Advice From a Wise Man: Alex Weisman, Rising Chicago Actor
A conversation with young actor Alex Weisman about starting out in Chicago.
In hopes of gaining some insight into how to actually survive as an actor after college, I interviewed a Chicago actor just a few years out of school. Weisman has won two Jeff Awards, Best Supporting Actor in a play and Best Ensemble, for his performance as Posner in The History Boys at TimeLine Theatre. Currently Weisman is in rehearsals for You Never Can Tell at Remy Bumppo, opening November 26th.
Why did you choose to stay in Chicago after graduating from Northwestern in 2010?
I actually started working in Chicago while I was still a student; I did the Chicago premiere of The History Boys at the end of my junior year. I had come to Chicago for Northwestern University. I didn't quite know about the theater community and what I did know was mostly the improv. So I didn't really know what I'd just gotten myself into, but suddenly I was in this play downtown, and it ended up being a huge hit. We ran for six months. It extended into my senior year, and I got an agent from that show. So, before I graduated I had sort of started a career in Chicago, and it just didn't make any sense to leave that. It was sort of home already.
And the Chicago theater community, in just six months of that show...I fell in love with it. I love the sense of community and ensemble and how much everyone supports each other. It really wasn't about picking Chicago. I feel like Chicago picked me.
How practical have you found living as an actor in Chicago to be—have you had any other kind of job, too?
I work at a chocolate shop downtown, at Leonidas Chocolate Café. I'm fortunate that I haven't stopped working since I graduated, and they've been very supportive. They'll let me take two or three months off at a time, take off an hour of my shift to run to an audition... they are the best!
In addition to that, I was a national champion in speech and debate in high school, so I do some freelance coaching at various high schools across the country. That's how I supplement my income.
Do you have any advice for actors graduating soon, especially if they are hoping to live in Chicago?
When you're starting out, say yes to everything you can. Take any gig, no matter how weird, because this city is all about building relationships. [Chicago] is the kind of city where your friends can put up a production of A Doll's House in a kitchen and twenty people come to see it each night...and one of those twenty people happens to be an agent or a critic or a casting director. Suddenly, because you did this show with your friends, you have an agent and you're a promising new face.
So you think that is unique to Chicago?
It's not like some other cities, I think, where either you're on Broadway or you're nothing. In Chicago, anything that you're doing, the community gives it value. Every little improv show, every scrappy reading, and every lead on a Goodman mainstage. It's all a promising opportunity for a young actor.
You never know who you're going to meet. And this city, more than any other city, is about grabbing your friends and putting on a play in a basement. Or a church. Or a kitchen--
Sounds like you've done something like that...
I've got a group called the Back Room Shakespeare Project, and we do unrehearsed Shakespeare in a bar. We got called to audition for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, soon I'm doing my second contract with Chicago Shakespeare Theater...we're all working actors, but what we love to do is goof around in the back of a bar with our friends. People love to see that energy. It's not about, 'how am I going to become a big star and make a lot of money?' If that's what you want, maybe don't stay in Chicago. But if you want to find people that you are going to collaborate with for the rest of your life, and put on work that makes you feel good, and experiment, Chicago's the place.
That sounds like the kind of place for me. Thanks, Alex!