Bryan Fenkart of MEMPHIS Shares his Wisdom and Experiences
Bryan Fenkart is currently touring with MEMPHIS and playing the role of Huey. He loves playing the role and can relate to his character in many ways. Bryan shared with Broadway World some of his experiences and how he is living his dream.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got your start.
I started acting in high school. I was 16 and I lost a bet with an English classmate that forced me to join the drama that year which was Woody Allen's " Don't Drink the Water" and I fell in love with it. It was a medium that I had never tried and I was a little scared to be in front of people. It forced me out of my comfort zone and ever since then I fell in love with the medium. I ended up going to college for acting. I went to Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers and got a BSA and started working from there. I've been a musician most of my life as well; I'm a singer and a songwriter. That has worked very much in my favor as far as crossing over to the musical theater world that almost happened by accident. This is the first big musical that I was cast in and this ended up being a real boon for me as far as opening up doors in the musical theater world that I didn't even know were there. This marriage of the acting that I had studied and the music that I've always loved, it's created this opportunity. And here I am now.
Was this what you always wanted to do?
Once I had tried it (in high school), I realized that this is something I really wanted to pursue. It was all I ever really wanted. I always have loved storytellers whether they were songwriters or books. I always watched movies with my family growing up. I love stories and to be able now to be a storyteller and to make a living off of it is fulfilling a dream for me. I realized that in high school and that's why I went to an acting conservatory was knowing that this is what I wanted to do with my life.
You seem to have quite a resume to share with everyone. You have done film, television, stage and solo music as well. What are some experiences that stand out the most to you?
Not just to tout the show, but MEMPHIS does stand out. It's a huge opportunity for me because the character is so different from who I am and the way he talks and the way he dresses. As an actor, that's one of those dream roles you want to sink your claws into because it's so different from who you are. It's real intense character work and that's not something you get to do in a lot of roles. That was a real treat. But, also, making my own music is something that I have a huge passion for. I feel like in a world of teams of songwriters who make this polished pop sound that you hear on the radio, I really like the craft of writing my own stuff and using real musicians and working at a sound as opposed to this over processed very polished sound that's out right now. I think that being able to make my own album has been a real blessing to be able to tell my own mini autobiographies over the course of my life.
Do you see yourself as a singer who acts or an actor who sings?
I guess I'm going to have to say an actor who sings because that's where my training was as an actor. I went to a 4 year conservatory who strictly trained in the Meisner technique. It was a very tough program. That's where most of my training lies, in acting. And singing and music is always something I had done on the side. I've taken vocal coaching here and there but nothing as intensive as the college experience I had. So, I would have to say an actor who sings.
Let's talk a little about MEMPHIS now. When did you start the tour?
We opened in October of 2011 in MEMPHIS at the Orpheum and we've been on the road since. San Antonio will be our 46th city.
Tell us a little more about your cast mates and the experiences of working with them.
This is an incredible group that we have working on this show. I think that this touring company is very much Broadway caliber and that makes me happy to be around this group. Bill Parry who plays Mr. Simmons; this guy originated 5 Sondheim musicals on Broadway and my co-star, Felicia Boswell , it quite literally is the role she was born to play. She's so perfectly cast in that role. To be able to work with her every night is a real treat. Her voice is just golden. She's one of the best singer's I've ever heard. To be able to work with her has been a real treat too.
How do you prepare each night to play the role of Huey?
Huey is all momentum; all inertia. Once he starts, he doesn't stop. Once you see the show you see that. He's only offstage for about 6 minutes of the whole show and most of that's the opening number. I really have to get myself more into the mental and emotional mindset that once I start moving, I can't stop. It's always forward motion. You keep in your mind, you're always looking forward. Huey doesn't think before he acts. He acts first and thinks maybe later. Consequences aren't something that applies to him. He's like a pinball. You prepare yourself for being open to whatever's going to happen to you. Even though you are doing the same over and over again, there's always something slightly different in live theater which helps a character like this. He's always bouncing back and forth between different people and new experiences. He doesn't think, he doesn't question he just does his thing. You have to get yourself in this mindset of not thinking and just acting. Luckily, I've been doing the part so long that I don't have to think about the words I 'm going to say or the accent. I can allow myself to live in that pinball world that Huey lives in.
What similarities are there between you and Huey?
Huey is a rebel in a lot of ways. I can relate to that. There's this sort of image of a rebel that people have and I think that's an erroneous image of this guy who disconnected, smokes cigarettes and wears all black and doesn't give a crap about anything and that's sort of considered a rebel. I consider a rebel as someone who sees the rules that are in place and says, "well just because they're there doesn't mean they have to be followed because maybe they're wrong." Somebody who will go with what their hearts say as opposed to what the rest of the world, with what society says. That's something that I can agree with and something I've fought for in my life. Just because something isn't legal doesn't mean it shouldn't be. Somebody says that is the way that it is doesn't mean it has to be that way. I like to portray a character every day that delivers that message that you can be a catalyst for change if you act the way you think the rest of the world should act. Also, his connection to music. The reason he even starts this whole movement almost by accident by playing black music on a white station is because he's just in love with the music. He's not trying to spark a civil rights movement, he's just playing the music he thinks is great and it happens to be by all of these black artists. He has this real passion for the music he wants people to hear. I'm very similar in that it doesn't matter who's writing it, if it's great, it's great. And that goes for any kind of art; acting, visual arts, music, any of those things. It doesn't matter who creates it, as long as it's moving and emotionally captivating in some way.
And you have your own music on the side. "Imperfect Man" and your new CD, "Simple and Grey." Tell us more about the new album. I have been listening to it and I am really enjoying it.
"Simple and Grey" I was recording while I was in rehearsals for MEMPHIS. It was a year in the process, the writing experience. It's a very personal album for me. I'm not somebody who likes to write just love songs. There's really only one love song out of the entire 12 songs. I like to write more about the human experience. My goal as a songwriter is to be clever but accessible. I want people to hear my stuff and say, "Oh yeah, I felt that. I don't know how to word it, but I felt that." It's more of a desire for connection and less about getting people to dance or to move. It's more about telling stories like I was saying before, conveying my experience and hoping that others can relate. This album is a very personal account of that. The title refers to the feeling that as an artist you don't necessarily fit into a lot of places. There's this desire sometimes that you wish you could be less complicated and be less colorful and be one of the masses and eventually you realize you can't be that and that's not who you are. You can embrace that but there's always this nagging desire that makes you wish you could be just like everyone else because it just seems like an easier life.
Twitter or Facebook? Which do you prefer and why?
I don't even know if I have a preference. I use both. I find myself leaning more towards Twitter recently only because it seems like Facebook you just open yourself up to as much criticism as possible. It stresses me out with any opinion I post on Facebook is just going to get lambasted by anybody who disagrees. It seems that it has become more a forum for angry debate than anything else. I almost feel like Twitter is a safer option. But, sometimes I like a debate. Sometimes I like posting just for the debate and that's what I use Facebook for. Twitter seems to be a little less stressful.
Do you have any advice for anyone who is thinking about pursuing a career in music?
You know, it's funny, we have a lot of school groups that come to see the show and we'll have little Q & A sessions afterwards and we'll have school groups that will ask that same question. I always give this piece of advice that sounds a little bit harsh, but I don't me it to but it's just the reality of this world which is that if you can do anything else, or thought of doing anything else, do that other thing instead. If you want to make to the point where you're making a living at it, and really being successful at it, it requires everything of you. It requires almost an obsession. You are your own product. You are selling a product. The product you're selling is you and everything has to go into that. You're more inclined to stay on the tightrope if there is not safety net underneath you. That is some strong advice that I was given. I think it's worked out. I'm making a living doing it now. But also another piece of advice I was given was always be learning. And it doesn't mean in school, but it means always be learning. Read books, see movies, see plays, see good theater, watch good TV. Learn who casts these things. Who are the directors? Who are the actors that you like? Why do you like them? These are important things that are research. It's kinda cool to be in a business where what's leisure for most people is research for you. Always try to get more knowledge and always try to become better. Even if you think you're good. And you should think you're good. But, never think that you are as good as you're gonna be.
If you had not become a performer, what would you have done? Did you have a back-up plan?
ope, no back-up plan. This was always it for me. I always knew I'd get here somehow and you never know how. The how is not important; you'll get there. There were a lot of steps in between that I never thought that I'd do. I did stand-up comedy. I worked in radio writing a radio sketch comedy for a while at WABC. I did a lot of voiceover work in New York. I've done a lot of commercials. You hit these rungs on the ladder that you weren't aware of before to get to this place. I always knew I'd get here; I just had no idea how. The how will reveal itself if you know where you're going. It's like if you are driving from New York to California, and the headlights only light the next 20 feet, and that's really all you get to see is the next 20 feet, you know you'll get there, you're on the right road. You only need to see the next few steps in front of you.
Then where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully doing great work with great shows and great people and still being dissatisfied because I want more. As strange and lonely a life that that is, I hope I'm never satisfied.
Bryan's album, "Simple and Grey" is available by going to https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/bryan-fenkart/id128795415
Don't miss the chance to see Bryan and the rest of the cast perform MEMPHIS in San Antonio. MEMPHIS opens at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio on Tuesday, February 19th through Sunday, February 24th. Tickets are available by going to www.majesticempire.com