Welcome to the first installment of Coffee on Broadway on NewYork.com, where notable names from all facets of theater sit down for a chat over coffee, sharing their current projects and their thoughts on the biggest trends for theater.
This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Tony nominated actor, and all-around nice guy, Bobby Steggert. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Bobby’s had quite the season, having been in the musical Big Fish last fall, and currently starring in Terrence McNally’s latest play, Mothers and Sons alongside Tyne Daly. Bobby was kind enough to have me stop by his dressing room for a chat. He even made the coffee himself with his trusty Coffeemate.
Coffee Drink of Choice
Coffee with almond milk and splenda
What was the first Broadway show you attended?
Damn Yankees at the Marriott Marquis starring Bebe Neuwirth. And I loved it. Just loved it! It felt so unattainable to me, so otherworldly. That little boy today would just be shocked to see where I am today.
How did you get started in theater?
I’ve been realizing that I’m older than I think I am because it’s harder for me to remember these things. I started singing and was in choirs starting in elementary school for many years. Then I started doing opera. And it turned out I loved creating characters more than I loved singing. So I did a bunch of community theatre and then realized I was serious about it, so I studied at NYU.
How did you get your first professional role?
I was really lucky. This girl in my class had been doing Les Miserables while she was at NYU and she had an agent. She thought I was good so she introduced me to her agent…who signed me without ever seeing me in anything. And she’s still my agent today. That kind of instinctual loyalty and belief in someone just by speaking to them is incredible.
How have things changed in the theatre industry since you first started out?
I guess when I was a kid, it seemed to be easier to produce a Broadway show, so there was slightly riskier material. As time goes by, producers are getting a little less bold. I think that the projects that people put their money around, especially in musical theatre, are based on movies and branded stories. And that doesn’t mean they can’t be good. Like Once is an incredible musical.
I think it’s a shame. But because of the economic element, new musicals, and even plays, are rare. So that’s why I’m really excited about [Mothers and Sons] because it’s a brand new American play…and not based on any story. So I hope that brave producers will emerge and produce things that are original works, that are based on the inspiration and creativity of a writer.
What are your thoughts on increasing access to the theatre?
I think it’s up to the producers…to hold some tickets for the benefit of young and poor theatregoers. Because what are you going to do when your audience dies out? You need to cultivate an interest and a passion in the younger generations. I think it’s especially the responsibility of a show that is making money because they can afford to do that. They can afford to eat the cost for the sake of future theatregoers.
Do you think that filming and streaming of theatre will start to play a larger role as time goes on?
Nothing beats live theatre in the room and I don’t think it can be replaced by filming or streaming. I think the answer is in really good cast albums. And it’s really important that shows be preserved that way. It’s a really wonderful way to get into theatre. If you can fall in love with the score of a musical…
How do you think theatre plays a role in shaping people’s mindset?
The world is changing at this shockingly quick rate when it comes to the civil rights movement. Young people have no idea what this city was like in the 1980s and they have no idea how marginalized gay people were just a couple decades ago. Mothers and Sons specifically is so good and so captivating at showing how this world has changed, and how it continues to change. It gives me an incredible appreciation for what gay men have gone through before me to give me the rights and privileges that I enjoy. It shows us our responsibility as young people, to demand equality and fair treatment for all people. I think we’ll look back on this time and think of it as a really significant moment in social history.
The play does it in a way that’s really succinct and clear. All the young people leave the theatre feeling inspired, grateful, and lucky to be born when they were, to be young people now in this society. The play is inspiring and hopeful and educational to people. It’s important for people to see actors portray healthy, married gay men on a Broadway stage. Because it must be normalized. And this is an important step in doing that.
How did you get involved in Mothers and Sons?
Terrence [McNally] had invited me to do quite a few readings over the years….And last summer I was in between the out-of-town tryout of Big Fish and the Broadway run, and I got a call about a new Terrence McNally play at the Bucks County Playhouse.
I read the script, my part barely existed. I said, “Well, it’s beautifully written and I love what it has to say, although the part’s not there yet. But I love Terrence and Tyne Daly so I’ll do it.” In rehearsals, he wrote the part on me. He watched the interactions and finished the first draft in Bucks County in front of us. Literally, we’d be rehearsing and he’d be typing away at his laptop. So I’m so glad I did it. What ended up happening was that he wrote a play around us.
I just want to say how delightful it is to be in a very serious drama that is so f**king funny! It’s exciting to be in a play that is as moving as it is funny. Terrence is one of those rare playwrights who understands the responsibility to entertain. He is incredibly funny and his whit is weaved into every character. I always tell my friends that they’ll have a great time, and a profound time.
Amanda Bohan will be chatting with theater insiders regularly for NewYork.com. Click here to read more Coffee on Broadway.