Tony Vincent is one of the biggest stars in musical theatre today having taken West End and Broadway leads in We Will Rock You, Jesus Christ Superstar and Rent
We are thrilled to have Tony join our masterclass program.
Here he answers questions posed by members about a career in musical theatre.
How did you get started?
It all started when I heard my first Beatles’ record: Hard Day’s Night. The open-guitar strum at the top of that song stopped me dead in my 4-year-old-tracks and demanded my attention. It was the wake up call that would lead me to being an artist, heavily rooted in music. From that moment, I’ve never once looked back or to another choice of career path.
Rock’n’roll would be a part of my future and I would do all I could to make that happen.
How did you find work?
When I was growing up, I tried to utilize all the opportunities I could find to sing or play in public – school, church, anywhere. My parents would even humor me by attending private concerts in the living room! Looking for ways to perform eventually lead me to theatre. Musicals were a medium that would keep me growing as a performer, as well as introduce me to the world of acting.
I always knew that music would be the foundation of my creativity, but acting became something that I really enjoyed and wanted to be better at.
When I was in my 2nd year of college, I started a record company out of my dorm room. At that time I just wanted to create a legit way of getting my own music out to the public so, a friend and I set out a business plan to get on radio, which at that time was still somewhat possible without a major label. After a semester our work landed me a record deal with EMI. I wound up doing two records for them. At the end of the second record, however, I wanted a change so, I moved to New York to find a new home for my music.
Moving to New York opened up the option of doing theatre again. Until my goal to land a new record deal was reached, I saw theatre as a good way of staying in performance while earning a living. I went to an open call for a musical called RENT and wound up touring with a production as well as being a part of the New York/Broadway Company. This lead me to other opportunities in the theatre world and I wound up opening up the Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. Until this point I had a manager, but not an agent, so I wasn’t really being sent out on auditions. These auditions came by word of mouth– a total blessing.
The chance to audition for We Will Rock You actually came about while I was doing some songwriting in London and the agency that casts for RENT suggested that I be seen. The producers of the show were still looking to cast the lead role and they opened up auditions to New York talent. I had the opportunity to personally audition for Queen, Ben Elton and the show’s producers while they were doing video auditions back in New York. It wasn’t 3 weeks from that first audition that I was moving my life to the west end.
How do you get yourself seen?
When starting out, I think it’s almost always best to make yourself available to be seen as much as you can. Even if it’s not a great project or something that you are a fan of, it’s important to give people the chance to come out and see what you can do. Being too picky or choosy about what roles to audition for early in one’s career isn’t very smart. The more you work, the more you can discern what is best for your career. Few are fortunate enough to be in that position, however.
Still, even in less than desirable situations there can be a lot to learn. You may get the chance to work with another actor who really stretches you. Even if a project isn’t good, there still can be some amazing people to meet and work with. “Bad” experiences can actually be major blessings. I think the best thing is to focus on the desire to want to get better and be a better actor.
What are realistic expectations to have?
A lot of people want to do this. A lot of people want to perform. A lot of people want a piece of this career. A lot of people are good.
I’m sure many people know that the grind is very difficult in this business. Rejection is hard– for anyone, and when you care about what you do as an artist– yet you are still rejected, that blow can feel very, very heavy. I don’t know how many people do it, to be honest. After a series of rejections, it can really take a toll on a person. I know that if it wasn’t for my faith I couldn’t do it. Because my faith is based on god’s acceptance of me, I don’t have to base my value on landing a role or succeeding in a performance. Rejection is still hard to take, but without something else to base my worth on, it would probably destroy me.
What do you think the keys to success are?
I think it’s important to reflect on why we do this– what made us start down this crazy road. For me, I frequently go to that first time I heard the Beatles. How it made me feel– what it did to my insides, my soul.
It’s important to take a step back and look at the big picture and ask ourselves “Do I still love this?” “Do I still want to do this?” if not, that’s ok.
If you still DO want it however, look at what steps you can take to make your talent better. Surround yourself with people that you can learn from– people that are better than you. Take classes in areas where you need practice. Take classes where you DON’T think you need practice. Attend other performances where you see good talent. Watch. Listen. Learn.
The moment we stop the process of learning, I think the initial excitement we once had will fade and eventually burn out completely.
Sometimes the wish not to screw up is overbearing, for example in an audition or speaking to a prospective employer touting for a job. What are the Dos and Doníts to avoid making a mess of things?
(Laughing) I don’t know specific “dos and don’ts”. I do know there are no rules and there’s no one right way. I mean, I’ve been fortunate to have landed auditions by word of mouth/invitation – but you can’t depend on that – I can’t always depend on that… (That’s one reason why I’ve begun looking for an agent.) I think that if I had one “do” and one “don’t” they’d be this:
DO: work hard. Work at getting better. Surround yourself with great talent and people you can learn from.
DON’T: Don’t sacrifice your character and what you believe in. Don’t put yourself in a position where you are sacrificing yourself for the sake of a role if it contradicts what you stand for and your principles – regardless of what it could do for your career. If you don’t believe 110% in what you’re doing, it will show and, I personally don’t believe will lead to anything greater. The audience knows if you’re into what you are doing. No matter how good an actor we are, they seem to always know.
What do you do to keep yourself ready to work?
Personally there are a couple of things that directly impact me and my work. Reading, for one. Reading books sparks ideas and stretches my mind. Whether it’s writing songs or creating a character… I didn’t love reading growing up, but in high school, a book called “Red Sky at Morning” birthed a passion for literature. I try to be reading a book at all times. Studying the characters authors write about is like adding colours to a palate of choice you can make as an actor.
The second is probably staying in shape. Being fit has major implications on the way I feel as an individual. I frequently ask myself… “If I’m going on stage tonight, will I feel comfortable in front of people?” “Am I happy in my own skin?” “Do I feel in control of what I’m doing?”
If I don’t feel good about myself it will translate on stage or in an audition. Staying in shape gives me that feeling of having the ability to be strong when I need to be– not just physically, but psychologically as well. It’s amazing what running 4-6 miles, 3-5 times a week can do to a person’s mind. For me, it helps me think clearer. It helps me feel like I’m good at what I do. That, in turn, will create better work. No one is convincing when they aren’t in the moment.