First, let me confess before I had even met Alex, I’d seen him 4 times in The Great Comet #CometSuperFan. He’s electric on stage, in real life, and in this interview. His advice soars above “eat your greens and exercise” and shares a level of honesty about what it really takes to tackle this job day in and day out. Also, let’s note, he’s maybe one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. Alex’s advice will have you giggling and wanting more so lean in, take notes, and soak in some golden advice about being Fit for Broadway!
NOTE FROM ALEX: Hi there FFB! My name is Alex (but my friends all call me Gibby), I’m 24, and I’m currently making my broadway debut in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812! I’m originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin which means that I have a soft spot for cheese curds and flattening my vowels. I’m a shameless theater dork, and so performing on Broadway is an incredible and humbling experience. It’s also meant quite a steep learning curve about my own health and fitness, so I’m so glad to be chatting with FFB about it!
Q: Can we start from the beginning… What’s been your journey to Broadway?
A: Well I actually started as a competitive Irish Dancer when I was a child. I did that pretty intensely for a while and then quit in middle school once it got too intense. At that point I got into theater, both in my school and at a local children’s theater in Milwaukee called First Stage that is both a professional theater and has year-round training programs for kids. I should also note that when I got bitten by the theater bug, I got bitten hard. My freshman year of high school was the same year that YouTube was invented; I used to spend every waking moment after school on the family computer watching any video clip about theater or Broadway that I could get my hands on.
After high school I went to NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where I was a member of the inaugural class of the New Studio on Broadway. It was an incredible and eye-opening journey at school, and I’m so grateful for the brilliant and supportive mentors we had in that program. The day after I graduated I left to go do My Fair Lady at the Guthrie Theater, where I also got my Equity card. I then did a tour in Japan with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, and then came back to do another show at the Guthrie and bopped around to a few other regional theaters before coming back to New York. Once I was back in the city I did some voice-over work and announcing for concerts, and got back into improv comedy (which I had done all throughout college but had to put on hold after graduation). I like to have my fingers in lots of different pies!
After not having worked a theater job for a bit, I got a chance to do a very cool and small show called the Good Swimmer at the HERE Arts Center. In that show I got to work with Sam Pinkleton, who is the choreographer for Great Comet, so when I saw his name on the audition breakdown later in the year I figured I might be a good fit for his style and went to the Equity Chorus Call. And a series of very sweaty and intense auditions later, I got the job!
Q: You’re part of my very favorite show on Broadway (definitely currently, maybe ever!) Do you have a favorite memory from your time at The Great Comet?
A: Oh gosh, there have been so many incredible moments. The first one that comes to mind though was our final rehearsal before we moved into the theater. We all gathered in a circle/clump on the floor and did the entire show sans choreography, just being present with each other. It’s such an incredible group of people and to get to share that very simple and honest moment together as a company was the perfect blast-off for the rest of the run.
Q: How have health and fitness been intertwined into your journey as a performer?
A: The truth is that your health is everything when you’re a performer. You’re called upon to perform at your peak physical and mental condition consistently, and you have to have that in place in order for your artistry and craft to shine through. I’m one of those people who has spent a lot of time at the doctors’ throughout my life for sickness or injuries, and so I was very used to not feeling fully well even when I had to perform as if I was. Often in shorter contracts you have a clear finish line that sometimes you can just push through to reach – ie “Oh I’ve hurt my leg and I can’t stop sneezing but I only have to get through another week and then I can go home and collapse.” But I realized pretty quickly that I simply couldn’t keep up that mindset for this longer open-ended run. I actually pulled my hamstring during the first week of previews and I just remember thinking, “This cannot be the story of my experience in this show.”
So my mindset has shifted pretty intensely from being reactionary to preventative. It takes a lot more mindfulness, but in the long-term it’s much easier to prevent injuries than to treat them. I now have a pretty thorough warm-up and cool-down process, and I make sure to check in with my body everyday so that I can give extra lovin’ to something if it feels like it might be going out of whack. I’ve worked with a physical therapy team to re-learn how to walk up steps so that I can take on the zillions stairs we climb during our show. I make sure to go to the gym consistently and I work with a trainer so that I can cross-train the parts of my body that aren’t getting worked out during the show. I eat when my body is hungry and try to make sure that I’m putting real food into it (sorry flaming hot cheetos I love you dearly but maybe we’ll meet again some day). I’m getting shots to build up immunity to some various allergies I’ve got. OH and SLEEP. Sleep is literally the best.
Q: Any other holistic practices to stay #BalancedOnBroadway?
A: I’m really enjoying silence and meditation more than any other time in my life. My roommates/best-friends are also incredible and make me glad to come home every night. Amidst the noise and insanity of New York, that has made a huge world of difference. This is also kind of random, but as a huge life-long musical nerd, it’s sometimes easy to really get swallowed by theater 24/7. I would be coming home from the show and then talking to people about the show and then listening to the show on my iPod and then getting people reaching out on social-media about the show and I had to eventually find ways to disconnect. It’s been really valuable to make sure I have playlists of music that are strictly non-musical and books that I’m reading that engage me in the world in ways that I’m not already inundated with. Feeling like I’m getting better understanding the world around me as a full, multi-layered person rather than just an actor has been very good for my emotional and mental health.
Q: I’ve had a recent request from readers who are interested in knowing about your survival jobs pre-Broadway? Any advice for performers who are looking for part time work while auditioning?
A: At NYU I worked as a grader for the computer science department which in hindsight is pretty hilarious. But actually since graduation I’ve been incredibly lucky in the way that shows have timed out that I haven’t needed to have a survival job yet. I mean I fully anticipate that happening at some point in the future, but I was very dedicated to saving all of the money I earned in regional jobs, and that combined with unemployment and random concert and voiceover gigs managed to pull me through the dry spells.
Q: How does nutrition play a role in feeling your best for each Broadway show?
A: The show takes a crazy amount of energy to get through, and so you have to be putting the right fuel into your system to make it happen. During tech I was actually getting pregnancy-style cravings for oreo milkshakes every day, and it wasn’t til a bit later that I realized that it was because my body was just desperate for calories because I was burning through so many every performance. So every day (especially ones where I’m additionally going to the gym) I have to make sure that at a very base level I am getting a whole lot of food in so that I am able to do my job without depleting my whole system. Then on top of that I’ve started to be a lot more conscious of what it is that I’m putting into my body. I’ve become more aware especially in regards to sugars and processed foods. And that’s not to say that I have cut those things out completely (I should add here that I love a chip. I love chips dearly). But in general I try to eat real foods. I find that when I eat things where I can recognize everything on the ingredient list, I leave shows feeling more energized and less like I need to scrape myself off of the floor.
Q: Can we play “What I Ate Yesterday”?
A: I ate…
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with feta and spinach
- Lunch: Chicken with brussels sprouts and brown rice. (This sounds kinda lame but we have a full stock of spices and I love me some spices).
- Dinner: This is usually something I pick up by the theater. I like Fuel and Dig Inn as they both have some pretty healthy yummy options. Yesterday I went to Dig Inn and got quinoa, kale, sweet potato, chicken, and avocado. yummmmmm
- Snacks: Greek Yogurt, Carrots and hummus, fresh fruit! Two days ago I roasted a bunch of chickpeas so I had some of those that were hangin around. I love snacks!
- Miscellaneous: I like to bring things with me for on the go. Anything in bar form is my weakness so I try to stock up on some healthy versions. Yesterday I think I had an Rx bar and some weird but yummy chicken bar I grabbed on a whim from Trader Joe’s. OH also I try to sneak a protein shake in the day, usually after a show or after the gym.
Q: Who or what inspires you?
A: Carol Channing. Just kidding (not kidding). Actually tho I really have the best family ever, and a beautiful family of friends here in the city. They all constantly inspire and push me to be a more open, full, thoughtful human being. I’m very thankful to have them.
Q: What’s your advice for aspiring performers who have their sights set on Broadway?
A: I guess I would say that it is important to remain a citizen of the world who is curious and passionate about the human condition. That sounds kind of lofty and abstract, but the things you are interested in and passionate about will only stand to make you a more sane persona and interesting artist. And it’s pretty dang hard to be an artist unless you are reflecting and in some way processing the times we live in. Now that being said, you obviously have to develop your craft and work hard so that when you go into an audition room you are showing them your fully realized chops. But make sure that in the process you aren’t limiting what makes you a unique and interesting individual.
Q: BROADWAY INSPIRES ME TO BE _____________________.
A: PRESENT! So often I am focused on the next thing coming up, or walking around with my head stuck in my phone. But the act of being able to do this show again and again where the audience is such an active player, and we all have to be present together has inspired me to try to be bring that presence of self into all of my worldly interactions!