How did you start dancing?
My sister used to dance when I was a little kid, and my mom would always bring me to dance classes on Saturday mornings. I’d sit outside and watch like Mike in A Chorus Line thinking, “I could do that.” I was always emulating it outside the window. So finally I got in a class and stuck with it—a little bit longer than my sister [laughs].
How old were you when you started?
I was probably 3 or 4. I didn’t really dance seriously though until the end of high school. I danced off and on growing up, and I did a lot of children’s theatre and musicals. Serious dance training started a lot later.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a performer?
When people in the South see a creative kid, they say things like, “You’re going to be a movie star.” When I saw the national tour of Beauty and the Beast, I think it was around 8th grade or 9th grade for me. My mom took me for my birthday, and that’s when I first realized that you could make a living through singing and dancing. I thought that sounded pretty cool, and then I became a full-on musical theatre nerd from there.
You said that you didn’t start training in dance seriously until in high school. What motivated you to start taking it seriously?
I got to see some of the national tours that came through town, and I realized the caliber of talent that was needed to make it as a professional. I also was fortunate enough to have a really strong equity theatre in my hometown that put on really strong productions. They put shows on during the summer, and for a couple summers, I didn’t get a job. I didn’t get the opportunity to perform, and I realized it was because I was not on par with the people that were performing. That really motivated me to get better because I didn’t want to miss out on chances to do what I love.
It was worse when it came to college auditions. I auditioned for 12-13 schools and got in like nowhere. So that was really hard. I ended up going to school for drama. A year later I transferred into musical theatre. I was really, really motivated, but didn’t have all the tools I needed at the time, so I had to play catch-up for a little bit.
And here you are.
I guess it worked [laughs].
When did you move to New York?
It’s a tricky question. I came out here August of 2011, but I left almost immediately for a job. I did the Broadway West Side Story tour for a year. I came back the next August and then two months later I started rehearsing for the White Christmas tour. I really started living here January of 2013.
What was that first move like?
It wasn’t super scary because I had a small gig lined up. I was planning on going back to Oklahoma for October and November. Then West Side Story happened, and it kinda swept me up, and I left the city. It felt like I was giving the city a trial run. It happened a lot earlier than I expected it to—the big break or whatever you call it. The city never was scary to me because I was willing to do whatever—be a barista at Starbucks or scrub tables—do whatever to pay rent so that I could audition and perform. I am really thankful that I get the opportunity to do that. It is such a blessing.
What are you up to now?
I’ve been in The Book of Mormon for a couple years now. It’ll be three years in February, so that’s cool. Keeps me pretty busy. I work on tap videos that I’ve put online. I have a YouTube channel, and the videos have been pretty successful. The first big one was a dance to Anna Kendrick’s “Cups.” We then did a series from there called Tappy. I’ve been working on those and just auditioning here and there for different projects. I’ve been taking a lot of on-camera acting classes and trying to stay up to date with what’s going on there as well.
How did you start Tappy?
The first video happened because I was sitting backstage at Mormon and didn’t go on for like three months. I was really bored. So I listened to some music and wondered if anyone had ever done a tap video to the song. I searched it on YouTube, and there weren’t any, so I came up with some choreography, and I called two of my friends and taught them the dance. I wanted to challenge myself to put a dance together and film it and put it online. Then… It went viral, and I think it’s at 3 million views now. We started making more videos. It’s funny because after you have an accidental success, it’s hard to make lightning strike twice. Then I realized that I didn’t do the first one to be a viral hit. I learned a lot from the business side, but I’ve made a deal with myself to only work on dances that I am excited to work on, not just to have a video out. So we did a video to “Happy.” We also filmed on the Intrepid a year ago. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done--to have myself and these dancers doing something that I have crazily thought up and filming on a World War II vessel. Bizarre. Really cool.
What’s it like to be performing on the same show for three years?
I am actually a swing, so I am not on every performance, which really helps. I think if I was doing the exact same thing every single show, it’d be easier to get tired of or feel burnt out. But I get to jump right in and play different characters and some different tracks. So that keeps the show fresh for me. There are times though where, like any job, I get tired or have an off-day. But a great thing is that people are always really excited to see the show, and we’re always sold out. The job security is there, and the audience is really excited to see what you’re a part of and that’s really motivating.
What was your debut night at The Book of Mormon like?
It was crazy. As people say, I don’t remember a lot of it, but I actually felt really prepared. When I got the job, they brought me in a little earlier than I expected. They told me I’d be starting at a certain date, but due to some injuries, they taught me an entire track in a day and a half in case I had to go on the next week. I didn’t have anybody in the audience or anything, but it was probably good that I got a run through before people saw it. I had to put in rehearsal that afternoon, and I was so exhausted by the time we started the show. Thankfully the team at Mormon is just really strong and their guidance is always great. It was a really fun process and the opening night was just crazy. You just look at the audience and think about all those hours of dance classes and early mornings for auditions and say, “Okay, at least I can say that I did it. I did a Broadway show.” It’s pretty special.
What are your aspirations?
It’s interesting because for a while I thought as soon as I make it to a Broadway show, that’s the end of where my dreams went. But as an artist you want to continually challenge yourself to reach new goals. Since I am a swing, I think I’d like to do something more permanent. I’ve played roles and stuff on tour but I’d like to play a role or cover a lead.
I think everyone says, “I’d like to be a TV star,” and I think it’d be fun. I always found that world so fascinating. To be a part of that world in some degree will be something that I’d like to check off the list. Not in a I-did-it way, but it’s something I’d like to learn from. Something in the TV / film world would be exciting. But I’d also love to just keep on doing more shows here in New York. There’s really nothing else like it. In the end, it’s “just a show” no matter where you are performing. Yet, there’s something about being on Broadway that makes your parents feel good about supporting you all those years [laughs]. I really like being a part of such a high caliber level of performing.
How did your parents react to your decision to become a performer?
They were really, really supportive actually. They always believed in me even more so than I believed in myself. When I didn’t get anywhere for college, they were like, “I am going to call the dean and tell them they should accept you. I am going to send them the video of you performing in high school.” My parents have always ignorantly supported me as sweet as they have been. It’s meant a world to me because so many people I know don’t have that support from their families. I am not talking financially, but supporting what you’re doing. My parents are happy though. They’re happy I have something that’s a little more stable.
What’s your favorite part about being in the city?
There’s something oddly like Disney World to me about New York. Just coming back from Disney World, I get to go home to New York, and it’s kind of like a grownup Disney World because there are so many different types of people, places to eat, things to do. There’s something about New York that has the air of dreams coming true and possibilities. I don’t know many other places that people travel to in hopes of pursuing their dreams. Maybe LA for TV people, but New York is so inviting, daunting, and awesome. No Mickey Mouse, no fireworks, though.
What’s your least favorite part?
The subway. I hate the MTA. Getting around is so hard. If I could get a parking pass where I could park anywhere in the city, I’d be set. I love driving. I don’t like my mode of transportation being in someone else’s hand. I like to get there on my own. Fortunately, I just moved closer to my work, so that’s really nice. I can walk to it, which is great. The MTA is expensive and not dependable. And the crazies that come out at night... They’re a part of the subway too.
What’s been your toughest time as a performer?
There was a lot of people that didn’t quite think I would make it. I was not a shoo-in. You know, you go to a school, and there’s always the person who’s the star student. I was not that kid. I wanted to be that kid; I was friends with that kid; but I was not that kid. My training in college was really hard because—I am not saying that you need to be the favorite—but at times I felt like there wasn’t any hope. My friends and family believed in me, and I thank them for that. There were a lot of times I didn’t feel love and faith from people I looked up to the most. And you realize that was just one set of opinions. Once you move to New York, you meet people with fresh outlooks on you. They don’t have all these rules in their head about what you can or cannot do. Eventually you make a first impression and second impression, but it’s hard when people have their mind made up about you when you have more to offer.
My opening night of West Side Story, which was 4 months after I graduated, was really cool. West Side Story is one of the coolest shows in the world. My parents and sister were in the audience, and it was my equity debut and national tour debut. It was just so cool to hear the orchestra play those opening notes and to be one of the first people on stage. There is just something so iconic about West Side. It was really special to be a part of it as my first send-off. There’s also a guy in our show right now, Gavin Creel; he was like my hero growing up as a performer. I first knew him as Jimmy Smith in Thoroughly Modern Millie. He’s been in Mormon for a couple years in London, on Tour, and has been in the Broadway cast since January. He’s such a cool guy and it’s really cool to work with people that have inspired you to do what you’re doing. And for them to treat you like a peer is always really special. To watch people that have life experience and such commanding presence on stage, it is just really fun to learn from that. That’s been special moment in my career too.
What’s your number one advice?
I think your outlook makes the biggest impact on your future as well as your life right now. There are people that you just want to shake and tell them that they’re good enough. And if you’re not good enough, you can get in dance class and get back to where you were. You can do this. But it’s hard if your outlook is anything but focused and positive. You’re making a harder life for yourself. With that positive outlook comes happiness. There are always going to be crappy things about New York and about the business. Nothing about dancing is easy on the body so you really have to love it and want it.
Is there any last thing you want to share with the world?
I’d say go for it with confidence. That’s something that in this world of performing on any level—dancing, acting—we’re constantly exposing ourselves and expected to throw ourselves on the ground and go all out and then get back up and act like nothing happened when we don’t get that job or get that part or get to the callback. If you just go in with the confidence that you are talented and you are great and you are doing everything in your control to be the best you can be, then the rest is out of your hands. Just go on with confidence and know that your life’s not defined by the job you have or don’t have. Your life is not dependent on what someone else thinks of your talent.