BWW Interview: Ben Vereen of STEPPIN' OUT LIVE WITH BEN VEREEN at Stockton Symphony
When an icon is as approachable, affable and humble as Ben Vereen is, it is easy to see why he has been so successful. The winner of a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for his role in Pippin, Vereen is, at the age of 70, showing no signs of slowing down. Luckily for us, he is bringing his energy and talent to our area to perform with the Stockton Symphony on May 6 and 7.
Broadway World Sacramento spoke to Vereen about his upcoming performances and the future of the arts in America.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Can you give our readers an overview of your show?
Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to speak with me. Yes, this show is a reflection of the shows that I have done on Broadway with added tributes to artists who have been influential and helped me along the way, such as Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Shirley MacLaine, Gregory Hines, and many others. It's a way to reminisce and pay tribute to the arts along the way.
I have a program called Wellness Through the Arts, which brings the arts to people who don't have arts education in school. The arts can change lives. Kids write a two-page essay or poetry and they can win a prize. They can write about bullying, obesity, diabetes-they talk about what is important. Art is our life. What you do is an art form. Letters are an art form.
I want to eradicate diabetes in our lifetime. In 2007, I was diagnosed with diabetes and became a spokesperson for Novo Nordisk. It's so important to eat right, exercise, and take medication. Kids need to know that good things do happen.
Is Wellness Through the Arts part of the Spiritual Enforcer hats that I have seen being sold?
Yes, the Spiritual Enforcer hats that are sold reinforce love through the arts. The money goes to the Wellness Through the Arts program. There will be hats sold at the Symphony.
In that vein, musical theatre can be a tough place full of rejection. What would you tell a young person who is getting discouraged or experiencing self-doubt?
I teach Master classes and encourage excellence seeking. I love feeling the energy in the room. Not everyone is cut out to be on the stage or in musical theatre. Everything you do is art. Writing, collecting garbage, working at the grocery store. Seek that which is great inside of you and it will direct you. The dream you are dreaming is happening right now. Do not deny who you are and today what you are doing is great. Embrace who you are.
Take your time at auditions. You're giving everyone there a chance to see your greatness. You may not get the role but, because you believed in yourself, someone in that room may remember you later. Don't rush.
I've heard that you are currently recording a song with students from a local school, Natomas Charter PFAA. Can you tell me about the song and do you work with schools often?
We are recording backup vocals for my upcoming album and some students will be performing backup at my show. I won't say what song it is right now. You'll have to see.
We want the world to be a better place and I want to support children. Young kids need standing ovations. Embrace them with love and remind them of the greatness inside of them.
When you perform, what is your greatest struggle?
Getting myself out of the way of myself. That within me is greater than what I am. Ego=Enter God's omnipresence. I've got to get my ego out of the way. I have my own spiritual rituals and meditations that work for me. My mother used to say, "What is good for the goose isn't always good for the gander." Find out what works for you and when you do, work it. People are attracted to goodness.
Are there any projects that you would like to do that you haven't yet?
All of them. I have two t.v. shows right now, Making History on Fox and Sneaky Pete on Amazon. I want to keep kids inspired. I work with Americans for the Arts. We are telling the government, "Don't shut down art programs," and talking to communities and legislators in every state. I was just in Washington D.C. speaking to representatives and senators about not cutting funding to the NEA. We've gotten a lot of good feedback. We are still America, the greatest country in the world. We need to stand up for the arts. Cutting away arts is cutting away culture. Things that are happening now are good because it is waking people up to what's important.
How can citizens help with that?
Write letters to legislators and tell them that they want to keep the arts alive.
You were at the 2016 DNC as part of the ArtsSpeak panel. Can you tell me about that?
That was with Americans for the Arts. It's not over. The arts are not over. We will not let it happen. The people's rights will be heard. If arts aren't important, then life isn't important. My Bible says that God created. It does not say that on the first day God manufactured. It says created. The thought was his and we were created.
Which role has been your favorite so far?
That's like asking me to choose which kid is my favorite child. I've learned so much from each role. Jesus Christ Superstar, Pippin, Zoobilee Zoo, Hair, Wicked. I've loved them all. They've given me so much and enriched my life.
This show is my gratitude show. Thank you for allowing me to do what I do.
Steppin' Out With Ben Vereen will be at the Stockton Symphony on May 6 and 7. Tickets may be purchased by going to http://stocktonsymphony.org.