“The biggest thing I took away was to trust my instincts and be present.”
Tyler Hanes is talking about playing Rum Tum Tugger in the revival of Cats, a show he both opened and closed. Having been in some of Broadway’s biggest shows (A Chorus Line, Hairspray and The Boy From Oz to name a few), Hanes is no stranger to big-budget spectacles, but Cats provided him a with a nightly freedom that other shows don’t always provide.
“It’s such a gift when a director like Trevor Nunn gives you the freedom to constantly create and play onstage,” he says, “so much of my show was improvised and, no matter what, I would commit 100% to whatever choice I made in that moment. After doing the same show 8-times-a-week for a year-and-a-half, keeping it fresh can be hard. But I love challenges and since the creative team trusted my instincts, my show was never the same because I was always searching for something new.”
Another challenge of doing a show, Cats specifically, 8-times-a-week for a year-and-a-half is the inevitable fatigue, something Hanes says taught him that “sleep is my best friend.”
“Something like Cats is a lifestyle. I’ve never had a show like this where so much of my time outside the theater is devoted to physical therapy, acupuncture, and a lot of sleep. We are athletes and this is such an athletic show, so we have to stay on top of it and maintain in order to put the best product out there.”
So how is he different today than when he started Cats?
“Whenever I play a role, I tend to learn a lot about myself in the process because I have to dig deep within to find the character. Sometimes it’s a close fit and it’s easy. Other times, I have to really activate my imagination in order to crack the character’s spine. With Tugger, I had a hard time figuring him out at first because he was out of my comfort zone, but once I did, I couldn’t get enough of him. We are very different but we have the same sense of play. When the show ended, I had the hardest time saying goodbye to him because it was almost like a breakup (I know this sounds precious). While in Tugger’s boots, I surprised myself constantly and now I walk through life with a little more swagger because of him.”
The life of an artist in the theatre is full of times of great work on stage and then times of not being in a show. This is something Hanes knows a thing or two about. After performing in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, there was an eight-year gap before he was back on the boards in On The Town.
“From ages 19 to 24, I did seven Broadway shows,” Hanes says. “I bounced from show-to-show-to-show. I thought that was normal—it’s not. But, I’d established myself as a dancer, which was great but I’m also a singer and an actor and I wanted to be seen in a different light. I was having trouble being seen for principle roles. I had to think about how to establish myself as a leading man since the industry seemed to see me in a different light. When my contract was up with A Chorus Line, I decided I was ready to learn how to be seen differently. I did a lot of regional work—a lot of work in Chicago.”
This leads me to ask the question about the prestige of Broadway versus performing in other parts of the country. I’ve hear plenty of theatre actors who think if they aren’t doing Broadway, they’re somehow less successful as actors.
“It’s so not true,” Hanes says. “In the theatre scene in Chicago, the actors are unbelievable. Broadway is amazing, it’s the top of the musical theatre field, but there is so much amazing work all over America. I’ve been so lucky to work with the actors I’ve worked with outside of the Broadway community. There are great people doing great things outside of Broadway. So where people in New York might not have seen me as someone outside of a dancer, theaters around the country saw me differently and let me develop my craft. I spent eight years doing that. I worked at different theatres, I moved to LA for a couple years and I focused on acting and choreography and then New York brought me back. For some people, it takes no time at all for the industry to look at them differently. For others, it takes eight, ten, fifteen years for the industry to look at them differently. I have no regrets about that time away from Broadway. I love the process of learning about my craft and the process of learning about myself.”
Part of that process of learning about yourself as a person and an artist, Hanes says, is to have a well-rounded life outside of what you do for a career.
“It’s always been essential to me to have other things in my life that bring me the same joy as performing. I have my hands in a lot of pots right now and I am always open to whatever comes my way. I’m a teacher. I’m a choreographer. I’m producing an awesome new web series called Ms. Guidance. I’m writing a one man show. I’m traveling to Russia. I do interior design. Now that I’m not doing 8-shows-a-week, I’m back in class. I love training. It’s so important to me to stay active and inspired and work with a variety of teachers in order to better myself. I also get to spend more time with my partner which is always a bonus because our schedules can conflict when I’m on a show schedule.”
Something else he makes time to be involved with is the Broadway Dreams Foundation, an organization he’s been involved with for more than 10 years.
“Not only do I get to work with some of the most incredible talent all over the world, it offers me mentorship opportunities that are extremely important to me. I would not be where I am without the guidance of my mentors who believed in me at an early age and it’s necessary for me to pay it forward. I’m so inspired by the artists I encounter at BDF and helping them find their way is what makes my experience with BDF so special.”
In January, Hanes moderated the LGBTQ panel at BroadwayCon in New York. In an industry known for acceptance and inclusion, he says it’s still imperative there be conversations about gay representation in the theatre.
“Because of the current climate in our country, it is vital as artists to stand up for who you are and have pride in oneself. I am so lucky to have had such a wonderful support system growing up and to be a part of a community that is so open and accepting but not everyone is so fortunate. I feel like there is a certain responsibility to honor myself but also not be defined by sexuality.”
Now that his time in Cats has come to an end, he’s pouring his energy into a web series he’s producing with his partner, Van Hansis, called Ms. Guidance.
“It’s a dark comedy about youthful artistic aspirations colliding with adult responsibilities,” Hanes explains. “We have been working on this for a couple of years and can’t wait to let it out into the world.”
He’s also readying his first one-man show that he will debut in Franklin, Mass., on April 27, something he says has been both terrifying and exciting to create.
“It’s an hour of just me. No character to hide behind. No partner to dance with or ensemble to back me up. Just an hour of Tyler. But it’s always the things that scare me that prove to be the most rewarding and thus far, working on this show has proved to be very entertaining.”
For tickets to Tyler Hanes in concert, click HERE.
Excerpts from this story were published in BLEEP’s March 31, 2017 article, “Tyler Hanes, Broadway’s Rum Tum Tugger, talks Cats, theatre outside of New York & The Ensemblist.”