Thursday, January 1, 2015

PHX STAGES Q/A with Vinny Chavez

Next in our series of PHX Stages Q/A's:
A special New Years' edition with Vinny Chavez, now appearing in Lend Me a Tenor at Hale Centre Theatre.  (click here to read our previous Q/A's with Trisha Hart Ditsworth, Joseph Cannon and Andy Cahoon)

Even though he's a recent theatre graduate from ASU, Vinny Chavez has quickly established himself as one of the go-to musical theatre actors in town.  Vinny has appeared basically non-stop in a half dozen musicals at Hale Centre Theatre, including a sweet turn as the sailor and aspiring songwriter Dick in Dames at Sea, as well as recently appearing in Godspell at Mesa Encore Theatre, all in just a little over a year.  While most of his roles in those shows were in the ensemble or featured parts, his starring turn in Nearly Naked Theatre's Valhalla as King Ludwig of Bavaria this Fall proved he is more than capable of playing the lead.  He just finished playing Scrooge's nephew Fred in Hale's Christmas Carol and he's now back at Hale as the Bellhop in Lend Me a Tenor, and will follow up that part by appearing in the ensemble of their production of My Fair Lady.  

Hale Centre Theatre's Lend Me a Tenor, 2014
(photo: Nick Woodward-Shaw)
Name: Vinny Chavez

Where you were born and or raised: I was born in Panorama City, CA but my family and I moved to Mesa, AZ when I was 2. I've been here for over 21 years now! A lot of my mom’s side of the family was making their way from California to Arizona, along with the high cost of living in California with a family of 6 and the LA Riots that were taking place around that time, it felt like a natural move for us as a family.

What your parents did/do for a living: My dad is a plumber, vice-president of Tek-Star Plumbing in Phoenix. My mom is a sixth grade teacher at Adams Elementary School in Mesa.

Siblings: I’m the youngest of 4. I have 2 older sisters and 1 older brother. Between my two oldest siblings I have 3 nephews (1 more on the way) and 1 niece.

with Jacob Gentile in Nearly Naked Theatre's 2014
production of Valhalla (photo: Laura Durant)
Family/Children: I've been with my partner Jeff for a little over a year. We don't have any children, but we do have a beautiful golden retriever named Skye.

Day job/part time job (if not acting full time): I’m the program director for AZ Magic of Music and Dance, a theater program for mentally and physically disabled youth and adults. I'm also a server full time for an awesome breakfast restaurant called SNOOZE in Tempe.
First show you ever saw: I can't really remember the first live show I saw, but I do remember West Side Story being the first musical I ever saw when I was only 3 years old.

Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living: November 2008, I played Jenkins in Mesa High School’s production of Cash On Delivery and we had the pleasure of performing at Thespian Conference in Phoenix. We performed in front of an audience of 2000 people and it was the most thrilling moment on stage. I had been performing for 8 years in plays and musicals, but it was during that particular performance when it all clicked that this is what I wanted.

Cash on Delivery, Mesa High School
2008 (photo: Danielle Johnson)
The one performance you attended that you will never forget: It's a tie between seeing “Defying Gravity” during Wicked for the first time or ASU’s production of Bocón in December 2012. Seeing Elphaba fly into the air to close out the first act was mesmerizing and had me in tears. The entire performance of Bocón was such an amazing theatrical experience, the first time I saw a show with media and design that didn't pull away from the meaning of the show.

First stage kiss: Pygmalion at MCC in January 2012 as Freddy.

Best stage experience you’ve had so far: Last December for my ASU capstone project, I turned my coming out story into a theatrical production called OUT: A Diverse Identity. It was an amazing process writing it, putting it all together, filming, and interviewing to not only tell my story but to encompass a wide variety of other people’s coming out experiences since I know that not everyone’s is the same. It was an amazing experience for me to have, knowing that theater can be used to not only tell stories but to help other people. In sharing my story, I hoped that other people out there who were in my position could find common ground and know that they are not alone. It was an incredibly rewarding show that still gets passed around among family friends and strangers who know of others struggling with the same issues I had when I was growing up and when I eventually came out.

Vinny's ASU capstone project: OUT: A Diversery Identity - 

What has been the most fun or fulfilling aspect of your current/ most recent show? Currently I'm in Lend Me a Tenor at Hale as the Bellhop. It's one of the most well-cast shows I've been in. I get to act with some of my greatest friends and I am directed by a friend I look up to dearly, Alaina Beauloye. It's a fun show and I'm getting paid to play with my friends every night!

Fatboy, at ASU, 2013
(photo credit: Tim Trumble)
Most challenging role you have played onstage: Fatboy at ASU, February 2013. In preparing for it, I was doing my best to eat healthy and stay in great shape since I'd be shirtless and in short shorts for most of the show. But on stage in general, I played a different character in each of the 3 acts. It was a challenge really finding a distinction between each character and having to switch in and out of them every night during the run. It was fun though and taught me a lot about my strengths and limits as an actor. It helped having such an amazing amount of support from my director and friend Brian Foley.
Any upcoming or side projects you can talk about?  We just closed A Christmas Carol at Hale, and I'm now in Lend Me a Tenor, and then a week after Tenor closes I'll be doing My Fair Lady, all at Hale. They like to keep me busy!

Leading role of the opposite sex you wish you could play: Anita in West Side Story.

Pre-show rituals or warm-ups: Especially when doing musicals, I love having a cup of hot lemon water and honey or tea when necessary. Most of the time especially for opening nights, I love having a cast dance party to get all of the nerves out of my body. One ritual that I always have is doing a sign of the cross before my first entrance in any show for any performance.

Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap: During our performance of Cash on Delivery at the Arizona Thespian Conference, one of the doors I'm supposed to walk out of to enter the stage was stuck. It felt like an eternity with me yelling and yanking the door handle until I finally pushed my body against it to open it. The audience applauded me when it finally opened.
Worst costume ever: In MET’s production of Godspell that I was just in this past September, in the second act all of the players receive their colors from Jesus as we sing “Beautiful City” and we have this big reveal. I wouldn't call it the worst, but it was the most out there. I was in an oversized orange polo with white shorts and suspenders. It was hard for me at times to take myself seriously when The Last Supper takes place in that outfit. It was quite amusing though.

Vinny in his "worst costume ever" bottom row second from the left
with the cast of Godspell at Mesa Encore Theatre, 2014
(photo: Sarah Rodgers )
Best costume ever: Hairspray last summer at Hale, I was in the ensemble dancing in “Run & Tell That”. My outfit included these great form-fitting maroon pants and a tight polo. It was great to move in and my butt has never looked better!

Your go to audition monologue/song: A monologue from “A Need For Brussels Sprouts” by Murray Schisgal has been my go to piece since high school. It's the most polished and clean humor piece I have. My go to audition song is the Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me”. I love crooning and belting in the section I perform.

Worst audition experience: The first time I auditioned for Hale was for Little Shop of Horrors. It was my first audition outside of high school and I wasn't super prepared. I planned to sing “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers, but I didn't bring sheet music with me because I wanted to sing it A Capella. I walked in and Lincoln Wright (the wonderfully talented accompanist extraordinaire) asked what key it was in because he knew it. I had no idea what to say when it came to what key I sing it in. So he started playing a key in the middle somewhere and I just nodded and said it was right. It was terribly low and I sounded miserable. I pretty much bombed that audition and didn't muster up the courage to audition for them for another year.

with Emily Giauque Evans in Dames at Sea, Hale Centre Theatre, 2014 (photo: Sam Miller)

If you could go back in time and catch any performer or show, what would they/it be? Jennifer Holliday in Dreamgirls on Broadway and ADELE at the Marquee Theater in Tempe, April 2009.         

Famous past stage or screen star(s) you would have loved to have performed with: Robin Williams and Lucille Ball

Actor/actress in the Phoenix area you'd love to perform with: David Barker & Maren Maclean. I've had the pleasure of having them as professors, but I would love to act beside them on stage someday.

as Scrooge's nephew Fred in A Christmas Carol,
Hale Centre Theatre, 2014
(photo: Nick Woodward-Shaw)
Your personal acting idols: Meryl Streep & Ben Foster.
Performer you would drop everything to go see: Stevie Wonder
Favorite musical(s): West Side Story & Chicago (the movie, not the stage version)
Some favorite modern plays/musicals: Burlesque. Christina & Cher don't really get the credit they deserve. It's a much better movie than most people may think!

Favorite showtune(s) of all time: “America”, “Put on a Happy Face”, and “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going”

Most listened song/music on your iPod/Phone? “Breakdown” by Mariah Carey and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

First CD/Tape/LP you owned: The Titanic soundtrack, only so I could listen to “My Heart Will Go On” repeatedly.

Must-see TV show(s): Six Feet Under

Guilty pleasure binge watching tv show: Scandal and Will & Grace (I've seen the whole series countless times from beginning to end)

Last good movie you saw: I'm slacking with my awards season movies so far this year, but I did just see Mockingjay and it was superb!

Favorite movie: The Goonies

with Mark Hackmann in Hale Centre Theatre's Lend Me a Tenor, 2014
(photo: Nick Woodward-Shaw)
Music/book/movie that makes you cry: Pay It Forward

Favorite restaurant in the Valley: Los Dos Molinos in Mesa

Sports teams you root for: Beyoncé.

Something about you that might surprise people: I love performing on stage, but my dream has always been to act in film and television.

Special skills: Stage combat, sword fighting, and mime (compliments of Sir David Barker), numerous dialects, soccer, running, tap & hip-hop dancing.

Three things you can't live without: Music, laughter, and my mom’s salsa.
Words of advice for aspiring performers: Remember that everyone knows everyone. Always be yourself, but be careful what you say. What goes around comes around.

What you love most about theatre in Phoenix: I love when other actors, performers, and directors see shows outside of their respected theaters. Actors I think make the best audience members because they exude so much energy. It's a great thing to feed off of because I feel like they know where we’re coming from. Plus it's just great to go out and support your community.

What you think needs to be changed/improved/different about theatre in Phoenix: I think there needs to be better support for theatre education and more experienced instructors. I've found that the best classes and workshops I've taken have been led by working actors and directors with a great background of experience and passion. Those were the most worthwhile learning experiences and the most beneficial to my journey as an actor. I also wish theaters around the valley would better communicate when it comes to picking shows for their seasons. There's only so many productions of Legally Blonde, Hairspray, and The Addams Family one can handle every couple of years, yet alone during the same season by 10 different theaters.

with Suze St John in Nearly Naked Theatre's 2014
production of Valhalla (photo: Laura Durant)
And, the “Inside the Actors Studio” 10 questions:

1. What is your favorite word? Discombobulate

2. What is your least favorite word? Faggot

3. What turns you on? A sense of humor.

4. What turns you off? Bad breath.

5. What sound do you love? Waves in the ocean.

6. What sound do you hate? The buzzing of a mosquito in my ear. I immediately get paranoid and stay that way the rest of the day/night.

7. What is your favorite curse word? F*ck. You can use it in so many different ways. It's just strong, precise, and to the point.

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Teacher.

9. What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer.

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? Welcome (as I run into the arms of my family and loved ones that went before me).

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