In our new advice column, "Hey, Johnny!" (as in: stage door Johnny), an anonymous Broadway veteran answers the burning questions that might just be keeping your theatre-loving soul up at night.
How important is the "Broadway body"? I dream of one day singing and dancing my way to a lead role, but do I have a chance if I don't hit the gym first?
Thanks, Short and Stout
Dear Short and Stout:
It's that time of year again! The Christmas trees are heading to the curb and the Christmas revelers are heading to the gym. Or at least they're thinking about it, on their way to having just ONE more cookie, I swear.
Anyway, I'm with you. And I've chosen to answer your letter as the first of 2015 because so much of being a performing artist is about the instant impression you make when you walk through the door, which you seem to know. What you might now know is that you've actually asked me two questions: 1) Do I need to look a certain way to perform on Broadway? and 2) Should I hit the gym?
I'll answer the hard one, first, since I'm the world's greatest procrastinator and willpower is always greatest at the beginning of the year. (I read that in a scientific study somewhere, maybe when I was on the treadmill roughly a hundred months ago.)
The easy answer to the hard question: Yes, you should hit the gym, but not necessarily to grow tall and lean, Short and Stout. There's only a certain distance a body can go; no matter how deep we squat or how high we lift, most of us just aren't going to look like Nick Adams' Instagram feed. But that's okay — Wicked only needs one Fiyero and a couple of covers. The rest of that show, and indeed almost every show, is filled with people of all…"looks," is how we'll say it.
But I'm jumping ahead to the easy question — "Do I need to look a certain way to perform on Broadway?" — and I want to wrap up the answer to the hard one, first: I think you should go to the gym because, for many people, it serves as a kind of temple and community and place of consistency in the otherwise chaotic life of a performing artist. If you're not appearing in a show eight times a week, you've probably got yourself involved in a survival job of some sort — or jobs, plural. One gal I know makes money nannying, teaching yoga and occasionally running errands for fancy industry people whose apartments she likes to ogle. Also, I think she bartends once a month in Williamsburg. Regardless, it's what a lot of us gypsies do — we jump around in a low-commitment way so that on the day The Call comes from Bernie Telsey (or whomever), we're able to bounce right into our Broadway dream without the entire world crashing down all around us.
But Short and Stout, living with kind of inconsistency can wreak havoc on our personal lives, our mental health, and, yes, even our bodies. Maybe even especially our bodies. So, hit the gym to boost your endorphins, sure, but also to find a little groove and maybe even a great class around which you can kind of formulate some structure in your life.
On to the easy question, "Do I need to look a certain way to perform on Broadway?" The answer to which is a resounding YES — but not like how you might imagine. You "only" need to look like the incredibly buff and hairless title character in The Rocky Horror Show if that's the kind of role you're seeking. Otherwise, that particular musical like many others not only welcomes but instead requires a cast that looks not at all like drones. Uniformity is overrated, unless you're the Rockettes.
My advice, Short and Stout: you need to find maybe four performers who have traced really interesting trajectories (the Spencer Kaydens and the Christopher Fitzgeralds), and then find out how they did it. Google their backgrounds. Read some interviews. Rinse and repeat. The trick here is to find people who are in your wheelhouse—the performers whom your friends say you look or sound or move like and who have forged great careers not because they're step-off-the-runway flawless but because they're musical-theatre-fascinating. (Or, just throw out all the rules and blaze your own trail — but the more comforting path migh be to see that a person a little like you has knocked down that door already.)
The wonderful thing about theatre, Short and Stout, is that it's an industry built not around special effects but instead live-and-in-the-flesh people (except when it's about cats); and people look like, well, people. So go to the gym for release, and go to auditions to be you.
Oh — and go to Equinox if you want a discount; the initiation fee is waived for Equity members, which is the other wonderful thing about theatre.
Break a leg — and then ice it, afterward, Johnny
Send us your theatrical conundrums, and don't be afraid to dive deep. Johnny's got the time. Be warned, however: He talks straight and fast, and he's a little tired. Keep the questions vivid and you're more likely to keep him awake and get picked.