Inclusion · Interview · The Human Connection · Wise Words

There’s Music In His Heart: A Conversation With Anthony Rosenthal

When I go to the theatre, I like to see everything from every possible perspective. I like to try and understand what I’m watching, and most frequently, I wonder what it’s like for the actor to do this show, eight shows a week, with whatever else is going on in their lives. Last winter, I had the opportunity to see the revival of Falsettos, which was simply an unbelievable experience. What I found myself most curious about was how Anthony Rosenthal was navigating a Broadway production schedule and being a kid. I was so flattered when he agreed to speak with me when I reached out to him. I hope you enjoy our conversation!

StageSLP: How did you get into theatre, and what makes you want to stick with it?

A: When I was little, not able to walk even, my sister used to dance ballet. She used to dance in front of me all the time, and I used to go to her ballet school to watch her dance. She was also really into musicals, so you can say through her, I got some very early exposure. Once I was able to walk, I always played opposite to her in everything she was into. As I grew up it became obvious I wasn’t a real sports guy, and I was always wanting to write or act out stories. As I started getting older, around the second grade, my mom enrolled me in a community theater class in our town. It was a really safe place for me to be around other kids who were interested in the same things as me, and it helped me feel comfortable getting up in front of a crowd. That summer, my family and I came to New York City to visit family. I saw two shows that visit: The Lion King and Newsies. While I was watching Newsies I knew I wanted to be that boy who was running around with those people, in that show! After seeing Newsies that day, everything changed for me.

S: Do you ever get frustrated, and if you do, how do you deal with that?

A: Yes! Just like anyone does, I get frustrated. I get frustrated with myself.  I am a bit of a perfectionist, and I don’t like to be late for anything. The good thing about theater is that everyone else is exactly the same way. My school is frustrating because it’s online and I don’t get to talk things out with other students or teachers. It’s easier in some ways because it offers the flexibility for auditioning and training, but it’s also challenging because it’s so flexible and I can’t bounce things off of other people.

S: What is your most memorable theatrical experience either watching or performing?

A: I love watching live theater, but I have to say that being in Falsettos has been life changing. The show had a limited run, and we were a very small cast of seven, with five understudies. Everyone was great. The seven of us who were in the cast performed all eight shows together for the entire run. There were only a handful of times an understudy went in for one of us. It’s not that we didn’t want an understudy to go on, it’s more that we loved being in the show, as our character, with each other so, so much. I learned so much from the cast members, and the creative team (James Lapine, Bill Finn, Spencer Liff, Vadim Flectner). I feel like I got a master class in musical theater with the best people I could ever imagine. We all care about each other very much, I love them like they’re my family.

S: What advice would you give to kids your age or younger?

A: As long as you are having fun, and you  are passionate about something, give it a chance. Don’t try and talk yourself out of it because someone might think you can’t, or that it isn’t cool. Following your passion takes a lot of courage, but it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.

S: What is it like being a professional already? Is it all business or is it fun?

 A: It’s both. It is a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong. But, it’s a lot of work. There are days you do not get to see sunlight. It’s a commitment from you and your whole family. You can’t do this without their support. And even though I love doing this, and I can’t imagine doing anything else, it’s definitely a business. They don’t call it show business for nothing.

S: How do you balance school and performing, and what does that look like with an 8 show week?

A: School is, by far, the most challenging piece in my life. It’s hard to fit everything in perfectly. There has to be a balance. If I’m working eight shows a week, that takes place six days every week, I have to manage late nights, sleep, health, exercise, school and meals.  It may not be the answer a lot of people expect, but school takes a low priority with all of that. And I am still a kid.

S: Do you have a favorite school subject?

A: My favorite subject is writing. I love creative writing. I enjoy where my imagination can take me. Sometimes it’s hard to stay within a required word count because I really want to expand on a story line.

S: Singing, acting, and dancing, which is your favorite?

A: That’s a good question. It has changed over the years and it depends on what the styles are. To be honest, I have weaknesses with every one. I would say that acting is my favorite, though. I love tap-dancing, but I need to work on other types of dance and flexibility. I love singing, but I need to work on my falsetto (which is ironic considering the show I was in). I need to work on acting, too, but I feel the most free doing it. Telling stories is one of my favorite things to do. I do love all of it, though, and I’m even trying to work on new things, like piano.

S: How do you take care of your voice when you’re performing?

A: I have a steamer at home that I fill with distilled water, and I breathe in the steam through this mask I put over my mouth and nose. Also, my mom gives me mugs of warm water with honey in it. I also try to eat healthily and conserve my voice. Other than that, I’m actually a really bad example haha.

S: How long does it take to learn lines and choreography?

A: During the rehearsal process that is all we do. We work with the director, musical director, and choreographer all separately and together each day independently and as a group. At first it seems that I will never get it right. And I do recommend practicing, but it will naturally get imprinted into your brain eventually. Sometimes I’m still figuring it out during performances–one of the adventurous parts of live theatre. Be focused but not too hard on yourself, and be open to changes. You might learn a ten-minute number and have it be replaced by something completely different in a short-time advance.

S: What part of this job does the audience not get to see, but should be aware of?

A: Performers are just people just like you. We get sick, we get sad, and we have good days and bad days. All the stuff that happens to you, happens to us too. So, when you see a person on stage, try to remember that they may have been stuck on the train for an hour underground or are fighting a cold like you are.

 S: What’s the stage door experience like for you?

A: When I was with Newsies, I was really overwhelmed. I was also 10 years old when I started, and I learned a lot about stage dooring (that’s what they call it). The fans are so nice. I’ve learned to keep it fast-paced, since I need to get rest, but to also engage with everyone like they’re people. I was very robotic with my stage-door process at the beginning of Newsies. It’s a way to give back to the amazing people that support the show. I skipped the stage-door maybe three times. It was because I was either sick, exhausted, or it was terrible weather. It’s important to acknowledge that actors work a lot and might not be able to sign, and we have to be okay with that. When it’s terrible weather, though, I feel bad because there are fans waiting in terrible weather. When going to our cast album listen, Tracie Thoms and I were going together. We were already late and needed to find transportation at the worst possible time. However, there were fans who waited so long and didn’t get too many signatures, so we quickly signed their stuff, which was hard because they were wet. One of the times I skipped, I felt awful because I was relaxing at home, and a fan tweeted me asking if I would get out and sign eventually. I was all the way in Queens! Luckily security tells people if anyone will come out sometimes but yeesh!

S: How do you keep your confidence up when having to perform in front of so many people?

A: I really try not to think about all the people who are watching. It seems harder right before I go on than when I’m performing actually. I’m not supposed to be on stage as myself, I’m supposed to be my character so I try to absorb myself into my character, and into the story. That way I can give my best performance each show, and that’s really important to me. You never know who will be watching it for the first time, and I want every performance to be my best. Also, it’s most nervous at first, but you will become comfortable with it. Sometimes even too comfortable.

S: Some of my students have a hard time navigating social situations–making friends, talking to new people, and you get to do this for living. Do you have any advice for them on how to do this?

A: I have a hard time with this sometimes too. I mean, we all feel shy sometimes, or like we don’t want to be social. Interviews are challenging for me still. I overthink things or use too many words to explain myself. But,  it seems like I’m thinking those things more than other people. Like, I know how I’m thinking, but they don’t. So, I sometimes try to listen more than I talk. And then slowly, if I am feeling well and have the time, I am able to come out of my shell.  It’s like taking my time to get comfortable with myself, and then taking my time in responding and warming up to them. Also, don’t beat yourself up for that. We get you! You’re not corrupt. It’s not like learning to ride a bike.

S: Would you encourage other kids to pursue acting?

A: It has to be something you want to do. That’s for anything. This is something I am so happy to be doing. So, I know it’s right for me. But, it’s a lot of hard work, and it takes a lot of time away from other things. I also think I’ve been incredibly lucky to have all of these amazing opportunities. And, believe me, I have been turned down a lot for jobs. But, I am following my dreams and am very inspired by the people around me. If you are inspired, and passionate about acting, then why not give it a try. You will never know what could or would happen if you don’t.

I can’t thank Anthony enough for his honest and intelligent responses. He recently performed on the Tony Awards, and I was beaming at my television from the second I saw him onstage. Speaking of which, Falsettos will be airing on PBS this fall, and I cannot wait to experience that show again. My challenge for my readers this week comes from something Anthony said that really resonated with me. Write a letter or an email to the people who are members of your support system. Everyone has one. These are the people we rely on for so much, and we know they know how grateful we are, but it’s always nice to share your feelings with them. I know from experience that this exercise not only will lift your spirits, but the recipient’s as well. Don’t forget to step away from the screen and enjoy your summer with the people around you. Technology will always be there, but take time to recharge by filling your brain with memories.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

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