Interview with Jason Gotay

This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com
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Jason Gotay is a young up-and-coming Broadway performer, currently playing the role of Randall in the Equity national tour of BRING IT ON. I had the pleasure of being his voice teacher for three years at Marymount Manhattan College. I was eager to reconnect with Jason and see how he was doing

Congratulations on your role in BRING IT ON! Tell us what the show is about.

BRING IT ON is loosely based on a movie that came out in the mid-90’s.  It borrows the title and the world of high school competitive cheerleading, friendship and rivalry, but the story is very different.  The plot follows the heroine, Campbell, who is the beloved captain of her cheerleading squad at Truman High School  When she’s mysteriously transferred to Jackson High (a more inner-city school), Campbell attempts to create a new cheerleading team.  After encountering a lot of opposition, she combines forces with an initially reluctant Danielle to form a dance troupe that helps them find common ground and achieve Campbell’s dream of going to Nationals.

I play Randall, Campbell’s love interest at Jackson High.  I see something different about her as soon as she steps through the metal detectors.  I take Campbell under my wing and we begin a relationship based on flirty, witty banter.

How would you stylistically characterize the score?

There are a few influences at play in the score.  The music for the show was written by two different composers: Lin Manuel Miranda (IN THE HEIGHTS), who has a Latin/Rap/Hip-Hop sensibility and Tom Kitt (NEXT TO NORMAL), who has more of a pop/rock background.  Both styles are heavily featured in the show.  Sometimes the styles are very distinct, especially when they represent the different high schools.  Initially, Lin Manuel and Tom both signed on to write music for one of the schools.  Now they’re working together to make a more cohesive score.  Sometimes you can hear both their influences in the same song, and in other songs it’s more distinct, depending on where we are in the story.

Overall, I would categorize the score as hip-pop and pop/rock.

Tell us about the audition process for the show.

My character was the very last to be cast.  Telsey & Co. Casting had an open call just for the role of Randall.  There were hundreds of guys who showed up to audition for that particular role.  Luckily, my manager was able to set up a time slot for me so I could come to the open call and head right into the audition room.

It all happened very fast.  I was called the day before the audition, and instructed to sing from my book and prepare two sides they e-mailed me.  I went into the audition and did my song and sides for the casting director.  She immediately told me I had a call-back two days later, where I would sing and read for a couple members of the creative team.

A couple days later, I auditioned for Andy Blankenbuehler (Director/Choreographer) and Alex Lacamoire (Musical Supervisor).  I was asked to learn two songs from the show and prepare the same two sides.  They both gave me a lot of adjustments, which I performed back for them right away.  They were very clear about what they wanted and  it was very comfortable right from the beginning.  I heard later in the day my final call-back would happen three days later.  I had a few days to prepare the same material based on the notes they had given me.

At the final call-back, there were about twenty people in the room.  I didn’t know who any of them were (I found out later several of them were producers).  Taylor Louderman, who was cast as Campbell, was also there so they could see how we looked and worked together.

I sang through the songs and did the sides again.  After I sang and read, they asked me to wait outside.  After a couple minutes, the casting director came out and asked if I could wait while they heard one more person audition.  Then they would work with me a bit more.

At the end of the night, they brought me back in and Tom Kitt was at the piano.  He worked me through the songs, which was a complete out-of-body experience!  We basically just worked at the piano, in a stop-and-start sort of way.  He gave me a couple notes on phrasing, and wanted to see if I could make vocal and stylistic adjustments in the moment.  Even that was very comfortable – everything he said made sense.  It was great working with him.

Later that night the casting director called me and let me know I was their choice, but that I had to wait for the approval of a couple producers in LA.  I waited two or three more days, then got the official confirmation that the role was mine.

It all happened very fast.  I know several people had been auditioning for months, but for me, it was my initial audition and two call-backs.  That was it.

How long was the rehearsal process? 

We rehearsed for a little over six weeks.  Four of those were in New York, working with creative team before heading to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles for tech rehearsal and previews.   We previewed for about twelve days, then ran for four weeks.

What are the similarities and differences between working on a role in a Golden Age musical (like the role of Oscar in SWEET CHARITY, which you played at Marymount) and a contemporary role like Randall in BRING IT ON?

The differences are many, including stylistic differences and the structure of how the story is told.  But regardless of the genre, the storytelling has to come first.  Then you have a make sure you’re meeting the demands of the score.

In SWEET CHARITY, for example, even though it was a Golden Age musical, I was bringing my sound to the score and trying to make sure that I was communicating the story being told.  When I sang “Sweet Charity,” I wanted to make sure I was honoring Cy Coleman’s sweeping melody while wooing Charity.

In BRING IT ON, my song is a pop/rock ballad called “Might As Well Enjoy the Trip.”  The story of the song is about nurturing a friendship and learning to embrace every moment.  This song has more of an edge to it and is more wordy, which requires me to almost speak the song.  The writers likened it to a Gavin McGraw song – a bit more raw and carefree.  So, stylistically and musically, the two songs require different things.  But again, the intention of playing the scene remains the same.

Sound and style are very important.  For me, I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to “do” Golden Age or Contemporary.  It’s about bringing my sound to the music while still satisfying the demands of the writers.

Also, with a Golden Age show – which has perhaps been done several times – it’s about bringing new life into a piece, not trying to recreate it.  Jeff Shade, our Director/Choreographer for SWEET CHARITY, encouraged us to honor the original while finding something new to say about the characters.

In “BRING IT ON,” it’s still in some sense a workshop, although it’s a production being taken across the country.  There are things structurally and musically that are still being changed.  We also have the creators in the room, contributing and editing as we go.  That’s very exciting and a little bit scary because you’re verging on the unknown.

Rather than breathe life into something that previously existed, we’re trying to figure out what works in front of a live audience – what beats land with an audience and what moments don’t resonate quite as well.

I understand the show is vocally demanding. How are you coping with the eight-show week?

It’s been a… journey.  It takes a lot of maintenance and care.  It’s the first time I’m doing something like this.  The times that I’ve done an eight-show week in the past were much shorter engagements (two or six week runs), so I’ve really had to consider how to maintain my stamina.

There are a lot of sacrifices that have to be made during the day and after the show.  I’ve had to make sure I’m taking care of myself, given that I only have one day a week to recoup.  Achieving consistency eight times a week is very difficult.

I take Emergenc-C before the show every night and get as much rest as I can.  I have warm-ups I do before the show (both for my body and voice).  Everyone’s routine is different.  You learn what your body and your voice need.

It took a little figuring out at the beginning, when I was trying to work the score into my body, learning where I could place things so I could sing them consistently.   You have to know when you’re being a little too ambitious, or where you’re not being ambitious enough.  The first few weeks of the run are the most important in taking the time to figure out what works.

Now it feels like second nature because I have that knowledge.  Still, I won’t let myself slip or rest on my laurels.  It takes that upkeep to stay in shape.

How long have you been on tour?

I’m in the middle of my fifth month.

What’s the best and hardest thing about being on tour?

The best thing about being on tour is the magic of experiencing all the different theaters in the cities we visit.  One of the most amazing things for me is coming into a theater knowing that there’s so much history in that space.  Performing at The Orpheum in San Francisco, for example, was unreal.  I saw a wall of playbills of the shows that had been there.  In Denver, there was a wall of show murals created by every cast.  To join in that  legacy and get ready in a dressing room that’s been inhabited by who-knows-who… that’s so exciting.

Then, there’s the excitement of visiting of all these different cities – not just vacationing, but really living there, meeting the people and seeing how each crowd responds to our show.

The hardest thing about a tour is not having a home base.  I miss having my own home to go back to every night after the show.  It’s a lot of adjusting and settling every couple weeks.  You do get used to it after a while, but I miss the sense of comfort and security in having my own space.

And traveling definitely has its challenges. We travel via bus or plane, depending on how close we are to the next venue.  Sometimes we’ll fly into an airport, then take a bus to our destination.

It’s been challenging to maintain my health and stamina while being on the go.  The weather changes can really affect me.  We went from Fayetteville, where it was snowing and super cold, to Dallas, where it was very humid and warm.  My body and voice were in shock for the first couple days.  I had to overdose on the things that are good for me: rest, vitamins… It takes that extra care to make sure I stay strong.

You’re on a sit-down tour, meaning you stay in one city for an extended time. How much changes from city to city? Does each venue make the show feel different?  Are you finding audiences in different regions have different reactions to the show or “get” different things?

We’re on a short engagement touring agreement, which means the length of our contract with each theatre varies from city to city.  We were in Los Angeles for the longest amount of time.  We were in San Francisco for four weeks; Denver, Houston and Dallas for two; and only one week in Fayetteville and Des Moines.  Currently, I’m in Chicago.  We’ll be here for three weeks.

A LOT changes from venue to venue, particularly in terms of sound.  If a theatre is smaller, I can hear the band and myself better.  In Des Moines or Houston, however, we were in huge touring theaters.  In those situations, it can be a little harder to connect with the band.  It takes a bit more to getting used to.  In the bigger theaters, I also have to be more conscious of playing to a bigger crowd.  In a smaller theater, it’s an intimate experience and I feel the audience is more with me.

The stage, however, always looks the same.  So, once I step out there, there’s that element of just doing the show.

All across the board – because the show is entertaining and visually spectacular – the audiences have a great time.  In different cities, however, I’ve noticed people respond to different types of humor.  Randall’s sense of humor is a bit obscure and witty.  It’s not always laugh-out-loud.  I had some amazing shows in Denver- I felt like the crowd really understood my character and his humor.  Then in other cities, people didn’t respond to my character’s personality as much.  It’s been interesting to see how audience response changes from city to city.

Is it hard not to change your performance when you’re not getting the response you expect?

The creative team has been really great about letting us know that we can trust what we’re doing.  Whether or not it lands is not a reflection of us.  It could be something about that particular crowd or night.  That’s been a huge blessing for me. I have to be careful not to over-compensate.  If I’m used to getting a laugh in a certain place and one night the laugh doesn’t come, I just have to keep the show moving.

It’s difficult in a comedic show like ours where the audience response is so tangible.  It’s easy to come to expect a huge response in certain places, but those things do change.  I have to make sure I’m staying true to the show.

How many changes has the show undergone since you’ve been involved? How fast are you expected to incorporate those changes? 

Starting back to when we were in our preview period – a period of time set aside specifically for changes – we’re expected to perform every night and rehearse every day.  We incorporated any changes we had rehearsed during the day in that evening’s performance.

Throughout the past few months, we’ve had the creative team come out to a couple different cities and edit certain things.  Sometimes they’ll come and give small adjustments.  Other times the changes are a little more significant.  Certain moments are tweaked and changed, and those are things we also have to incorporate that same night.

The creative team is very understanding about the difficulty in adjusting, but that’s part of this process, especially when working on a new show.  You have to roll with the punches.  None of the changes have been too major that they can’t be incorporated the same night.  They haven’t plugged in a new song or anything.  It’s just been about cutting down scenes and making sure transitions are seamless.

Still, it does take an extra amount of focus to make sure you’re remembering the little adjustments.

What’s a typical show day look like for you?

I’m not going to lie.  I sleep in pretty late because the show finishes around 11 PM every night and it takes me a while to wind down.  I usually wake up in the late morning or early afternoon and have a huge breakfast.  Then there are a few hours in the day that vary – I may run some errands, send some e-mails, do some food or clothes shopping.   I hit up the gym to warm up my body (45-90 minutes) and have something light to eat before heading over to the theater.

After the show, I’m usually pretty hungry, so I’ll grab some food, hang out with friends from the show or go out afterward.

There are also days I’ll go out and explore the city.  If it’s a two-show day, I’m up earlier, getting to the gym and doing my routine before the shows.

It’s a pretty simple, relaxed schedule.

You’ve a done couple live performances on newscasts. What’s that been like?

I’ve done several of these, and they’re usually SUPER early. Sometimes the pick-up at the hotel is 7:30 AM.  That’s a real challenge when you have to sing a belted A at 8 AM!  I really have to prep for that.  I wake up at 6:30 AM and run at the gym for 15-20 minutes in order to be physically warm.

When I do my duet with Campbell on the air, it’s a shortened version (without the dialogue), and a slightly different arrangement than in the show.  It took me a while to adjust to the differences between the track we sing to and what we do in the show.

Sometimes I have to sing the a little lighter than I would on stage.  The intention and story-telling has to be there, but I’ve learned how to take it a little easier vocally depending on what time I have to perform.

It’s been a great experience – to see the studio, perform on camera, meet the newscasters – but it’s definitely challenging.

What are you finding is the biggest difference between college life and being in the professional world?

For me, one of the biggest differences is that I’ve almost been allowed to relax a bit more in some ways.  In college there was almost a competitive aspect of trying to go home and do your homework so you can come in and nail it.  In the professional world, you’re being collaborated with, and that has a very different feeling to it.

I came to BRING IT ON feeling like I really needed to prove myself because of the caliber of the team and because I’m an unknown entity.   I wanted to prove that they made the right choice.  But I also had to begin to trust that I was hired as a professional actor and that what I bring to the table is of value.  That comfort and ease is very exciting.

If you could go back a couple years to when you were still in college, what might you have done differently?

To be honest, nothing.  I felt like I took advantage of every opportunity that came to me – any concert, cabaret, master class… I was excited to take part in it.  That’s something I look back on and am proud of.  I don’t feel I took anything for granted because I knew how important it was to train and stay consistent.

I really made an effort to take advantage of the city and work with my teachers, who are  amazing artists.  I don’t think that I worked as hard as I could have in my liberal arts classes.  Maybe I could have put a bit more effort into that.  But I knew I was focusing on what was important to me.

I’m really happy with my training and everything I got to do.

Name the biggest thing you think every musical theatre student needs to know.

I get this question a lot at Q&A’s after the show.  I usually say the same thing, which is: trust yourself and what you bring to the party.

In college, there was such a battle over where I fit – what my “type” was.  I didn’t fit into a certain box: I wasn’t a typical leading man or character actor.  I looked different than the ingenue, but maybe I sounded a certain way.  I spent so much time worrying about my type.

I was lucky, because the part I got cast in isn’t your typical leading man or character actor.  He’s a unique kid with a unique sense of style.  In college, I tried to find material that fit me, rather than fit a certain mold or stereotype.  That ended up paying off.

While it’s important to have a knowledge of where you fit in the industry, trust what makes you unique.  Embrace who you are, because that’s what will set you apart.

For more information about BRING IT ON, click here.

Jason Gotay is a New York City native and graduate of Marymount Mahattan College (BFA Acting/Minor Musical Theater). Credits include: Bring It On: The Musical (Randall, National Tour), Rent (Pioneer Theater Company Westchester Broadway Theater), Shenandoah, The King and I (Gretna Theater). Educational Credits include: Bright Lights, Big City (Jamie), Sweet Charity (Oscar Lindquist). Concerts/Cabarets: Broadway’s Rising Stars (Town Hall), Monday Nights New Voices (Duplex Cabaret Theater). 

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July 28, 2012

Epilogue 

Last night I finally had the pleasure of seeing Jason play Randall in BRING IT ON, as the show is currently in previews on Broadway. To say I’m proud is an understatement for sure. It’s so thrilling to see Jason coming into his own as a singing actor. I feel doubly blessed to be a witness to his success because it was such a pleasure being his voice teacher while he was at Marymount.

Lest my reflection be misunderstood, let me be clear: Jason created his own success – I would never claim that as my own accomplishment. But, as someone who taught him and saw him struggling to become the best he could be, I can’t help but smile, shake my head with tears in my eyes and say a loud, reverberant “YES!”

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4 thoughts on “Interview with Jason Gotay

  1. The interview was great. I am so proud of Jason and all of his success so far. Thank you for doing the interview. Marla Gotay

  2. Julie and I can’t wait to see you in the show. We are totally thrilled for you.
    Break a leg and God Bless Claire,Stan , and Julie NOtwicz

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