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Interview with James Bohanek

I met with James in his dressing room in between shows on January 9th. He is so enthusiastic about his work and his face just lit up when he told me about his band and a former show he had done. Read closely because James informed me of two upcoming events for the month of February.

NR: Let's talk about your back- ground. Where did you grow up?

JB: I grew up in Staten Island. I'm a local boy, which has been nice because my parents have brought a lot of people to see the show. It's been great. There was one day my dad brought 32 people and another day my mom brought 25. And that's been really nice.

So, I went to high school at Stuyvesant here in Manhattan and I went to Yale. And after I graduated from Yale I moved back to the city. So I've pretty much lived in the city the whole time.

NR: When did you decide to become a performer?

JB: I was always a musician. When I was a kid I played the piano - I started when I was 7. And when I was a kid in grade school I sang in Christmas shows, but I was really more of an instrumentalist. And then I got into theater doing musical directing. In my early teen years I musical directed a drama camp in Staten Island. I came about that because I was musical directing our school shows because I was the main pianist, and so I just kind of fell into it that way. And then at some point I realized "You know, I can sing. I can kind of do that stuff up there." And so I guess junior high school's when I first started auditioning for school shows. And I did a lot of plays and musicals through high school and college and I sang a lot. I was in a capella singers through college. But I still didn't know if I wanted to do this professionally.

Friends of mine from high school, you know, my girlfriend at the time - she still says she's really excited that I've chosen this path but it's probably surprising. I was a history major in college, but this is a thing I've always loved. It's something that I love to do. Like most people in college, your extra-curricular activities are as important as your curricular activities, and my extra-curriculars in high school were baseball and theater. In college it was really theater and these a capella singing groups. So I performed all the time. I traveled around the world with these singing groups, and got to do a lot of theater. And when I graduated I still wasn't sure if I wanted to do it. So I got an apartment in New York with some friends and had to start paying rent, so I said, "Let me get a job first." And you know, I'm a media freak. I love newspapers, TV, film, so I thought "let me take a job somehow in that." And I took a job in advertising for about 4 months. It was fine, but it didn't really excite me. And I was taking an acting class at the time and I was studying voice and I thought, "I think I'll give this a go." And so I started auditioning 7 months after I graduated. And I've pretty much been pursuing it since then. There have been some bumps in the road...

NR: It doesn't look like it took you too long. You're not THAT old....

JB: (laughing) No, but what you have to come to terms with - I knew I love to act and I knew I love to sing, but the career isn't just about the acting and singing. It's about getting work, and all this other stuff. You have to like the freelance lifestyle where you don't know what job is next and you have to be OK with living well below the poverty line at times. And I learned how to be good with money when I had none. So, you have to learn how to like all that stuff because you can love to do it but you don't get opportunities to do it. Somebody once said to me that you audition for a living, and then when you get the job it's gravy. And there's a certain amount of truth to that. But the jobs themselves are much easier than "getting the work."

NR: Well, I was about to ask you if you had advice for someone who wants to become an actor.

JB: I never did the "waiting tables thing." I would temp, because I would rather be in an office than waiting tables. So, when I was first starting out I had to temp a lot and I would go off and stop for awhile. Temping was good for me because I never got emotionally involved. I just kind of earned my paycheck. But it really started draining me for awhile. It's really perseverance. One great thing I always find is when you're in class it keeps you going. So, I've studied with the same teacher for four years in New York and sometimes when I'm doing a show I can also study, but right now I just don't have any time. But in between shows you're still working and you still feel like you're moving forward. And you don't just wait around for your next job. But you have to....work begets work. And sometimes you take pieces that aren't so great, or go out of town... Different actors have different philosophies. Some people are very choosy and they won't go out of town. I have a totally different philosophy. I've had to go out of town at times and you know, you have to uproot. Luckily I've never been out of town for that long. I've never been gone for more than 4 months at a time. But you can be gone for 4 months, come back for 2 months, be gone for another month.


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Interview conducted and photographs by Nancy Rosati.




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