I met Bret a few months ago when I was asked to be a part of one of his hysterical parody videos. I knew I wanted him on the blog eventually to pick his brain on his Broadway career, his Broadway coaching work, and some favorite audition stories. We decided to meet at Tazso Espresso Bar, a neighborhood coffee spot in Washington Heights for an evening pick me up. There were adorable candles set on every table, a solid playlist going, and people beginning their happy hour as we sipped coffees.
*Ideal cup of coffee: Stumptown’s Cold Brew or a Pour over at home
BS: I’m such a coffee snob. I only do pour-over. We make our own cold brew… Our coffee maker actually grinds the beans… I love a good coffee. We go to Blue Bottle, Stumptown, or even Café Grumpy.
AF: What are you drinking right now?
BS: I got an Americano.
AF: And is that your typical drink of choice?
BS: When it comes to coffee it really depends on my mood and the place and the time of day. I will always choose a cold brew at Stump-town… THAT is my drinking of choice. But when I’m making it… I usually make a pour-over.
AF: That’s why I’m so excited for Spring and Summer… bring on the cold brews! Would you have a cold brew in the winter?
BS: Yeah… but I wouldn’t take it outside…
AF: It would freeze… your tongue might get stuck.
BS: My other favorite place is in the East Village and it’s called, Abraco… it’s on seventh street between second and first and it’s the most amazing coffee. Anyway….
AF: You heard it hear folks! I didn’t know I was having a full-fledged coffee fanatic on the blog.
BS: Well when I saw your blog I thought, “I need to be on it multiple times to take her to all my favorite spots!”
AF: It’s a great excuse to explore. So now that we’ve covered coffee… what is your back-story? Where did you grow up, when did you move to the city…?
BS: So I grew up in Southeast Texas. I grew up in a suburban town called Beaumont…
AF: Beaumont… like Footloose!?
BS: Yes. Exactly like Footloose. Then I went to school in a smaller town called Orange, Texas. I knew when I was six that I wanted to be a performer.
AF: That’s young to know!
BS: I know. I started doing community theatre… and that was my whole childhood. I took dance classes, I was in choir, I was a thespian, and then I went on to do all the community theatre shows. I was a very odd young man in a Southeast Texas town…there were not a lot of boys like me. It was an awkward experience growing up there. But when I was nine we visited New York as a family trip and I was like, “I want to live here.” I knew when I was nine. Isn’t that weird?
AF: Sometimes you just know!
BS: I don’t know what it was.
AF: Did you see a show?
BS: We saw Phantom– but it was even before we saw the show that I knew I wanted to live there. We got off the train and my mom said I just immediately knew. I’ve been here for eighteen years. I went to school in Oklahoma for my first two years of college, the University of Oklahoma. Then I transferred to Wagner College, which is on Staten Island and I graduated from there.
AF: What has your time in the city looked like?
BS: Right after college, I worked at Paper Mill, got my Equity card…
AF: Right out of college…amazing.
BS: Right out of college… I worked during school in the summers, too. I did Footloose in Las Vegas between my Junior and Senior year of college and then I went back and finished college. Then I got my Equity card at Paper Mill, then did another show that rehearsed here but we went to Philly… and when we were in rehearsal 9/11 happened, which was super traumatizing. That morning I didn’t have rehearsal so I’d gone to an audition and so I saw the second plane hit. It was traumatizing for the whole city…and for the whole country… So the timing of it was crazy because I had just graduated and I was very hopeful and then that was tough to grow through so early in life. Talk about a real world experience. But then I just kept working, I stayed persistent and got an agent and then I kept thinking, “Gosh… this is taking me forever to get my first Broadway show…”
AF: Really? And you’d been here how long at that point?
BS: I got my first Broadway show when I was 24 years old… so it took me two years… and I thought that was too long.
AF: It’s nice to hear from someone who booked Broadway quickly that you realize, “Wow… that was crazy fast.”
BS: I know people my age who have never been on Broadway and are still trying to get there. I think there was something about coming from a small town and growing up feeling like none of it was possible- that drove me to try to make it.
AF: You were so driven.
BS: My first Broadway show was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
AF: How was that?
BS: So fun. I mean it was the dream. I was “Finally on Broadway!” One of the most amazing things about that experience was it was the first time I actually realized that Broadway isn’t about the most talented people, it’s not about the best choice… it’s about profit. It was a bit disheartening but also super empowering. It lost its’ magic in a way but it helped me kind of become an adult. There are a lot of talented people that deserve a chance.
BS: I see being in this industry almost as a service position. You’re helping make somebody’s life better. You’re enlightening them, teaching them something.
AF: Evoking emotion…
BS: If we are being of service then it’s not necessarily about us… it’s about the other person and being of service to them. I feel like some people have forgotten about that. That’s one of my main goals in my adult life… to shift that.
AF: So how are you working to change that?
BS: Well I got my certification as a Life Coach.
AF: So what does that mean?
BS: I was doing my third Broadway show and was backstage and was like… “Living the Dream” and was very unhappy. I was doing the eight shows a week grind which is a really tough schedule and I said to somebody sarcastically, “Did you ever think when you graduated with a Theatre degree you’d actually be on stage dressed as a Stingray for your career?” He said, “This isn’t a career this is a job.” And something clicked for me. And it was like…okay if I can look at this as a job… that’s a different way of looking at it. On the other hand I didn’t want to do this to just have a job. I wanted to do this because I have stories tell and have things in me that need to be expressed and I want to change the world in a scene. If I just wanted a job I could work at Starbucks. So it shifted what I wanted to do… I wanted to make a bigger difference. I wanted to keep performing but I knew with so many people that they were finding that they were getting stuck in that eight show week grind and felt like they couldn’t leave and that they were supposed to feel grateful… and I thought, “I want to help these people understand fulfillment is more than what you do.” You can find fulfillment outside of this. Even if you just need money, you can do other things to make money if you want to be artistically fulfilled at the same time. I want to help people discover what those things are. I want to help people…whether it’s to be on Broadway or something else… I want to help those people fulfill those dreams.
AF: So you coach all actors… Broadway… Broadway bound…
BS: To me living a Broadway life is not necessarily limited to being on Broadway. You have to live your life exactly the way you’d imagine your life would be once you’re on Broadway. That’s the goal. If your goal is to get there… why wait to feel the way you want to feel then? Why not start living that way now? That way when it happens it’s not such a big shift.
AF: That’s huge. And maybe you did find this but once you booked Broadway it’s like… “Now what?”
BS: Exactly… it’s so much easier said than done. We’re never going to be satisfied… but that’s what makes us artists.
AF: The grass is always greener on the other side.
BS: So why not NOW, just do exactly what you think you would be doing once you had it… what would that life look like? What would you be doing? You’d need to be going to Physical Therapy so if there’s something wrong with your body take care of it now! If you’d need to be taking dance classes, take dance classes. If you’d need to be taking voice lessons, take voice lessons. And if you’re having a hard time making money… get a job that pays the bills because you can’t win a Tony if you can’t eat…
AF: That seems so commonsensical but as actors that quickly goes out the window.
BS: We define ourselves so much by what we do.
AF: And with Social Media now it’s all, “look at what I’m doing!”
BS: If you think you’re going to come to New York and get discovered from some open calls you’re mistaken because this entire industry is a live experience. If you’re not showing up live and in person to things… no one is going to care. You’ve got to go see the shows, go to the networking events, go to the auditions, and be a physical human being in the room with people. The people who aren’t doing all that… I question if they really want it.
AF: Yes. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re not jumping in arms wide open.
BS: It’s scary. You’re never going to feel prepared. I still feel like I’m still not prepared. But you have to act as if you’re not afraid. You have to act as if you’ve already booked it. Whatever voices are in your head telling you can’t…. you have to pretend they’re saying the opposite. I remember before I went in the room for my first Broadway audition I wrote down my stream of consciousness for fifteen minutes until they called me in the room. I was writing mantras like, “I deserve this. I’m worthy of this. I have everything I need if I don’t get this- it’s totally okay.” And I booked it. There is just something about telling yourself that you are worthy.
AF: That’s awesome. How crazy would it be to go back and reread that?
BS: I wonder if I still have it. I actually have a great audition story.
AF: Do tell.
BS: So Chitty Chitty Bang Bang had closed… and then I did a regional gig, came back and was invited to go with a friend to France. He said, “If you can pay for the flight… I’ve rented a Chateau right outside of Paris and you can stay there for free. I have a chef coming, I’m inviting seven of my friends to all come and stay with me for a week…” I was going! I had no money but I charged it on my credit card and I was just going to do this because I was like, when else am I going to? So then I get an appointment for Immediate Replacement for Beauty and the Beast for Understudy Lumiere on Broadway… which is funny because I’d been practicing my French for this trip! So I was really good at my French at this point and the audition was the morning before my flight. So I go this audition and I bring my suitcase with me because I’m leaving from the audition to go to France and I remember sitting out in the hall and the choreographer coming over to me and asking, “What’s that for?” and I was like “I’m going to France tonight” and the he’s like, “But what if you book this?” and I said, “Well I was going to see if you guys could wait until I get back.” I go in to sing and read, and my French is EN POINT and the choreographer brings up France and they ask me in the room, “So you’re going to France?” and I was like, “Yeah so I was going to ask if you could wait a week…” So I’m in line at the airport waiting to board the plane and I get a call from my agent and he’s like, “You booked it.”
BS: Yeah. So I literally flew to France, with a Broadway show waiting for me on the other end, and here’s the best part… Beauty and the Beast takes place in France so the whole trip was a research trip on my taxes…
AF: That’s not real life but it is because it really happened… !
BS: It was epic. That’s my favorite show I’ve done on Broadway. There was something about it. The magic, the music, the transformation… it was a really great company of people.
AF: Do you find that people are more inclined to book when they are working on something?
BS: I think that when you give yourself an outlet and you are doing something your care level goes down because then there’s not as much pressure on that audition. Because you have rehearsal later that afternoon, you’ve got somewhere to be, you’ve got a purpose. So often we put our worth in that one audition and that’s too much pressure for that one audition to handle. You need to have the mentality, “If I don’t get this…I’m good. I’ve got other things going on.”
AF: It’s finding the balance between being eager and being assertive.
AF: On that note… what are your words of wisdom?
BS: Success lies in the actions you take not the results you make. So what I mean by that is that if today you’re taking action towards something you want… that’s a successful day. If we’re only successful when we’re actually booking, or if we’re only successful when someone hires us- things we can’t control by the way- then we’ll never feel successful. But if today you did your warm up, you went to an audition, and you reached out to somebody… that’s a successful day. You’re one step closer to where you want to be.
AF: That’s great. Cheers.