Asking and Telling With Bobby Steggert
The popular theater actor discusses playing a gay World War II serviceman in the York Theatre Company's new musical Yank!
THEATERMANIA: What was your first contact with Yank!?
BOBBY STEGGERT: They asked me if I was interested in reading the script before they did it at NYMF about five years ago. I got the script, but it just didn't read to me on the page for some reason. I didn't understand how the style would come off on the stage. So, I stupidly turned it down. Then I saw it and realized what a unique, elegant piece it is and I kicked myself at that moment. When they called me about it two years ago for the production at Gallery Players in Brooklyn, I'd just come off 110 in the Shade and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to do something small, intimate, and challenging. You've got to go after the interesting work, not where the profile is. I was happy to schlep it out to Brooklyn every day.
TM: Why did you choose to do Ragtime knowing it might prevent you from doing Yank!?
BS: Well-meaning people pressured me from different sides. People knew how much I loved Yank! and how committed I was to its growth and to delivering it to New York City in this form. It took about two weeks for me to decide. I fought like crazy, but the producers of Ragtime would not budge in terms of giving me any time off. I understood that and was flattered that they didn't want me out of the show. I ultimately made the decision based first on my commitment to Ragtime, which was equal to my commitment to Yank! At the same time, it was also a career decision. I needed to pay my mortgage. I was comparing what I thought would be a year of employment as compared to two months of employment. Thankfully, I got to do both.
TM: Which of your qualities as a performer makes you a good fit for Yank!?
BS: I think as a performer I have flexibility. I'm required in this show, for instance, to go from incredibly intimate book scenes to a tap duet. I think I'm able to find the shifts pretty easily and still remain present within them.
BS: Other than a reading, yes. He's magnificent. Sometimes you work off another actor and it works just because you vibrate on a similar frequency. We both have a very compatible energy and intensity. It's almost effortless to work with him; he makes me believe every moment that we have together.
TM: Although Yank! has taken a few years to gestate, would you say that the timing for it is ideal right now?
BS: The timing is significant because we're still dealing with issues of equality when it comes to gays and lesbians. It is wonderful that it's a national debate right now because this story contributes quite beautifully to that discussion. President Obama claims that he will work with the Pentagon to lift "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and that's also on people's minds. It's amazing that this is something we've been dealing with in the military for almost 100 years.
TM: Is it challenging to play such emotional material every night?
BS: It is difficult, but it's also cathartic and empowering. I'm playing someone who doesn't know the strength that he has and discovers it during the course of the story. The first act is actually more challenging to play because Stu is so insecure. He has no ability to stand alone on anything. I find that exhausting. But then he gains it and owns his strength and his manhood. Honestly, I feel energized by the end of the night.