Mike Rosengarten: Build Real Relationships

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I met Mike in 2013 when he and Douglas (my husband) did Lost Highway together at Flatrock Playhouse. We have remained friends for the last six years and even went to each other’s weddings! Mike has been working and gigging away in the city for years and is about to head back to Broadway with the newest and coolest musical, Be More Chill. I met with him in his neck of the woods on the Upper West Side… in his car! That’s right… I grabbed him a hot chocolate and myself a flat white from the coziest Birch Coffee and sat with him, his baby daughter, and dog Oscar during alternate side parking hours. To say it was an eventful and EXTRA adorable episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Babies and Dogs” is a gross understatement.


 

AF: Okay so we have Mike Rosengarten on the blog today!

MR: Hey, that’s me!

AF: We’re in his car on the Upper West Side with his baby and his dog.

MR: That’s right it’s office hours/wait for the street cleaners time.

AF: I have a coffee and Mike doesn’t drink coffee so he has a nice hot chocolate from Birch… which is so conveniently located.

MR: It’s amazing coffee!

AF: But you don’t like coffee…

MR: It’s not that I don’t like coffee I just don’t drink coffee. The real answer is that I never wanted to get addicted to caffeine. The last time I drank a whole cup of coffee I was laying on the couch with the shakes. It’s good because when I really need it, I get the actual caffeine effect as opposed to drinking it and not feeling anything. Also when I started out as performer in NYC, I didn’t want to be spending all my money on coffee!

AF: I definitely rely on coffee…

MR: That’s at least five bucks a day…so that does add up. But I do like coffee and I also really like hot chocolate.

AF: Well it’s cold enough to actually get a hot drink. Okay so Mike… I’ve known you since 2013, which I feel like it was like yesterday…

MR: Feels like it!

AF: What’s your back-story? What propelled you into performing and music? When did you move to the city? Tell us everything!

MR: I started playing guitar and doing musicals in eighth grade…probably to meet girls, honestly. I liked them both so much. I played guitar all the way through high school and then when I was a senior we did Pippin and I played the Leading Player.

AF: You did?!

MR: I did! I convinced the director to let me play guitar during “Simple Joys” and it was like an Elvis moment. That was the first time I combined the two and I was hooked.

AF: And now that’s all the rage!

MR: I know I can’t believe it! When I first got out of college in 2008 there were a bunch of actor/musician shows like the Johnny Cash show and the Buddy Holly show… but every audition you’d see the same 20-30 people…but now everyone plays an instrument. It’s changed so much in the last few years. Probably since Once.

AF: I think Once was a game-changer.

MR: I studied Musical Theatre in college, and they took the Music major and the Theatre major and made it sort of a double major. I got to be in the plays but also be in the Jazz band and the combos.

AF: That’s amazing. That makes you a well-rounded performer. So since moving to the city in 2008, what has your journey looked like?

MR: Well- I was living in Astoria. I got here and basically didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I was going to be going to auditions and stuff… I was looking for a job and didn’t know what I was going to do. One day while walking through the park with my friend Marissa, we ran into her friend and I asked her, “What do you do for work?” and she said, “I’m an Operations Manager at Anthropologie.” I thought she said the Museum of Cultural Anthropology and I thought “Cool I was about two credits short of an Anthropology minor in college, can you get me an interview?” And she said, “Sure, here’s the address!” And so I went, I wore a suit, I get there… and it was Anthropologie the store. I went in there and interviewed and she asked, “So why do you want to work at Anthropology?” and I said, “I just need some new dresses for auditions… I hear you get a really good employee discount…” and she thought that was funny so I got the job! I worked there for two weeks before I booked a production of The Producers in Connecticut and that was the only non-performance job I’ve had in the city. It was actually pretty cool working there. It was the Rockefeller center location so I met all the NBC people. I met Conan, Hoda… Cathy Lee, Tina Fey came in one time… and also Sarah Palin. You remember how she went on a spending spree and there was a whole big scandal around it? She spent a ton of money at my store and I just so happened to be a greeter that day! I was like, “Hello Governor Palin” and she was like “Oh look at this place!”

AF: Oh my God that’s an amazing story.

MR: So yeah that was the first job I got. I got my EMC card doing Producers. I helped build the pigeon puppets. I’ve just always tried to do as many diverse things in the theatre as possible. I’ve always kind of had a way of finding extra things to do to make myself more valuable to each production.

AF: Well you make such a mark… you’re so good at maintaining friendships.

MR: Well that’s what it’s all about. That is literally everything. I’ve gotten 90% of the work I’ve done through friends and contacts… not through auditioning.

AF: Douglas got two jobs because of you!

MR: Douglas got those jobs because of himself…

AF: Well but you helped…

MR: I recommended him because he’s awesome. It’s all about making important relationships… especially in music. Everyone’s good…everyone at this level is really good. I feel like I don’t know anyone who’s not a good musician. If I know you… it’s probably because you’re awesome. If you’re a cool hang and person on top of that…

AF: That’s the cherry on top!

MR: The difference is if you’re cool and easy to work with… just be nice. Make good stuff and be good.

AF: It’s so simple. If you’re a good person it’s contagious and people want to rehire you!

MR: Well that’s what I love so much about Joe Iconis. He is the most genuine, loyal, awesome person. Everyone in his “family” are like a real family. They are all so good and so NICE. His “Christmas Extravaganza” that we do every year is my favorite show to do. It’s so fun.

AF: I need to come!

MR: Oh my gosh you would love it! There’s literally nobody involved with Joe Iconis that I don’t like. We did Be More Chill in New Jersey… and some of my closest friends are in the show. I’ve played as a sub on Broadway shows before, but I’ve never had my own chair! And for so many of us… this is our Broadway debut!

AF: It’s so exciting!

MR: Yeah! And we all get to do it together as this family of friends and people who love each other. And we love the show!

AF: That’s the best part of it all. You’re proud of it and excited for it.

MR: With a lot of show bands it’s just like a “gig” or “we’re just doing a show” and that’s fine but this is so different, special. I feel like the band feels a lot of ownership and connection to it. Most of us have been working on this show for several years.

AF: So what led you to Be More Chill?

MR: Well I could go way, way back… but I used to play at birthday parties for a company called Applause… It was on the Upper East Side and the guy playing keys was Rob Rockiki. We hung out, we had a good time and we both knew a guy named Dennis, (who is now the bass player on Be More Chill…) So we bonded over being friends with Dennis and long-story short he recommended me to Joe for his Christmas show… in 2010 and I’ve been playing in Joe’s band ever since!

AF: He’s so loyal!

MR: It just goes to show that any gig can lead to anything. I did this random birthday party… for one hundred bucks on the Upper East Side where I met Rob and then started playing with him and Joe. I did some shows for free, some for pay… but I just wanted to make good stuff with good people. I was playing with Joe for years and Be More Chill came up. He asked me to play in New Jersey and then we thought the show was dead after that run because it didn’t transfer to the city…that was 2015. It’s an amazing phenomenon. We got a lukewarm review in NJ, and the show was kind of done but we made this cast album… and two years later in 2016 these kids found the cast album online and it wet totally viral! It was streamed like one hundred-fifty million times and producers took note.

AF: So do you think that has a lot to do with social media?

MR: Oh definitely. I mean the show would not be happening if it wasn’t for young fans… teenagers really connect with it. I think it has themes everybody can relate to. If you are fifty years old there was probably a time when you were sad and in a bathroom by yourself.

AF: Questioning the meaning of life.

MR: My inlaws aren’t even big theatre people and they came and loved it. Everyone can connect with the idea of not knowing where you fit in. My mother-in-law listens to the cast album in her car constantly, and even read all the lyrics in the liner notes!

AF: Well I’m so excited to see it!

MR: I can’t wait for you to see it!

AF: When does it open and when do previews start?

MR: Rehearsals start in January and previews start in February. We open March 10th.

(In this next moment I express my joy with the baby about her dad being on Broadway!)

AF: BABY! YOUR DADDY’S GONNA BE ON BROADWAY! That’s so exciting!! So what else… what are your words of wisdom? Quotes? Some words that have helped you? What are some words of encouragement you might offer to somebody in this crazy industry?

MR: Be nice. Be the best performer but also be the best person. Be the nicest person. Make friends. Form real relationships. Connect with people on a deeper level. Talk about things other than theatre with people you work with. Don’t talk shop all the time. I don’t know if this is as important for an actor, but as a musician, but the hang after the show is almost more important than the actual show. Stay and make friends… not just to progress your career but because there are some really great people!

AF: And the camaraderie is so important!

MR: Meet everyone you can. Do every show. In the beginning especially… if you can afford to work for free do it. Definitely know your value but if you’re brand new to stuff and there’s something that’s going to expose you to the right person you just never know… when I first got to the city I had to sign up for auditions at 5 am… and it was a hustle! I think it’s really important to know who you are know and who you’re not. Not necessarily type…but shows you want to do and shows you connect with. If you’re doing some show to get your health weeks and you’re miserable… it might not be worth it. Don’t get me wrong, health weeks are important. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “Be grateful for work. And Thank God I’m working” but if you’d be happier doing something else… do that.

AF: That’s a really good point. A lot of times in this industry you think success is defined by how many contracts you book and “I’m working and nobody else is” but ultimately it’s about the creative work. If it’s not going to allow you to be creative…

MR: Yeah… just be happy. I think it’s the most important thing.

AF: How has it been for you… I feel like you’re such a family man. You have a dog, you have a baby… how has that influenced your life as a performer?

MR: Getting married changed everything.

AF: Jen is the best!!!

MR: Jen IS the best. But specifically… I had never taken a vacation. Never. I would never take a vacation until I met my wife because if I’m out of the city for two weeks… how many gigs am I going to miss? How many phone calls am I going to miss? How many opportunities am I going to miss? Each gig leads to ten other gigs. I was super driven in that way and that helped to get me to where I am.  But having a partner, the entire responsibility of paying the rent and all the bills wasn’t just on me. I sometimes feel lucky that my wife is a civilian with a stable job and not an artist. It gives me a feeling of stability I don’t think I was ever really planning on feeling. Of course, I’m all about artist relationships too they’re incredible. Just look at you and Douglas! But the fact is… my wife said, “I really need to go on vacation this year” and I said, “I can’t do that…” and she said, “Yes… I have two weeks paid vacation… we’re going somewhere.” Once I got in the mindset to miss some things… it’s really actually okay.

AF: That allows you to prioritize.

MR: I also have really changed what I value. Before I got married and had a baby and a dog all I wanted to do was work and now I want to spend time with my wife, daughter, and Oscar! I miss them when I don’t see them. So… it’s good. The baby is six months and it’s been pretty great because I’m with her during the day and Jen’s with the baby at night. I have a list of people I can call to babysit when I need to work during the day… and so far I’ve been lucky! Managing the schedule with the baby has been challenging but fun.

AF: Getting married is the best.

MR: Do you think it’s different than it was before you got married? You guys were together for a long time.

AF: I already sort of felt like we were married but having a covenant and when you’re bound to someone it’s just a different sense of security.

MR: You guys were never single in the city…

AF: Nope! We came together.

MR: That’s amazing you came with a support system.

AF: Yes, it really is! So is there anything else?

MR: The main thing is… everyone’s career is going to be different. Everyone’s path is going to be different. I didn’t realize I would be playing as much music as I am but I am so happy to be doing it. Doing stuff with the Playbillies is amazing.

AF: That’s so amazing.. it’s something you just created!

MR: I can’t wait for everyone to be back in town to do more stuff!

AF: I want you to do all the shows…

MR: Robber Bridegroom was such a great experience, having Douglas and Matt… we started this band (The Playbillies) just because we wanted something to do between shows on Saturdays. The three of us together was a special thing and once we added Sam… it really got good. Matt is so good at music. And Douglas is the actual bluegrass part. And I feel like I add the humor to the tone of the group. Plus, how many Bluegrass bands are there that only play covers of Broadway showtunes (Check them out at www.theplaybillies.com and on instagram @theplaybillies).

AF: I also feel like you are the initiator and get things rolling!

MR: It’s really hard to manage if everyone’s not super into it because everyone’s so busy!

AF: But it attests to the fact that everyone feels the same way about it!

MR: I just really love those guys! I love hanging out with them. We were all at each other’s weddings… we have a super special bond!

AF: Well I’m so glad you were free to chat a little on this blog and I could cuddle your sweet baby! Cheers.

MR: Yeah! Cheers.

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