How Did It Come To This?
My theatrical inclinations started at a very early age. As a toddler I would dance around the living room to The Nutcracker. (My favorite was the Russian candy cane dance.) From there I began directing puppet shows with my beloved Beanie Babies. I built sets out of painted cardboard, wrote scripts and tied strings around their bellies so I could move them around while performing all of the parts.
Middle school brought about an obsession with Gilbert and Sullivan. For an annual talent show, I shocked my school when I cross-dressed in a kimono and full make up to sing “Three Little Maids From School.” I even got into our local G&S company’s production of The Sorcerer auditioning with “I Am The Very Model of The Modern Major General.”
In eighth grade my mom, realizing I hated camping, suggested I take tap dance classes instead of boy scouts. I was well on my way to becoming an Eagle scout and had no intention of giving up. That is, until I did my first shuffle ball-change. So long scouts!
In high school I was Mr. Extracurricular. I did plays, modern dance concerts, voice lessons, tap dance and cello lessons. But it hadn’t yet occurred to me that I could do theatre for a living. Both my parents are classical musicians and I was going to be a cellist. By my junior year I was practicing cello two hours a day, concertizing with a piano trio and playing a concerto with the Duke University String School.
On a whim I went to Perry Mansfield Performing Arts School & Camp after my junior year of high school. The musical that summer was Grease and I spent a long time preparing my audition. I performed Lucky’s stream-of-consciousness monologue from Waiting For Godot, which I did at breakneck speed with a hint of Tourettes, paired with a full out song and tap dance of Snoopy’s Supper Time. I later learned that the faculty found my audition terrifying, but they took pity and cast me as Eugene. I was disappointed. “Didn’t they know I was a big star!?”
The light bulb moment happened that summer in Burgess Clark’s advanced acting class. My friend Darren and I presented a scene between Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting For Godot. (I happened to have the script handy thanks to my monologue selection.) We did it once and it was fine. Then, Burgess asked us to do it again, “except don’t act.” That’s all he said. “Don’t act.” We did it again and afterwards he asked, “How was that?”
I broke down. I was overwhelmed by the perfect simplicity of acting. As I lay there bawling on the floor, I remember thinking to myself, “This is worth devoting my life to.”
P.S. My Eugene in full boy scout attire totally stole the show.
Light Bulb Moment
Six months later I was in Chicago for the National Unified Auditions. For this event, theatre conservatories from all over the nation rent a room at the Palmer Hilton Hotel and hundreds of high school hopefuls fly in to audition.
I prepared two songs that I thought were obscure gems; selections that would make the auditors sit up in their seats. For my up tempo, Tonight At Eight from She Loves Me. For my ballad, On The Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady.
One of my first auditions was for The Hartt School, a conservatory in Hartford Connecticut offering a BFA in musical theatre. I was standing outside the room, relatively calm, when the guy before me went in and sang Tonight At Eight. “Hey, that’s my song!” I was a little shaken. Then he sang his second song, On The Street Where You Live.
In the span of about ten seconds, I went through the five phrases of grief.
Denial: “That didn’t just happen. I must have heard wrong.”
Anger: “How could he do this to me!?”
Bargaining: “Maybe if I make a joke about this when I go in there it won’t be weird.”
Depression: “I’ll never get into college. . .”
Acceptance: “All I can do now is go in there and be myself.”
Seven months later, in September of 2009, I started my first day at The Hartt School.
The Hartt School
Musical theatre conservatory was like Hogwarts. It was “school,” but all of your classes are awesome! A typical day at Hartt started at 8:30 AM with ballet, followed by an acting class until noon. After lunch, a jazz class, music theory and theatre history. Then time for a quick dinner before rehearsals from 7:00-10:30 PM. Finally, back home to do as much school work as possible before falling asleep. For a workaholic like me, this schedule was a joy.
At school I found that musical theatre is a perfect fit for me. I love being able to combine my passion for acting, music and dance into one art form.