friends with people who are of higher profile is exactly how I feel about being friends with people who are not higher profile: you can be proud of your friends at any stage in their career and they can be proud of you at any stage in yours. There’s room for everyone. The people in my life, they’re the ones who’ve really taught me there’s no time limit for my dreams.
What fills your soul?
Oh gosh. Cliché answers: my family, my extended family which is the family we choose, and singing. Down time and alone time too. I sit on my couch and watch trashy TV. If I have a moment of nothing, I watch trashy TV and get takeout.
Aside from how you take care of yourself as a self, how do you take care of yourself as an artist?
I think it is so hard to take care of yourself all of the time. There are so many elements whether it’s weather or New York or stress or things outside of my control. But I think I’ve learned what my body needs—which is a relatively new concept for me. Sometimes we just do until our body says no. I’ve learned my body needs rest; I need to sleep. Nutrition also changes everything. It’s hard because we can’t always control our settings but learning to take care of my instrument is an ever-changing and evolving process.
You’re arranging and singing background vocals for Scott Nevins’ Sparkle for the Actor’s Fund. How does that challenge you in a different way than performing does?
Oh it challenges me extensively. Marty Thomas has been a giant pioneer in not only my career but also my mental health in knowing what I can do. When we were doing Diva, he entrusted me so much with vocals and harmonies, music stuff I’ve loved since high school. Not only did he teach me I was good at them but he taught me that I could create them. Scott was one of the first people who’ve asked me to do it as a full concert. It’s such a challenge because not only are you creating an arrangement or working off of one that exists, but you’re teaching the music and making the lead singer feel comfortable. It’s been a new, extension of my career that’s challenged me musically and I love it.
We first met when you were doing Diva. What was the biggest thing you learned about yourself doing that show every week?
It taught me who I was as Marissa. Diva was the first time I was hired to be myself on stage. That terrified me. It’s not that I didn’t know how to be me, but on stage, I was so used to being an exaggerated cartoon of myself and Marty really worked with me on just being me. Being Marissa. Wake up in the morning and put on sweatpants Marissa. I was honing the skills that me-Marissa is going to make the right choice on stage as opposed to character-Marissa has helped me with every career path I’ve been on since. It taught me to have fun on stage, to interact, to include the audience, and it taught me that curves are beautiful. I was so embraced into that world that I don’t understand how my life could’ve been as good without it.