The Interview: The Actor/Choreographer Dishes on A CHORUS LINE
Conducted by Michael Raver
So…how about this?
Imagine that you’re in an audition room. Maybe it’s a dream role for you or maybe you’re past due on bills and this show would pull you out of the hole. Maybe you haven’t booked a gig in over a year. You’re sweating and your heart pounds as the director adjudicates your every move. For most actors, this is par for the course; something to be taken as part of the experience toward landing a role.
Actor Alex Ringler (Broadway’s WEST SIDE STORY) has walked (and danced) this path time and again. He’s also been on the other side of the table, as the choreographer of Off-Broadway’s THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES, NAKED BOYS SINGING, and most recently, A MUSICAL ABOUT STAR WARS. This spring, he steps in to play Zach in Arts Center of Coastal Carolina’s production of A CHORUS LINE. It’s a role that’s been a long time coming, representing a kind of coming of age for the Arizona native.
What was your first exposure to this piece?
At Tempe High School in Arizona. I was a member of our varsity dance company called “Dionysus.” During my senior year, a guest choreographer came and taught us a version of the opening number to the original cast recording of A CHORUS LINE. I had never seen the show, nor the movie, but, I remember it was very fun learning the choreography.
How did the role come to you?
Late in 2018, our director, Casey Colgan, told me about this production that he was going to direct. I expressed interest in playing Zach. He thankfully called me in to audition for the role early this year.
You spent a long time on the national tour of A CHORUS LINE as a dancer. How has that fed your experience now playing Zach?
Honestly, it’s such a trip remembering being on that line for over a year and what it feels like to be a dancer in THE dancers’ show. The character of Zach has worked with, danced with, and is friends with a number of dancers on that line. He’s now on the other side, where his main motivation has to be creating the show. But, it’s fun as a dancer who has been on the line to play with the dichotomy of having those relationships with the dancers, while having to now be the boss. Also, it’s surprising the amount of choreography my body remembers. There have been a few times where the dancers in the show have asked me questions about choreography that Zach has no part of in the show and I’ve been able to remember and help them with it. It’s very meta.
Tell me about your Zach.
Zach is very much Bennett, Fosse, Robbins; all of those choreographers of that era. They all started as dancers. They all had the ambition to make themselves into what they became. Zach has ambitions of becoming a director and writer of straight plays and movies in addition to choreographing musicals. He holds himself to a very high standard. So what scares him is what motivates him: failure. He has to keep going, keep creating, keep working because to rest on his laurels, to stand still, is to fail. Which is why he’s at odds with Cassie, who is accepting her limitations with pride. He doesn’t understand why she would fall back on something instead of charging forward to accomplish something bigger and better. To him, that equals giving up.
You’ve been working a bit as a choreographer. How has that influenced your experience in this role?
Having choreographed some shows, I‘ve started to appreciate the motivations of the people behind the table trying to make all the pieces fit together. I’ve been able to tap into the frustration when you’re not getting the product you want out of the people in front of you. It’s part of the process and it’s no one’s fault. Everyone in every show is on the same side of wanting to create a great product. But that’s where Zach’s anger comes from. Frustration.
What’s been the most challenging part of this process for you?
The most challenging part has been not relating too much with the dancers on the line. While Zach has relationships with these dancers, and while that’s my personal background, Zach is the one who determines the fate of the dancers in front of him. Therefore, they are no longer peers. He can’t over invest in anyone. He has to keep his mind on the product. So keeping myself at a distance from the line has been a challenge.
The most rewarding?
Revisiting this beautiful show with a completely different outlook, in a completely different role, in a completely different decade. I’ve grown and changed and can appreciate it from a different point of view.
A CHORUS LINE comments heavily on auditioning. What do you wish was different about the audition process for actors?
I wish that more actors were less nervous in the room. And I say this with full knowledge that I am the most nervous in most audition rooms. Zach is trying to make all of the pieces fit. That’s every creative team. They want you to be the one. They want you to succeed. They are on your side. And that’s very hard to remember when you’re in line with 50 other people who want exactly what you want. When we hold auditions for THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES, my director Tom D’Angora usually brings mini cupcakes to give all of the girls after their audition. We try to make it a very kind room. So, I think there should be fewer nerves and more cupcakes.
Rehearsal or Performance?
Essential dressing room accessory?
Sondheim or Shakespeare?
Pivotal role you’ve played?
Tie: Action in WEST SIDE STORY and Carmen Ghia in THE PRODUCERS.
Role you haven’t played yet but are champing at the bit to play?
A CHORUS LINE beings performances May 1st at The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.artshhi.com/performance-shows/a-chorus-line
Michael Raver’s adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray was produced by Sonnet Repertory Theatre at the Signature Theatre Center in 2012, and a reading of his pre-WWII adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull, featuring Judy Kaye, was presented by the Pearl Theatre Company. His play, Fire on Babylon, was nominated for The Robert Chesley/Victor Bumbalo Foundation Award for Playwriting, as well as being named a semifinalist for The O’Neill Conference in 2015. Babylon received two workshops in 2016, first at Great River Shakespeare Festival and then at The Fresh Fruit Festival in New York, where it won multiple awards from All Out Arts. His play Evening, was a two-time finalist for Red Bull’s New Play Festival. His play Quiet Electricity was named a semifinalist at The O’Neill Conference in 2017 and was part of Emerging Artists Theatre’s New Work Series in 2018. His work has been presented by The Pearl Theatre Company, Sonnet Repertory Theater, Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, The Martha Graham Company, Playhouse on Park and many others. He served as a judge for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction for three years and regularly contributes cultural arts journalism for Classical TV, NYC Monthly, Hamptons Monthly, Playbill, Dance Magazine, CoolHunting.com, The Huffington Post, Art 511 Magazine, Imagista and Nature’s Post.