Sara Bareilles on how 'Waitress' saved her life and why aging in public makes her 'rageful'

As Bareilles reemerges to promote 'Waitress: The Musical' the week of her 44th birthday, she reveals why "it's not comfortable to age in front of everybody."

Sara Bareilles.
Sara Bareilles. (Getty Images)
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In 2012, Sara Bareilles had just uprooted her entire life — leaving her longtime manager, her band of 10 years and her romantic partner of six years, and relocating from Los Angeles, where she’d lived for 15 years, to New York City. “I had just wiped the slate clean and was kind of doing a grand experiment,” the singer-songwriter tells Yahoo Entertainment. It was then that she got a fateful call from veteran Broadway producers Barry and Fran Weissler and director Diane Paulus to write the music for a theater adaptation of the 2007 Keri Russell film Waitress, and the Tony-nominated product turned out to be a “a lifesaving experience” and what Bareilles now calls “the centerpiece of my life.”

Upon watching the Waitress indie movie, written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly, which Bareilles found “raw and funny and human and strange and unusual” and “deeply feminist,” she was immediately inspired to write her first song for the Waitress musical. As Bareilles describes it, “She Used to Be Mine” was “as much a diary-entry song for me as it was for Jenna,” the titular character who finds herself “living inside this life she doesn’t quite recognize” when she finds out she’s pregnant. Now, seven years after its Great White Way premiere, the Waitress story is back on the big screen this week via a filmed Broadway production, with Bareilles reprising her lead role as Jenna Hunterson. The new film’s five-night run premieres on Dec. 7 — Bareilles’s 44th birthday — and she admits that she still has her self-questioning “She Used to Be Mine” moments.

“Honey, do you know anybody who isn't constantly like, ‘Who am I and what am I doing here? What is my life?’” she laughs. In fact, this new cycle of promotion for the Waitress film, in which she's been “spending more time in hair and makeup, spending more time trying to put on clothes that feel cute or look cute — a whole element of my life that in my normal day-to-day I don’t spend any energy on,” has caused her to experience a crisis of confidence. Bareilles recently took to Instagram to confess that she had been “majorly activated” and “crying for the past 36 hours” over “insidious” beauty standards.

“I’ve been a little bit in the public eye about aging. And I’m at a lot of crossroads in my life about where I’m at … and I want to be someone who is willing to be exactly who I am,” Bareilles posted. “I want to stop fixating on some unattainable sort of bulls*** beauty standard. I want it to stop taking up so much space in my brain. And I want to talk about it ... because I think there is some healing to be had.”

Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment, Bareilles elaborates: “Some of what ends up on your plate if you’re a public-facing person is these moments where you’re promoting something and getting your picture taken or doing interviews, and it’s tricky because on the one hand, it’s really exciting to promote something you love. But you might be going through, as a person, a time in your life where you’re feeling like, ‘I would really rather not be on display right now’ — but that’s not really possible. I think when I get into a press cycle, really what I notice is a pattern of insecurities kick up. I get very self-conscious, really aware. So, I had a moment where I started feeling frankly a little rageful for women who are at this kind of crossroads of age. We get into this phase of starting to be very self-critical and almost feeling like we’re trying to hide the fact that we’re getting older from everybody else! And it makes me rageful, because it’s something we’ve been taught to do, as if we are doing something that’s unnatural, when [aging] is the most natural thing in the world.

“And because I’m someone who has dealt with a tremendous amount of anxiety and depression in my life, this is a place of learning to love who I am in every moment and every iteration and every way that I show up. This is something I have to work really hard at,” Bareilles — who entered the public spotlight relatively late in life by pop-star standards, releasing her first album at age 27 — continues. “So, to watch myself kind of fall apart over wrinkles on my forehead, I’m like, ‘What is going on here? What is happening?’ Because you think you’re evolved out of something, and it turns out it could blow you over with a feather.”

Bareilles cites "badass women" Jamie Lee Curtis, Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson and Justine Bateman as her aging role models, “women who are talking about, ‘What are we doing? Can we just be? Can you just leave us alone?’ I feel right now a real kinship with that. I don’t want to pretend like it’s comfortable — the real truth is that it’s not comfortable to age in front of everybody. But I’m doing it anyway and I’m trying to just be honest about the way it feels. I’m 44 in a handful of days, and I’ve always felt very resolved to be like, ‘I’m not lying about my age.’ I’ve never lied about my age. I don’t buy into that bulls***. It feels like another way to make women small, and I'm just not into that. So, it might be uncomfortable sometimes. It’s like, ‘Man, I’m feeling really self-critical, and I don’t want to be.’ That’s not what's important. What is important is that I did this beautiful theater piece that I’m being acknowledged for, and I want to be joyful about that. I don’t want to be a person who’s cutting myself down. I don’t want to be that, but it’s hard.”

Bareilles admits that the new live-capture of the Waitress stage production, which features many tight close-ups of her not looking her most glamorous in Jenna’s dowdy uniform, scrubbed face and pulled-back ponytail, made her go “through plenty of feelings about, ‘Oh my God, now I’m really looking at myself!’ But the more I just allow a peacefulness to be also what’s there, instead of only focusing on what I feel critical of, it starts to widen the aperture of what you’re taking in. And I think that I can look at this movie and just be so proud of it, and I don’t have to love every single shot. I can just love that this movie exists. It’s a love letter to this project that totally changed the trajectory of my life.”

Bareilles has every reason to be proud, because certain messages of Waitress resonate even more now that they did in 2007 or 2016. In light of the recent rolling back of women’s reproductive rights, Bareilles says it’s “really radical” to watch Jenna “not want to be pregnant and really struggle with this and learn to love herself and love her baby, and not have it feel sort of religious or finger-wagging. It feels really empowered and felt really human. It’s meant to be a [show] about choice. … One of the early scenes is Jenna in the doctor’s office and he says, ‘Well, our clinic doesn’t perform abortions,’ essentially. He doesn’t say the word ‘abortion,’ but he says, ‘We don't perform…’ and she cuts him off and she says, ‘Oh no, I’m keeping it — not that I judge that!’ And that was a line that our scriptwriter, Jessie Nelson, was really adamant about. We really wanted to preserve the fact that from our perspective, this woman is making a choice that is her choice, is hers to make, even though she knows she’s very conflicted about it. And when the Roe v. Wade stuff was coming around again, I do remember audiences starting to clap at that line. You could feel the feminists in the audience that were like, ‘F*** yeah,’ essentially.”

And going back to the themes of both body image and enjoying life’s every moment, at any age, Bareilles loves that Waitress — which tells the story of how Jenna bakes pies to escape from everyday life — “reminds us that food is not an enemy. That’s not to say that eating too much sugar won’t f*** you up, but there’s really so much baggage, especially for women, around this stuff. We have to just continually remind ourselves to put that aside. Have a f***ing cookie. Or have a piece of pie! I mean, we are here for five minutes on this Earth.”

Waitress: The Musical runs in theaters for five nights only starting Dec. 7, Bareilles’s 44th birthday. For tickets, click here.

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