Here is Part 2 of our series of behind the scenes interviews with the director and cast of 1st Stage’s Altar Boyz. Meet Zack Powell.
I’m Zack Powell. I am a 26 years old white male, dashing, courageous, and strong. I’m proud to say that I’ve been a working professional actor for most of the last eight years. I have worked several seasons at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, The Great Plains Theatre (KS), and at various other regional theatres throughout the country such as The Shawnee Playhouse (PA), The Timberlake Playhouse (IL), The Crown (KS), Off-Square Theatre Co. (WY) and more. Three days after Altar Boyz closes, I will start rehearsals as Mercutio in a tour of Romeo and Juliet with the Utah Shakespeare Festival until the end of April, which I am incredibly excited about, because it is one of my dream roles. Some of my favorite roles include Finch in How to Succeed in Business…, Valentine in Two Gentlemen of Verona, Tuzenbach in Chekhov’s Three Sisters, and most recently, Jesus in Godspell.
Where did you get your theatre/vocal training?
My undergraduate degree is a BFA in Theatre Performance from Wichita State University in Kansas. I took several dance classes and voice lessons a year, even though they weren’t required for my major, because I loved them so much. I graduated in May with my MFA in Acting from Illinois State University under the direction of the inestimable Henry Woronicz. Going to Grad school was definitely the smartest decision I have made — it completely changed the path of my career.
Why did you want to appear in 1st Stage’s production of Altar Boyz?
I love the D.C. area and theatre scene. I jumped at the chance to work here. Plus it’s a funny, really lovely show with catchy music and a lot of heart.
Have you seen the show before and have you appeared in Altar Boyz before?
Only clips. I was pretty familiar with the cast CD, though.
Introduce us to your roles and how you relate to the person you are playing?
I am playing Abraham — the Jewish Altar Boy. Because of his religious background, Abe often feels like the odd man out in the group. He sometimes wonders if his being involved with the band is some kind of colossal mistake, or perhaps a cruel joke. That being said, he is ferociously devoted to the Altar Boyz and the message of love and forgiveness they bring to their fans, and he looks at the other guys in the group as his family.
I think everybody can relate to being the ‘new guy’, and feeling out of place. Abe is taking a huge risk in giving up the safety and comfort of what he knows to go out on tour with these guys to pursue his dreams. Any actor will tell you there is a certain amount of terror traveling the country pursuing work. You are constantly moving, meeting new friends only to lose them weeks later, being away from family and from home. But you’re following your dreams, doing what you love…at the end of the day there’s no doubt in your mind that you’re where you’re supposed to be. I think Abe and I have that in common.
What is Altar Boyz about from the point of view of Abe?
I think Abe would say that Altar Boyz is about bringing the message of God to the masses through fresh-funky beats. He’d also say that it’s about finding the balance of being faithful to your friends and family, but also being true to yourself.
Have you worked with any of your fellow cast members before?
What did you sing at your audition, and why did you select that song?
I sang “God Save the People” from Godspell because it was pop, uptempo, and conveyed a message I knew would be similar to the music of Altar Boyz.
How did you prepare for your role?
Lots of stretching. Both physically and vocally.The dancing in the show is tremendous thanks to Jeremy McShan, our incredible choreographer, and the range of the music is all over the place. One measure you might be singing high C’s, then the next you can drop down two octaves to join the melody. It can be a challenging score, despite its deceptively simple pop sound.
What have been some of the challenges you have had preparing for your role and rehearsing?
I thought I was in shape. Then, after our first dance rehearsal, I realized I wasn’t. Getting back into the routine of really strenuous dancing took most of the first week. But now I feel great — flexible, strong, smelly. It’s fantastic.
What have you learned about yourself – the actor/singer – since becoming involved in this production?
I’ve learned how to moderate myself in singing and dancing, without marking the acting intentions of the song or number. In a six-eight hour rehearsal of a high energy show like Altar Boyz, you’re going to exhaust yourself quickly if you do every number full out each time. Learning when and where to conserve my strength and energy has been a big, helpful part of this process.
What is the most vocally challenging song for you in the show?
Probably “The Miracle Song.” Abe starts the number by beat-boxing, and then jumps in at various parts to sing really high harmonies. That, coupled with the fact that he’s also supposed to ad-lib a bunch of vocal riffs over the other boyz four part harmonies make the number…exciting to do. And terrifying. But very exciting.
Why do you think Altar Boyz is so popular all around the world?
Sure it has great songs with intricate harmonies and fantastic, high energy dancing. But what is really great about Altar Boyz is that, as the show progresses, the audience gets to know the boys in an intimate way. Each character has at least one moment in the show where they are caught totally off-guard, with their defenses completely down. It’s touching, and I think that by the end of the show, the audience is cheering for the personal success and triumph of the boys, and not the commercial success of the Boyz.
Why should DC theatregoers come and see you in Altar Boyz?
Oh, it’s gonna be sick. Between the phenomenal and sometimes hilarious choreography and the tight, impressive vocalizations of the cast, every number is a show stopper. It’s a fast paced, high energy ride that will leave audiences exhilarated and uplifted. And they might learn a thing or two about themselves along the way. I’m really proud of this show. I think audiences will be blown away.
‘The’re the Altar Boyz’: Part One: Steven Royal on Directing Altar Boyz at 1st Stage.