It’s Speechie Sunday and I have been looking forward to sharing this conversation for a while. At the beginning of the year, I heard Kyle Scatliffe on an episode of The Hamilcast.I had already been following his career while he toured with the Philip company of Hamilton, and became even more interested as he joined the cast of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Many of my students are reading this book for school, and Kyle kept mentioning how much of his job he learned as he worked. The first thing that popped into my mind was that he could really share some of the ins and outs of being an actor, tour life, what it’s like to perform on Broadway…he had so much to share on so many topics. During one of his three Hamilcast episodes, he also discussed anxiety and vocal health, and I couldn’t imagine anyone relating to my students as well as he could. I am so glad that when I reached out, Kyle was happy to participate in this interview. We talked about so much and covered a lot of ground, I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I do.
Stef: How did you become interested in theatre as an activity? As a career path?
Kyle Scatliffe: When I was fifteen I was feeling a bit aimless because I had fallen out of love with trying to pursue basketball as a career. I just knew that I enjoyed it but the actual profession of it wasn’t for me. I had an elective theatre class that year (9th grade), and my teacher Donna Bialkin suggested that I try theatre after I performed a scene in class. I told her that I would have to think about it. I thought about it for the entire year, but ultimately decided that I should try it. I fell in love with it and haven’t looked back since.
S: One look at your Playbill biography, and anyone can see that many of the roles you’ve played are pretty heavy ones. How do you get into or out of character and keep the role separated from your personality?
KS: I don’t treat every character the same way, and because of that my way of getting into character changes with each one. For Tom Robinson, I listen to a specific playlist of songs that were about the Jim Crow era, and for Hamilton it was accent work for Lafayette and trying to be as full of myself as possible for Jefferson.
S: Many of my students are experiencing anxiety and have developed their own strategies for giving presentations and getting involved in new social situations. As someone who is pretty vocal about anxiety and being an introvert, how did you become comfortable putting yourself out there in auditions and in performing?
KS: When it comes to auditioning and anxiety, what helped me the most was being so prepared that any misstep wouldn’t throw me off. My anxiousness tends to flare up because I’m a perfectionist in some ways and a realist in others, and those two sides are at war with each other. So, preparation always helped me. Another thing that helps is knowing that the people in the room have more pressure on themselves than you do. They are the ones on the hook if they can’t find someone to fill in a part. You’re just there to help them.
S: You’ve learned a lot about vocal health over the course of your career. Now that this is sort of becoming a more discussed topic among actors, what do you do to keep your voice healthy?
KS: Steam. Steam. And Steam. Steaming is the best thing for your voice. When you wake up and right before bed. I also don’t drink at all because it can dry you out. It’s all about taking care of yourself as an individual and knowing your responsibilities. Friday night is a cute night to go out but it’s not when you have two shows the next day. I also have a voice teacher that I see regularly. And whenever you are sick, apple cider vinegar is your best friend. It’s gross…but it’s your best friend…and garlic. Haha.
S: You’ve had the opportunity to perform with Disney Cruise lines. I have older students who are interested in pursuing careers in both theme park/ cruise line entertainment and acting in stage productions. Are auditions for an opportunity like this different from auditions for theatre productions?
KS: Hilariously enough…no. They are structured the same way. They may have open calls for the shows or agent submissions and you have to prepare something from your book or something from the shows you are auditioning for. It’s basically the same.
S: You get to play really charismatic historical figures in Hamilton. My students are curious about whether or not this made you want to learn more about our country’s history aside from this production?
KS: History was actually my favorite subject in high school, so my general curiosity towards what has happened, what could have happened, and how we don’t repeat the bad that’s happened has helped me immensely throughout my career. So, coming into Hamilton I knew a lot of tidbits about the founding fathers and their relationships and what they did. I just had to fill in the details.
S: You are currently playing Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird on Broadway. Many of my students have read or are currently reading this book. What is it like to portray a character so many are familiar with through other genres?
KS: Because it’s a new version of the show and a new version of the script, I tend to not think about that too much. Everyone has come into the show thinking about the characters as if they’ve never been portrayed before because of the agency of the characters in this particular version. Every once and I while I do have to speak on it though and that’s when I’m reminded. Luckily, this version of Tom isn’t extremely dissimilar to the book or the movie. But he has more of a decision in the events that happen on stage.
S: What are the best parts about doing a role on tour versus a sit-down production?
KS: The traveling! I got to see and experience a lot of American cities that I’ve always wanted to go to. The nice thing about not being on tour is the fact that I have a fiancée and two dogs at home. You get homesick after a while and that’s what brought me back.
S: What do you think aspiring actors need to learn before working that they may not learn in school?
KS: Every actor has a completely different path. Don’t look left and right and think you are failing because other people are doing better than you or are involved in work you want to be involved in. Everyone’s path is different. And that you are never not an actor as long as you truly believe you are one and put in the work to be one. Outside validation is great, but when it’s not there, what are you?
S: How does your relationships with cast members impact your onstage performance, if at all?
KS: It helps deeply with chemistry. You should be able to have chemistry with people even if you don’t like them, of course, but it helps to be friends with those you work with because it makes the job easier. I had a teacher tell me once that he couldn’t stand one of his coworkers and he was not only supposed to be with her in the show, he was supposed to be married to her. So, he just found something about her he liked and would remind himself of that. It just so happened to be her jawline, ha-ha.
S: Every week I challenge my students to do something outside of their comfort zone. What would you challenge my students and/or readers to do?
KS: To live and to experience. Experiencing life and understanding life as it is and as it could be is an actor’s best tool. Regardless of what style of acting you use. We are on stage emulating life, but you have to understand it first before you can do that. And most importantly of all is to understand both sides of an argument regardless of what you actually believe. Try to understand how and why someone got to where they are not just judge them for where they are now.
I can’t thank Kyle enough for answering the variety of questions my students and I asked. When I shared all of his responses with my students, they really agreed with the notion that comparing themselves to other actors didn’t do them any good, and most had not thought about needing to know both sides of any and every argument. They’re learning how much space there is between the beliefs of “right” and “wrong” in daily life, but hadn’t thought to apply it to acting. They felt like if Kyle had been a classmate of theirs, that they’d be great friends, and now have another actor’s perspective on how the business works. My most anxious students had not considered the folks casting could possibly as nervous if not more than they were, and this really resonated with my students.
My students are now coming back to me with “lessons learned” from experiences, and I’d like to challenge my readers to do the same. In comments, share what you’ve learned from looking at another side of a topic. What were your lessons learned? To hear the interview from The Hamilcast, check out Kyle’s first episode here, and to keep up with Kyle Scatliffe, you can follow him on Instagram here. If you can, go see his performance in To Kill A Mockingbird—that whole production is powerful in every sense of the word.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP