Two cast members of Disney’s award-winning hit Broadway musical “Newsies” visited Kent State University Nov. 7, 2014, to teach a master dance class and answer student questions about their professional performing experiences. Because I go to Kent State, I was able to sneak in and watch a little bit of the class and participate in the Q&A to ask the guys a little bit about their experience working for Disney.
Jeff Heimbrock, who plays Elmer, Spot Conlon and a member of the ensemble, and Chaz Wolcott, who plays Scab and a member of the ensemble, talked about how Disney differs from other performing arts companies.
“They’re a tight ship,” Heimbrock said. “You’re thinking, ‘Oh, I get to create this character, and I get to do this,’ and it’s like, ‘Alright, you go to (there’s a number line on the front of the stage) right six on this line, then left three on this line. The reading of this line is too this, that and blah, blah, blah.’ They know exactly what they want, but that’s ‘Book of Mormon’ and Disney which are both very, you know, corporate theatre.”
Heimbrock explained that smaller productions allow for more creativity on the part of the actor; he can make a character his own by making changes in the way he speaks or reacts to other characters. Disney has a very specific idea of what it wants each character to be, Heimbrock said. But Disney’s corporate theatre isn’t a bad thing.
“The good side of it is the corporate-ness of [Disney] makes it so we have sold out houses every week,” Wolcott said. “If you’re doing that fun, avant-garde downtown musical, it’s going to probably close in a month because no one’s coming. The creative things are fun for you, but you might not get paid anything or the show closes, whereas ‘Newsies’ is selling out in Cleveland. We may have a little less creativity, but we have a kind of selling machine on our hands which is fun for us.”
Wolcott said the “Newsies” fandom is also much more hands-on than that of other productions. Calling themselves “Fansies,” the show’s following is very active on social media.
“[Fansies] immediately comment on things,” Wolcott said. “Like last night, I posted a picture. I go to bed around 2 every night […] Some girl was like, ‘You should be asleep! You have a show tomorrow!’ They kind of invade. It’s cool, it’s nice, but you do definitely have to think about the things you post.”
Heimbrock later added that a Disney social media expert coached the cast about what the actors and actresses should and should not post to uphold the integrity of the show and its characters before they kicked off the tour in October.
At the end of the day, though, both Heimbrock and Wolcott said they are pleased with their experience working for Disney thus far. “They treat us very, very well,” Heimbrock said.