For Keith Carradine, it was going to the opening of “Hair” when he was 19. For Andrea Martin, it was seeing Chita Rivera at 12; for Jay Armstrong Johnson it was “Disney on Ice” at age four. Michael Urie’s life changed at age 17 thanks to Alf’s Dad (explanation below). Tim Minchin thinks it might have been listening to Gilbert and Sullivan with his grandmother, or maybe “Jesus Christ Superstar.” But then there were also the Beatles, the Kinks, the Stones, Deep Purple, and William Shakespeare.
This season’s nominees for theater awards, attending a reception 2013 Drama Desk Award nominees, answered the question: Was there a show or performer that made you decide to become a theater artist?
Billy Porter, nominated for Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critic Circle awards as best lead performer in a musical for his role in “Kinky Boots.”
Jennifer Holliday performing from Dreamgirls on the Tony Awards broadcast in 1981 when he was 12 years old.
“Chita Rivera in her nightclub performances in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I used to go for summers with my family. I thought: Here’s a spunky ethnic woman….Maybe I have a chance”.
Doug Wright, nominated for a Drama Desk Award for the book for the musical “Hands on a Hardbody.” His previous works include the book for the musical “Grey Gardens,” and the play “I Am My Own Wife,” which earned for him a Tony and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
“I grew up in Dallas, Texas, and my parents took me to a production of “Life With Father” by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, when I was about eight years old. That was the first grown-up play I ever saw, and I fell in love. That a writer could concoct whole worlds, and these brilliant collaborators – actors, designers – could realize them on stage, was intoxicating to me. I fell in love with the medium right away”
But why did he want to be a writer rather than one of the actors or designers?
“To be an actor, you need a part. To be a producer, you need a play; same with a director. But to be a writer, all you need is an idea, a paper, a pencil and some time.
I thought it the best way to seize my own destiny in a perilous profession.”
Those are pretty heady thoughts for an eight-year-old.
“I think I came to that later on.”
Keith Carradine, who has been nominated for a Tony and a Drama Desk Award for best performance by a featured actor in a musical for his role as the oldest contestant in “Hands on a Hardbody,” which won nine Drama Desk Award nominations, the highest number (tying with “Giant”)
“The Los Angeles production of “Hair” at the Aquarius Theater when I was 19. I was there opening night and that was that: I thought I have to be up there, I have to be a part of that. Actually, I wound up in that show about six months later.”
Joel De La Fuente, nominated for a Drama Desk Award as best solo performance for “We Hold These Truths”
“I always loved the theater, but I never saw people who looked like me on stage, so I never thought there was a place for me. So it wasn’t until I performed in a play called A Storm Is Breaking by James Damico when I was 19 that I realized I had to be a performer.”
Daniel Everidge, who has been nominated for a Drama Desk Award as best actor in a play for his role as an adult with autism in “Falling”
“When Shuler Hensley was in Oklahoma, I realized for the first time that a big manly person could be in musicals, and it kind of made my whole world make sense at that point.”
Ironically Shuler Hensley is nominated in the same category as Everidge this year, for his role
Keala Settle, who won a Theatre World Award and is nominated for both a Tony and a Drama Desk Award as best actress in a featured role in a musical for her role a religious contestant in “Hands on a Hardbody.”
“When I first saw The Sound of Music, it changed my life. I wanted to be Maria.”
Michael John LaChiusa, nominated for a Drama Desk Award outstanding music, and Sybille Pearson, composer and book writer of “Giant,” which received a total of nine nominations, the highest number of any show.
He: Wizard of Oz when he was about three years old
Donna Murphy, nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical for her role as the witch in “Into The Woods” at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
“I knew I wanted to be a performer before I saw any show, but in fifth grade I saw a production of “The Tempest,’ and I experienced the power of what they were doing.”
Aaron Clifton Moten, who played a smart, not fully socialized movie theater usher in “The Flick” nominated for a Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
“Cool Hand Luke,” the movie starring Paul Newman, which he saw when he was eight.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, nominated for outstanding lyrics for Bring It On, was hooked when he was cast in six musicals at age 12.
Jay Armstrong Johnson, a member of the ensemble of “Working” that was collectively won a 2013 Drama Desk Award, was hooked at 4 by Disney on Ice. “I saw Aladdin do a back-flip on the ice. I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. That was the moment I realized I wanted to be a performer.”
Richard Kind, who has been nominated for a Tony for best performance by a featured actor in a play for his role as the mean movie mogul in “The Big Knife”
Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof and Robert Preston in The Music Man, which he saw when he was 10 and 14 respectively. “Larger than life. They’re big. They grab attention and say ‘look at me, look at me.’”
Tim Minchin has been nominated for a Tony and a Drama Desk as the composer of “Matilda,” which has been nominated for 12 Tony, seven Drama Desk and five Outer Critics Circle awards.
“I loved anyone who tells stories in a unique way.”
Michael Urie, nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for outstanding solo performance for “Buyer and Cellar,” decided to become a performer when at the age of 17 he saw Max Wright (who played Alf’s Dad on TV) portray Sir Andrew Aguecheek in the 1998 Broadway production of “Twelfth Night.” “I never understood a word of Shakespeare. I understood everything he said, and it made me want to become an actor, a Shakespearean actor. It gave me the drive to pursue a career. I’ve never met him, but I don’t know what I would say if I did.”