Working in the Theatre: Before the Show – Joel Perez


[music] One of the hardest parts of being an actor in New York is auditioning. It sucks! You have to develop really thick skin to hear a lot of rejection. And get really close to jobs that you care about, that you’d think you’d be great for. But, for many reasons that often have nothing to do with you, it doesn’t go your way. In the moment it can be hard to separate yourself from that. You end getting the jobs you are supposed to have and working with the people you are supposed to work with. Last fall I wasn’t getting things I was auditioning for and so I was really down about that for awhile but then my grandmother got really sick
and I ended up because I wasn’t working I ended up having a lot of free time
that I could go up to Massachusetts and be with my family for a few weeks and
kind of help my family deal with the passing of my grandmother. I actually started college as a chemistry major. During my freshman year of college friend was directing a musical and I was a singer and so she asked me to audition for it. And I did and loved it. I kinda just came to the realization that I liked being at
rehearsal more than like doing chemistry. Right as I was graduating, Randy Lutterman came to Tufts to talk about this program called Springboard and it seemed like a good
thing for me to try out. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do after graduating. I had a lot of friends from college who were moving to New York to
pursue careers in theater. I wanted to go too. One of the best pieces of advice Randy gave me was, New York isn’t going anywhere so maybe you don’t need to New York right away. I actually spent a year after college living in Boston and doing a lot
of theatre and film and commercials in Boston. The year that I went to
Springboard, we saw In the Heights. I’m Puerto Rican and so seeing that show I
finally felt like there was a place for me on Broadway. And I ended up going on
tour with In the Heights. Through Fun Home, I’m making my broadway debut which is crazy. It’s like the best way to get your Broadway debut. I became involved with Fun Home
a few years ago at the Sundance Theater Lab. At that point it was just a few
pages and a few songs and something that Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron were crafting. They would be like, “What are good at? What can you do? How does your voice sound good?” Then they’d kind of right with you in
mind and that’s pretty incredible and it wasn’t a show that was like “guys with this
is going to Broadway.” There was never their intention behind it was just we are gonna do a really good show. We are gonna focus on really good storytelling. As a young actor in New York, I thought
that people just wrote stuff and it was done and then you did it and then you
just auditioned for it and then it’s done. If a show is given the time to really develop and become the show it needs to be and workshopped and has a
great team behind it, it isn’t done overnight. It takes time to create good art. Before the show I get there a bit early. I’m the dance captain for our show. There are children in our show, so they will warm up and if they have any notes about choreography from the night before I’ll come down and give those notes. Working with kids is great. I mean, I’m a giant kid. But they are also not like normal children. Broadway kids aren’t normal kids. They are so smart and they have better resume than most of us. It’s like, “Well, what can I learn from you? Clearly you’ve got it figured out.” Then I just spent most of my time visiting everybody, going into everybody’s rooms saying hello. I think our show can be a bit heavy,
and I think because of that we play a lot of jokes on each other and kind of
having a good time backstage. Being a part of Fun Home has just been an incredible experience for me as a person, as an artist, as an actor, as an activist. We are a part of this cultural moment. Even the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage. And to tell the story like Fun Home right now and on a Broadway stage where so many more people are getting to get the story that were trying to tell and they’re understanding it. A lot of people have been under-represented in theater. The fact that the protagonist is a
lesbian is unheard of. And she isn’t a joke. She isn’t a villain. She’s just a person. The lesbian community a big part of the musical theater community, and they have been under represented for so long. And it’s crazy that it’s 2015 and this is the first time that this is happening on Broadway. Every day at the stagedoor we get so many stories of people who are just thankful to see themselves on stage. To say, “My family wasn’t like the Bechtel’s, butt we were exactly like the Bechtel’s.” It isn’t just a gay-straight thing. I think it’s about getting to know your family and your parents and the relationships that we have with our children. I think musical theater in particular gets a bad reputation for being fluff and for being just a good time. Like a big, crazy musical, which I love. Those are fun to see. But it also has the power to change people’s lives. I genuinely fear that this is the best
show I’ll ever be in. I’m just feel like it’s just set the bar really high personally and artistically and creatively. It just feels like it’s such
a beautifully unique experience that I think really hard to recapture in something else, so I do fear that I might have peaked. But I hope that’s not the truth. With Fun Home I feel hopeful about the
future of American theater. There’s a lot of really incredible voices that are trying to tell stories. I hope that after this year producers and theaters are willing to take a risk on telling the stories of under-represented people. I feel that a lot as a Hispanic man wanting to be actor. The voice of Latino theater sometimes gets
stifled because there isn’t a lot of place for us to perform our work. You have to go to the Latino theater to see the Latin shows, you have to go to the black theater to see the black shows, rather than just seeing it as an
all-encompassing theater because that’s what America is. There are people out there who are making the work and if you just try a little harder to reach out to those communities I think you’ll be really surprised of the work that they can do.

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