Supplementing Stage Work With Star Wars: Why Broadway's Brightest Stars Are Taking Odd Jobs
Stephen Trask, Julia Murney, and Euan Morton talk about the surprising second careers they love.
In green rooms, dressing rooms, and backs of houses all across Broadway, artists are always cobbling. But instead of assembling a sturdy pair of shoes, theater professionals are cobbling together full and fulfilling side careers. By pursuing more than one career path simultaneously and getting creative with their skills, artists like Hedwig and the Angry Inch cocreator Stephen Trask and Wicked's Julia Murney are supporting themselves artistically (as well as financially) in unique ways.
After all, no Broadway artist pursued his or her career for its money-making potential. Entertainment-industry behemoth though it may be, Broadway itself is in a more or less constant state of financial chaos. While the most successful shows like The Lion King, The Book of Mormon, and Wicked continue to gross over a million dollars on a weekly basis, according to a 2013 article in The Economist, only one in 10 Broadway musicals makes money. Worse, two out of every 10 lose their entire capitalization. The musical Taboo, for instance, a 2004 West End transfer starring Euan Morton as Boy George, closed less than three months after opening and lost an estimated $10 million. Likewise, multi-Tony-winning composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown has opened three lauded musicals on Broadway – none of which recouped.
So what's a musical genius to do? Brown wrote in 2006 on his blog about one of his unique jobs : "Every couple of years the State Farm insurance company produces a Broadway-style musical for its big sales convention, and they've hired me to write the score for the last three of these. We're currently in pre-production on my fourth…these productions aren't open to the general public, they're for State Farm agents and their employees only." Brown has kept up this gig right through 2014, according to pantagraph.com.
Similarly, composer/lyricist Stephen Trask's other job is scoring feature films like the Tina Fey and Paul Rudd romantic comedy Admission, and actress Julia Murney gives voice to Estée Lauder products, and actor Euan Morton plays the Sith Lords and Prophets of the sci-fi video game world. In short, they find another job to throw themselves into while supplementing their first love.
Of course, serving two masters is never easy, especially when one of those masters requires eight-shows-a-week-style commitment. "When I'm in rehearsals it's just nigh on impossible to do an audio book," explains Morton, whose recent work includes reading Christopher Moore's Shakespearean send-up The Serpent of Venice, "because [for] most audio books, the hours are like working in bank. You're there nine to four or ten till five, and you can't do that while you're rehearsing."
Reflecting on working in both film and theater, Trask agrees that finding time for both careers is a struggle. "It's really hard to balance the two. And I've had trouble," the Grammy-nominated songwriter revealed. In an effort to perfect the balancing act, he consulted one of the masters: songwriter David Shire of Saturday Night Fever fame. "He said, 'I never figured it out,'" Trask recalled, "and he was like, 'I think it negatively impacted both careers.' So even when you're at that level, it's really hard."
Despite all the emotional stressers, having parallel careers has proved beneficial for more than just the pocketbooks of these artists. For Murney, her second job recording commercial voiceovers can actually serve as balm for a sore psyche. "My favorite part about it is that you could basically be dressed in a baseball hat and sweatpants. No one cares…You just show up, sign in, look at the copy. I mean, me personally, I read it over once or twice and I move on to talking to someone else in the waiting room or reading my magazine or whatever. It's totally amazing because it just doesn't take any lifeblood out of you."
For Trask, his second job actively provides unique opportunities for artistic growth. Detailing the ways his career scoring feature films like Little Fockers and The Station Agent has provided him with creative opportunities that supplement musical-theater writing, Trask said, "It gives me the opportunity to, in a very compressed time period, explore new musical ideas, write a lot of stuff, record it, work with musicians that you'd never imagine working with, be in a highly collaborative situation…" He continued, "They hire you and twelve weeks later you've got an orchestra and forty crew people running around making it happen."
For Morton, too, a second career allows him opportunities to fulfill dreams his stage career almost certainly would never have afforded. A seasoned sci-fi nerd, his dream audio-recording gig would be creating characters in the worlds of Doctor Who or Battlestar Galactica. When a job recording Star Wars novels came along, Morton says, "I just about fell off my chair…I guess I've lived my dream job."
Broadway is a community of dreamers, and building two careers allows for double the dreams. That's one reward that makes splitting energies worth the risk for Broadway artists. It's a balancing act that requires constant concentration, but Trask insists the struggle "makes it that much more impressive when people do both." And in the end, Morton says, the payoff is worth it because he gets to avoid the "boredom of repetition." He explains, "I'm able to enjoy every facet of what I'm allowed to do…People want to be able to put you in a box and say that's what you are. And that's not happened to me…It's a thrill because people don't know what to do with me, so I get to make my own choices."
And with that, all three artists get back to the hard work of making it happen — twice over: "When we get off the phone, I have to record a [voiceover] audition, " says Murney. "And I'm going to take my computer and put it on my lap and go into my closet and hope that my dog doesn't scratch against the door."