BWW Interviews: Tyce Green Talks Exciting, New STRAIGHT FROM NEW YORK WORKSHOP AND CONCERT SERIES
There is always something exciting happening in Houston's theatre scene, and one of our latest additions is promising to promote education in the arts while offering exhilarating cabaret concerts as well. Recently, I caught up with locallyh based actor and producer Tyce Green at Empire Café on Westheimer Road to discuss his exciting, new Straight From New York Workshop and Concert series.
BWW: For our readers who may not be aware of the Straight From New York series, tell us a little about what it is.
Tyce Green: So, it's a workshop and concert series. Initially, there really was no vision actually. It's just this thing that sort of happened. It started with one artist who came in, Nancy Opel, to do a masterclass. Because of the response to that, it was clear to me that people needed something like that going on here in Houston. A few months later I thought "What could happen if there was someway to have an artist to do a masterclass and then turnaround and do a solo show?" It was just sort of blind ambition, and then I thought the perfect person to do that was Mary Testa. I've loved her for years and years and years.
From there I built this format of a really big artist who has a Tony nomination, a Tony award, or is at least really well known in the Broadway community coming down and teaching some masterclasses and then doing a solo show built around them. That's kind of the whole thing.
Ultimately, the answer is that it's a series designed to bring in the best Broadway stars from New York to Houston. They work with students and perform in a special show that can show Houston the amazing things that are happening in New York that aren't happening here, and it is what we'd like to have here.
BWW: So who is Tyce Green? Why is he qualified to host such a series?
Tyce Green: People mostly know me as an actor. I've done shows at TUTS. I'm a principal role in TUTS Underground's upcoming production of HANDS ON A HARDBODY. I have some sort of presence here, but you know I also spend so much time in New York. In fact, I'm about to start spending even more time there. I'm trying to do more projects on an acting basis, and I'm trying to teach more there. I want to be able to bring the knowledge of what's going on there down here to Houston. I'll physically be there, and I will be literally binging it down here. I'm going to be getting an essence of what's happening in New York and sharing that with Houston. New York will know what Houston is up to and Houston will know what New York is up to.
Also, I've been teaching and I've been a private audition coach for the last few years. Before I even started this masterclass series, I worked with students that came to me to run through their pieces and to get their audition and repertoire books together for college. I currently have students at NYU, Carnegie Mellon (sp?), University of Michigan, Texas State, Elon, Syracuse, Ithaca, and all the big schools.
I am so incredibly lucky in that Houston has allowed me opportunities to build my own credibility based on my skills. People in town know that they can trust me when they come to me to work on their pieces, learn how to sing properly, or when they want to build an audition repertoire book.
In addition to doing shows locally and teaching locally, I am also auditioning locally, and auditioning in New York. All of these experiences continue to build my credibility to be able to provide an educational platform for young people. That is also directly transferable to this series because it also represents everything that I want to bring on a personal level to students and to the community, not just via artists but via myself.
BWW: What was your inspiration for starting the Straight From New York series?
Tyce Green: In January of 2013, Nancy Opel, who had been a good friend of mine, was talking to me about how she loved teaching and what she was doing in New York. She was working as a private vocal coach. Nancy has a Tony nomination and has been in every Broadway show you can possibly imagine. She's a Broadway legend. She sat there and told me, "Hey, I'm doing eight shows a week on Broadway, and in the daytime people come over to my apartment, and I teach them. I basically have a voice lesson with them." She made herself accessible to these people, and she still does. And, she went to Julliard for God's sake, you know.
From there, I thought, "My God, what if that's something that can be accessible to all the people here in Houston, you know?" So, I almost want to say that she inspired it because she was the first person to come in and do something. It was not called Straight From New York then. It didn't really become Straight From New York until Constantine Maroulis came. So, there was literally like 12 months in between where I was trying this out and seeing what happened. Once I realized people liked it, I thought "I better give it a name, [Laughs] so people start calling again."
She really inspired it, and she represents the idea of someone who has started from the absolute bottom, went through all of the motions, and did all the really hard work to get to a place of fame in the Broadway community. She proves they can still make themselves accessible if they really want to, if they're interested in helping the next generation or generations, and that's the idea. We bring artists who share that vision, who want to share from their experiences and want to say, "Hey, I know that I've made it, and guess what? You can too."
BWW: What are some of the future directions that you see for Straight From New York?
Tyce Green: I'll tell you what I'd love. I would love for the rest of this year to start pulling together every single person that I know that is just as passionate about this as I am, whether that's teachers, students, parents, just people in general who love Broadway and love the idea of supporting the arts, to come together and help to get the word out about this. The reality is that this is something new. It is a little scary because it's new. There are so many people in the community already that have helped to spread the word and stuff. But, if I can get enough people to go, "Hey, we think this is really awesome," even more so than they are now, eventually, for next year-and I'm saying even as soon as next year-I would love for the roster of artists to be like Sutton Foster, Jeremy Jordan, Aaron Tveit...
BWW: [Jaw Dropping] Wow.
Tyce Green: Yeah! It sounds really ambitious, but the reality is that these are artists that represent what students and what people who love Broadway are looking for. They're looking at these people and going, "Wow. I love listening to them." They're like the it people. Not just because they are famous, but because they represent something that students and young hopefuls feel like they can attain. They feel like they can reach that level. They also have kick ass voices, and people can appreciate what they have to offer.
So, I would love that. I would love to have a series of classes next year that have the biggest stars. Also, in saying that, I think that eventually I would also love to build a trust with Straight From New York among people where I could start introducing new talent.
BWW: SUBMISSIONS ONLY.
Tyce Green: Absolutely! And from the original casts of BRING IT ON and LEGALLY BLONDE. She just finished ROCK OF AGES, playing Sherrie for almost a year and a half. She is in her 20s. She's out there auditioning. Sometimes she books stuff, and sometimes she doesn't. She has all these amazing opportunities. She's been in several Broadway shows. She's also still going and auditioning every single day. I just talked her a couple of weeks ago and, you know, it was all about this audition and that audition, and she doesn't get stuff. Yet, she has a really great presence. Just because an artist doesn't have a Tony nomination or a Tony award doesn't mean that they are any less talented or that they don't have as much to offer. But, I do understand that the reality is that you want to bring in the big people that also represent that so that people will show up.
But, gosh, I'd love to have Straight From New York be a place that lets the Broadway community know that they have a home here in Houston. The idea is to take what's happening in New York and put it down here in Houston. Why? Because why not?
BWW: You've brought in some great talent previously, and you're still planning to bring in more. Is there some dream talent that you'd like to bring to Houston?
Tyce Green: Patti LuPone. Let me tell you why. People have their opinions on Patti, but she has been the most consistent performer, in my opinion, ever since I was a wee lad. I have followed her through every single role she has played, and she represents somebody who, again, was just some actress who decided to audition for a little school called Julliard and ended up in the very first graduating class. She just sort of figured it out, you know.
Then, she realized, "Oh, I've got this voice too. I'm a classically trained actress and I have this voice." The roles that she has played have been so nuanced, and she's stayed true. She turned 65 earlier this year, and my God, her voice is still as good, if not better and stronger, than it used to be.
And, she's still playing kick ass roles. I saw her in the final performance of GYPSY. In the final performance of GYPSY, and it was one of the most electric nights of my life! I was standing, cheering, yelling and I didn't even know why. I think she is just a powerhouse. She also very recently just did a masterclass for HBO in their new masterclass series.
BWW: Yeah, and she was on this season of GIRLS, which is also on HBO.
Tyce Green: Well, there you go. She was also just on American Horror Story. She's doing film, television, Broadway, and it just doesn't stop with her. She's got two Tonys, six Tony nominations, and she's also a star of plays too. That's the thing. She just runs the gamut of everything.
Also, she has always been very open about the training process and how important technique is. I think that's something that could be really important for students. I don't even know if she's even interested in doing something like that, but I would imagine so.
What I would hope is that if somebody like that can take the time to come down to Houston and say, "You know what? I'm going to give what I have." I mean, that's the top tier of Broadway. "And, I'm going to give something that I have to share with students," who they know are going to suck in the information and go and use it the very next day, I think that would give hope for so many people. I could not imagine being in high school and going to take a masterclass with Laura Benanti, who came down to do one. To say, "Oh, I'm going to go and sing at a masterclass with Laura Benanti. She's going to sit right next to me, and then come up to me and say like, 'Look, you know, drop your hands, emotionally connect with your piece, sing a little bit of the song for me.'"
I sometimes feel like I am spoiling people [I laugh] because I've set up a situation where they just expect the best of the best, but I don't think that's a bad thing necessarily. If they feel entitled to come to stuff like this and that's what gets them to show up, then by God, let them feel entitled because I really believe that all of the students that come leave with a sense of understanding and feel better about star power in general. They see that it's not like this, "Oh, I have to be an ass. I have to be unattainable and not respectful to people anymore." It's the opposite. The more you get famous, the more you get recognized, the harder you have to work, and I think that's the key.
BWW: What has been the most rewarding aspect of bringing in accomplished talent for the Straight From New York series to Houston?
Tyce Green: I am a lot of things. I always say I am an actor first. Then, I am a singer. Then, I'm a teacher. Then I'm a producer. All of those things make me the world's biggest fan. I'm like The Rosie O'Donnell of Houston. Now, let me specify. [Laughs] I do love Rosie, but in the sense that when Rosie had her talk show, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, she basically utilized that to bring in Broadway talent. Say what you want about Rosie, but I really believe that this is part of my inspiration too, I guess. She created a situation where, in the 90s and early 2000s, when there really was no outlet for Broadway on television, she brought Broadway attention at the national level. It's now something that any person who loves Broadway can go online and look up a performance of somebody, and 50% of the time something is going to show up as a performance from The Rosie O'Donnell Show. And it's a lot of staple performances.
That was the first time I saw Linda Eder in JEKYLL & HYDE. It was the day before the opening, and she was on Rosie. Then, she would interview them; instead, of treating them like they were not famous enough. She sat down with Linda Eder, sat down with Brian Stokes-Mitchell, and all these artists that people at the national level didn't know. Think about where Audra MacDonald is today. Or even Patti Lupone or Bernadette Peters, you know. Bernadette Peters would also be great. I don't know that she's ever taught a masterclass in her life, but whatever.
Anyway, I am a fan. I'm all those other things, but I'm a huge fan. My love, just on a personal level, for listening. Then I enjoy it at the entertainment level. I love being able to be to sit in the same room as these artists. This was what has always been very rewarding for me.
With Mary Testa, we were rehearsing at Jack Beetle's house. There were three of us. It was me, sitting over in a corner, Jack Beetle, and Mary Testa. [Pauses] I cannot explain to you in words that moment and how surreal that felt. I'll be honest with you, since then I guess I have become a little jaded because it's just normal to me now. Well, it's sort of normal. I still get butterflies and stuff, but as far as meeting the people, they know me now based on what I have done. It's not that big of a deal. I don't have to prove myself that much anymore. I do, but I don't either. For Mary, I got to build a show for her. Her entire setlist in Houston, I built it.
BWW: I remember her saying that during the concert.
Tyce Gree: And it's all stuff that she's done in her career, but she had never had somebody build a show for her. I went and handpicked all the songs she sang in that show based on her entire career. I'm tooting my own horn here, but I think it takes a special person to be able to do that. It also takes a special artist to trust some 20-something kid to be like, "I think I really know your career, [Laughs] you two-time Tony Award nominated superstar, you." But she did. She did. You saw the show. It was amazing. It was an intimate night with Mary, celebrating her career. Form there, she was like, "Wow. I'm so glad that I did that" because it gave her some value. It gave her a little spark and the knowledge that people really celebrate who she is.
I think it's really hard because artists feel like they're just being used. I'm trying to create a situation that makes them feel valued, where they can use their skills and feel like people don't just want a piece of them. I want them to see that people want to share with them. They want to have a shared experience, like a picnic, with them.
The reward for me is just getting to have personal relationships with these people, getting to share, getting to experience them in a rehearsal setting, and getting to watch them work. Then, to turn around, and we're in the car ride back and they're like, "Oh, that was really cool," and hearing them talk about the students, the audience, and having them ask me, "How was that? Do you think it was good?"
It's strange, you know. These artists trust me. There's a reason why I have a certain kind of following in Houston. It is based on my coaching, acting, playing, and I think that once they see that you're somebody who wants to help them and that you're in it for them, all of the social repercussions of "Oh, I'm just here doing another gig" go away. It becomes something different because of that. That's rewarding to me.
BWW: What does Straight From New York have lined up next?
BWW: And this tiny little thing called AIDA.
Tyce Green: Right, AIDA. And, that's going to be really exciting.
What's going to happen there is people will show up because of RENT, people will show up because of AIDA, and people will show up because of CHESS. It's strange, but each show has followings.
So, Adam is coming in to do something next month. In July, Beth Leavel is coming to do a masterclass. Beth won a Tony for THE DROWSY CHAPERONE and has also been in just about every Broadway show you can imagine. She is fierce a la 2002. Then, the next concert coming up is Levi Kreis. [I smile broadly.] Yeah, which you are like freaking out about. [I laugh.] Tony Award winner for MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET. It's a really nice mix of people. You've got Adam who is nationally known for RENT and a rock style. You've got Beth who is musical theatre, audition, audition, book the show. Then, you've got Levi who is a singer/songwriter, a Tony winning actor, but also has a little bit more an alternative, country kind of sound too.
What's actually really cool about Adam is that this is the first time that we're actually going to take his class from Houston. He'll also be teaching a Straight From New York masterclass in Dallas. It's the first opportunity for it to spread. I guess I should have said this in my goals. I love Houston being the home base. It will always originate here. It will always be bigger and better here, but, in doing so, I want to take a little piece of that and go and share it with Dallas, go and share that with Austin, go and share that with Portland, and so on. Eventually, I would love for it to be a five-city tour or something that starts in our awesome homeland of Houston.
BWW: Let's talk about these masterclasses. Who can participate in them?
Tyce Green: The answer to who is anybody. I have it open to the Houston public because it has to be. I have purposefully offered different classes that have different age brackets. If it's an audition intensive class, then I will tell people, "Take this if you feel like you're advanced and feel like you're really going to get something out of a strict audition class." Then, I sort of use the trust system.
I think the youngest people we have had sign up are 12. The majority are serious high schoolers and even college-aged people. What's actually really nice is that the sprinkling of younger people not only get to work with the artist, but they get to observe the older people and the more advanced people at work. They get the added value of being able to watch other students.
BWW: What sets the Straight From New York series apart from other educational opportunities in Houston?
Tyce Green: There are a lot of academies and there are a lot of studios in the Greater Houston Area, and you have to make the time commitment to be there everyday and to do the show or whatever. People don't always have that ability. Students are trained to do a lot of different stuff, and, especially in musical theatre, the schedule is crazy! What I'm trying to do is give a really big opportunity that only requires a day, a night, maybe two.
With the Straight From New York masterclasses, For a day, you can show up and have an experience that's going to last you a lifetime. You get as much out of that one day as you would a full week's summer camp, you know. Nowhere else in Houston is there a place where you can go and have a one-on-one masterclass with a Broadway star. It does not exist anywhere else in Houston. We're the only people doing it, and that's why I think it's important for people to really spread the word and to tell each other if this is something they think is valuable.
The idea is not to take away from the other great academies that are doing stuff in Houston. It's not like I'm trying to be competitive. In fact, it's the opposite.
BWW: Yeah. It's like a supplement.
Tyce Green: It is that exactly. That's a really great word. A supplement to the other great things happening in Houston. So, I think, in that regard, what it actually does is give an opportunity for them to be able to do all the other stuff that they want to do, and then go and show up for that one day.
BWW: Each masterclass is varied. Some have been more audition minded while others focused on a certain vocal style, so what are some of the things that participants have learned? Also, what are some things you hope to bring to students with the series?
Tyce Green: You're right. With Nancy Opel, before it was even Straight From New York, she helped people with some monologues based on her Julliard training, and she also worked on auditioning musical theatre.
What's really interesting is that every artist has a different teaching style. So, automatically, you get a completely different perspective, and different information. New information. Each artist has a different take. So, it's not like you're coming back to the same class every time. It's a new artist. It's a new bout of information, and a new way to look at your piece.
In general, the student is getting information on vocal training from the highest level. They're getting a lot of information on how to connect to the song. Part of that is understanding the acting process, in that you have to know what a good actor looks like and what a good actor feels. It starts with connection. All of the technical processes that go along with it are so important, and they're just as important as the emotional process.
I think that when a student comes to one of these classes, sometimes it's a little jarring. It's almost like a kick in the pants. The amount of intensity that they get is the truth. It's not a pat yourself on the back and go, "Hey, that was really great. See ya." No, it's, "Okay, that was good, but we're fixing this, we're fixing this, we're fixing this, and we're fixing this." It's a lot of intense training, and I think that students appreciate that. I think initially it's a little jarring, but eventually what happens is that they realize that's the information they need. Then, after that day, they never go back.
BWW: Right. And it sounds like you create such a safe place too. I see how it could be intimidating at first because a student might feel like a Tony award winner or Tony nominated performer is telling him or het that he or she sucks, but in the end, the student will recognize where he or she is awesome and things he or she can improve upon.
Tyce Green: Well, I can tell you a couple of things too. I think that there's a lot of settings here in Houston, and just in general, where students feel like the people on the panel or the people they are approaching are the bad guys. Basically, they feel that they have to come in and prove themselves, and that's crap. I used that picnic term earlier, but auditions, the acting process, and the singing process are like a picnic. You come in, and you have something to share. You receive something, and you give something, then you receive something, and you give something.
There is a lot of miss information that goes on in Houston. There are a lot of individuals in charge of young, hopeful acting and singing students that are giving them the wrong information. I don't want to speculate on whether they know they are giving them the wrong information, but it's wrong. I know because I've seen it. I don't have any interest in competing with anybody, and I don't have any interest in creating conflict. I think that the results speak for themselves, and I think that the information speaks for itself. I think that a student that might come to one of these classes and see what the real deal is and that may make them think differently about other information that's been given to them.
I have a real passion for teaching and a real passion for passing on the right information to students, and that means getting it from a lot of different sources. I truly believe that a student should make the decision for him or herself based on what feels right, not what has been told to him or her.
What I have found from these masterclasses is that 98% of the time, they come out of that going, "Wow, I would have never known that if they hadn't told me," "I thought the opposite," or "I was told the opposite." The answer for them is not, "Hey, this is the right answer, do what I'm telling you to do." It is "How does it feel to you? What felt right to you?" If the answer is this over that, then take this. That's what I want to do. I want to change the format in which students are getting information. I think they are getting wrong information and they're getting it slowly. I want to give the right information fast!
BWW: Of course, these masterclasses benefit the students, but how do they benefit the performers you bring in?
Tyce Green: I think that initially a performer or an artist that comes in knows that they are going to teach a masterclass. Almost always I've have phone calls with the artist just to talk about what they want to do in the masterclass, and they're so excited. They're asking questions. You know people are interested when they're asking questions.
With Constantine Maroulis, initially, I didn't know what to expect from his masterclasses. I remember having a phone conversation with him where he was saying "Yo man, you know, I really think it would be a really cool idea if I focused on pop, musical theatre, and really connecting with the words and the lyrics. Make it less about the vocal. We know people can sing. I'm not worried about training them vocally. What about lyric connection? And let them know that's what it's going to be about."
I think that for an artist of that caliber to say, "Hey, it's really important for me that you communicate with these students in Houston, Texas that I specifically want them to learn this particular thing, and I want them to work on this particular thing when I work with them," it shows a love and passion that these artists have for students. The value they get out of that is knowing that they too passed along information that maybe can put these students into positions like they are in too. I think it reminds them of how they were at that age, wishing that they had somebody like that accessible to them.
I think that this is new for Houston, but I think that it's new for the country. I honestly believe that because there have not been many situations outside of a college where I have seen this happening. I mean I really haven't, and I think that when these artists hear about this kind of thing and they see that a young person is trying to develop this and give this opportunity to people, it makes them really believe in it and believe that somebody cares enough to say, "I want you to come down and teach these kids. They will listen to you. They will use your information, and you will change their lives."
For the artist, it is knowing they changed a life, and that is just as valuable to the artist as it is to the student. The life changes that the student gets out of it are just as much as the artists get out of it. I hear occasionally from every artist. They always have two or three students that they remember, that they really, really connect with. They're say, "Yeah, that dude reminded me of me!" They ask about them months later. They're ask, "Hey! How's Andrew?" I'm serious about this. They ask about it. For Mary Testa, there was a guy named Christian that performed for her. It was at least 8 or 9 months ago. I just saw her a month ago. She's in WICKED right now.
BWW: Yeah, as Madame Morrible! I bet she's amazing in that role.
Tyce Green: She's like a living legend. So, anyway, you know. She's asked, "How's Christian? How's he doing?"
BWW: I know the program is still in its early stages, but do you have some Straight From New York success stories already?
BWW: That's great. They've got Kaitlin Hopkins there.
Tyce Green: They do! Kaitlin Hopkins. [Sings] "Hold me Bat Boy." [Laughs] Anyway. These students end up at schools like Elon. In fact, someone, who had done three or four of the masterclasses, got into Elon. These are really serious students that are getting into the top colleges. It's not necessarily that they got into college because they came and did a masterclass with Mary Testa, Natalie Weiss, or something, but the point is that that's the tier. That's the level of coaching and the intensity they receive.
A lot of these artists have also done individual masterclasses at Carnegie Mellon, NYU, Julliard, and it's the same level of coaching that they do there that they're doing in Houston. It's not like they're getting a...
BWW: Watered down version.
Tyce Green: Not at all. If anything, an artist gets here and they realize that they're here and want to give everything that they have. It's almost like it's more intense than just being in New York, being able to walk down the street and go to a class. They're specifically here for this purpose.
That's what I don't think people realize. I don't think people understand that we are flying these people out for the soul purpose of coming to Houston to teach these students and serve our Houston community. I don't think they understand that. You know, it's almost unbelievable, but it's happening. And I want it to keep happening.
BWW: And, by the same token, these artists are getting to see that Houston has serious talent too.
Tyce Green: Oh yeah.
BWW: I know that the regions aren't always seen as...
Tyce Green: And that's what's great about Houston. We don't live in Walla Walla, Washington or Frostbite Fall,s Minnesota.
BWW: Lastly, as someone who has a passion for teaching students, what benefit do you feel you personally get from hosting the Straight From New York masterclasses?
Tyce Green: It's also teaching me, so I can then learn for the next set of students. The idea is that an artist can come in, and I can coach a student to prepare for that masterclass. They hear all this stuff from me based on how the artists want to teach their classes. I can help students figure out what's the right piece for this, the right song for their voice type, the right piece for their physical type, what's a good fit for them, and what's a good fit for them specifically for these different classes. Then, they go to the class and they realize that the information they've been receiving there is conducive with the information that I've been giving them. Then they feel like they can come back to me and grow on that.
It's almost like I'm trying to be able to put myself in the position to be able to carry on everything that that artist has to bring by way of getting to know them, by way of receiving their information, and then applying that because I'm learning too.
There is simply no denying that Tyce Green's Straight From New York Workshop and Concert Series isn't one of the most risky and intriguing new ventures in the Houston theatre scene. Whether you're hoping to make a break in performing or if you just enjoy quality performances, it's something you should have on your radar. Check out http://www.straightfromnewyork.com/ for more information. Also, follow Straight From New York on Facebook and Twitter.