Thursday, March 8, 2012

160. Interview with Bryce Pinkham (Yale) - Part One

“Anybody who’s made it will tell you, you can make it. Anyone who hasn’t made it will tell you, you can’t.” - John Mayer
Speaking of people who are "making it"...Here's a hugely inspiring interview with my friend and Yale grad Bryce Pinkham.

It's such a privilege to live in New York and be able to sit down and have lunch with a true professional and down-to-earth-all-around-great-guy like Bryce. He took the time to sit down with me and open-up about all things "creative process" and really give a no-bullshit look at what he's done to get where he is now...and how he handles the resistance...(the thoughts in his own head that could keep him from plugging away at his acting career)...but clearly, he's been able to make things happen in spite of any fears/doubts/obstacles.

Next month he's opening a show on Broadway!!! He's landed the role of Carl Bruner in the Broadway production of Ghost: The Musical!!! Whoooo hooooo! Check out this sneak-peek video....

Previews for  Ghost: The Musical  begin March 15, 2012 and Opening is April 23, 2012. Click HERE to buy tickets.

Congratulations, Bryce, on this AMAZING opportunity to share your work on Broadway. Sending you big-time luck and broken legs! Thank you so much for sharing about your creative life!!!

Disclaimer: Watch out, folks. You are about to fall in love with these blue eyes...

(The following interview was conducted at Cellini Restaurant on E. 54th St. in New York City on January 6, 2012.)

Virginia: Okay, go ahead. We're recording...

Bryce: My name is Bryce Pinkham, and I grew up in Northern California, outside of San Francisco. And I went to undergrad at Boston College. I went to graduate school at the Yale School of Drama in Connecticut. And I now live in Brooklyn…I’m an actor here in New York City.

Virginia: What did you study in undergrad?

Bryce: I didn’t go to school to study acting. I decided the place where I wanted to go to school because of the atmosphere and the academics – and if there was a place to continue the hobby of theatre acting I had developed as a kid that that would be a great thing as well. And so, I found that at BC.  I did end up majoring in theatre, but I also studied communications and got a very broad liberal arts education, studied the classics and all that, a lot of reading. Which I look back on now and think that I’m so glad I did that. I don’t know that I had thought it out this well, but I’m so glad I made that choice as opposed to saying, no, I really want to try the acting thing so I’m going to go to a conservatory setting. Cause I think one of the most important things to being an actor is knowing how to do lots of things, and so that prepared me.

Virginia: So now you live in Brooklyn, and are you currently a member of any of the actor’s unions?

Bryce: I’m a member of Actor’s Equity. And I’m a member of what’s called a “must join” for both SAG, Screen Actors Guild, and AFTRA, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Which means the next job I do for them I have to join the union. So basically I’ve done something like one or two jobs for each of those. They give you a sort of free pass your first round and then the next assignment they say, okay, we want to start making some of your money, too. And so the next thing I do I’ll probably put the entire paycheck toward joining the union.

Virginia: But inevitably, if you want to have a professional have to join eventually, I would assume.

Bryce: Yeah, it’s very hard to get the jobs that we all want to get without being a member of the unions. But there’s certainly plenty of jobs out there for people developing their careers who are not a member of the unions....And some of the best work you can actually do is non-union because you can practice. For example, on film, you can get together on a student film, and it’s a non-union job and you’re not going to get paid much, but it gives you a chance to practice something. It’s lower stakes.

Virginia: So, totally changing the subject. For the record, would you share with the do you know me, exactly?

Bryce: Well, we knew each other in another life, as aspiring young thespians when it was just for fun and it didn’t have a lot of big ideas. And by “it” I mean performing, specifically – you know. Acting in musical theatre is what we did together, but before we had attached all these ideas of "art" and "why is this important to our country?" and, you know, "what’s it going to be like when I give my first awards speech?"  It was about "this is something I want to do over the summer cause I like the other people who do it and I like the way it makes me feel. It’s just fun."

Virginia: Do you think that you have retained elements of that in your current work?

Bryce: Yes.

Virginia: I mean, what you just described. It sounds like the greatest job description ever, you know, just getting together with your friends and doing something fun that you’ll enjoy.

Bryce: I think it’s important to keep in-touch with that side, with that version of you as a performer because there are plenty of reasons to not do it. And those are all reasons that didn’t exist to that little one. They just love the sound of applause. I have one teacher who describes it as, you know, the moment in middle school, when the curtain goes down and all the kids behind the stage are like freaking out, “Oh, my god, we did it. Can you believe it?! We made it through.” And all the parents and the audience are sitting there, “Yeah, you know, it wasn’t that bad." (laughs)...And I think it’s important to stay in-touch with that spirit because it can kind-of carry you through some of the harder times. And also I think it's important for you to get back to a place where you were just less in your head and more in your body.

Virginia: Talk to me about your transition from it being a hobby, and then what made you decide to have it be your career?

Bryce: I did a play in college that was basically a Commedia Dell'arte Moliere one act. That was literally the most fun I think I’ve had. Not only the most fun, but the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I had never felt like that before. I never felt better about anything. And I sort of had this moment like, well, if I could in some way reproduce this, even every couple of years, you know, in between all the other stuff. I remember as a little kid thinking, "If there’s one thing I do like to do and that’s play...and there’s one thing I don’t like to do and that’s work. And if I could find a way to make those things the same thing, I’m pretty sure I’ll be happy."  I think that’s how a kid looks at it. So then as a sophomore in college, I said, "Well, this is something that could be work and is undoubtedly fun. And I’d regret it if I didn’t take a shot at this."  And as we’re talking now, I’m still taking a shot.

I’m not like other actors that say, okay, give me this and I’ll see you when I retire. I’m a little more like...So I’ve trained two years seriously at Boston College when I said, "Okay, I’m going to try this for real," the second two years. And then three years of grad school. That’s five total years. When I graduated grad school, I said, "Okay I’m going to give myself five corresponding years to see how this goes. And at the end of five years, I’ll be 30 years old, first of all. And second of all, I’ll have a better idea of what a life like this might sort of look like, what sort of trajectory professionally I’m on. And if’s something I would like, I would enjoy staying in, I would enjoy the lifestyle. So then I’ll go from there. But if I don’t, I give myself permission and the freedom to say I’ve had it."  But at the same time, as I said, I’ve dedicated five years to this. I’m not going to quit after one year cause I don’t get into a show or I can’t get my rent acting. The years I’m going to put into it on the other side, preparing for it, at least. So I think It’s important to keep perspective on how much you owe yourself in terms of time.

Virginia: You just mentioned doing other jobs besides acting. Can you share with us maybe some of the other survival jobs you’ve had to pay the bills when you haven’t had enough acting work?

Bryce: Yeah. I did have an acting job right out of school. I’m very lucky. And then I finally moved to New York. And I was working three part-time jobs. None of them were full time. One as a tutor, I was tutoring writing, which was something I learned to do in my liberal arts background. I was teaching soccer to little kids, so I was a soccer coach. It was more like soccer daycare with very safe surroundings and very safe soccer balls. And then I was – surprise, surprise – waiting tables as well. So that was a rough couple of months because that really was three part-time jobs that all had slightly conflicting schedules. And I was trying to audition for the jobs I really wanted in between all of that. Relatively speaking, I’ve had it pretty lucky. But I look back on that and say, "Oh, yeah, you made it through that time, so whatever time you’re going through now is nowhere near as hard as that. There’s no reason you should be down on yourself or worried."

Virginia: Absolutely. I wanted to ask you about your experience with the whole idea of – you know, a lot of actors think their job is, you know, when you’re on stage. But what you actually learn when you graduate from school is that your job, as an actor, is to audition. And I want to hear your opinion on that.

Bryce: Definitely. Some of the best advice I ever got was...what’s most important is how you use your down time, your time in between jobs, whether it’s working on your own material, working on a blog, working on a writing project, working on a one-man show, something to keep your muscles, your creative and physical muscles ready so that when that audition comes you won’t feel like "I haven't acted in so long" or "I haven’t thought like a character in so long" or "I haven’t performed a song in forever."  So the down time actually becomes part of the job. You get used to it. You come to expect it. And then when it shows up, you go, okay, cool, now I can do those projects I’ve been wanting to do for awhile. So I’ve learned to try and fill the spaces in between jobs with things that make me still feel like an actor and things that make me still feel on my game. Does that answer the question?...

Oh!--that thing about auditioning too....I guess your job is auditioning. I’m never busier than when I don’t have a job. Because I’m running around preparing, you know, sometimes three or four auditions a week, and we’re talking both musical theatre, TV and film, voiceover, commercial,... doing many different things trying to prepare. And if I had – I haven’t had to lately, but if I had a survival job on top of that, then it would be fitting it in that schedule. So that’s really the hardest part - to get the job. We’re trained for that part. That’s what the training is for. Once you get the job, you don’t have to work to prove that it’s yours. But the hard part is proving you deserve it at the audition.

Virginia: So I have just one quick detour into the financial world, since we’re talking about jobs and, you know, making a living and stuff like that. So we just finished 2011. What percentage of your income would you say came from your acting in 2011 versus other jobs unrelated to acting?

Bryce: Um, only for that – I’m sure they exist, but I can’t think of them. I would say I funded myself entirely with acting jobs this year.

Virginia: Congratulations!

Bryce: Thank you.

Virginia: That’s amazing! That’s a huge accomplishment.

Bryce: Yes, it is. I mean, that’s not to say I funded myself WELL, you know, but I’m not in debt....There’s a certain commitment that I made at a certain point in the year when I said, no, I’m not going to search for that survival job because it will take me out of my ability to search for these other things. And to audition well you’ve got to be preparing, and it’s a full-time thing. I also had the benefit of a couple of really nice jobs that gave me some chunks of money that I could sit on for a couple of months. So to be clear, I wasn’t a paid actor for all of 2011, but I did live off the money that I made as a paid actor.

Virginia: And was this the first year that you've earned all of your income from acting related work…I mean, since you’ve graduated from Yale?

Bryce: I graduated in 2008...Yeah, definitely not 2009, and I don’t think 2010. So yeah, I would say that’s probably the first year that that’s taken place. Like I said, I’m sure there’s something …because when jobs come, you know, two weeks to be an administrative assistant for somebody that pays 20 bucks an hour and I look at my schedule and I say, ok....Savings is the most important thing. When you consider grad school and consider being an actor, save, save, save. Save as much as you can. I mean I know it hard.

Virginia: How close are you to paying off those student loans at this point? Do you still have them?

Bryce: Oh, yeah, I’ve got a sizable chunk of student loans.

Virginia: From undergrad and grad?

Bryce: From graduate school. My parents gave me my undergrad education. But they told me that grad school was on me. Which I mean I wouldn’t have had it any other way....But I think what’s important and what can be a hard initially in this lifestyle is when somebody offers you something, I’m not always the sort of person to take it, to say, "Well, I don’t know that I deserve that what you’re offering me, that free meal or what have you."  But I’ve had to learn that there are certain situations where you just have to say thank you. Because specifically, when it has to do with money, because – I don’t want to get too sidetracked on this, but the system - of specifically theatres in our country-  it’s such that nobody in New York – this may sound scary, but nobody in New York, except for people who are getting paid on Broadway in lead parts, are acting on the stage and making a living wage from that alone. They just don’t pay enough. And it’s not their fault. Most of the theatres are not for profit and they’re underfunded. I’m not blaming them. I’m just saying that’s the state of affairs.

So even if you are working in your chosen field and loving every minute of it, the stage actor off-Broadway doing important work, working with directors you’ve wanted to work with all your entire life, you may not be able to pay the bills. You may be making less than you would on unemployment. So when those chances come and someone says, “Hey, do you want to do a commercial?” you have to not necessarily sell your soul for it –

Virginia: But you’re going to be scrubbing toilets and smiling.

Bryce: Yeah. I have a voice-over audition today for (**very large company that will remain unnamed**). And truth be told, it's not my favorite company in the world. But if they offered me a check for $8000 for an hour and a half’s worth of work in a studio, I’d take it in a heartbeat and I have. I’ve done a voice-over for them before. I did an hour and a half in a studio, and in over the year I think I’ve gotten $8000 from those residuals. Initially I felt bad about it. Then I thought, well, what am I saying?! I’m dedicated to these higher ideals about me as a person. I don’t feel great about this company, what they’ve done to our country or their style of eating, and all that stuff. At the end of the day, they’re helping me in a small way, and I’m helping them in an even smaller way. And I, you know, I take the money and run because I still want to do the off-Broadway stuff.

Virginia: It can help to finance your life so that you can then dedicate you energy to the projects that are really worthy of doing...and I wanted to segue into the project that you did at Guantanamo. And also just talk about your writing and being published in American Theatre Magazine. You know, that’s become a part of your artistry as well. Not only being an actor but, you also did the blog for Orphans Home Cycle at the Signature Theatre. So how have you integrated your writing into your acting?

Bryce: Well, this is one of the things – for example -- that you can do in your down time that keeps you feeling engaged in an artistic conversation and also helps you explore your own ideas about things, about what it is to be an actor, the power of theatre and these things. You know, it’s like what you’re doing. It’s like if I can take my experience and in some way by transferring it to the page or the screen, as it were, help someone else better understand the material, as you know you mentioned the blog I did for the Orphans Home Cycle, or better understand something about what it means to be a working actor, in the case of the Guantanamo trip – which I’ll talk on in a second – better understand what on earth is going on down there and also see through the example, the power and the strength of what it is they want to do. And it renews their own sense of commitment to that, then I’ve served a greater purpose other than – well, my head shot is in American Theatre Magazine. It’s not about that...And the writing, you know, started in grad school, really.

Virginia: Were you given formal opportunities to write or was this something as part of the Yale Cabaret?

Bryce: No, I was asked to write a speech, a personal statement, for The Actors Center. They hold a thing called The Actors Congress. And the first one, they wanted a couple of people in their first year in grad school to write something about what it was like to be in grad school. And one of my teachers asked me to write and I did. They had me come to New York and give it as a speech at The Actors Congress. I just got some really nice feedback from it. This is something I enjoy doing -- writing. It’s a creative outlet but also sort of investigating what the hell's going on in my life and lots of others. I guess the point is it started then and continues to do that for me, so I try to force myself to do it whenever I have the opportunity. Which came up when I came to Guantanamo with this group, Theatre of War, that does readings of ancient Greek plays and other plays as well, for military audiences, in an attempt to bring about a discussion about, in this case, PTSD and soldier suicide. I’ve done it a couple of other times in the states and then was asked to go to Guantanamo with them. I asked them if I could write a piece on it. Actually, they initially said no, we’ve got The New Yorker coming with us to do an exclusive on it, so we can’t really have you doing anything on it. Well, it turns out The New Yorker didn’t end up coming. And so I said, "Can I write?"  "Yeah, sure."  So I wrote down notes while I was there, got back and sat down and tried to put, you know, thoughts on paper. That’s sort of the sum total of it.

Virginia: I wish that they had it posted on-line. The last time I went to look for it, it was only in print. Cuz, you know, they have some of the articles on-line and some of them aren’t. I think they do that to protect themselves, you know, so you will actually subscribe. But I really wanted to link to it, but I couldn’t actually find it...I would actually like to post it on the blog, have it available....I bet if I wrote them a letter I could probably get their permission.

Bryce: I could get you the email of the person for you to write to.

Virginia: Yeah. Absolutely, that would be great. Because if I could link to it I’m sure people will be interested in reading it, you know, especially after reading what you said about it.

(I did write to Bryce's editor at American Theatre...and, at my request, they put up a link to Bryce's article online!!! So you guys can all read it! Whoo-hoo!... Thanks, Nicole!)

I read this article on the subway on my way to work one day...and as sooooon as I got above ground...I had to call Bryce and leave him a practically sobbing/ridiculously ecstatic voice mail about how incredible the article was and how much I LoVED like 8:45am.

He probably wanted to kill me. :-P

Enjoy!...Read Bryce's article about his experience performing at Guantanamo:


Subscribe to American Theatre Magazine by clicking HERE.


P.S. If it wasn't for American Theatre Magazine...I may never have auditioned for Juilliard. True story. Read my post about how my life was CHANGED by having my very own subscription to American Theatre Magazine.

P.P.S. More interviewtasticness with Bryce on Saturday. (No blogging on Fridays.) Check back then for PART TWO!


  1. !!! THIS IS THE GUY ON GENTLEMEN'S GUIDE!!! VIRGINIA!! HE'S YOUR FRIEND?!?! ok fangirling omgomgomg

  2. Saw Gemtlemans Guide last week, Bryce was AMAZING!! Was lucky enough to get a pic with him after the show!! Such a cute talented man!!!