It has been two years since Isaiah Alexander performed on a local stage. Last seen in Must Come See Productions’ 2013 revival of “Crazy For You,” he sang, acted and tap danced his way across Queen’s Hall’s stage- in what was described as a “top notch performance” by the Express Sunday Mix review, before leaving for New York to pursue his studies in Musical Theatre at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). Today, this past student of Presentation College San Fernando and former member of Pres Mixed Choir can add AMDA graduate to his credits.
Another recent accomplishment is being cast in Fireside Theatre’s production of ‘All Shook Up‘ – a rocking, rollicking musical comedy featuring the songs of the King of rock and roll – Elvis Presley and set in a 1950’s Mid Western Town where no tight pants, no kissing and no loud music was the status quo. an engagement that will run April 23rd – 7th June 2015 at the Fireside Theatre Wisconsin, a much longer run than what occurs in Trinidad and Tobago wouldn’t you agree? Yesterday, just before previews opened, The Trinidad and Tobago Performing Arts Network caught up with Isaiah for a one on one interview on his experience at AMDA, navigating the Performing Arts Industry in New York and his feelings about his upcoming performance.
TW: This is your first production since graduating yes?
IA: That it is.
TW: How’d that happen?
IA: An audition I went to in January. Saw it in the Backstage Magazine.
TW: How was that process similar and/or different from Trinidad, from finding the casting call to the audition process, rehearsals etc?
IA: It’s a faster process. Finding the casting call is a bit different. In Trinidad you usually either see it on Facebook or hear it from a friend. In the US you have it in magazines or on online pages or on other casting call pages.The audition process is faster as well. You go to the call, sign up for a spot and wait till they call you in. Most people get up at 5am to sign up for a 10 am spot on the call. And this is for the non-equity members. You could be waiting for hours while the equity members get seen. Then you go in (this was a dance call) you learn a combo in about 15 mins and then perform it. You could be in and out of the audition room in under 30 mins. Then if they like you they call you back to hear you sing. It’s usually 16 bars of a song.
TW: Is this performance union or non union?
IA: This is a union performance. It’s an equity house so I had to sign up for my equity membership candidacy.
TW: AA! You is union member. Check ting!
IA: Not union yet, but I’m getting points towards it.
TW: How does the whole equity member thing work?…actually scrap that. That’s a different conversation all together.
IA: Yes it is.
TW: How long have you been rehearsing for and how do you feel about opening night?
IA: We’ve been rehearsing for two and a half weeks. We’ve had two full run through and I’m about to do two more before opening night. I feel pretty good about it.
TW: Since your foreign-ness have you had any Ah Ha moments?
IA: Every day!
TW: Gimme ya biggest one.
IA: That’s hard…
TW: Like picking from the stars in the sky I imagine…
IA: Oh yes! I guess the biggest thing would be knowing how to act a song and not just singing a song. It’s about getting into the character and knowing why the song is important at that point of the show. Then relating that to your own personal experience so that you can connect to it and bring your connection to the audience.
TW: Any plans on returning to Trini or do you intend on making a career there?
IA: I definitely want to make a career here, but I also want to return home and share what I learned in my time here.
TW: Nice… What do you think you can bring to our Performing Arts Landscape? If/When you return what would be one of the first things you’d like to do in that regard?
IA: There’s a certain level of showmanship I’ve experience while working here that I’d love to bring to the performing arts landscape. That pride in doing what you do and the confidence to bring it to the audience. Being able to tap into that vulnerability and trust instincts and give everything to the audience. It’s definitely one thing I wanna bring…among others.
TW: Any words of advice to someone from T’dad wishing to pursue the Performing Arts?
IA: Take that leap of faith. Even if you’re scared out of your mind, go for it. And once you hit the ground, hit the ground running. Take it easy, but take it all in.
TW: Describe your experience at AMDA and how has it helped u develop as a performer?
IA: AMDA was one of the best experience of my life I will say. The curriculum was challenging and kept me working, the teachers are incredibly knowledgeable and are still active in the business so they give you hands on knowledge and experience, the school is a well of resources and information, and having studied in New York everything makes sense because you see it firsthand. As for my development as a performer- I’ve become more aware of my body and what it tells me, which means I’m more open to receiving the gifts my partners on stage are giving me. It’s helped me to get rid of all the excess that I may have brought with me so that what I give is genuine and natural and organic.
TW: What challenges if any have you faced during your program, navigating the foreign industry and specifically All Shook Up?
IA: In navigating the program, the biggest challenge would be developing self confidence because you’re pitted against the best of the best that come from across the nation and the across the globe and you come from whatever small town you came from with the talents you were given. It was hard accepting the fact that you deserve to be there and accepting the fact that you are actually one of the best. That was one of the biggest challenges, realizing that I have the talents and that I have what it takes to go as far as I am right now because it is a tough business and not everyone makes it.
Navigating the foreign industry is also difficult but I guess the biggest challenge would be the visa status. Booking the job like everyone else is not the problem; it’s being able to stay. You get a one year work visa after you graduate and you have a year to put together this amazing portfolio to bring to the visa office when applying for an O1 visa and that’s like the biggest, biggest challenge. Also it’s navigating the difference in audition strategy and call back strategy. You can have about three or four auditions a day versus two every August in Trinidad so you have to be diligent with the audition processes and look for calls and prepare yourself from five in the morning to go till 6 pm or later and then have a rehearsal afterwards.
In All Shook Up I guess the biggest challenge was the two week rehearsal process. You arrive the first day and learn ALL the music from top to bottom. You learn the parts and record it and then you start from the top and work the blocking, work the choreography and you do that for a week and a half. At the end of the 2nd week you start doing runs from top to bottom to see how smooth it is and try to work out the kinks. On top of that you have changes every day that you have to keep up with. Up until tonight before the preview we had changes that came in and we had to make the adjustments on the spot before we did the production.
TW: How have you grown from those challenges?
IA: Definitely I have learned how to work a turnaround time. Two weeks may seem like a short amount of time but having gone to AMDA where the turnaround time was fairly similar; you get an assignment and you’re expected to have it on its feet in three days or have it full out in a week and you do that for every semester where the work load gets larger and more challenging. Two weeks is a lot of time to put up a production. So definitely… definitely I have learned how to adapt to the fast pace of the performing arts industry in the US and specifically in New York.
TW: Any Final thoughts?
IA: Chase your dreams. Don’t give up on aspirations. Hold on to the joys in your life. Because you may end up being a Broadway star.