Tuesday, February 24, 2015

HOLAwave: How I Got To Broadway (Part 1)

[HOLAwave represents a series of guest blogs by industry insiders giving informative and educational tidbits for the Latino performer. They can range from acting and auditioning advice, tech tips, legal advice, marketing, producing tips, and so on. Get caught up in the wave– the HOLAwave.]


The cast of the musical
Fun Home (Joel Pérez
is at far left, standing).
Photo by Joan Marcus.
Hello, El Blog de HOLA! This is Joel Pérez here. You might recognize me from such films as Joel's First Birthday, or Joel Plays the Gingerbread Man in the 2nd Grade Play. That was some of my best work. But honestly, I'm insanely excited to make my Broadway debut with the incredible new musical, Fun Home. It's a wonderful show with some of the best people in the business. And somehow they let me sneak in. Maybe it's because I always bring snacks to rehearsal. Who knows?

Some people have asked me how I got to Broadway and the answer is quite simple: I moved to New York City, walked right up to the Broadway Employment Center and gave them my headshot and resume. The Broadway Labor Services Representative said, "You're in luck! We have SO MANY jobs for Latinos on Broadway that we're just handing them out to anyone who's even passably ethnic." What a treat, and ¡FUÁCATA!, Broadway happened. So yeah, that's how you get to Broadway. Good night!

Of course that is a total sack of dookie. The truth is, getting to Broadway is as elusive as the G train. But with perseverance, and luck, it can happen. Or maybe that's not your journey, and that's cool too.

For me it was a mix of many things. So I'll start at the beginning. 

(Cue violin music.)

My love for theater began at church. My father is a Pentecostal minister of a Spanish Assemblies of God Church in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and I think we can all agree that church is all about THEATRICS. So, from an early age I was singing and playing the drums in the worship team. I enjoyed telling stories, but I never saw performing as a viable life goal.

I went to a private Catholic high school with mostly white people and a theater program and all hopes of my becoming a doctor went out the window. Oops! I loved being on stage and being a part of an ensemble, but bright Puerto Rican kids can't be actors. You have to have a "real job," so I went to Tufts University for college and spent the first year still holding on the the delusion that I was supposed to be Pre-Med. But... then I got into a production of Hair, got naked on stage and was like, "Who the hell am I kidding?" I got into a conservatory program abroad called the British American Drama Academy in London and that sealed the deal. Being an actor is what I want to do.

After graduating Tufts, I spent a year in Boston doing theater and getting lots of experience in commercials and film. I knew that I wanted to move to NYC, but taking a year to build up my resume and figure out the kind of actor I wanted to be, was invaluable. I spent two summers at the Williamstown Theater Festival as both an apprentice and later as a part of the non-Equity company. (If you're a young actor looking to get some experience, I can't recommend this place enough. It changed my life.) 

The whole time I was living in Boston, I would drive down to NYC for auditions. I auditioned for EVERYTHING. I was that insane person who would show up to an audition at 5AM and would wait around all day with the hope of getting seen. And one day I did. It was a snowy day and I drove down to NYC to go to an EPA of In the Heights. I got there super early, signed up and waited. For a while. Sometime after lunch they were finally able to see some non-Equity actors and I went in there and gave what I thought was a really good audition. But I heard nothing back. So, I went back to Boston and kept working. 

About a year and a half later, I had already moved to NYC and had started acting with awesome companies like Pregones Theater. Rosal Colón and I would perform a show called Texting 4 Life in schools all around the Bronx. I was waiting tables and doing the grind when out of the blue I get a call from Telsey Casting asking me to come in and audition for the national tour of In the Heights. I dropped everything I was doing and after about 5 callbacks, I booked the job, my dream job.

But how does Fun Home factor into all of this? Well, after the tour was over, I was back in NYC, doing the audition game and was asked to participate in a Latino MixFest reading of the musical Kingdom at Atlantic Theater Company. If you're brown and do musicals, you've probably been in some version of Kingdom. The reading ended up being slightly derailed by Hurricane Irene, but I became very good friends with the book writer, Aaron Jafferis. Shortly after that reading he asked me to be a part of another musical he was working on called Stuck Elevator at the Sundance Theater Lab. Of course I said yes and we spent three weeks in Florida developing the show.

Lisa Kron and
Jeanine Tesori.
Unbeknownst to me, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron happened to be participating in the Sundance Theater Lab as well, developing their new musical, Fun Home. I had been a fan of Jeanine Tesori for years and was thrilled to have the opportunity to get to know her. And the structure of these Sundance Labs are such that you work during the day, but at night we have dinner together and socialize. I hit it off with Lisa and Jeanine and at one point they turned to me and said, "You should be in our musical. We already cast a reading we're doing soon, but we will definitely keep you in mind for the future." I smiled and was gracious, but didn't really think much of it. But about a year later, Fun Home was getting a proper workshop at the Sundance Theater Lab in Utah and I was asked to be a part of it. 

I set off for the mountains of Utah thinking, What the hell am I getting myself into?

To be continued....

Joel Pérez is a performer living in Brooklyn, NY. He's done work on TV in "Person of Interest" (CBS), "The Big C" (Showtime), and "Black Box" (ABC). He has toured nationally and internationally in In the Heights and Fame. He will star in the upcoming Broadway production of Fun Home after originating the role off-Broadway at The Public Theater. He has participated in developmental labs with the Sundance Theater Lab, Soho Rep, Atlantic Theater Company, and many others. He has also worked on several commercials and voice-overs. He's an ensemble member of Broken Box Mime Theater and Pregones Theater. He studied at Tufts University, The British American Drama Academy and Upright Citizen's Brigade. He is repped by BRS/GAGE and Abrams Artists Agency. For more information, click here.

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