PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Wesley Taylor, Performing Broadcast at the O'Neill Theater Center
By Sophia Saifi
Broadway and "Smash" star Wesley Taylor talks with Playbill about returning to The Eugene O’Neill Theater, the demise of "Smash," his big dreams and why he tweeted that he became pregnant at Penn Station.
Actor Wesley Taylor was voiceless for the first couple of days he was at The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, yet every time he was in rehearsals for the musical Broadcast, his animated mimes brought his characters to life.
That’s just what Taylor does: adapt and transform. The 26-year flits in and out of different performing mediums through which he has already established a solid career. He originated the roles of Franz in Rock of Ages as well as Lucas in The Addams Family and recently starred as Bobby in the Emmy-winning musical-drama "Smash." When he’s not on TV or stage, he’s writing, directing and starring in the critically acclaimed web series, "It Could Be Worse."
Taylor’s ability to transform is perfect for his role in Scott Murphy and Nathan Christenson’s multi-layered musical Broadcast, which is currently in development at The National Music Theater Conference. It spans a period of fifty years in the history of radio and requires Taylor to play a vast spectrum of characters.
Question: How did you end up being cast in Broadcast?
Wesley Taylor: I was at the O'Neill years ago. I did a show called Myth by John Mercurio and that was a great cast, a great experience, and I had a great time here. I wanted to always come back but it never worked out, schedule-wise. I met Joe Calarco, the director of Broadcast, at The Memory Show a few months ago and we got to talking and he told me there was a show he wanted me to do. Plus I'm close to Alan Filderman, who casts for the O'Neill. It just worked out timing wise. I read the script and I loved it, so I came.
Question: What are you thoughts on Broadcast?
Taylor: First of all it is one of my favorite marriages between book and music. A lot of times in a musical you have a very strong score with sort of a flimsy book or maybe a conceptually strong story with not much music-wise. With Nathan (Christensen) and Scott (Murphy), both the book and music excite me.
Question: Why do they excite you?
Taylor: They ask a lot of questions. The show itself has a lot of messages about technology, how we connect to each other. What technology has done in a positive way for saving lives, and communicating, and connecting with each other, and how it has disconnected us as a people, and brought us further away from each other. It’s a series of vignettes with all these different characters and all these different stories and it's something I really enjoy in a story because pacing-wise, it just flows. It’s exciting.
Question: You're quite involved with social media as well, right?
Taylor: Yes, I am. Basically Mitchell Jarvis, my best friend, and I met doing Rock of Ages together, the original Off-Broadway production. We started doing backstage mockumentary videos because the producers gave us these flipcams to advertise the show to put up on its website. We were just like, "This is really boring, filming each other, just eating sandwiches on our lunch break." We thought we should be funny, do something creative with it.
The Addams Family was a year and a half of my life, and after 400 performances it starts to get really hard to keep things fresh. It was sort of one of those things where I was desperate to create, to make things of my own and just own things. So then the two of us made "Billy Green," and it was again the two of just beginning to learn how to get better at a series, and then "It Could Be Worse" was born. Jacob Gordon, the central character of "It Could Be Worse" is a culmination of Mitch and I.
Question: A pushover?
Taylor: Well, in a lot of ways this doormat character, this pushover, that’s more of Mitch's struggle. My struggle is not to say, "I'm the victim, I'm the victim." But it seems in a hilarious way that these situations and scenarios seem to constantly happen to me, and instead of quitting the business, I have decided to laugh at the humiliation and exploit it.
I am most attracted to embarrassment comedy in the first place. Like "Veep" and "Girls" and "Louis" and "Curb" [Your Enthusiasm), and all these shows that are my templates. It's basically one of those things where Mitch and I were just like, "Why don't we just actually tell all these stories that we have been experiencing?" Change all the names and change all the details. There are a lot of people who know the truth behind some of these stories and it has been fun.
Question: You get to have the coolest people to guest star on "It Could Be Worse" and some of these people are from "Smash." What was your experience like on the show?
Taylor: I loved working on the show I think that it is really tough and really challenging when you are a television show on a broadcast network. There is so much money at stake that there are so many chefs in the kitchen. One creative decision has to get the approval of 20 different people and those people all have different tastes. How can you ever honor the integrity of a creative decision from the beginning to the end? It’s almost impossible.
Unfortunately I think if "Smash" was on Showtime, things would have been different, like it was originally was supposed to have been, and then on NBC things were very out of people’s control. It is hard to track where it all went wrong.
Taylor: Yeah, more or less. I had a great experience and I feel like every project I have been a part of, I can take so much from, and still there will be politics in every project that I am ever in. No matter how excited you are for any project that you book after a month or two of doing it, it becomes a job. I don't want to talk about the drama but of course there was drama. But it did so much good for the theatre community; it employed so many New York actors, especially actors in the community. It was the "Law and Order" for musical theatre, and I just feel like it's sad that it won't have a longer life because of these reasons and not because it wasn't accurate and authentic. No, it was a romanticized idealistic world of Broadway for the whole country, the whole world to enjoy.
Question: In your latest tweet. You said you were pregnant. Explain!
Taylor: I'm pregnant because I went to Penn Station to get on the train to come to the O'Neill and I saw a woman on the corner of the street, crying. She was on the phone and she was just crying and she looked so distraught and I was staring at her and I started imagining what she was crying about, and then I started crying over this fictional scenario that I had made up in my head. I thought to myself, "Why am I so hormonal right now? Why am I a pregnant woman?" That’s why I tweeted that.
Question: Are you a Twitter addict?
Taylor: I love Twitter! A lot of people knock Twitter. I think it is a beautiful creative outlet. With Facebook, all of my family is on it, when I go on it, I am overwhelmed by all of the information coming at me. The statuses, the videos, the pictures, I can't take it. With Twitter, you are challenged to make someone smile, or laugh, or chuckle, based on one sentence. That’s a fun daily sort of challenge.
Question: Is musical theatre your main focus of attention, career-wise?
Taylor: Honestly, I go where the work is and it just happens that a lot of music theatre work comes to me. It's not what I prefer; I just prefer good material, I would probably choose a play over a musical. I just don’t necessarily enjoy all the technical demands, which you have to cater to.
For example, I came to the O'Neill and in the first half of the week here, I had lost my voice. That was very difficult for me. No matter how good an actor you are, you are limited by your instrument and by your physical capacity. That is why a lot of people say that the musical theatre form is the highest and hardest form of performance, and they're right. First and foremost, I am an actor and a creator and I am very interested in writing and creating.
Question: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Taylor: I dream of being the next Tina Fey or Lena Dunham. An artist is never satisfied and we always want more. It is a healthy ambition and we have to be careful to keep it healthy, but I always want more. Ideally the career would be that I’m lead of a cable hour drama or comedy, and on the hiatus I go do a Broadway show. That would be the life. What's even better than that? If I wrote that show, and created it, as well as starred in it. I have a lot of dreams.
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