At a mentoring session this week between rehearsals of the Lexington Theatre Company’s upcoming production of the musical “Newsies,” the younger cast members — many of them from Central Kentucky — got a chance to quiz the show’s four principal actors, all Broadway veterans, about life in the theater.
How are New York City and Los Angeles different for actors? Should I join Actors’ Equity, the actors’ union, or not? If I move to New York, what side jobs could I do that would help pay the bills and still be flexible enough to let me do shows? How do I deal with anxiety right after an audition?
“Imagine that the door you used to walk into the audition room is a mental dreamcatcher,” says Tessa Grady, who plays Katherine in “Newsies” and whose Broadway credits include “Annie,” “Cinderella” and “Dames at Sea.” “You walk in through that door, but all the things you did in that room, and all your thoughts about them, cannot leave that room with you. You say to yourself, ’I know I’m not always at my best, but today? That was my best.’ And you just let go of it.”
The mentoring session had no immediate, direct bearing on The Lex’s “Newsies” — the 2012 Broadway hit about New York City newsboys (and girls) locked in a labor dispute with newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer in 1899 — opening Aug. 1 at the Lexington Opera House. Yet it was central to one of the company’s primary reasons for existing: to help prepare young performers to make their own mark on American musical theater.
“It ties directly into our mission,” says “Newsies” director Lyndy Franklin Smith, who founded the Lex, now in its fifth season, with her husband, producing director Jeromy Smith. “When we started the company, we had two things in mind. First, we wanted to create fabulous, first-rate professional theater for Central Kentucky. Second, we wanted to serve as a training ground for young people. They learn during rehearsal, of course, but when they’re not in rehearsal, there are workshops, arranged mentoring sessions, and a lot of other things that give these kids a leg up in the business.”
A different mentoring session, for example, allowed high school and middle school students in the cast — almost all from Lexington and nearby cities including Frankfort, Carlisle and Shelbyville — to learn from college-age cast members about how to prepare for their applications to Bachelor of Fine Arts programs in musical theater, which have become increasingly competitive in recent years.
The young cast members can also benefit from the networking opportunities. The “Newsies” choreographer, Mara Newbery Greer, has helped performers at The Lex — including Trevor McChristian, who played Riff in this season’s “West Side Story” — land roles elsewhere. And four cast members in the company’s first production, “42nd Street,” ended up in a new production that originated in London’s West End and recently premiered at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine.
“We’re trying to be a launching pad,” Smith says, “opening doors and giving this next generation the tools they need to be successful.”
In turn, the lead actors — who in “Newsies” include Dan DeLuca as the lead, Jack Kelly (a role he originated in the show’s first national tour), Stephen Buntrock as Joseph Pulitzer (several Broadway productions including “The Phantom of the Opera,” “A Little Night Music,” “Oklahoma!” and “Les Miserables”) and Carrie Compere (“The Color Purple”) — find that teaching and learning happens in both directions.
“When I was still in high school in Pittsburgh, I had the chance to work with people who’d been on Broadway,” DeLuca says in an interview. “Being in the same room with them, watching them work, taking in all that subtle teaching — that was so important. As students we’re taught the basic techniques of singing and dancing and acting, but how to interact with other actors in a room, how to work with a director, we learn by example. And so the senior actors here now, we take that job very seriously.”
At the mentoring session with the senior “Newsies” cast, not all of the questions — and not all of the answers — revolved around performing. What effect, one girl wanted to know, does the actor’s nomadic lifestyle — which can mean moving around the country almost constantly for roles at regional theaters or to go on tour — have on your personal life?
“If you enter this profession, you will eventually end up dating someone also in the business, and then one of you will go on tour,” Tessa Grady says. “And just know: The relationships that are meant to last … will last.” There’s nervous laughter in the room as the young performers consider the alternative. “And when they don’t —”
“We’ll be there for you,” Buntrock says, bringing down the house.
“Newsies” by Lexington Theatre Company
Where: Lexington Opera House
When: Aug. 1-4
Info: (859) 233-3535 or lexingtontheatrecompany.org