Working in musicals requires serious chops and an open heart.
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Ben’s story is an interesting ride. He comes to New York after graduating Rutgers University and gets an agent right out of his showcase. Then the full effects of The Great Recession begin to sink in and there is very little work. Ben gets the go ahead from his new found New York agent to leave the city to do a theater job because why not, “There’s nothing here,” they say.
When Ben gets back to NYC, it’s November and essentially the biz is closed until after the holiday. So again…not much happening. But then things pick up, in a big way. He booked two TV shows and then booked The Lion King all within the first couple of months in 2010. Since then Ben has shared his interpretation of Pumbaa the jovial warthog thousands of times over the last 10 years. I asked Ben to share some practical tips other actors can use when contributing to a long running show.
Mike: “What are some lessons you’ve learned in doing a long running show?”
Ben: “The first thing I’ll say is, I don’t think there is any way to train for that specifically. You just have to do it and learn as you go. If you’re lucky a show will run for 1 or two years. That’s a tremendously long run, so training for something that is going to go for 10 or 15 years is for most people not a great use of their time. So generally when you get into it you’ll figure it out.
What I usually do is I always find the key to keeping it fresh and alive, is first I have to give credit to the people I’m fortunate to work with. I work with some incredible folks at Lion King, and usually when I just check in with them and find their eyes, and bring myself to what’s happening in the moment, that’s enough to bring me back to the here and now.
The danger that you run into with any long running thing is that you become so comfortable in it that you can do it on autopilot. But that’s not very satisfying as an artist and it’s also not what the audience has paid for. And even if your autopilot is really good, that’s not the experience you want to give them. You want to give them the experience of, for many people, their first Broadway show. That’s a very special thing. The nice thing about live theater is that every new audience is the final cast member of the show. They bring a new energy with them every night. So there’s always something there to feed of, to play with and to live with if you keep yourself grounded and present in the moment.”
Ben also shared some of his warm up process that may hold some keys for other performers looking to be at their best even at 8 shows a week.
Ben: “Regardless of whether it’s Lion King or any other show, doing 8 shows a week in a very physical show takes it’s toll. You have to have a certain level of conditioning to be able to sustain that for a prolonged period of time. I hit the gym because when you warm up your body it tends to warm up your vocal chords so I try to get to the gym in the morning and get a start on the day that way.
I usually like to get to the theater about an hour before the show starts for two reasons. One, going through Times Square square gives me tremendous adjuna and makes me homicidal. So I like to sit in my dressing room and get a little centered. I do a physical warm up and that sort of varies day to day, but theres a lot of foam rolling, there’s a lot of core work, there’s a lot of push ups and running to get your body warm. I do a vocal warm up. A good vocal warm up will take about 10 to 15 mins. So I warm up the body and warm up the voice, then I get the make up on, the costume on and then I do the show.”
No doubt Ben’s warm heart, joy for performance and solid work ethic will keep him in tip top shape for years to come. I can’t wait to see what’s in store.
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