The Ensemblist, our favorite podcast that gives you an inside look at the experience of being a Broadway performer, has announced the winners of the annual Ensemblist Awards! This year’s winners, chosen by last year’s winners, are Kim Fauré (Cats), Gregory Haney (Hamilton), Dennis Stowe (Aladdin), and Kevin Worley (Holiday Inn). BLEEP caught up with the quartet of talented performers to talk about the year they had, being a working actor and their hopes for 2017.
2016 has been a notable year for many reasons. What was the most notable thing that happened for you?
Kevin: I would have to say appearing in three Broadway shows over the course of the year. Not an easy task! I finished the run of Dames At Sea in January, then jumped into the Renaissance in Something Rotten as a temporary replacement before starting rehearsals for Holiday Inn. It’s been a busy year!
Gregory: For me the most notable thing this year was being a part of the 2016 Tony Awards Best Musical performance for Hamilton. I will always remember that night because we as a company took a stand against gun violence in response to the Pulse Night Club shooting.
Kim: Definitely booking Cats. About half of my childhood was spent in my basement learning every detail of the Cats DVD, so I am living all my dreams being in this show.
Dennis: As notable as 2016 was I must say that it was probably the most “non-eventful” year I’ve had professionally and I mean that in all good ways! This is the most “stable” I have ever felt in this crazy profession and the success of Aladdin, of course, is a huge part of that. To be able to “relax” in a show for a while really is a blessing and it bides you time to really work on improving your skills without the added pressure of the “hustle” to find the next thing.
Tell me about being in the ensemble this year. What’s your favorite aspect of being a part of this team?
Gregory: My favorite part of Hamilton is that we are a big family. I’ve worked with many of the creatives and cast before so joining the team felt like coming back home.
Kim: I love that Cats is a true ensemble piece. Everyone is featured, everyone is singing and dancing their asses off, and we are a true tribe onstage and off.
Dennis: Working in the ensemble of Aladdin has really been a joy from the beginning and that starts from the top down. Casey Nicholaw really created a joyful and comfortable atmosphere to work in and that permeated the company. We are one big dysfunctional family and are very close and, even after three years, Aladdin remains a very happy place to work. I have many favorite things about being in this ensemble but one of my favorites is the diversity we share in the cast. The cast is comprised of people from many different backgrounds and it is the first time I’ve experienced that in a Broadway show.
Kevin: Holiday Inn is an incredibly special project for me. Fred Astaire’s firecracker dance in the movie is the reason I put on tap shoes as a kid. Every year I would sit and watch that movie as if it was the first time I’d seen it. Having the opportunity to be in the original cast and help bring it to life on the Broadway stage is really a feather in my cap. My favorite part of the show is the people. The cast is so much fun on and off stage. It feels like a never ending holiday party!
You’re performing in front of sold out houses. As performers who have been in multiple shows, how does your audience today stand out to you?
Dennis: What I love about the audience of Aladdin is being able to look out and see looks of absolute joy from adults and children alike. Aladdin is such a beloved Disney movie and it’s always clear from the energy in the audience that they are there to have a good time and escape into the magical, colorful, energetic and deliciously dangerous world of Agrabah.
Kevin: [At Holiday Inn] they are amazingly warm. You see folks wearing gaudy Christmas sweaters and Santa hats. There’s a lot of nostalgia involved with this movie and the audience really brings that with them into the house.
Gregory: Since [Hamilton] has been sold out, people have been eagerly waiting for months to see it so the energy they bring into the theatre is palpable. They are giving off so excitement from the downbeat of the opening till the fade out of the closing it’s incredible. I’ve never been in a show which has maintained this kind of excitement.
Kim: This show is so beloved. I had no idea there were as many people who were as obsessed with the show as I am! What stands out the most is the generation just a little younger than me that are getting to see the show on Broadway for the first time. They have loved the show and have been fans for so long but missed the show on Broadway and are getting to experience it now. I also cannot even tell you how many times people have said, “Oh Cats was my first Broadway musical!”
What did you learn about yourself as a performer this year that you didn’t know before?
Kevin: That I need to warm up! I’m not getting any younger and gone are the days of hitting the boards as the overture starts.
Gregory: I was reminded this year that being an artist is ever changing. I didn’t know the lengths of my patience and my capacity of digesting information within one show.
Dennis: I think the biggest thing I’ve learned as a performer this year is that I am capable of much more than I thought I was. I’m privileged to understudy two roles in Aladdin, Jafar and the Sultan, and sometimes I have gone on for my own track and both my understudy tracks all in one week. All of the roles I play and/or understudy are very different and it has been both challenging and fulfilling to be able to flex all my performing muscles in Aladdin.
What did you learn about yourself as a person this year you didn’t know before?
Gregory: I’ve learned that accountability isn’t always what you think; Really doing the work to hold yourself accountable for you, and being honest when you need to ask for help.
Kim: I have gained a lot of confidence I didn’t have before. This is the first time I have had to sing by myself on Broadway eight shows a week, and I’m doing it! While being catlike, and dancing, on a rake! I have learned so much about sustaining in a whole new way.
What was the best piece of art you saw or experienced this year and how did that challenge you as an artist?
Gregory: The best piece of art I experienced this year was Suzan-Lori Parks play The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA the Negro Book of the Dead at the Signature Theatre. This piece of art, for me, challenged my own idea of the black narrative in art in a beautifully unapologetic way, and forced the viewer to do more than simply try to understand.
Kevin: It’s funny, I don’t see much theater anymore now that I’m a father, but being a commuter from Jersey, I watch a lot of documentaries on Netflix. One I’m particularly invested in right now is Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States.” I fancied myself a pretty well-read American history buff and am obsessed with all the angles I’d never seen. It goes hand-in-hand with the recent election cycle in making me want to keep learning and keep trying to really see the world in which we live.
Kim: Well Hamilton is obviously on the list, and I’ll also say The Encounter for expanding how my senses experience art.
Dennis: This is a great question. Recently, I spent a whole day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I left so inspired by all of the different forms of art there and felt so privileged to be able to say that I am actually making my living as an artist. [I left there] realizing how important art is in shaping culture and that I might have a small part in that is profoundly inspiring and it motivated me immensely.
As a working actor on Broadway, where would you want to see the artform go next? What do you hope Broadway looks like in five or ten years?
Gregory: I’d love to see the continued rise of original art told in interesting and thought provoking ways.
Kevin: Like everyone, I want to see more fully original work. I want to see producers back it and I want to see writers unchained. Something Rotten is a perfect example. There’s no source material (except the entire Shakespearean canon), there was a question: What would it be like to be a writer in Shakespeare’s time? And from that came, what I would say, is one of the best, pure musical comedies of the century.
Gregory: I hope producers continue to keep pushing boundaries in all of the colorful and beautiful shapes of the human condition, and we as artist keep inspiring the next generation of creators.
Kim: I love that there are so many shows opening that are challenging tradition and thinking outside the box playing next to the Broadway classics. I would love that juxtaposition of old and new to continue to thrive as more and more creative minds push the limits of what is possible. In terms of what Broadway looks like, I hope it’s as colorful as possible.
Dennis: As much I think as it’s slowly moving in the right direction, I would love to see even more diversity on Broadway. Not just onstage, but in writing, producing, composing and the many other parts of the whole that is a Broadway show. I think it’s important for theatre to be accessible to people from all walks of life so that a child can look onstage, see themselves, and allow themselves to dream and realize that the possibilities are endless.
What’s one thing you want to leave behind in 2016?
Dennis: I would like to leave fear behind in 2017. I think there’s an overwhelming feeling of fear of the future, largely based on our political climate. I would love to leave that fear behind and/or use it to unite and not separate.
Kim: Negative self-talk.
Kevin: Fear. I’ve been in the business for over 15 years now and while I’ve learned to tame it and channel it, I will work my whole life to defeat it. One of favorite quotes, “Don’t waste this moment on fear!”
Gregory: I actually don’t want to leave anything behind in 2016. The year has had its ups and downs, all of which have helped mold me a little more into the person/artist I am supposed to be. If anything, 2016 has helped clarify my self-worth/confidence in a positive light which I greatly appreciate.
What’s one thing you want to embrace in 2017?
Kim: Turning 30!
Kevin: Listening. You can never be a good enough listener. There is so much to learn in this world. Pay attention and you’ll be amazed.
Gregory: In 2017, I would like to embrace community organizing, working on new work from the ground up, and stepping out of comfort zone.
Dennis: I would love to embrace openness to learn something new about myself and not get “set in my ways.”
What’s next for you?
Gregory: I am currently writing a web series with my partner in crime and fellow Broadway veteran, Anastacia McCleskey. Aside from that, hopefully creating new works, coupled with film and TV projects.
Kim: I will be soaking in as much time at my dream show as my body allows, so I am not sure career-wise. But I will be continuing a certification in Eden Energy Medicine this year, as well as managing my first rental property with my husband, so definitely some new challenges ahead.
Dennis: As far as what’s next for me, I plan on sticking around in Aladdin for a while longer, do my best to re-invest in myself, embrace change if it happens and continue to be open to learn and see what the world has in store.
Kevin: Well, after our home renovation, Holiday Inn closing, and a quick trip to a Nicaraguan Tree House with my wife, I begin rehearsals for Bandstand. I have been dying to work for Andy Blankenbuehler since I first took his class many years ago, and in 2017 I will finally realize that goal.
Created and hosted by Nikka Graff Lanzarone and Mo Brady, The Ensemblist is the only podcast that shows you Broadway from the inside out. Check out The Ensemblist at http://www.TheEnsemblist.com for our favorite inside look at Broadway and the performers who take the stage eight times a week.