David Truskinoff, Music Director of the National Tour of Hair
I had the pleasure of speaking with David Truskinoff, who is currently the Music Director/Conductor of the national tour (and Broadway production) of Hair. He served as Music Director of Rent on Broadway, Rent's international tour, and for the Sony Pictures DVD Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway. Regional theater credits include productions at Arena Stage, Walnut Street Theatre, Adirondack Theatre Festival, and Florida Stage. He recently produced the CD Rachel Bay Jones - ShowFolk on his own label Plum Song Records. David served on the theater faculties of the Yale School of Drama and the National Theatre Institute.
1. What advice would you give to graduating students? I would say be as well rounded as possible. You never know what direction you're going to end up going in. My path has been varied, so I feel that the more you know, the more you work. Even if it's something you don't think you're going to do, you just never know.
2. If you could go back in time and speak to your college self, what would you say? I would tell myself to absorb as much as possible. I know when I was in school, I was so busy acting and singing and all that [he was a Musical Theatre Performance major at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music], but there were so many other things that were offered that I wasn't able to or just didn't take the time to take advantage of. There were all different concerts, exhibits, museums, performances. There was just so much to learn and take in while in school. So I would have told myself, "Go to that concert tonight" or, "Go to that reading" or whatever. Just get going.
3. What was your biggest mistake in your career? I kind of feel very fortunate. I don't feel like I've made mistakes. I've always been pretty good about listening to myself instinctually and on a deeper level, which is why I think my path has changed. I started out with the acting thing and it was right when I turned 30 that I took the big turn. I said, "You know what, I'm not sure that this is for me," and at that time my decision was actually to get out of the business altogether. It turned out that I didn't get out of the business, but I realized I just wanted to adjust what it was I was doing, and I got much more into the musical world and conducting, which was a much better and more natural fit for me. So I think I feel fortunate to have listened to myself in that way. I know that's not really an answer to the question, but it kind of is, because I think I've been lucky not to have made the mistake to continue to do something that didn't really feel right to me.
4. Where did you get your first job in the theater, and what was your big break? Well I started working professionally when I was in grade school. I went to a performing arts high school in South Florida, and I had gotten a few jobs at local professional theaters. So I had different jobs working at different theaters, but when I was in high school, I performed at the Greater Miami Opera in their production of Medium by Gian Carlo Menotti. I loved telling people I was in an opera because I'm not a great singer, but I played the role of the mute. But for my career now, which is as a conductor and musical director, my big breakthrough was doing the First National Tour of Rent as Associate Conductor, and that was in 1998. I had met Tim Weil, who was the original Music Director, and was, and still is, the overseeing Musical Supervisor of Rent, while I was in college. He came out to Music Direct a show that I was acting in, and we got to be buddies, and when I graduated college and moved to New York we got in touch, and it was perfect timing because he was about to do the tour.
5. What are three habits that contributed to your success? It might sound corny, but I try to treat absolutely everyone with a lot of respect and I find that, first of all, it's how I like to live my life, and, also, it works so much better that way in professional work. So I think that's number one. Number two I would say is to be honest. Like I've been saying, my path has been rather varied and different, but I've always been very honest with myself and others about what I do, what my strengths are, and who I am whenever I'm working. And if I had to say one more, it would be being well rounded, like I said about school. I try to listen to many different styles of music. I love classical music. Even though my career in the last ten years has been conducting rock musicals, I still love to listen to classical music. I try to keep my ears and my brain and my heart as well rounded as possible so as not to get too pigeonholed in my own thing.
6. How did you get your first job? Well before Rent I got out of the acting and performing world, but I still liked playing and composing, and I got into the BMI Musical Theatre workshop. BMI is a workshop for composers and lyricists that is pretty prestigious. A lot of wonderful things have come out of there. I applied for that and was accepted, which was a pretty cool thing, and I went to it. I was exploring composing, and while I was there, I was playing a lot of piano (I had always played piano) for a lot of other people's presentations. So people knew me as a pianist as well, and it was there that I got my very first professional Music Directing job. Someone from BMI knew me and a friend of his was doing a production in Florida, and so he told his friend about me, and that's how I got that job. It was a great lesson in how you just never know where your jobs are going to come from.
7. What are you working on now? You know what? Aside from Hair, I actually don't know what's next right now. Hair is going to be winding down soon, we have another couple of months, and then it starts all over again. It just keeps starting all over again. I'm fortunate because I kind of feel like I'm finally getting old enough to stop totally freaking out at that moment when I don't know what's next. Life goes on, and work happens, so I've stopped worrying too much about that. But, at this moment, I have no idea what I'm doing next, and that's ok. I know it will be something, and I hope it will be sooner rather than later.