BWW Exclusive: Preview of INSIDE ACT: HOW TEN ACTORS MADE IT AND HOW YOU CAN TOO- with Tony Yazbeck!
Why do some actors make it and others don't? Ken Womble sets out to find the answer to this question, one that has fascinated and tormented him for years, in his new book, INSIDE ACT: How Ten Actors Made it and How You Can Too (Hansen Publishing Group, 373 pages, $24.99). To celebrate the release, BroadwayWorld will be featuring chapter previews from the new book. Today, hear from Tony Yazbeck!
INSIDE ACT: How Ten Actors Made it and How You Can Too identifies what sets successful actors apart. For Womble it's about the inner choices, the inside acts of working actors acts that have propelled them to thriving careers in one of the most competitive professions on the planet.
Tony was born in Riverside, California. Upon moving to Pennsylvania at age four, he started taking dance classes after watching Fred Astaire on television. He is now Broadway's foremost song and dance man.
Tony's Broadway credits include Chicago (Billy Flynn), Gypsy with Patti LuPone (Tulsa, Outer Critics Circle Nomination), Irving Berlin's White Christmas (Phil Davis), A Chorus Line (Al), Oklahoma!, Never Gonna Dance, and Gypsy with Tyne Daly at age eleven. Off Broadway credits include the Encores! productions of Little Me (George Musgrove), On The Town (Gabey), Gypsy (Tulsa), The Apple Tree, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Pardon My English, and Fanny Hill (York Theatre). Regional credits include On The Town (Barrington Stage), Far From Heaven (Williamstown Theatre Festival), Animal Crackers (Goodman), Irving Berlin's White Christmas (Paper Mill Playhouse), Sycamore Trees (Signature), Antony and Cleopatra (Hartford Stage), My One and Only (Goodspeed), Singin' in the Rain (MUNY), and Harmony (Alliance). TV and Film credits include: As The World Turns, All My Children, Smash, and Every Little Step. Tony serves on the panel and as a master teacher for The National Young Arts Foundation.
There's a Higher Power Involved
[The following is an excerpt from the James Earl chapter in Ken Womble's INSIDE ACT: How Ten Actors Made It-And How You Can Too. It is available as a paperback and as an ebook. The entire Tony Yazbeck chapter is available as a separate ebook.]
Ken Womble: And after college, around 2000, you moved to New York and started working right away.
Tony Yazbeck: Yeah.
KW: Was there momentum going on there?
TY: You know it's interesting. Everything happens for a reason. I feel like God sort of blessed me right away. I went on a leap of faith. I left school after my third year. I was broke and I couldn't pay for school and I was sort of miserable with where I was in my life. I just lost some confidence.
And I left school and I had a hundred bucks on me and I called my drama teacher from high school and I said, "Is there anywhere I can stay?" because I didn't know anybody in New York at the time. She said, "I know this woman who went to the same high school as me and she lives in Queens and you can stay on her couch." So I go out there, I have my two bags and I walk in and she immediately said to me...it's just weird, she says, "Have you been seen or submitted for Annie Get Your Gun? there's a national tour going on of the Broadway show." And I said no. She said, "Well, I'm an agent. I'd love to submit you."
And I thought, "Wow!" I really had no idea. And I said, "Of course you could. That would be amazing." But I don't even think she knew what I did, or I just told her what I did and she saw that I had a good look for the stage. And I also had callbacks for two other shows that week, for Chicago and a callback to play opposite Angela Lansbury in The Visit. And within the next month I booked the national tour of Annie Get Your Gun with a full production contract, which I stayed with for eleven months.
That was the biggest, best thing that could have happened to me because I was fresh out of school. I was able to have an amazing experience on the road with all these great people, pay off my debt from college and then come to New York with enough money to get my own place. So that forwarded my career to where I was a little more confident, and I could really audition in New York and go for it.
KW: How do you prepare for auditions?
TY: I work my butt off. I don't even feel comfortable going in for auditions anymore unless I'm so prepared because I won't do my best work, and if I don't do my best work, I feel like I cheated myself. I try to make it so that there's no excuse I didn't get it, other than the fact that it's out of my hands. Other than it's my look or my type or it's just not right, you know, that kind of thing.
A lot of times now you're given the material for the show. You don't even sing your own thing anymore. So you're printing off maybe ten pages of sides and two songs. And I call a coach and pay somebody to help me through this music or I already know it. Or I work on it with a friend. I try to memorize as much as possible.
But at the end of the day, what I try to do is instill myself into the character as much as possible. Because they know after the first bar of music you can sing. They don't need to keep hearing that you can sing well. They need to know that there's somebody there. They want to know the truth. They want to see somebody who is going to move an audience. That's what's most important, you know. It doesn't matter that I kicked a leg as high as everyone else, it doesn't matter that I'm singing the best notes, it doesn't.
And I really believe that life experience has a lot to do with it. You're basically telling an audience that they're not alone and that this is real. And if you can do that, then I think you have a pretty good chance of getting a job.
KW: Was there a moment when you decided not to fall back, to be an actor and nothing else? And if so, what motivated that?
TY: I'll be honest, I might as well have been four-years-old when I knew this was all I wanted to do. You know, there's a girl in Every Little Step [a documentary film Tony appeared in] who says, "If you know you're going to fall back, you'll probably fall back."
TY: And she's kind of right, you know? The truth is you've got to be so set and so confident in knowing that-and I tell this to students all the time-"If you love what you do so much and you feel compelled to do it and there's a passion and there's a fire burning in your heart to do it, you're probably meant to do it." There's some kind of force that says you have a mission to do this; which means you're probably going to succeed, as long as you are focused and going in the right direction to do it.
And that's kind of a faith way of looking at it, sure. But for me to have a four-year-old mentality of, "I want to dance, I want to dance, I want to dance," it's just mysterious to me. And there wasn't really another thing in my head of what would I do.
There are people in this business, and I know some of them, that do it for the fame and do it for the money, and they're trying to get ahead, and they don't even know why the heck they're doing it. And it's sad because they're not open in an audition room. They're not out there to change somebody's life and make some art happen on the stage. And that's just the wrong reason to be in this business. I think the more you just focus on work and you focus on art and you focus on creating, the money will just come.
And I know that's easy for me to say because I've been sort of blessed, but I really think that you have to have a sense of faith in this business because it's art, you know? Not like a daily job. You're not going to know that you have a salary coming in every week and that's just how it is. You've got to have a belief that this is going to happen. Or else, gosh, you're just going to worry yourself to death.
Jay Binder: Casting Agent
Ken Womble: When you first met Tony, what was your impression of him?
Jay Binder: I can't remember exactly when we met. You know, Tony defined the role of Al in A Chorus Line in a way that it had never been defined because in the original company Michael Bennett was thinking of cutting that number. And his masculinity paired with very good casting of Kristine [Chryssie Whitehead] made that number show-stopping.
And also, to have a real masculine Tulsa in Gypsy was what Arthur Laurents was looking for. Tony is incredibly smart about what he thinks is best for him, and if he respects you as a director, he's completely collaborative and really listens.
In Gypsy the "All I Need is the Girl" dance is designed for a very specific body type. So, what was wonderful was that Arthur Laurents, the director, realized how special Tony was and allowed him to make the minor adjustments that made it his.
He's a genuine actor and a leading man. He's no longer a juvenile. What becomes very difficult is for someone to redefine themselves-which his management team is working to do-into things other than musical theatre, because he certainly could have a TV series in a heartbeat.
And fortunately, because of the relationship, when I cast Tony in White Christmas the director, Walter Bobby, saw Tony for who he was and cast him in Chicago.
KW: That was his first lead in a major musical on Broadway.
JB: Right, although Tulsa being a supporting role and A Chorus Line-that's when he began to get noticed. He is a very serious young man who wants to do nothing but his very best, and I have such respect for that because he's a perfectionist. And I think that's incredibly important.
Richard Schmenner: Talent Agent
Ken Womble: Tony told me that one of the smartest things he's done is to decide not to take any more ensemble roles in musicals. Were you working with him then?
Richard Schmenner: Yes. We sat down with him and discussed that. It was like, "We want to get you out of the ensemble and into the principal player, leading role." And sometimes you have to be brave enough just to say no. We want people who have goals and obviously that's what Tony has in mind too. He wants to move beyond where he started.
KW: On Broadway, Tony played Al in the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line, and then Tulsa in the 2008 revival of Gypsy. Both are featured roles. In the Broadway musical world how difficult is it to move from ensemble to featured and leading roles?
RS: It's not easy. I think it takes a certain charisma, a certain drive. You know, I see a lot of shows, I look at a lot of people in a lot of choruses and you can spot the people who are just popping. I can usually tell if somebody can act if they just say one line because it's got to have a ring of believability to it. When somebody who has little stage time kind of captivates your eye and your ear, you know there's something beyond what they're doing now.
I mean there are so many chorus people. There are so many musicals. There are so few jobs beyond that. And so it's a very competitive world, and Tony has proven that he can move beyond that. He still has several mountains to climb, but he certainly climbed out of the ensemble.
KW: But did he do it by saying no, or just having faith, or the agency being aggressive in his career?
RS: I think it comes down to the person. You know, he just is a unique talent. I think we're aggressive in trying to get him in doors, but we can't get you the job.
Ken Womble interviews actors Debra Monk, Eric Ladin, Krysta Rodriguez, Tony Yazbeck, James Earl, Gary Beach, John Tartaglia, Robert Clohessy, Jose Llana and Richard Portnow about their inside acts, the important choices of their acting careers. The interviews explore the intriguing journeys that have led these actors to successful careers, and to Tony, Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Awards, the most prestigious acting awards in theater and television.
Actor interviews are followed by interviews with two of each actor's success team, the agents, managers, directors and coaches who know them well. Womble then identifies the actor's most frequently used actions, skills and beliefs the keys to each actor's success.
INSIDE ACT is available as a paperback and as an ebook. Each actor chapter is also available as individual ebooks. Click here to purchase now!