Dan Kohler is in the Ensemble of Flashdance-The Musical, playing at The Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, MD through this Sunday, February 17th. His previous roles include Jesus in Godspell and Blue Man in the Blue Man Group in New York, Las Vegas, and Berlin, and he had a guest role on Law and Order: SVU. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.
Jess: You’ve starred as Jesus in the Off-Broadway revival of Godspell as well as in the Blue Man Group. How has your experience in those shows differed from this relatively new musical? Its first production was in the UK in 2008, and it’s been reworked for this first U.S. tour.
Dan: Godspell was similar to this in that while it wasn’t a new musical, they were rethinking an older piece. But this is night and day different than Blue Man. Obviously, Blue Man is not a musical and I was paid to be a bald, blue mute. For years, I wasn’t ever singing and now I am. But it’s really a difference between improv and scripted theater. Blue Man functions from a kind of bible not a script. We have rules that we play by and things that we do, but within those rules, anything can happen. With Flashdance, none of it is improvised but because it was a new piece, in our rehearsal room sometimes we did play improv games while we were working on scenes to see if new lines felt more natural in a different way or just to get things in our body a little more.
What was the audition process like? What was the moment like when you found out you got into the ensemble?
I went to an open call for this and I always told my friends that no one books anything from an open call, but actually you can. In my experience with this show, going to an open call means you then start getting appointments. I think I had five more auditions after that. They were trying to find somebody that could cover a lot of different roles. I understudy Nick, Jimmy, and Harry, who are very physically and characteristically disparate people. So we needed someone who could cover a lot of ground. I kept going into read against different people and read different sides and sing different songs from the show. As we were auditioning it was about a five- week process for me. The show was still being written and rewritten. Every time I went in, even for the same character, I got new scenes to read or tweaked scenes I had already committed to memory and had to try and switch in a new line. It was fun but challenging.
You mentioned you are the understudy for three of these main roles. Have you gone on yet and what has that process been like?
The way it normally works in a touring company is that once a show is open, it’s considered locked, so you start understudy rehearsals during the day once or twice a week. The challenging thing here is that everyone in the ensemble is covering two to four characters so sometimes in an understudy rehearsal, as happened yesterday, you have to play three parts in rehearsal, which gets confusing. That’s the hardest part about understudy rehearsal; being able to compartmentalize the different roles. I haven’t gone on yet, but I’ll go on for Jimmy during the Saturday, February 16th performance. Fortunately I’ve had a lot of rehearsal, or what I’ve considered a lot of rehearsal for that role.
On a normal night, you mentioned you fill a lot of different roles and some of those costume changes can’t be more than 30 seconds long. How much time do you get to prepare on these different stages and has there been any close calls or interesting moments trying to get back on?
In rehearsal, we didn’t use costumes. We’d only use a few pieces to suggest things, so when we first got to tech, we all intuitively understood we had quick changes but we’d never run them. Half way through the first number of the show, the entire ensemble vacates the stage and has a collective quick change. It’s 30 seconds or less. We go from steel mill workers to street dancers. When we first teched the show we figured that we’d get through the whole thing in a morning. Well, we got half way through the first number and no one was back onstage. Everyone was tangled up backstage. No one had clothes on and we had to stop. It was a mess. Thankfully we ironed those problems out, but it’s been tough in these old theaters because all of our changes have to happen right off the deck of the stage and some theaters don’t have a backstage. It ends at a wall and to cross backstage, you go under, instead of behind. So you have to go down and up two flights of stairs for all entrances and exits and costume changes. Our wardrobe captain is fantastic in figuring out all the changes, but by the end of the night my quads are burning and on one stop, I routinely almost did not make it on and we actually had to change the show a bit because the set pieces didn’t fit.
The staging is pretty impressive with the three-story iron girders and the huge screens with the light show behind you. When did you first get to see that and what was your reaction when you finally got onto the final set?
We had scaffolding in rehearsal that stood in for the towers. The first time we saw the towers was in the theater for tech rehearsal. It was really impressive. It dwarfed everything we had in our mind. But as for the lighting and projections, which are gorgeous, most of the cast hasn’t seen any of them. I only saw them because when they’re going to put you on for somebody, they also swing you out for a night, so I got to see it last week for the first time. I had only the vaguest idea of what was being projected around us. Most of us have never seen a lot of that stuff and it’s gorgeous.
The cast has great chemistry onstage. Is that all acting or has offstage friendships made that easy or harder?
This is my first tour and I am surprised at the ease with which we’re all getting along. I assumed this would be six months of drama and cat fights, but everyone seems to get along fairly well and we hang out in groups when we want to, but for me the saving grace is also doing things by myself during the day since I spend as much as 65% of my time with the cast.
Speaking of getting out, have you had a chance to see Baltimore or the environs on your tour stops?
I went for a walk twice around the harbor in this city and it was lovely, but I am ashamed of how little I’m seeing.
What is your favorite moment of the show that you’re in or not?
I’m going to be selfish. I really like the scene where my character Andy gets fired. It’s quick. It’s a really quick scene but I think it’s well written, in that from an acting point of view, I have everything I need. It’s obvious as a character what I want and how I’m going to try get it and the conflict is obvious: I don’t get what I want, which makes for a great scene. That’s all you need.
This is your first tour as you mentioned. What has been especially challenging or awesome about being on the road?
I’m a homebody and not having a home is a little crazy making. It’s also like living in your own version of Groundhog’s Day because every week is the same. I had to fill out paperwork this week and forgot what my home zip code is. I’m worried I’m going to forget my address because every week we’re in another hotel. You wear the same clothes. You eat the same things. You do the same show and it all starts to run together. It’s bizarre how quickly it’s become the wormhole. But I do love being an employed actor. I really, really love performing the show. I could not be happier about that.
In the program you thank Poppy for teaching you to sing in a staircase. Who is Poppy and why were you singing in a staircase?
My grandfather takes a lot of credit for getting me started in the theater. It’s a running joke in the family, actually. When I was very little, he used to sit with me on the top stair of our old house and we would write songs together. I think it’s my earliest memory with him and he’s been such a big part of my life. I do credit him with a large part of my career.
You’ve performed in the Blue Man Group in New York, Las Vegas, and Europe. What fond memories do you have of your time in that show?
It was the most challenging job I have had, hands down. Getting the job was a five month audition process. Doing the show every night was incredible because it changes every night since it’s improvised. I’ve had some of the riotous experiences onstage and I’ve had some of the most dismal and awful things of my life onstage because I just picked the wrong person from the audience. One of my favorite moments was during the part of the show where we invite someone onstage to eat a Twinkie with us. Picking that guest for our dinner table is really important. You spend a lot of time learning how to pick somebody. That’s part of the improv we do. That night, we all agreed on this charming woman in her late sixties. We got her out of her chair and she had the perfect balance of being a little scared of us but very intrigued which is the best combination because they don’t know what’s going to happen and you don’t know what’s going to happen. The moment she stepped onto the stage, she started howling in Spanish, non-stop. And none of us spoke Spanish. It was the hardest time I’ve ever had keeping a straight face. She kept up a stream of delighted, high-pitched Spanish and the whole audience was in tears it was so funny. She did not want to leave! It was a great night.
Like many working actors, you have a couple of projects going at any one time. Tell me about renegadekitchen.com.
I started this just after I left Blue Man. I wanted to have a day job that I liked as opposed to waiting tables. I started publishing some family recipes online thinking I could start a food blog. I grew up cooking and my family has a lot of food allergies, so it fit a burgeoning niche. I realized I needed to put up video to get any traffic. I ended up hiring a film crew from the University of Colorado when I lived there briefly. They charged me next to nothing because college students never know what they’re worth and I told them that we were shooting a cooking show. They told me they didn’t know how to do that and I said “Great, I don’t know how to do that either. Rule number one, we’re all going to pretend we know what we’re doing.” Six months in, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness found my material and called and asked to partner with me for the video content. From then on, it’s been my part-time job. I develop recipes and web video content for a couple of national food brands. It fits so well in what I want to do because I get to put myself on camera and I get to be the host and the creative director. I want to do more live television in my future. I’d like to host a TV show and this is great experience.
How do you survive as a professional cook living in a hotel room?
Oh, this caused me the most consternation and almost caused me to turn down the tour. I thought I couldn’t be on the road for six months. That’d be insane! But I wanted to do it, so I brought an induction burner and my wok, because you can cook everything in it and I’ve had it for ten years and it’s seasoned perfectly. For the first two cities, I made breakfast every day and sautéd veggies, but in St. Louis, the top of my induction burner shattered in transit and my heart shattered with it. I was at a loss. I couldn’t buy another one, so I have not cooked and I’ve been eating weird things like sliced turkey and carrots and hummus for every meal. It will make me crazy eventually.
Like a lot of kids you started doing choir and theater very early. What was the moment you decided to get serious and do this as your career?
I guess it was when I committed to being a theater major in college. I didn’t think I was going to be a theater major. I thought I was going to get a sensible major like, not finance, but maybe business or communications. And I got to college and realized there was nothing else I wanted to do more than theater, so from that point on, I was pretty driven. I did a show every quarter in college and worked myself to the bone.
What qualities or what is one main thing you think someone needs to do to make it as a working actor?
I think you need to remember that confidence is something you practice and you don’t have to freak out and think that this is something everyone has magically. You have to tell yourself when you go to an audition, even if it gives you nothing and you don’t get the job or perform there, that you are practicing having confidence in front of other people. I think that’s what it comes down to: knowing who you are and being able to present that.
What advice do you have for an actor preparing to go on a major tour like this?
Bring an umbrella, because I haven’t and it’s rained in at least 50% of our cities so far. Also you need so many fewer pairs of pants than you think. Bring one pair of jeans and maybe one other. No more. Actually, you don’t need anything. You need an umbrella and nothing else. People will love you.
Flashdance-The Musical plays through this Sunday February 17, 2013 at The Hippodrome Theatre as part of The Hippodrome Broadway Series. The Hippodrome is located at 12 North Eutaw Street, in downtown Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 547-7328, or purchase them online.
Watch a preview video.
Flashdance-The Musical website.