BWW Interviews: Gregory J. Clark Talks Graduating from College and Future Plans
With many college commencements occurring in May and June, students are thinking of their futures and reflecting on what comes next for them. Gregory J. Clark is one of those students. He recently graduated from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey with a Bachelor's degree in Music and is ready to start his career. Many high school students are trying to decide where to take their passion for performing and how to translate that into a college program that will work for them. Gregory shared with Broadway World his experiences in college and his plans for the future.
How did you get started performing?
I started out when I was in kindergarten. I performed "Singin' In the Rain" at a school talent show. We had one of those old karaoke machines and dubbed my voice over Gene Kelly's and I did the whole dance routine step for step as best as I could. Although I didn't know how to tap then, it looked very convincing. At the end of the talent show when they were announcing the winners, they called third and second place and it wasn't me. I started to get a little bummed out. After all, I attended Catholic school comprised of students from kindergarten through eighth grade, so there was really no way I was going to beat these eighth graders in this talent competition. Believe it or not, they announced my name for first place -- and I'll never forget that applause for as long as I live. I think that's what gave me my first taste of it. Since then, I've never been able to go back.
Do you remember it pretty vividly?
I remember it pretty vividly and having the video tape helps too. I definitely remember that applause. There's no way I can forget it. It's what sparked my desire to enter the world of entertainment whether I would be making money or not. I liked it so much that I just had to go for it. I started taking acting classes and began to sing for the stage. I participated in the school choir, started to do children's musicals - and I never stopped.
What was the first leading role that you had?
I must have been in first or second grade. I was in "Free to Be You and Me" at the Young People's Theater Workshop, a children's theater group of the Players Club of Swarthmore. I played the little boy, William, who wants a doll. As a little kid it was challenging because that character is constantly getting picked on. So at a young age, I had to learn that the empathy felt by the audience towards a character is what makes the performance memorable. I was able to grasp the concept that it isn't me onstage, it's someone else. They even changed the names to make it our own names in the performance, so people were saying that Gregory wants a doll which made it that much harder. That was my first leading role. When I was a sophomore in high school, I played the Ghost of Christmas Present in "A ChristmasCarol." Then the first real lead to me was my performance as Tony in "West Side Story" later that same year.
What are the differences in how you're approaching roles now than when you were really young? How did you see the transition?
It helped a lot that the shows were a little more mature. When I was in elementary I did a lot of children's musicals. Once I got to high school, the shows turned into great musicals like "West Side Story," "A Christmas Carol, and" "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." So as the subject matter grew more intense I was able grow and mature into a more serious young actor.
Tell us about your college experience and what made you decide to attend Rider?
My mom was the one who discovered Rider University for me. I had considered going to school for Communications because I didn't know that there was such a thing as a musical theater major. When we found out that MT programs existed, I was thrilled to be able to study what I loved to do. The year I entered Rider University was a transition year for the Music Theater program. They were transitioning the program from their Westminster Choir College campus to the Lawrenceville campus. This program was in the early stages of transition and it was exciting to be a student in the midsts of the school's growth and development. The School of Fine and Performing Arts at Rider's Westminster College of the Arts offered me many opportunities to grow and learn within the school. I looked at schools like NYU and other performing arts schools with bigger budgets and larger student populations, but I liked Rider because it was a smaller school. At Rider I could be a big fish in a little pond. I thought I would have less opportunities to perform had I gone somewhere else. As I look back, it is evident that I made the right decision.
What were the classes you took?
Music Theory for five semesters and you must be proficient in piano so I took four or five semesters of that as well. I took two years of ballet and, when completed, I moved into jazz dance. Robin Lewis, an amazing choreographer and teacher with numerous Broadway credits, took all of his students under his wing. He began teaching at Rider while I was in my sophomore year and continues to be a great teacher at the school. I never felt that dancing was one of my strengths, yet Robin gave me the confidence to not only dance, but to connect my thoughts to the choreography. I've totally grown with that mindset and no longer fear dance calls the way many of us do. I can now wrap my mind around them better than I ever could. I know all the steps and I am grateful to Robin for those classes. In addition, you must take acting classes and voice lessons once a week. And of course, you have to take the general liberal arts classes and obtain credits necessary to graduate.
What was the first leading role you had in college?
When I was a freshman, I did three shows that first year. The first production was called "Striking Twelve." It was a new musical and Rider was the first school to produce it, to really stage it fully. I was Narrator One - not the lead role but a good one for an incoming freshman. The show following was "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot." It's a courtroom drama about the trial of Judas while he is in Purgatory after he betrays Jesus. I was cast as a character named Butch Honeywell. Butch doesn't really have any lines in the show until the very end where he has a giant monologue that ends the show. I worked hard on this monologue, I memorized it, and it became a favorite among the cast and the director, Miriam Mills. However, two weeks before the show opened, the student who was playing the lead was unable do perform in the show, and I was asked to step in and take over his role -I had to learn the part in two weeks. I did it, the show went up, and it was great. I received a lot of recognition for managing that role transition, and as a result of that experience, my Rider career propelled. People believed in me, and I now possessed the confidence needed to be a successful music theater student. That role was my first college lead.
What were some of the other shows you did while you were there?
Later during that same year we did "The Importance of Being Earnest" where I played Algernon Moncrieff. In my sophomore year I was cast as Robbie Hart in "The Wedding Singer." Then we did "A Midsummer Night's Dream" where I played Oberon, and finally at the end of my sophomore year, "The Producers" where I was cast as Leo Bloom. Early in my junior year, I stage managed a show called "Nine", something I had never done before, but I needed a tech credit. Wow, what a challenge it was. I went into the position with nothing, no previous experience and little knowledge. If you know anything about stage management, it's nearly impossible for trained stage managers to manage, let alone someone without any real training. I undertook that initiative, and it was pretty successful. It was fun and challenging, but I would never ever do it again. Later that year, I was in "The Misanthrope" by Moliere and played Alceste, another lead. Then came "The Full Monty" where I did not have the title lead, but played the third character you meet in the show. I was the third of the six guys who get naked at the end. "Monty" was really enlightening, as I wasn't the lead, and was allowed more freedom with my role. I spent more time on the small bits that I had, rather than focusing on a huge spectrum of things for which a title lead must be responsible. That was one of my favorite roles I had ever played. As an added bonus, I got to be naked onstage, which was pretty neat, although we all were nervous about that. It was scary. Definitely scary! We are on stage in absolutely nothing. You don't see any of our parts, but we are in G-strings for far too long for your parents to see. When we finally take the G-strings off during the last scene, the stage gets back lit so the audience doesn't see us, but we get a good view of them. You're totally naked onstage -- what else do you have to worry about after that? After "The Full Monty", I finished up my senior year with "Reasons to be Pretty," a play by Neil Lebute about two couples and the destruction of their relationships. It was an opportunity for me to show off some of my acting chops along side an incredible cast. It was an amazing experience because I was allowed to tap into so many different emotions during the production and still had fun with the role. In addition, I was fortunate to get to work with a great director, Miriam Mills. Miriam is a great acting teacher and a great director at Rider.
If you didn't go to college, do you think you would have continued to try to pursue this career?
Even if I didn't go to college for Musical Theater, I would have found a way to perform. Ever since kindergarten, I decided that I wanted to be a performer. It's all I know and I never wanted anything else. My only aspirations in life were to be in movies and plays and musicals. So, even if I didn't go to school for this, I would still be actively pursuing this career, I just wouldn't have the advantage of a great education. See, I don't have another skill set other than this. This is where I excel. It's interesting going into this business, and it's easy to get discouraged. People always say, "What's your backup plan?" "What if it doesn't pay off?" To those people I always say, it's going to pay off because it's all I know. I have to constantly keep performing or I won't be fulfilled in life. People in this business often hear from others (not in the business) that you need to have a backup plan, or are often asked why would you pursue this career? "Do you really want to go into this business? Do you want to take this major?" I feel that if all you want to do is perform, then be a performer. If you are completely in love with it and committed, take it on and never look back. Those people who aren't in the business don't know anything about how "hard it is" because they don't know show business, so take what they say with a grain of salt. It's like trying to tell a tax attorney how to do their job. I don't know what they do at work and they don't know what I do at work. They see the finished product, they don't know the process.
What are your immediate plans for the summer?
I'm living down the shore for the summer and waiting tables. The money is great and I'm right by the beach, so why not? I can still take the train to New York for auditions whenever necessary. It's easy to get to New York from the Jersey shore. The reason I didn't take a summer stock job like most young actors, is so that I could save enough money to move to New York to start my life there in the fall.
Where do you see yourself in five years? And ten years?
Successful. It's all about my level of success. If I gauge it correctly, success for me in the next year is to go to as many auditions as possible until people begin to recognize my face and know my talents. In five years I'd love to be on Broadway or an off-Broadway show doing eight shows a week. Or, on a TV series as a reoccurring character. In five years, I'll be 27 years old and hopefully I'll be a part of a Broadway show in NYC, or in a tour travelling somewhere. That's where I'd like to be. If I have an established career in New York, then I'll stay for as long as I can but I wouldn't mind doing film in LA either. I hear its always warm there.
What advice do you have for someone thinking about getting into the business?
If it's what you love, then don't let anybody discourage you. It's easy to get discouraged. If you think you're good enough, then you are. People always say be yourself. And you should take that advice because when casting agents are watching your audition they are looking at everything you can do. They want to see that you are someone who would be pleasant to work with, and someone who can bring the character into our world by inserting themselves into that role. My motto has always been put as much of yourself in your work as you possibly can or else what's the point? That's what this business is about. Expressing yourself through other people's words and other people's songs. If you can do that, then I say go for it! Nothing feels better than singing a song on stage in front of people and having them love it. Find a good school where you can shine. Even if you don't get cast in one of the main stage shows during your college career, you can always figure out a way to perform. Theater students are always willing to perform something, and it's up to you when you're in college to be creative - that's your time to do it.