BWW Interview: Brandon Howard Roy of THE HOCKEY SWEATER: A MUSICAL at Segal Centre, opening 10/26
Brandon Howard Roy was born and raised in Beaconsfield, QC, in the West Island of Montreal. A recent graduate of Sheridan College, just outside Toronto, Roy is making his professional theatre debut in THE HOCKEY SWEATER: A MUSICAL this week at The Segal Centre.
While attending St. Thomas high school in Montreal, Roy was a member of the improv program, which gave him his first taste of performing. Upon graduation, Roy attended John Abbott College's Theatre Workshop program, which led him to the realization that performing could be a profession and not just a hobby. After his two years at John Abbott College, Roy was accepted at Sheridan College, where he earned a Bachelor of Music Theatre Performance degree. Upon graduation, in May 2017, Roy was cast in THE HOCKEY SWEATER: A MUSICAL, back in his home town of Montreal.
I had the opportunity to chat with Roy on the eve of his professional debut.
Roy: I played Curly in OKLAHOMA at John Abbott College. We rehearsed for a couple of months and then had a really successful run. It was an outstanding cast to work with, and a lot of us have gone on to perform professionally. It was a beautiful time to be there, and the teachers were such amazing mentors. Jason Howell, who runs the Theatre Workshop department was so welcoming. Theatre Workshop is basically Acting 101 in the first semester and then performing in three shows the following three semesters. It's a lot of hands on training, and learning on the fly, which proves to be such a great asset in this industry. I'm not sure I would have been ready to go into a conservatory type school straight out of high school, so it was nice to test a few different waters before deciding how I was going to pursue my training.
Hannibal: You mentioned being part of an improv team in high school. Was there a particular moment you thought, "hey, I'd really like to try performing"?
Roy: It was late 2009 and I had started singing with two good friends of mine in a small band we started. We would perform around the West Island and at different talent shows, that sort of thing. I was dabbling in performance and really enjoying it, so it that point, I decided I was just going to say "yes". It was like a New Year's resolution kind of thing. "I'm just going to say yes to everything and try everything that I could with regards to performing." So I tried out for the improv team. We rehearsed after school, did a showcase for the St. Thomas community and eventually went to the provincial Canadian Improv Games competition which was so inspiring. Tannia Ditchburn was my drama teacher and led the team. I owe her a lot, as she was one of the first people I worked with in the performing arts who really believed in me. Around that time I began training vocally with Kerry-Anne Kutz, who I owe just as much. They both continue to be great friends and mentors of mine.
Hannibal: What was the first musical you ever saw?
Roy: My parents love going to the theatre, so I'd seen a few in my childhood. The first was the tour of HAIRSPRAY at Place des Arts and, at the time, I didn't know the actors were singing live! They were phenomenal, and I didn't think anyone could sound that good without the magic of a recording studio. When I realized that these were real people, that this was their job, was the moment where I realized the power of musical storytelling. That was a real shift for me. I'm glad I cleared that up early, I certainly couldn't have lip-synched my way through musical theatre school!
Hannibal: Tell me a little more about your experience at Sheridan. What was it like studying at a school that was the jumping off point for the Tony nominated musical, COME FROM AWAY?
Roy: It was a very exciting time to be there. A lot of people have said it, but I believe that right now we are in the platinum age of musical theatre. When I got to school in 2013, there wasn't a huge Canadian musical theatre canon outside of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES; (Side note, my first piece of Canadian musical theatre rep at school was written by our THE HOCKEY SWEATER: A MUSICAL composer and MD Jonathan Monro, so it's extra exciting to be singing his songs in this show!) COME FROM AWAY was in its early days and had just been workshopped, fast forward 4 years and anyone in the business could name a dozen or so new Canadian musicals that are making a name for themselves across the country and the world. I think as a community we owe a lot to COME FROM AWAY, and especially at Sheridan, it helped us to really focus and apply ourselves to our training. There was this show that got its start in the same rooms we trained in every day, and was succeeding on an international level, which was hugely inspiring. Aside from that and the world class training, I think I experienced the ups and downs that go along with any rigorous university program. But I left with a sense of professionalism and gratitude that I'm not sure I could have found anywhere else.
Hannibal: What is your favourite role that you've had the chance to play?
Roy: Sheridan's Canadian Music Theatre Project workshops 4 new musicals every year, and last year I had the chance to do a worksop of Colleen Dauncey, Akiva Romer-Segal and Matt Murray's RUMSPRINGA BREAK! I played Skor, an orphaned drug dealer, who helps Amish twins navigate life in the big city. That's got to be my favourite role because I had so much creative license over the part. My character, none of the characters, had ever existed off the page before the group of 15 of us brought them to life. Working on new shows is a special experience, and addictive in a sense. Everyone in the room is on the creative team, because no established actor has ever played the part. The actor is an interpretive artist, but in the case of new work becomes a creative artist, as well. I can't wait to see where RUMSPRINGA BREAK goes next!
Hannibal: What is your dream role?
Roy: I'm definitely a sucker for the traditional musical theatre tenor roles! Valjean, Enjolras in LES MISERABLES and Gabe in NEXT TO NORMAL, Elder Price in BOOK OF MORMON, Judas in JCS. PEI has a special place in my heart so I would love to play Gilbert or Matthew some day. But I think I'd be hard pressed to find a role that I wouldn't want to play. I think every human on the face of this earth is a complex, interesting being. There's so much to learn from any part in any show.
Hannibal: Who are your musical theatre idols? Who do you look up to? Who would you like to work with?
Roy: Working with Donna Feore for this process with THE HOCKEY SWEATER: A MUSICAL has been a real dream come true. She directed and choreographed 42ND STREET at Stratford which I saw 5 years ago, which was another turning point for me as I realized the level of quality of work that was being produced by Canadians, starring Canadians, in Canada. Ever since then it's been my dream to work with her, so I'm incredibly grateful that I get to start my career under her direction. I also look up to Aaron Tveit, Gavin Creel, Andrew Rannells and Derek Klena for their terrific voices. Kelli O'Hara is another singer that look up to. I just read this beautiful quote from her, and I'm paraphrasing, but it's something along the lines of, "don't ever say you're just a singer," because there is so much storytelling in a vocal performance. The more people I get to know in the industry in Canada, I realize that we are doing a good job of inspiring each other and pushing the form forward. It's great to draw inspiration from the people that immediately surround you.
Hannibal: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Roy: I would love to work at any or all of the major theatres in Canada. So much of our cultural fabric as a country stems from how diverse our regions, and so I would really love to work in theatres and at festivals from coast to coast, like Stratford, Shaw, and Charlottetown. That said, I am a singer songwriter as well, and am gearing up to head to the east coast later this year to start recording my own work, and I hope to release an EP some time in the next year or so. Aside from creative pursuits I love travelling and cooking and meeting new people, so I hope to find some time for that in the next ten years! But for now, though, it's so exciting to be working at home... there's no feeling like it...and, at least in terms of this show, my dad doesn't feel that my hockey career was wasted!
THE HOCKEY SWEATER: A MUSICAL runs through November 15, 2017 at the Segal Centre Centre for Performing Arts, 5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine, Montreal, Québec H3W 1M7