BWW Interviews: Debut of the Month - HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME's Joshua Boone
Joshua Boone is making his Broadway debut in the role of 'Darius' in Holler If Ya Hear Me, an original Broadway musical which gives voice to the lyrics of the late, legendary rap artist Tupac Shakur, and tells both a love story and a vivid picture of life on the streets.
Today, the talented actor talks to BWW about why he believes this exciting new musical is one of the most important pieces on Broadway right now and how his debut experience has left him "feeling numb"!
I understand you started off as a business major in college. How did you wind up graduating as a theater major?
Well, I have been acting my whole life but the first time I actually got on stage was in third grade, I played Davy Crockett during a summer school arts program. I don't know how I wound up getting the lead, but they cast me as Davy Crockett and I remember after I said my very first line, "Brr, it's cold out there", with the coonskin hat on, the crowd just started laughing real hard, and I thought to myself, 'Wow, I never knew that people would react to what I was doing on stage.'
We moved around a lot and I did theater wherever I lived in Virginia, and I made decent grades when I was in high school, but I was scared to chose the arts to study in college because it doesn't really pay right out, not like a doctor or a lawyer. But all I wanted to do was act. I didn't even want to go to college, I was like, 'Mom, I'm going to California.' But she was against that, and rightly so, so I ended up being a business major at Virginia Commonwealth University. But the whole time I was literally steaming for the stage.
During my freshman year I was in the show 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' and they ended up casting me as a freshman, and as a business major and the theater students were not too happy about that! [laughing]. But of course they became my friends. And after that, I told my mom I was going to transfer out to California to do film and TV, but she said, 'Look, you're staying here, switch your major to theater, whatever you want.' She just wanted me to get a degree. So the very next year, my sophomore year, I became a theater major and that became my love, my true love and that was when my respect and appreciation for theater developed. And while I was in school I was always thinking, 'I have to be on Broadway, I have to be on Broadway,' and now by the grace of God, I'm up here in New York City and I'm on Broadway!
At what point in the show's journey did you become involved?
Last year during the workshop. I auditioned for the workshop that went up last June and that was a crazy audition process. I had seven auditions and my mother came back into the picture during that process as well, after the sixth audition. By that point they had said that was the final callback twice already, so I thought, 'ok, they're going to make a decision,' and then I get a phone call from my agent that they wanted to see me again, and my heart just dropped. You know, you work yourself up, you give it all you got and you feel like you did great, and that hopefully they liked what they saw and that you don't have to worry about it anymore, and then you get that phone call that you have to go back again.
And at first I wasn't even going to be able to make the third final callback, which would have been my seventh audition, because I was down in Florida, and I didn't have the money to pay for the flight. I called my mom and told her, 'I'm not going back in!' and she said, 'Oh, you're going back to the audition!' and she gave me the money for the flight. I have so much support and love from my family, and when she did that I was like, 'ok, I'm going back in there' and I guess they liked what they saw because they ended up casting me in the workshop and kept me on to Broadway, which I can't be more grateful for.
Were you auditioning for the role of Darius the entire time?
They initially sent me sides for Darius, but at one point they sent me sides for the role of Anthony, but I guess that got shut down quick! [laughing] But I couldn't be happier. I love playing this character.
Yes, I wanted to ask you about your character. How do you view him? Is he just confused, or is he really a good person who just hasn't figured out right from wrong?
You see that's the thing. I feel like he lives by a certain code that people in the neighborhood live by, and he wants to adhere to that code by any means necessary. And if someone doesn't live by that code he feels like they're the ones that are confused, they're the ones who are breaking rules here, that's not how it goes. So he's really acting from his heart but he doesn't always think clearly before reacting, that's what leads to what he considers the stakes, and what are the stakes in life. It's a very interesting set of problems.
Did you draw from your own personal experiences to bring him to life?
Well for me Darius is almost everything I've supressed about myself. Like sometimes you feel like telling people what you think but you don't do it because of respect reasons or out of fear of getting in trouble with family or friends or the law even. I feel like it's more of an emotional connection than a behavioral connection and in that vein, I believe everyone has a little Darius in them from time to time.
What do you believe is the main message of Tupac's music and do you think audiences will be able to appreciate the relevancy of it in today's times?
Yes, absolutely, they have to see the relevancy. I believe the main theme in Tupac's music and in this show essentially is love, unconditional love. When there is genuine love, the root of that is truth. And truth hurts sometimes, and love hurts sometimes. Truth can also be one of the most comforting things sometimes. And under truth and through truth, life itself is revealed. And everything that is going on in this show is happening today, right now in our country and all over the world. Tupac was a universal person, he was a giant and so are these issues. And he was not afraid to speak the truth. And he knew how that would affect people. Because when you hear the truth, either you're going to fight against it or you're going to embrace it. And it may cause you to walk away and it may cause you to cry or even smile.
It's crazy to think about the fact that we have this opportunity on Broadway to present something that's so real, so honest and so relevant today. There may be people who may not have experienced these stories elsewhere, and at the same time, some people will see themselves on stage, and say 'oh, that's me' or 'that's my friend up there' or 'I've been in this situation and I could have done this or that and this has helped me out so much.' I really believe it's one of the most important pieces on Broadway right now. Nothing against any of the other shows, but I know for a fact, this story at its core and what we are doing on stage is one of the most important things happening today in this country.
Yes, it is such a powerful show, and along those lines, it must be both physically and emotionally exhausting to do it eight times a week. How do you maintain that level of energy for each performance?
[Laughing] I try to eat as much as I can! You know I like to eat anyway. But it is a high energy show and it is exhausting emotionally and physically as you said, but I guess the most important thing is to keep your blood flowing throughout the whole thing, so actually, when I'm not on stage, I run the steps to my dressing room between scenes to keep the blood flowing. And at the same time, having the cast that we have, when we're all out there together, you can't help but have fun and have that energy and feed off of each other. It's crazy how natural it is. And it starts with each individual and what they bring to the table when they're on that stage.
So true! When the house lights came up after act one's closing number, 'Holler If Ya Hear Me', I was just left reeling.
Yes, it's wild, that's a wild number! And as exhausted as we know we'll be after that number, it is the number that many of us look forward to the most. We want that, we want the audience to feel that energy, and I look forward to that challenge night after night.
Well, you certainly succeeded the night I was there!
Thank you. [laughing]
So what has your experience been like making your Broadway debut in this extraordinary show?
That's a great question. I have to say that I'm blessed, first and foremost. And then, I feel numb, just to be honest, I feel numb. Coming in I was like, 'I want to take everything slow, I want to remember everything about my debut, from the very first rehearsal to the opening night, everything that goes on.' But since then I've just become numb to it all. I can see what's going on, but I feel like I'm not living it, and that's not a bad thing necessarily.
It's like 'wow, what is going on around me right now?' And then comes the realization that, 'hey, I am on Broadway and this is the big league of theater. Broadway is the NBA of theater. And I have my family and friends who remind me of that sometimes and I'm just like, 'wow I'm on a Broadway stage.' And I guess I'm in awe of the moment itself and I can't really speak on it in that regard. I know when the house is empty and I see all the seats and I say to myself, this is it, this is what we all work hard for, and I'm actually standing here in the middle of the stage, looking out on what will be the audience in a few hours or so.
And it's crazy, it's crazy. Maybe after opening night I'll be able to just sit back and say, 'ok, let me think about everything that just happened here' and go from there. Maybe I should write in a journal, and I don't ever write in a journal, but I'm going to have to write down what this experience has been like for me!
HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME began previews on Monday, June 2 and officially opened on Thursday, June 19th at the Palace Theatre (1564 Broadway at 47th Street). For tickets and additional information please visit: http://hollerifyahearme.com/#home
About Joshua Boone:
A native of Portsmouth, VA, Joshua Boone received his BFA in theatre performance from Virginia Commonwealth University. He was last seen in the 2014 Humana Festival production of Brownsville Song (b-side for tray) (Actors Theatre of Louisville). His TV credits include "Law & Order: SVU".
Photo Credit: Jennifer Broski
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus