Tuesday, January 17, 2012

116. Interview with Daniel Talbott (Juilliard): Part One

Ladies & Gentlemen... This is the first in a series of interviews I will be posting with graduates of my schools of choice: Juilliard, Yale, and NYU.

This first interview is truly a dream come true for me! This guy has been an inspiration to me since my early teens. We did a production of A Christmas Carol together in the Bay Area in the '90s and I have been subtly stalking him ever since. ;-p

Please welcome, Juilliard graduate and my friend Mr. Daniel Talbott:


(The following was recorded on January 7, 2012, and lovingly transcribed into text by my mother, Dorothy Wilcox, the fastest typist in the west! Thanks, Mom!)

Virginia:  First of all, please introduce yourself, say where you’re from originally, where you went to school and where you live now.

Daniel:  My name is Daniel Talbott. (Laughs.)

Virginia:  With two t’s?

Daniel:  (Laughs.) With two t’s.  I was born in the Bay Area, and I moved all around with my mom.  And then I ended up back in the Bay Area for high school.  For middle school and high school, I lived with my grandparents in Piedmont, and went to high school at Piedmont High.  Then I went to San Francisco State for a year, and then Solano College Theatre for two years…I was a baseball player for a long time. And then I fell in love with theatre. I love my grandparents so much, but at first they were not supportive of that.  And so basically they were like, “If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it by yourself.”  Which ended up being a huge blessing. I didn't have any money, and I didn’t really know what I was going to do. So I went to SF State to get my feet under me; and continue going to ACT and working at Center Rep, and auditioning and doing commercials and TV stuff.  And then I met George Maguire, who was working on Equus.

Virginia:  He was like, “Darling, come to my school.”

Daniel:  Yeah, he was great.  He said, “I don’t think you’re getting what you want.”  I mean, SF State was great.  It had some amazing teachers there especially this woman, Camille Howard, who was a huge influence on me.  She actually passed away a few years ago from cancer.  But she was amazing.  And then I met George.  Solano gave me a place to train in the day and work semi-professionally in the night.  Then I auditioned for Juilliard, and then came to New York…Now I live in Brooklyn. And I’m married. I have a son, Bailey, who’s six years old.  I run a theatre company, and try to do everything including hand out programs and clean bathrooms, just anything I can do in the theatre…I run Rising Phoenix Rep with a bunch of my best friends, my closest friends, my wife.  And we have the producing partner that we work off-Broadway with, Piece By Piece Productions, and then three of the heads of Rising Phoenix Rep are the artistic staff Rattlestick, and so it’s this very tight, wonderful family.  It came from Juilliard, marriage and other shows and then Julie Kline who I’ve known from the Bay Area since we were – basically since puberty.  So it’s this very like tight, wonderful family that works together all the time. 

Virginia:  I have to tell you, I’m not sure you remember this, but that production of Blood Brothers that you did at Solano College was the reason that I decided to go to Solano College.

Daniel:  Really?!  Oh, my God, wow.  It was the only musical I’ve ever done, and I’ve never done one since.  It took a lot of talking into for me to do that ‘cause I’m terrified of singing in public.

Virginia:  Well, I’m glad you overcame your fear.

Daniel:  I only overcame it once. (Laughs.)

Virginia:  Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll have another opportunity again before this life is done.  But it was a transformational experience for me.  I remember I was sitting in the first row.  Yeah, I was in high school and, it was maybe – I don’t know – fall of my senior year.  And I was trying to figure out what I was going to do when , again, I relate to you with the whole “if I’m going to do this, nobody else is going to pay my way.”  Like I need to figure out how to make this happen for myself.

Daniel:  Which is often the best way in the theatre…it means that you want it…But I think there is something to this art form that it’s like this has to be it, in a way.  Do you know what I mean?  It’s the Stanislavski quote, “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.”  And you have to go by that.  It’s gotta be.  ‘Cause there’s so much failure, and there’s so much rejection.  There’s so much not knowing that you have to -- the plays the thing.  So you have to be able to hold onto that.  And you know, I think it’s really good to have someone kind of pull the rug out from under you and go, if you’re going to do this and you’re gonna choose this kind of insane lifestyle then you’re going to do it whole-hog and you’re going to do it yourself and you’re going to figure it out.

And so someone doing that to me, especially coming from a family that financially could have made this different for me, that it was a really important good thing to have happen ‘cause it makes you go, yeah, that’s what I’m gonna do. 

And you start to piece it together, and you start to meet other people who have made their lives in the theatre.  And I was lucky to work with Berkeley Rep, and lucky to go to Solano, and work with actors there who were doing the same thing.  And just knowing that – it’s far from glamorous.

Virginia:  But it’s possible?

Daniel:  But it’s possible.  And it’s possible to have a family.  And it’s possible – we make our living as theatre artists and with film and TV as well.  And you find a combination of those three things.  Some months are much better than other months, and some Christmas’s Addie gets a lot better Christmas presents than others.  And there’s some Christmas’s we don’t give Christmas presents.  We pay the light bill.  But you piece it together and you make it happen.

Virginia:  A lot of people love acting and do it as a hobby.  But what made you decide to want to do it as your career?

Daniel:  It was weird.  Like I say, I was a baseball player.  And I was dating this girl Annie Gillan, who was this really wonderful woman from Piedmont.   And she had done a play at ACT, and we’d make films together.  We’d make – well, we’d call them films.  They were like glorified home videos.   But they were really fun.  And we’d make these kind of movies together… And she said there’s this thing, Young Conservatory, ACT, you should take an acting class.  And I think I was in the end of my sophomore year or beginning of junior year of high school.  Up to that point, I had played in like four or five baseball leagues a year...I wanted [to play] college baseball and maybe one day play major league baseball.  But  I was not tall enough and big enough.  I couldn’t compete on that level.  I could probably play college ball, but not the other.  And so Annie told me about Young Conservatory.  I just remember I took BART over there by myself.  I forgot how I even paid for the class.  I don’t remember. They may have given me a scholarship.

...And I’ve said this before and I don’t know how else to explain it, but before the class even started I got in the elevator at 30 Grant Street, and something made sense for the first time in my life.  It was before the class even started.  And I was like, I’m going to do this.  I know it sounds crazy but something in that elevator ride…just made sense.  I literally quit cold turkey playing baseball completely, and basically was like, if I’m shit at this – and I was really bad – I was really terrible…I was terrified.  I had horrible stage fright.  I couldn’t memorize a fuckin’ line.   I was horrible, but I was just like, I’m going to do this…This is going to sound so fuckin’ hokie, but some people say "I’ve got a calling to go into the priesthood" or "I had a calling to be a firefighter" or something, but it was the first time in my whole life that I felt whole.  It made sense and I just knew…And I can't describe it more than that, but it was like this was going to be my life, and I just made a decision. 

Virginia:  And here you are.

Daniel:  Yeah.  And I just was like I’m going to do this, and I’m going to make it happen.  I took two years to actually audition for a play.  I read everything I could.  I did classes.  I did everything I could.  I slowly – I trained like you do in baseball, like you physically do.  I kind of approached theatre like sports because I didn’t know anything else.  Instead of doing sit-ups I would read Stanislavski.  You know, I would jog and, I don’t know, think about like Uta Hagen or read The Fervent Years or whatever.  And so I started buying like every book I could, and I started taking as many classes as I could afford to take, and seeing as many plays as I could see at Berkeley Rep.  And my grandmother had season tickets to Berkeley Rep, so that was my first really big influence.

Virginia:  Having season tickets to Berkeley Rep was a huge influence for me too growing up too, one of my favorite theatres ever... So fast forward in your mind to your two years at Solano College.  I want to talk a little bit about your decision to transition from that training program and continuing your training at Juilliard.

Daniel:  Well, I had a really whacky upbringing.  That’s the word I’ll use.  I really love my family so much, but I came from a crazy background, and then landed with my grandparents. There was a lot of stuff just going on with my mom, just a lot of things in my life.

…I was really fucked up in the head when I went to Solano.  I was emotionally kind of vomiting out years and years of insanity from my family.  And so Solano for me gave me a place, like a safe haven and a lot of love to do that. 

…And I needed that…that bridge and that kind of safety pad away from my family to, I think, shed a lot of crap. And so Solano to me was not my best work, but it was the perfect thing in my life that I needed because I got a lot of love and a lot support from people that believed in me even when I was kind of trying to blow myself up...I was kind of trying to self-destruct.  And I was trying to shed a lot of things.  And I would not have the life I have now without Solano because I needed that. I needed a place where someone would just let me come and let me let go of a lot of years of shit. And then I started working at Berkeley Rep and other places and was really, really lucky to just come into contact with amazing people, especially George McGuire and Amy Potozkin, who is the casting director at Berkeley Rep, who was kind of like a second mom to me...I never wanted to audition for Juilliard.  I know this sounds crazy, but I think I was too intimidated by it.  Do you know what I mean?

Virginia:  Yeah.  I think this is something that a lot of people can relate to, the idea of Juilliard.  So before you knew what Juilliard actually was, what was your idea of it?

Daniel:  I thought it was just fancy and kind of – I didn’t really know a lot about it.  I wanted to go to DePaul because DePaul, I think, at the time had a BFA in acting but you could also work as a playwright, too.  Again, maybe I might be getting this totally wrong, but in my memory it was the only BFA program I could find where I could do both.  And I also wanted to write and try to direct and things like that.  And so I wanted to go to DePaul. And I applied to Webster, to North Carolina School of the Arts, to Juilliard and DePaul.  And I didn’t even plan on auditioning for Juilliard.  Funny thing is I got into every school except DePaul.  Which I think is kind of amazing... (Laughs.) ...I didn’t even get wait-listed to DePaul which I love.

And the only reason I auditioned for Juilliard is because of Amy. She went on this casting trip or personal trip – I’m not sure what it was.  But she came back and she saw Blood Brothers.  And I went out to her car with her… and she said, “I have this feeling you need to go to Juilliard.  And I was like, “Oh, yeah Amy, I’m not going to Juilliard.  I’m not even applying to Juilliard.”  I couldn’t even afford the hundred dollars for the fricken application.  And she said, “I will pay for your application and you’re going to apply to that school,” …So I said okay.  I mean, she was going to pay for my application so...

…Again, I would never have the life I have without George and Amy.  They’re theatre family to me.  They’re my family still.  I love them so much, and I owe them so much.  Literally, I owe them my life.  She was the reason I auditioned to that school.  I never thought I was getting a call back, and then when that happened, and I’d be there all day.

Virginia:  So you auditioned in San Francisco then?

Daniel:  I auditioned in San Francisco.

Virginia:  Tell a little bit about your experience. 

Daniel:  Actually, it was great.  I’m so glad I auditioned in San Francisco.  I’m so glad I auditioned in my home turf instead of like flying to New York ‘cause I would have felt very overwhelmed.

Virginia:  They normally do them at the ACT studios; don’t they?

Daniel:  Maybe now.  This was at the Symphony Hall Space or something like that.  It was this enormous fuckin' room.  That’s what I remember.  The room was like a quarter of a city block.  That’s how it appeared to me, anyway. ‘Cause I think it was a space they used for symphonies to rehearse, so it was this enormous, enormous space with amazing acoustics.

And I drove there with my little brother in the morning.  And I remember, in the car, we were laughing.  I remember we were listening to Oasis, I remember that --which was helping keep me calm somehow.  I think it was an Ani Difranco/Oasis mix which I think is the story of my life if you think about it...So we were listening to that, and he dropped me off and took my car ‘cause I didn’t want to pay the parking all day, 'cause I didn't have any money.  And I remember he told me a joke in the car, which will come up later.  He told me a really stupid joke ‘cause he was just trying to make me laugh.  I was really, really nervous.  So I went in.  I remember I was wearing my Angels in America t-shirt, which I always wore...And I remember I was wearing black Dickies. 

Virginia:  How old were you at this point? 

Daniel:  I think I was 21 when I went to Juilliard, so I think I was 20, maybe.  I’m 35 now, so that would make sense…And I did Launcelot Gobbo from Merchant of Venice.  And I did Treplev from The Seagull, and I did a piece from Marvin’s Room...I think I did two Shakespeare. They kept asking me for pieces.  So I started with Marvin’s Room, then I did Launcelot Gobbo, and then they asked me to do Treplev.  That’s what it was.  And so I did that.  And they worked with me quite a bit, and Michael gave me a suggestion.  I think he said that I was in a room and I was doing it to someone outside the window.  I think he said my mom or something like that, and I lost my shit which was actually good ‘cause I was very tight.  And then I was able to work.  And so they had me do, I think,  Launcelot Gobbo again.  So they worked with me a bunch in the initial audition, and then I was one of four people called back that day, one of which was Dennis whose my best friend now.  We were both called back together…So then the auditions went on and on. I went for a walk.  I remember walking around in front of the state building or the city building or whatever it is and feeling good about the audition, feeling like I got to work, feeling that they worked with me, and they were really kind to me.

Virginia:  Yeah, so what was the vibe of the people in the room?  How many people were in there?

Daniel:  It was Michael Kahn, John Stix and Liz Smith; and I think Kathy Hood was at the door.  They were all very, very cool.  They were very kind.  They were very professional, and it felt like rehearsal, which is how I’m always best in auditions.  I’m a horrible auditioner, actually.  And if the room feels like an audition, I tend to always fail.  I either always completely kick ass or completely fuck it up…I would say more often than not it’s the fuck up, not the kick ass. 

...So it felt like a rehearsal.  It felt like a work session with them.  John and Michael have since become people that mean the world to me.  John passed away, but he was a huge influence on my life.  Michael really changed my life, too.  So it’s interesting.  I did not know who they were which I’m actually happy about.  I didn’t know who Michael Kahn was or John Stix was or Liz Smith or who they had worked with, which I think was a good thing for me because I didn’t have that pressure.  I remember they told me to tell a joke, and I hate telling jokes.  I’m horrible at it.  All I could think about was the joke my brother told me.  It was, “What do you call a thousand blind lesbians in a tuna factory?  A feeding frenzy.”  John Stix cracked the fuck up, no one else laughed, and Liz Smith is gay, and I did not know this at the time.  So thank you to my brother. (Laughs.)  And so then they called me back in.  And actually I think Dennis did do his pieces again.  They did not have me do my pieces again at all.  In fact, they just talked to me.  I was very honest about my life and my circumstances. Then they had me read this clock poem with my horrible California accent.  And I think Liz Smith grimaced a few times.  And they were really kind to me.  I talked about my family a bit. I was honest about that, and that was it.

I think I got there I think like 8 – 9:00 in the morning and I think I got out around 10:30 or 11:00 at night, is my recollection.  Then I remember I walked up to the Castro because my brother was coming to pick me up.  And I went to Pasta Pomodoro, and I got the biggest fuckin' plate of pasta because I was so hungry.  And Kevin Jackson, that Australian actor that used to work at ACT.  He was in full leather chaps.  He was so cool.  I said, “Kevin, I just got called back for Juilliard.”  He was so congratulatory, and he said to me, “I think you got in.  I just have this feeling.”  And I remember that.  That meant so much to me because I’d seen him direct at ACT, and he was very nice about it. And then I let it go…I was in Charlie’s Aunt for Solano and going into rehearsals for Skylight.  And so I had that on my plate, too…

Virginia:  Did you get to go to Juilliard for their callback at the school?

Daniel:  …No, not at that time. [They didn’t have callbacks in New York back then.]

Virginia: Okay, so at that time you just received a call?

Daniel:  I was at Claire Phelan’s house because she my girlfriend at the time, and I was sleeping over there… I think I called Jason my roommate, and he told me that we had gotten the message to call Kathy Hood.  So I called her and that was that.

Virginia:  That’s crazy, so you had never actually stepped foot on the campus at Juilliard and got accepted to the school.

Daniel:  No, never. 

Virginia:  How did you decide where to go?

Daniel:  What was funny was I still waffling just because of my fear and intimidation from the school.  I was really intimidated by – you, know, I like to practice before the match instead of just diving in and playing, like Roger Federer.  I was just really scared.  I like the idea --the school I was really looking at was North Carolina School of the Arts.  And I talked to Gerald Freedman who was running the program, and he actually said I’m going to withdraw your acceptance to our school if you don’t go to Juilliard.  That’s what he told me.  He told me, you need to go to that school.  He said if you got in and they’re offering you that type of scholarship, that is where you should go.  So again, I don’t even know this man, but I owe him, wherever he is.  So I went to Juilliard.

Virginia:  Cool!  So they offered you enough financial assistance?

Daniel:  They gave me a full scholarship, but they give a lot of the kids a full scholarship.  They’re an amazing school.  They’ll make it possible for you to go if you don’t have the money.  They believe in quality that way.  I could have never afforded that school, so they gave me a full scholarship.

Virginia:  So tell me about your experience at Juilliard…


I’ll post PART TWO of his fantastic journey through the program at Juilliard!

Side note:

Are you as in LOVE with this generous and talented man as a I am? If soooo...check out Daniel's current passion project, YOSEMITE, at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Place, NY, NY 10014. Tickets are available through www.TicketCentral.com. It's a limited engagement. Previews begin January 18th. Get your tickets now! Don't miss it!

Annnnnd if you "like" the Rattlestick Facebook Page, there are DISCOUNT CODES available for tickets and profiles of the actors and all sorts of fun info to check-out and stay up-dated on Daniel and Rattlestick's future goings-ons.

Still not convinced that this is a "must-see" for the winter season? If this doesn't make you want to buy a ticket...you might want to check your pulse...

Daniel: (RE:  YOSEMITE ) This play is so much for my family who I love deeply and who I have been through a lot with, and it's especially for my brothers and sisters and my mom. There was a time that we lived in a place that was full of so many people, and especially their kids, who had such great intentions and tons of heart and imagination, but were absolutely crushed and destroyed by poverty and drugs and loss. Life can be really, really tough, but through each other and with each other I feel so many of us were able to crawl out of that pit, and I couldn't be more thankful for that and this play is about that for me. This play is so much for them and for my family, and it's crazy cause I just have no idea if it's going to mean anything to anyone else - I really hope it does and that that heart and insane struggle translates in some way, and that folks get it and love it (and the people in it) like I do, but I just don't know. It terrifies me but as with the rest of my life I feel like I'm surrounded by family and friends with this cast and crew and Rattlestick, and that gives me strength.



P.S. Did my monologue practice over the phone with my Mom this time. She lives in California and hadn't heard my pieces yet. And she really loved the "themes" of the three that I chose to share with her...Which, of course, made me feel great! She even wanted to READ one of the plays! HA! Never saw THAT coming. (She's not a big "theatre" person...Other than seeing everything that I do.) I'm really glad that I got to connect with her through these monologues, which have such personal meaning to me, and that she was so enthusiastic and interested in learning more about them. Yay, Mom! Thanks for your support!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful interview. I would love to be in New York to visit Yosemite.

    Kathryn on Stage...sigh, one of my BIG dreams.