Taking a Chance on Something New: Bret Shuford & Stephen Hanna

Bret Shuford and Stephen Hanna have been in some of the biggest shows on the Great White Way. Bret’s Broadway credits include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid. Stephen’s include An American In ParisOn The Town and Hello Dolly. But this year, they packed up their bags and moved to Charleston looking for a fresh start, new opportunities, and to start a family. I caught up with them to talk about their new adventure.

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Photography by Christopher Boudewyns

First, let’s talk about why you moved from New York. What prompted the move?

Stephen: It was a mix of things. The first thing that happened was my best friend from childhood—we danced together from the time we were ten years old—was a teacher in Pittsburgh and moved to Charleston to open up a school a year ago. She asked if I would be interested in coming down to help her.

Bret: We’d already been talking about wanting to try a new city. I’d been in New York for 20 years and Stephen had been there for 26. We also want to be dads and it’s difficult in New York with the expense and the uncertainty of our work. We looked at Austin, at Los Angeles, at Orlando and at going to Pittsburgh but Charleston felt like a mix of all of those places. We can still be a part of our community and audition for things in New York because it’s only an hour and a half flight, but we have steady work as teachers and the cost of living is less. It’s an experiment to see if we like it.

Stephen: We’ve only been here for three months so it’s still new.

Well let’s talk about your desire to be dads. While I’m sure that desire was always within you, at what point did you decide to start taking steps to make it a reality?

Stephen: We’d been talking about wanting kids for a long time but two years ago, I saw this Molly Shannon movie where her character was dying of cancer. Before she died, she told her son to always stop by and see his sisters because when he does, he will see her in their faces.

Bret: We’d talked about adoption for a while but that concept of being able to see ourselves in our kids is what’s driving us to try surrogacy.

Stephen: Right now, we have the embryos and we are looking for a surrogate. We started the process a year ago, chose an egg donor, and now the embryos are frozen.

Bret: Mo Brady was a big help. He told us about an organization, Men Having Babies, and we went to a couple of their events and met our doctor through that organization. We have Mo to thank for that. It’s been an interesting process so far.

Talk to me about adjusting to your life outside of New York. You said you’re both teaching now?

Bret: It’s a challenge because as much as we believe people in small towns live in a bubble, we live in a bubble in New York as well. In New York, we’re always looking for something new; to create something no one has seen yet.

Stephen: Yes and part of the reason I wanted to leave the city was that I was a little burned out on New York and I definitely needed to take a step away. Being here has given me more energy and beyond that, it’s so pretty here. That alone gives me a lot of energy. It’s been nice to have a voice and be a voice of guidance to people who need it.

Bret: That’s the biggest difference; that energy of always pursuing the next thing is what drives people in New York. That ambition is what makes people accomplish what they accomplish in our business. But because of that, it doesn’t really matter how much success you’ve had because you’re already onto the next thing. Here, I feel like the success we’ve had in our industry really matters in terms of putting us in a leadership position. It’s been validating in a lot of ways.

Stephen: I don’t think we thought we would be as busy as we are. We’re still auditioning, we shot a commercial together as husbands the other day which was really fun, and we’re teaching a lot.

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Photography by Christopher Boudewyns

Now that you’re in a new place, how are you challenging yourself to continue bettering yourself as artists?

Stephen: I feel like I’ve said yes to a lot of things I’ve never done before.

Bret: We’ve said yes to everything. We’re new here and don’t know anybody so we’re seeing what comes of it. There are so many new things.

Stephen: It feels like nothing has stopped and that our opportunities keep expanding.

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Beside everything else you’ve got going on, you also have Broadway Life Apparel, the t-shirt company you launched. Where did that come from?

Bret: I was backstage at Paramour actually. I’m a big Disney nerd and I was obsessed with all the fun independent accounts who make clothes for Disney lovers. Well no one was doing that for Broadway people. It’s been good so far and there’s enough interest for us to keep creating more.

What’s been the most surprising part of your move and changing your lives in that way?

Stephen: How busy we are.

Bret: I think we thought we’d be going to be relaxing at the beach every weekend and that’s not been the case, in the best way possible. I’m also surprised there isn’t an Equity theater here in Charleston. I thought that was interesting because I consider this to be a pretty metropolis city.

Is that something you can start?

Bret: I’d like to. We’re going to start bringing our friends in to help elevate the arts here and create a stronger community in Charleston.

Most importantly, are you happy?

Stephen: Yes, absolutely.

Bret: The sense of freedom that’s come from this…this is an adventure and you sort of realize there’s more to life. Doing something like this—making a decision and taking the action—you realize you really are in charge of your life. A lot of times, especially as performers, I’ve felt like I had to do certain things in order to remain in this community. It’s nice to have recognized that maybe I want to try something different and then to see that it’s all possible.

Interview by Ryan Brinson
Photography by Christopher Boudewyns
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