Saturday, March 10, 2012

161. Interview with Bryce Pinkham (Yale) - Part Two

"The potential not just for failure, but failure that matters, failure you feel, must be on the table. If it's not, then what you're setting out to do is either so safe or so devoid of the potential for impact that success might allow you to check a box on a piece of paper, but beyond that, nobody'll care. Including you...The same circumstance that presents the potential to fail also serves as a gateway to the opportunity to succeed. You cannot close the door on the former, without also closing the door on the latter." - Jonathan Fields

(This is PART TWO of the interview with Yale graduate Bryce Pinkham. Click HERE to read PART ONE. This interview was conducted at Cellini Restaurant on E. 54th St. in New York City on January 6, 2012, and was lovingly transcribed by my mother, Dorothy Wilcox. Thanks, MOM!)

(Yup. Still talking to THIS GUY...Currently starring in Ghost: The Musical on Bway.)

Virginia: Anyway, let’s get to grad school because, you know, that’s what it’s about, allllll about grad school. I have my notes highlighted here.

Bryce: Okay, good, good.

Virginia: Okay, so we’re gonna just throw something out here and see where it goes. So, okay, first question: What do you think are three great reasons to attend grad school, if somebody’s considering, you know, attending grad school?

Bryce: I would say, go to grad school if you have yet to have had the opportunity to explore the depth of your own instrument in an environment that feels safe to do so. For me, I felt like I got to do a lot of stuff in undergrad. I got to perform a lot, which was great. But I wasn’t continually challenged in a way that I felt like I knew exactly what I was working with even as an actor. I didn’t know the sum total of what I could do. I still don’t. But now I know that it’s fun to find out, and I know a little about how to explore it, go after it, and what it feels like when it’s not right...

So I’d say, one, if you feel like you want to further expand yourself as an artist; two, if you want to experience failure. I guess those are similar things, but I went because I wanted – because I hadn’t failed yet. I really hadn’t....I don’t mean that in an egotistical way. I mean that the environment I was in was very supportive, and so it was like no matter what we did, it was awesome -- because it was. But in grad school, it’s a more critical -- in a good way – environment. And it’s more professionally minded. These schools get people trained and prepared for careers as professional actors.

And the last thing I would say is... go to grad school if you feel like making an investment in a long-term vision.

And the opposite of that is... I always tell people...don’t go to grad school to get an agent; don’t go to grad school so that you can say you went to the same school that a famous actor went to; don’t go to grad school for the resume. Go to grad school if you are interested in making a short term investment in a long-term goal.

I know that jives earlier with what I said earlier about I’m giving myself five years. But I think that’s probably one of the mind tricks I play with myself... well, it’s only five years. But, grad school  – don’t expect it to be an instant payoff. It’s for the type of people who are willing to audition for three years in a row to get into it, or four or five or however many....So it’s not for people who think it might be fun. It’s an entire overtaking of your life for three years – it really is.

Virginia: That’s funny. My next question was going to be, what are the three reasons NOT to go to grad school.  So thank you for answering that and reading my mind.

Bryce: Did I say three?

Virginia: You did actually. I think you said exactly three... Only the transcript will tell... So what schools did you choose when you were auditioning for grad school?

Bryce: I said if I’m going to go to grad school and spend my own money, potentially a lot of it, that I want to go to one of the top schools, what I understand being one of the top schools because there are a lot out there.  So I auditioned for Yale and NYU, UCSD, ACT, and ART – because I was in Boston at the time. If I had known a little more, I probably would have auditioned for Juilliard and the Denver Center as well. So I auditioned for Yale in New Haven, at the school, and the rest I auditioned for in New York at NYU. I lumped together as many together in one day as I could. I did three on one day, Yale the next day and then – actually I think I missed my ART audition and had to go into ART -- their auditions in Boston – later.

Virginia: That is insane. Having gone through grad school auditions the past two years, I cannot even imagine doing three in one day. That just seems crazy.

Bryce: It was intense, but at the same time it was helpful because – and I think the third one I actually got into was ACT. And I think because I had just been like sort of pumelled around a little bit, and I felt like I know what this is and I know what to expect from this now, and I’ll just go do it.

Virginia: So how far did you get at each of the schools?

Bryce: NYU, I don’t think they wanted anything to do with me, nor UCSD. And then ACT, ART and Yale all accepted me.

Virginia: Wow. And that was your first year; right?

Bryce: That was my first year, yeah.

Virginia: You were still in undergrad at the time?

Bryce: Yeah. I was a senior in college. It was not my intention to go to grad school the next year. I sort of came to the idea late, and I thought -- you know, when you’re a senior in college, it‘s like there’s so much stuff going on, and you – you know, I was writing a thesis at the time. It was like I’m just going to do this... and I made it my goal to make an impression at each school. That’s where I was capping my goal, so that I took the pressure off myself to get into the "Yale School of Drama." So that’s why three in one day. I was like, well, I’ll just get them out of the way. And I think it really helped me in retrospect because I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do it actually, to be perfectly honest. I am now one of those people that says "Don’t do it unless you really want to." But I think it helped me not think about it in such grand terms. And then when I got in, I was like... okay, well, I guess now I really have to choose, and I did.

Virginia: It’s interesting... in our conversation you’ve mentioned a few of these little mind tricks that you play with yourself where you – and correct me if I’m not reflecting this back accurately – but, you know, it’s like you almost sense that if you think about it a certain way it’s going to cause you anxiety and so you choose to think about it in a way that will lessen that pressure for you.

Bryce: Yeah, you’re right. I do do those things. I would say – I would call it less of a trick and more of just a readjustment of value.

Virginia: Reframing the idea for yourself?

Bryce: Yeah, I mean – I’m trying to think of a good example. Well, it’s about reframing, and it’s also about panning out and taking perspective on a given situation, which happens to me a lot at auditions when, you know, I know I’m going in for a third call back for something and expecting that the entire producing team is going to be in there. It’s not just the casting director and the reader, it’s twelve to fifteen to twenty people. And it’s in one of these studios that has these giant windows. It’s like the back drop of Smash. It’s one of these studios in Times Square. You’re auditioning in one of these rooms for 15 or 20 minutes. And that instantly gets me nervous. It gets me nervous just talking about it. But if I can force myself to pan out from that and say, "Look at yourself, you’re auditioning in New York for whatever Broadway or Off Broadway, for a part in a professional play, musical or whatever, and all these people are here to see you do an amazing job and get the job." And if you can stay in touch with that little kid that looks at that and says are you serious? I’m doing what? Then you can go back to the room and just enjoy the fact that you’re there to start, and not worry about, well, am I going to get everything right, cause you’re never going to get it all right. You’re never going to get it all right in the audition room...

But what you can do is make a good impression. And so I try to give myself that promise. I try to say, don’t worry about all that other stuff. You’re not going to get it all right, so I can just admit that to myself. Today is not the day you get it right.

Virginia: Right.

Bryce: And they all know that, too. They’re not expecting you to get it right. They’re just expecting you to do something that can help them imagine you getting it right on opening night after you’ve had months and months or maybe just weeks of rehearsal.

And same with the grad school auditions – I’ll talk about this now. They’re not looking for an actor that looks just like an actor that came out of the Yale School of Drama. They’re looking for an actor that they’ll think, "Okay, I think this would be really beneficial to have this person in our midst because there’s a lot of room for growth, there’s a passion for the journey, but there’s also a levity about the entire thing."

The other thing I say to myself a lot in the auditions is... "This is ridiculous!"... I mean, let’s call a spade a garden tool. This is RIDICULOUS what you’re asking me to do... come in a small room, maybe a big room, and sing a song that I learned last night because you didn’t get the material until then. You guys, you know, were up late talking about other things. You don’t remember my name, but we know each other. I’m going to sing a song for you that I don’t know. I’m going to pretend that I know it well, and then I’m going to hold these pages with words on them. I’m going to pretend that I memorized them, but I really just had the time to look at them on the train. And at the end of that, you’re going to decide whether or not you want me to have your job. There’s an inherent ridiculousness. They're sitting behind the table taking notes. It’s just ridiculous. But if you can play the game, and at the same time recognize it for what it is, I think you’ll help yourself a lot.

Virginia: That’s great. That’s like solid gold advice!... Okay, so you were talking about grad school stretching you. That being one of the main reasons that you went, to have that experience of failing. So can you share a specific example of something you felt like you failed at so colossally and you learned a lot from it and grew as a result of it?

Bryce: There are so many instances that I can’t pull one out of the ether, off the top of my head... But part of the journey is learning how to collaborate with people in a room after a common objective that sometimes is agreed upon and sometimes is not. And at the end of the day a lot of time the actors are the ones who – well, the actor’s the only one who has to be on stage. Like with any professional sports, the coaches get to say a lot. But at the end of the day, they don’t have to play the game. The players play...

But it is important to have a really strong relationship with your coach or your director or your scenic designer. You know, these are relationships you learn in the professional world how to integrate those people into the entire process. So I would say that there were plenty of times in grad school where even just by stepping out in a certain costume or on a certain set or with a certain direction or – from my end – a certain voice I had prepared, a certain choice I had made about a character, even just stepping out into that first set was like stepping straight into some dog shit.

Virginia: You put yourself in a vulnerable place.

Bryce: Here’s a good one: I created a show in school at the Yale Cabaret. It was a clown show. And I don’t mean clown like circus clown, I mean, sort of like Bill Irwin style – and we built it outside. We did a show outside in the courtyard, you know, beautiful setting. We had a giant staircase, fire escape staircase, coming down and a little stage built out there, and a window. We had all these bits built in and people could walk by and see it from outside. It was really quite wonderful. But we had to, by law, have one performance inside for, I think, wheelchair accessibility or something. And so we put so much work into getting the show together that we never really planned out how we were going to do it indoors. And, you know, it was all done on a shoestring anyway. And so when we did the show inside, one of my teachers came,...came to that show, the one we had to do inside.

Virginia: Was this person a teacher that you wanted to impress?

Bryce: Yeah, I wanted to impress this person, who undoubtedly would have a lot of helpful criticism, who I was really excited to show that I had followed through on my impulse to create something like this. And sure enough she came on the night that we had to do it inside. Or maybe it was raining or something; I don’t know.  Nevertheless, we found ourselves before the show, the three of us, the three person show , trying to talk through how we were going to do the show inside with all these things that are normally done outside, like a whole bit done with bringing a trunk down a set of stairs, in a small, low-ceilinged underground theatre with none of that. And at the end of the day, we just had to do it. And my teacher came up to me afterwards with a big smile on her face. I said, “Oh, no, you’re here tonight?” She said, "Yes, and that was terrible!...Congratulations! You’ve tasted it. Now you know what it tastes like.”

And it’s true. It really was terrible. I mean, it was really bad. This is a show, I’m proud to say, got lots of laughter outside. Indoors, we’re lucky if we got any. It was only an hour show, and, oh man, it was a rough hour. But to see her levity about that, the fact that it was really bad, and that it had given me the opportunity to experience it, and I had come out on the other side of it okay and realize, Oh, well, if we’d had more time, and yeah, that was terrible. Ha ha, you know, to laugh at it and myself.

Again, it’s like changing that perspective, the value judgment. Here I am at the Yale School of Drama creating my own show for people who have paid to see me, and it’s terrible. I mean like that’s AMAZING! How many people can say that? I don’t know, it definitely introduced me to what it feels like to fail and move on and recover and look back and laugh and say I made a mess back there. I’m sorry.

...Stay tuned for PART THREE of the epic-long Bryce Pinkham interview extraordinaire!

Until then...


"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." - Ernest Hemingway

1 comment:

  1. I think the Hemingway quote is quite appropriate for this entry because although Bryce has made some freaking amazing steps in achieving dreams, his ability and potential to experience aren't by any means capped off. In regard to art, unlike the rigid scheme of true science, there is a certain objectivity to what makes something (or someone) successful. Continually learning doesn't mean great things don't happen; obviously, they do. But an author doesn't write a poem expecting the poem to triumph in every way (much less write poetry for anything more than the sake of writing poetry...), yet a certain combination of intentional verbiage and inspired rythme hits that something which makes us all human, and it becomes beautiful. I think what I'm trying to say here: It is not the potential to trip and fall that prevents us from mastering the "craft;" it is the endless and varied avenues by which success is newly defined that limits one from claiming mastery. Just a little thought.