Final Bow: Ethan Slater's Last Days as SpongeBob Will Be "the Best Seven Minutes Ever"
The Broadway star reflects on how building a real-life version of the cartoon was like carving a statue out of marble.
For more than half a decade of workshops, rehearsals, and performances, Ethan Slater has been immersed in the underwater world of Bikini Bottom. In the Broadway musical SpongeBob SquarePants, Slater plays the titular absorbent hero, and as the production heads toward its final performance on September 16, he's getting ready to reacclimate to life on dry land.
But first, Slater is taking a few minutes to soak in the highlights of his time creating the onstage SpongeBob and the "best seven minutes ever" to celebrate a buoyant Broadway experience.
1) What is your favorite line that you get to say?
I'm always touched by the moment when I say, "It doesn't have to be like this. We might only have seven minutes left, but we could make them the best seven minutes ever." I look into the eyes of the people right around me, and I can feel that that line hits home every night as we near the end of that particular show, and we realize that we're nearing the end of this run that has meant so much to us.
2) What is the best inside joke from among the company?
It doesn't really make much sense, but we had this one celebratory bit we would do when something happened: We would start doing yoga poses like tree pose or downward dog or trying to do crow and failing. When we closed in Chicago we all did that bit onstage after the bow.
3) What was the worst technical difficulty you experienced during the run?
By far one of my favorite moments — and Danny [Skinner, who plays Patrick] is going to kill me for saying this — is at one point he is supposed to fly in and we had one show where for some reason he could not fly. So I look up and he's not there, and so I say my line and I look down and Danny is running in, in slow motion, doing everything he's supposed to do in the air but on the ground instead. I've never had to stifle a laugh so hard in my life. It was magic.
4) What is the most interesting present you received at the stage door?
One of my absolute favorite pieces of fan art is this fanzine that we got with illustrations by different artists of each scene throughout the show in chronological order.
5) Who is the coolest person to come see the show?
Recently they called a guest for me at the stage door, and I went to see who it was, and it was Christian Slater. He came back and we were talking and he was like, "I saw articles about the show, it looked amazing, and then I saw your last name and I thought 'I've got to go find out if we're related.'" My entire life people have been saying like, "Are you related to Christian Slater?" and I would say, "I don't think so but I wish." So for him to come back and say, "Do you think we're related?" is a pretty good culmination of that.
6) Which of the artists who wrote music for SpongeBob were you most fanboying over?
It would have to be John Legend. When I found out that he was writing a song for the show, that was a true freak-out moment. And then when we finally got the song, [director] Tina [Landau] came in, she had a CD in her hand, she said, "We have the demo. Everyone sit on the floor, close your eyes." And she turned off the lights, put on the demo. It was just like a collective little cry because it was perfect.
7) What is your favorite Tina Landau-in-rehearsal moment?
When we were early in the workshops, she would say, "All right guys, you have 10 minutes, find a partner, go off and create a visual scene that is the end of the world in Bikini Bottom, whatever that means." People started coming up with these little ideas and then they became bigger ideas and then we would do a presentation after those 10 minutes and she would just applaud all of us. It was this incredibly creative collaborative process.
8) What was the toughest SpongeBob mannerism to get right?
It was all pretty hard in some ways. In the early workshops I was working with a number of amazingly talented creative people, including this guy David Newman. I would bring my lunch into the auxiliary rehearsal room, and he and I would work through lunch on how does SpongeBob make a right turn, how does SpongeBob walk backwards or do a pirouette? It's how I imagine you make a statue out of marble. It starts as this big block, you get the general shape, and then it really comes down to those intimate little details.
9) What's your favorite SpongeBob episode?
It has to be "Bubble Buddy." SpongeBob's friends aren't around to play on this day so he blows a bubble and it becomes his friend and everybody in the town is like getting a little frustrated because he's acting as though this bubble is a person and then this whole mob ends up forming and they're saying pop the bubble. It's real sad and then all of a sudden out of nowhere Bubble Buddy puts on a bubble top hat, hails a bubble cab, and floats away and off into the sun, it's just like Grease. That's always been my favorite moment, when one thing becomes something totally different. It's so SpongeBob and it's so great.
10) What is the most memorable moment of audience interaction that you've had?
During one show SpongeBob decided to take the risk of climbing the last leg of the mountain to save the day, and a little kid in the audience just screamed, "I believe in you SpongeBob, you can do it SpongeBob!" And it was just this perfect moment.