Sara Dobbs is one of the singing servers at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, the landmark retro-themed diner on the corner of Broadway and 51st Street. She is also performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the American Globe Theater, beginning March 10.
How old are you, what do you do, where do you live, where are you from?
I’m 22. Here, I’m a singing waitress, and I’ve been doing this for a year. Other than that I’m an actress. I audition a lot. I live right above Central Park, and I’m from St. Louis, Missouri.
A few for you:
How did you become a singing waitress?
You have to audition. I moved here, and my friend that had been living here for a while knew of this place and she said, “Just go audition. It’ll be fun and you’ll make a lot of money.” So I came in and got the job the first day I moved here.
Do you ever get sick of the old-timey music?
Oh my god. Yes! I do get very sick of the 50s and 60s. But the managers are pretty lenient and they’ll let us sing anything that’s a crowd pleaser. So we’ll do the 80s and some Broadway. So yes and no… the background music plays when we’re not singing. There’s only a few CDs and we know every song by heart. We hear “Great Balls of Fire” like 50 times a day.
If you could change up the music for one night, what would we hear?
Something completely opposite. The Muppets? I don’t know, something like Nirvana or Pearl Jam. Something completely different.
Could you tell us about your work outside of Stardust?
I’ve been working with a theater company Off Off Broadway. It’s called the American Globe theater, they do a lot of classic plays. Mostly Shakespeare, obviously. I did Juliet in Romeo and Juliet there and I’ Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I did the USO, some shows in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and I did Crazy for You at the Palace Theater.
It’s kind of a cliché that all waiters are actors—Yeah, and here’s it’s ten times more obvious.
How many singing waiters/actors are there here?
30 to 40. There’s some turnover but there’s also people who’ve been here for a while. If you can manage it, if you can find your happy place – because it’s hard to work here because it’s so crazy. They’re really understanding about letting us leave and comeback. That’s a good way to manage the stress of this place. Get a show for a couple of months somewhere else. And they’re all very welcoming here. And I love everyone on the staff. It’s like a bizarre family. We all do the same thing. It’s really easy to understand each other. Some people don’t really understand the life of an actor, and we all know what everyone’s going through.
Are all the guests tourists?
Mostly tourists and parties. We get people from all over the world.
Any Broadway stars ever stop by?
We had Rosie O’Donnell one day and she was into it. We were all singing and she’s on the table dancing and singing along. Jenny McCarthy comes in with her daughter periodically.
What are you acting aspirations? Broadway?
You wouldn’t believe how hard this is, but just to be able make a living acting. Doing commercials, whatever, not having to do anything else. As long as I love what I’m doing, it doesn’t matter. I want to get into commercials, and I’ll tell you why: the most money is in commercials, ironically. But eventually I’d like to open my own theater company and do my own shows.
After a year here, what advice do you have for an aspiring actor first arriving in New York?
I would say be patient. It seriously takes a long time. You cannot beat yourself up. You just have to keep going to auditions, going to dance class. Doing what you need to do, but not freaking out when you’re not Liza Minelli.
What do you love and hate most about the diner?
I love the other people on the wait staff. They’re my best friends in New York. I hate the atmosphere sometimes. The loud music, you can’t hear anyone talking. I don’t want to make anybody feel bad. A lot of people come in that don’t know that tipping is customary in the United States.
What do you think of Mayor Bloomberg?
I don’t agree with a lot of what he does. The stadium— I know it would generate a lot of money, but I’m not a fan. Think about the traffic. Such a bad idea. The subway, I think he’s doing a horrible job. Though it’s not so much him as the MTA. But the idea of selling the subway stations? No. I’m not a huge fan.
If you could pass a law to improve New York, what would it be?
I don’t know if it’s a law. But I have seen. There are a lot of buildings where the structures are fine but they’ve been condemned or abandoned. I really think that someone needs to fix them up enough so we can put the homeless people in there. Maybe instead of a stadium! It breaks my heart, and what can somebody like me possibly do but give them a dollar?
Favorite bar or restaurant?
Oh my god! I have a few. I love Rudy’s. it’s cheap and I know it’s disgusting but I love hole-in-the-wall bars. That’s really fun. I love Vintage. I love their strawberry martinis. We stay around here mostly, because we get off work late. I don’t live in Queens but my favorite bar to go to is the Beer Garden. I love it. I take the train out there, you know – not that Queens is that far away. I love that place, especially in the summer. It’s open and outdoors and so much fun.
Most romantic place to take a date?
I love Central Park.
What’d you think of The Gates?
I appreciate the revenue it brought to the city, however, I had a hard time seeing its artistic integrity. It looked a lot like a construction site to me. I know it was his own money, but if he wanted to give something great to New York, he could have done something else. I’m not going to say I know what that should’ve been, but something else.
Best celebrity encounter?
The other day I went to Joe Allen’s the restaurant on 46th—my roommate works there. A lot of big stars go there when they’re doing a show, and Tim Curry, who is one of my favorite actors was there. I made my friend switch seats with me so I could just stare at him. I love him. The Rocky Horror Picture Show and, I’m sorry, but Muppet Treasure Island is one of my favorite movies. I loved his work in that.
If the world were ending tomorrow, how would you spend your last 24 hours in NYC?
I would wake up and go to brunch at a place called Amy Ruth’s, a soul-food little place right around my house that I love. I’d get the banana pecan and cinnamon waffles. They’re called the bad boy waffles. I’d walk through Central Park. I’d spend some time by the Imagine sign. I love that. I’d go down to the Village and get some coffee and go out hardcore that night. Probably to Lips, the drag bar, and do karaoke.