After Pandemic Pivoting to Launch a Catering Business, Cindy Goldfield Returns to The Stage
by Edward Guthmann
When COVID hit early last year, Cindy Goldfield was rehearsing Nine to Five at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. She was playing Violet Newstead, the role Lily Tomlin made famous, and feeling “very excited” about the work when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 19, 2020.
Immediately, Nine to Five folded. “It was heartbreaking,” Goldfield, a veteran San Francisco actor/director, says. “We sat around thinking it was going to be a two-week break, and then realized we weren’t going to have any work for a long time.”
It didn’t take her long to map out a Plan B. Goldfield was in a “relatively new” relationship with Willi Nordby, an executive chef, and together they created Martha Avenue Foods, a catering and food delivery service. They launched the company on April 5, two and a half weeks after lockdown went into effect.
Nordby and Goldfied.
“I put it out on Facebook,” Goldfield recalls. “ ‘Hey, we’re gonna do this thing and we’ll deliver all over the Bay Area. No single-use plastics; we’ll pack everything in jars or compostable containers.’ I have a large group of friends and they were very supportive and that’s how it started.”
For extra zest, Goldfield called on her friend D’Arcy Dollinger, owner of the Oasis nightclub, who engaged a cohort of drag queens to deliver Martha Avenue meals every Friday—a gimmick that drew attention from the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN. “We provided the food and D’Arcy provided the queens,” Goldfield says.
On her blog, Goldfield promoted the business and described “what it was like to start this little business out of our house, turning our dining room into a pantry and laying out tables through the living room. It was kind of intense—a remarkable year.”
Goldfield, 58, grew up in the small town of Point Reyes Station (her mother still lives there with two donkeys and several chickens), studied theatre at UC Irvine and has worked as a Bay Area actor, director, voice-over artist, make-up artist and events producer for more than 30 years. She lives in Glen Park with Nordby and her two sons. As we spoke, she was baking sourdough bread and Anadama bread in her kitchen. Even on the phone, Goldfield’s effusive, can-do spirit comes through like a bolt of energy.
Goldfield. Photo by Suzie Shepard.
She has reason to be jazzed. In October, for the first time since the stay-at-home order, Goldfield is acting on stage and having to split her attention between catering and theatre. She’s playing Madame Armfeldt, an aging, brittle ex-courtesan in the 42nd Street Moon staging of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. It runs through Nov. 21 at the Gateway Theatre.
Goldfield was offered the role, no audition required, when another actress dropped out two weeks before rehearsals began. A text arrived from 42nd Street Moon’s producing artistic director Daren A.C. Carollo. “I was in the middle of a meeting and I was like ‘What’s up?,’ ” she recalls. “And he texted me back and said, ‘We know you’re too young, but would you play Madame Armfeldt?’ I was like, ‘Of course. I’m thrilled to get back to work!’ ”
Carollo says he instantly thought of Goldfield when the other actress departed: “Cindy is awesome onstage and off. She is an S.F. legend. Her bag of tricks is massive; her range is limitless. And she is one of the kindest, most generous actors/humans you will ever meet.”
Following A Little Night Music, Goldfield has three more gigs lined up. In June she’ll play Carlotta in Sondheim’s Follies at SF Playhouse, and before that she’s set to direct two shows: a staged reading of Living Large, a new musical about 1930s film actress Marie Dressler, at Potrero Stage in December; and A Grand Night For Singing, a Rodgers & Hammerstein revue, at 42nd Street Moon in March.
So what happens to Martha Avenue Foods, now that Goldfield is acting and directing again? “We’re sort of shifting the weight of the business,” she says. “When we started, I took care of all the correspondence and bookkeeping, plus the shopping and delivering and baking. Now Willi is doing the shopping and occasionally some of the baking. He’s an executive chef and when he goes back to work we’ll make some decisions.”
Coming back to the theatre after 19 months, she says, felt profound. “I came to realize, more than I had before, that theatre has always been a source of safety and comfort to me. My childhood was filled with uncertainty and trauma, and in the theatre I think I found a world where everyone knows where they fit in, what’s expected of them, who to turn to for help. And it’s all held together with layers of ritual, practice, and history.
“I’ve noticed that I’m aware of how precious each of the rituals is: prepping for an audition, the feelings around getting offered a job, highlighting lines, first read-throughs, tech rehearsals, setting up the dressing-room table space, the feeling of sitting in the wings waiting to go on. Noticing the back sides of the flats, the lights streaming onto the stage, the other actors dressed in their costumes all facing the stage in anticipation.”
At the first preview for A Little Night Music, all of that came flooding back. “It was a palpable feeling of relief and joy. More than one of us was fighting back tears.”
Edward Guthmann is a journalist, author and former staff writer/film critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. Go to www.EdwardGuthmann.com.