Derek’s build and attitude reads equally young professional athlete and leading man. Which makes sense after all, considering we’ve deemed Broadway the olympics of musical theatre; not short of the blood, sweat and tears we see in professional sports. Derek gets it and is making his mark. If I could pinpoint every quantity you could possibly possess to be a successful, magnetic leading man on Broadway, Derek would hit the bull’s eye. For all of my aspiring leading men out there… soak up the advice of a true Broadway athlete who knows a *thing or two* about being FIT FOR BROADWAY.
NOTE FROM DEREK: Hi! My name is Derek Klena and I have lived in NYC for five and a half years now. I grew up in West Covina, CA, playing lots of sports and pursuing my love for theater (the real “High School Musical” experience) before making the big move in 2011 to be apart of the Off-Broadway production of Carrie here in NY. Since then, I have been lucky enough to originate the roles of Eddie Birdlace in Dogfight, Michael Johnson in The Bridges of Madison County, and currently Dmitry in Anastasia. I also had the amazing opportunity of making my Broadway debut as Fiyero in the 10th Anniversary Company of Wicked!
Q: Can we start from the beginning… What’s been your journey to Broadway?
A: I grew up with theater in my life. I have two younger siblings, and my mom started taking us to shows when we were little, and eventually got us involved in singing and dance lessons. We quickly developed a love and talent for it, so my parents then got us involved in a children’s theater that performed 2 shows a year. I continued to perform at that children’s theatre as well as many other regional theaters around the So Cal area, while also participating heavily in sports. I feel like that is something that really defines me as a person and has shaped who I am today. My parents were always insistent on pursuing many passions and keeping a well rounded nature and mind-set.
I never really thought of acting as a career choice until my sophomore year of college. I mean I had always dreamed of performing on Broadway someday, but how I got there was completely unexpected. I did this 7 week long singing competition called “LA’s Next Great Stage Star” where casting directors and agents in the LA area would come and be the judges every week. At the end of the 7 weeks, I was chosen as one of the 5 finalists. Part of the winnings was the opportunity to put on your own cabaret show at the venue. When putting together my set list, I came across a youtube video of Aaron Tveit singing “Goodbye” from Catch Me If You Can (they were doing their out-of-town production in Seattle at the time) and decided that I wanted to sing that song in my show. Well, my cabaret ended up getting reviewed, and Marc Shaiman, composer of Catch Me If You Can, heard via “google alert” that I sang the song. Out of the blue, I get a Facebook message from Marc asking if I sang the song well?…I was slightly terrified yet excited, and quickly responded with an “I think so.” He then asked, if I were to sing the song again, to forward him a recording of me singing it because they were going to be looking for Aaron’s standby when the show transferred to Broadway….cut to me, in shock.
Sure enough, shortly after that, I was asked to sing the song at an event in Orange County. I went to a friends recording studio, put down a track of me singing “Goodbye,” and sent it off to Marc Shaiman…He loved it! He ended up forwarding the recording to Telsey + Co. casting to have them set up an audition for me in NY!
I ended up flying out for a dance call, work session, and final callback for the creative team. I didn’t end up getting the role, but Telsey + Co. said that they had a couple other projects coming up that they wanted to see me for. One of which was the final workshop/lab of Carrie. I ended up leaving UCLA after my fall quarter of my junior year to move to NY to do Carrie Off-Broadway.
Q: How have health and fitness been intertwined into your journey as a performer?
A: I feel like the competitive nature, perseverance, and work ethic I gained from my sports background have greatly influenced my life as a performer. At the end of the day, we are all athletes and have to prep ourselves for the rigorous schedule that is the 8-show week. I definitely have had to adapt my lifestyle and focus on my health to perform to my fullest consistently.
Q: It’s no doubt you’re an athlete on Broadway. What are your top 3 tips for conditioning your body and mind for your job each day?
- EAT WELL BECAUSE “YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT!”
- DRINK TONS OF WATER
Q: Any other holistic practices to stay #BalancedOnBroadway?
A: I just recently started getting Acupuncture and am starting to realize why people swear by it. I was tentative at first, but now agree that it is indeed magical.
Q: How do you build a positive support system around you for the pressures that come with this industry?
A: This career and city can become very lonely and solitary if you don’t surround yourself with a positive loving group of people. Getting to work and build relationships with so many interesting talented people is what I love most about our industry. I love the collaborative atmosphere. It is also so important to have hobbies and interests outside of performing.
Q: I’m so impressed by your voice.. the entire cast is phenomenal. What are important practices to maintain your vocal health?
A: Thanks so much and you are awesome. : ) Everybody has their own method to maintaining vocal health, but I am a big believer in drinking tons of water, avoiding high acidic foods, and limiting body tension, especially in the shoulders and neck area. The more hydrated, relaxed, and centered your body is, the happier your cords will feel.
Q: Fill in the blanks…
A: The best part of working on Broadway is… the people that you get to work with and (I know it sounds cliche) having the responsibility and privilege of bringing happiness to so many people every night. I remember when I was growing up listening to the cast recording of Wicked and Next to Normal, and the feeling I had when I finally got to see those shows on Broadway. It’s those experiences that changed my life and made me want to do what I am doing today. I try to remind myself of this all the time, and know that their are hundreds of aspiring performers and young people out in the audience every night who are having similar experiences. Having that responsibility is pretty awesome.
The most challenging part of working on Broadway is… maintaining good physical and mental health. The most challenging and most important.
Q: Who or what inspires you?
A: Seeing actors like Hugh Jackman have such a well-rounded career and maintain a healthy lifestyle and persona. It motivates me and inspires me to do the same.
Q: What’s your advice for aspiring performers who have their sights set on Broadway?
A: Seize every opportunity and don’t take any experience for granted. You never know what could happen! Also, I know it sounds like a given, but BE YOURSELF! The most authentic interesting version of whatever you do is going to be your own.
Q: BROADWAY INSPIRES ME TO BE ____________________.
A: A role model and my best self. Sharing and inspiring love for the arts, while staying true to myself, brings me the most happiness.