Interview with Broadway Performer J. Austin Eyer
BB101 is thrilled to bring you J. Austin Eyer. A triple treat Broadway swing and a choreographer/teacher! Read about his experience performing as a kid on Broadway, training at CAP21 in NYC and get his advice on conquering Broadway!
BB: Where did you go to college for theatre and/learn the trade in order to move to NYC to pursue theatre as a career?
JAE: I started working professionally as an actor when I was seven, and all the crazy auditions and jobs I did growing up were certainly great training for things to come in my adult career. But, it was really my training at my performing arts high school, Dr. Phillips in Orlando, that primed me to move to New York and continue my education at NYU (CAP21) where I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
BB: As far as schooling/training what were some great attributes to studying there?
JAE: I can never say enough great things about CAP21 and what they do (in fact, I joined the faculty full-time back in 2006). I started looking for a college program early and because I had equal training as a singer, dancer and actor, I wanted a program where all three disciplines received equal attention. So many musical theatre programs have a really strong dance department or focus just on acting or singing...etc. I knew I wanted to leave college having grown equally in all three areas and after I attended the CAP pre-college program, I knew that this was the perfect program for me! At CAP you get the best training in each discipline, and while acting is focused in every class, each discipline receives equal respect and attention. A drawback was that NYU was so big and there was always so much to do (homework for your academic classes, social events, rehearsals, and New York City in general) that sometimes my conservatory training at CAP suffered. I wasn't able to read my Williams play for my scene study class tomorrow because I had 300 pages to read of Foucault for my Humanities class on Friday.
BB: What is one thing you learned while actively pursuing a NY stage career that you wish you would have known before moving to the city and could impart to others ?
JAE: To cultivate a life outside theatre. Because I started working professionally at a young age, my life always revolved around my career; and once you graduate college, that can be very dangerous. When you are working on a great show, things in your life are amazing. But when you get down to the end for three new projects and don't get any of them…a meltdown is inevitable. So if I could go back, I think I would have cultivated a better social life as soon as I graduated. I would have put more time into hobbies and doing things (like yoga, baking, concerts with friends, dating more) that keep me mentally happy and healthy. I don't know, I'm still trying to figure out the right balance of striving for my dreams but also relaxing and enjoying the ride more.
BB: How was the transition from going from college to pursuing a NY career? What did you do to adjust/conquer NYC.
JAE: I thankfully moved from a suburb of Atlanta, GA to Orlando, FL for high school. Because of that, my adjustment to NYC wasn't that bad (Orlando is more open and full of diversity just like NYC). I really wanted to go to New York for college because I knew that’s where I wanted to be. The one thing that takes a minute to figure out is the subway system. Just start small with one line and eventually you start learning them all till you’re a pro! As far as the business goes, keep a journal the first two years that you are here, so you can learn all the casting agents, choreographers, directors and assistants you are auditioning for. Useful tip: put the addresses of all the places you audition in the front of your journal, you’ll learn there are only about ten places in the city where any audition can happen. That way when you’re running to your next audition you can remember the address of Shetler Studios and which floor it’s on.
BB: How/when did you get your first Broadway job?
JAE: Actually, my first Broadway show was The Secret Garden when I was ten years old and I played Colin. I was working in Atlanta and one day my acting teacher/manager called me with an audition for Secret Garden in New York. I had a few days to prepare the material, then my mom and I flew up to New York to audition. Now THAT was an adjustment period to NYC, Times Square in '92 was completely different and I actually remember my mom giving me a small can of pepper spray to carry in my coat pocket. Anyway I passed the first round of auditions, then they invited us to come watch the show that night (the first Broadway show I ever saw). The next day two other boys and I came to the theater and we did our callbacks with some of the cast. That evening my mom and I waited in the lobby of our hotel by a pay phone, and received a call saying, “Don't get on your plane tomorrow because Austin starts rehearsals in the morning.” A week and a half later I made my Broadway debut. That was 20 years ago last October.
BB: Can you offer a piece of audition advice?
JAE: My college acting teacher would make us do this exercise in class where we would stand with our arms spread out wide and say "here I am". While it felt a little silly then, I now love what that exercise is meant to do . . . make yourself open and vulnerable to your audience. The moment before I step into the audition room to read or sing I try to take a moment to say "Here I am, this is me today. I'm not perfect, I’m human! You want to work with me because I will work really hard for you!" The more you can bring your TRUE SELF in the room, enjoy performing whatever you have prepared and let go of the pressure . . . . the more you can deal with mistakes, rejection and whatever else comes along with this fascinating business. Lastly, don’t put too much thought into why you got cut or why you didn’t get a job; just put all of your energy into improving your work through classes, workshops and projects.
BB: What was/is your day job/other ventures between gigs or do you do both simultaneously?
JAE: I’m so lucky, because my day job is teaching for CAP21. I started teaching for their summer programs back in 2003 and then when I was working on Curtains, my first adult Broadway show, I became a full time faculty member. I teach dance, work as an advisor, and choreograph for their senior showcases and mainstage productions. I also teach for Music Theater Bavaria in Germany in the summers, Theatre Arts Center in Queens, and Broadway Connection. I love teaching! I always advise my students to start thinking of useful skills they possess that they can build into a part time job. Whether it's playing the piano, photography, teaching, tutoring, web design, child care . . . try to find a skill or job that you like doing and has flexible hours.
BB: Do you still train/work on your craft? How? Where?
JAE: Some of us have the illusion when we are young, that you go to school and when you graduate you are done with your training; sadly, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. You HAVE to keep training your instrument! I take a voice lesson at least twice a month. And I take at least one physical class a week that includes a dance, workout, or yoga class. Finding an acting class is harder for me, and that's where working at CAP comes in handy because I am constantly exposed to great acting teachers and directors. I get to watch them work with our students and at the same time I am reminded of my own acting craft. The hardest part is finding the right teacher for YOU, not who is “supposed to be great” and costs a million dollars. You need someone to inspire you and keep moving you forward in your path . . . they are out there, just keep looking!
BB: Any words of inspiration or anything else you want to say/impart?
JAE: Aside from never stop taking class, my biggest piece of advice is take care of your reputation. This does not mean you must suck up to people or that you must get along with everyone you work with. We are all human and we don't always do or say the right things; but, there are a number of things that are in our control. Show up to class/work because it’s your job, be respectful to everyone (that includes teachers, directors, stage managers, stagehands, dressers, the hair department), and try to not trash-talk the people that you work with (get a friend out of the business that you can vent to). You can lose a job if people start to know you as "difficult to work with" or if you are notoriously out of a show all the time. Try to show up to each class, audition or performance with 100% of your artistry and professionalism. Respect those who you are working with as best you can and try to learn something from every "challenging" situation you encounter.
J. Austin Eyer Broadway: Evita, How to Succeed, Billy Elliot (u/s Tony), The Little Mermaid (u/s Prince Eric), Curtains, The Secret Garden (Colin) National Tour: Billy Elliot (u/s Tony), Evita, White Christmas (Boston/St. Paul). Off-B’way: Anyone Can Whistle (Encores!), Apartment 3A, My Big Gay Italian Wedding (Choreographer) and Boys Just Wanna Have Fun (Choreographer). Austin has performed/choreographed for the Macy’s Parade, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the '96 Opening and Closing Ceremonies, Disney World and Universal Studios. He received his BFA from NYU and has been a member of the CAP21 faculty for the past 9 years. www.jaustineyer.com Twitter: @broadwayswing