Adam Grabau has appeared in several productions of Spamalot and returns home to DC to play Lancelot and others at The National Theatre – which opens tonight and runs through April 14th – as the tour comes to a close.
Joel: This is your third stint with a tour of Spamalot and you have played several roles (and the same characters) in each of the three productions.Tell us about these characters, how you relate to them, and why you enjoy playing them.
Adam: It’s hard to say how much one can really “relate” to Monty Python characters, but I do enjoy different aspects of each of the four I play every night. Lancelot’s journey is one of self discovery. Like several of the other characters he is more or less adrift for most of the show seeking his own “grail.” I think most people can identify with that in some respect. My other three characters are all antagonists in their own ridiculous ways and I guess that’s what I enjoy most about them. I love playing villains because they usually have the most fun. It’s so much more gratifying to be on the giving end of a good taunt or threat or jape than on the receiving, and I get to do that a lot through these guys. It’s a guilty pleasure.
What role that you haven’t played would you have loved to have played?
The only character I wish I could have had a crack at is The Black Knight. I’ve seen three other guys do it over the last three years and I have literally watched every performance of that scene (my track has me immobilized in the wings at that point in the show). He’s always a crowd favorite and, I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to get their arms and legs hacked off every night? Otherwise, I have loved my track in the show and wouldn’t have it any other way.
How has your performance as Lancelot evolved and changed?
Well, when you play a character for years at a time they cannot help but grow with you. When I first started playing Lance in 2010 I was 29, single, and I drank mostly beer. Now I’m 32, married, and drink mostly wine. I can’t go into all the details of how my performance has evolved since day one, but I will say that today’s Lance is definitely more mature than he was three years ago.
Why do you think Spamalot has done so well on the road when so many other tours have fizzle out quickly?
Show business is always hard and it certainly hasn’t gotten any easier in recent years. People’s budgets don’t accommodate $50 – $100 theatre tickets as easily as they might have ten years ago. Audiences demand stories that will both entertain them and make them feel something. I think the reason Spamalot has been so successful is that it has both of these elements in spades. Where a lot of shows out there today are very entertaining, they lack a message that reaches people on a personal level. The theme of Spamalot under all the silliness is “Always look on the bright side of life,” which is exactly what people need to hear these days. It’s the same factor that kept Oklahoma! selling out during the great depression. People need to laugh and believe that life can be good again. That’s why they’ve been stretching their budgets a little further to come see us.
Take us into your first audition for Spamalot. When and where did it happen, what did you perform at the audition, and where were you when you got the call that you were being offered the role(s)?
I was invited to the callbacks at Chelsea Studios in New York by some of the good people at Phoenix Entertainment that I had worked for before. I did readings from the script and sang 16 bars from “C’est Moi” from Camelot (a very different Lancelot). I got the call a week later at my parents house in Maryland where we were having a barbecue for my brother-in-law’s birthday.
Tell us about the first time you stepped on the stage to appear in Spamalot on the road and when you first came back home to perform in DC? What was that like for you, and do you remember what you were thinking when you walked on the stage?
The first stage I ever performed Spamalot on was The Palace Theater in Waterberry, Connecticut. I honestly don’t remember how it felt to step on stage the first time but I remember how it felt the first time I made a theater that size laugh. It was something akin to “Wow! How lucky am I that I get to do this?” The first time we played DC fulfilled a dream of mine to perform on stage at The Warner, a theater I had been to many times and always wondered if I would ever get to play.
What are some of the drawbacks, challenges, and thrills about being on the road?
Being on the road can be hard. Schedules can be harsh, the climate changes all the time, and you are living out of two 50 pound bags for months at a time. You have to be extra diligent in maintaining your health and well being because the touring lifestyle can be very stressful and you don’t exactly have built in sick days. However, traveling all over the country has afforded me some of the best times of my life. There is a lot to see and do in this country and I’ve seen and done a lot of it.
What has been some of the weirdest, funniest, and craziest things that have happened during performances of the show? What was the craziest audience reaction you can remember?
There are far too many to count and most of the best ones would give away something about the show. There was one performance during year one when Lance dropped his sword down some stairs and it seemed to fall for about 45 minutes before it finally stopped making clanging noises. As far as audience responses go, we’ve seen them all. My favorites are always the true Python audiences though. The ones that recognize all the iconic characters as soon as they appear and know the lines before you say them. It’s just great to be that connected to your audience.
Where did you receive your theatre and vocal training?
I studied through various college courses, mentorships, workshops, apprenticeships, and professional training programs in Maryland for years. You could say I took a less conventional and even somewhat accidental approach to my higher education in the theatrical arts. It was the best decision I ever made.
Despite all the hardships that come with being an actor, why do you love performing on the stage?
There are certain things in life that no amount of money can take the place of and no amount of hardship can stop you from enjoying. The feeling that comes with knowing you just touched thousands of people’s lives, even if only for a moment, is unlike anything else and once you’ve tasted it it’s hard to get enough. Also, how many jobs are there where people literally applaud when you finish your work?
You have performed at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in several musicals, including playing Kyle in this year’s Legally Blonde – The Musical, Jud Fry in Oklahoma!, and 1st Officer William Murdoch, in Titanic-The Musical. What did you learn about yourself – the actor- working with Toby Orenstein and at Toby’s and how did those experiences make you a better actor/singer?
I can honestly say that I don’t think anything could have adequately prepared me for something like Spamalot, but I can say that Spam has taught me a lot about myself as a performer just as every production I have done to date has. One of my favorite things about being an actor I guess you could say is NOT being prepared for the challenges you face with every new project. It’s the best way to grow as an artist, and nothing is more rewarding than when you surprise yourself with what you’re capable of.
I worked at Toby’s off and on for ten years and grew more as a performer there than anywhere else. The sheer variety of shows and roles I got to do there were better than any training I could have ever received anywhere else during that phase of my life.
Why would you recommend young actors/singers to come work at a dinner theatre?
I would encourage any aspiring young twenty-something performer to spend some time in dinner theater. It teaches you the value of working hard while practicing your craft. (It also generally pays better for people who are just starting out. Working at Toby’s put me through college).
What will you miss most when the tour ends?
The people. Touring brings a cast together in ways that nothing else can. You live within close proximity with these people for months to years at a time and form ties that are hard to break. I have been luck enough to work with three casts and crews on this show and each in their own way was one of the finest groups of people it has ever been my pleasure to work with.
Anything else lined up after this tour?
I recently moved to Los Angeles with my wife to begin my pursuit of a film career. She is in the business too (we actually met and began dating at Toby’s) and we are currently engaged in all the necessary steps of getting plugged into a new city and network. A couple irons in the fire. Stay tuned.
What advice would you give a young student who is considering becoming an actor/singer and considering making theater his/her career?
Just in case nobody has told you, it ain’t easy. Most of the time it’s sweaty, exhausting, and wholly unglamorous. You probably won’t make a lot of money and you will almost certainly face a lot of rejection. That being said, if it is in fact your passion and your dream, you would be a fool not to pursue it. As long as you are prepared to work hard, take a few risks, and (likely) live on a budget you have a shot at enjoying a fulfillment in life that few people can claim.
Before you make the decision to pursue a life as a performer I also strongly recommend that you examine your own perceptions of yourself. Above all acting requires honesty. If you are not honest with yourself how can you expect to give an honest performance to an audience. Know who you are. Know what you can do. Know what kind of work you can get as a performer and go after it. This not only will prevent you from wasting a lot of time chasing unrealistic dreams that will probably never come true, but it will teach you to love and appreciate yourself in a way that will give you the confidence that every good performer needs to shine.