For many actors in college, you don’t get your big break until long after you graduate. For senior musical theatre major Tyler Sarkis, he got his opportunity earlier than expected. Tyler is now playing Henry in his first equity production, Next to Normal, at the Phoenix Theater in Indianapolis. I have worked with Tyler on a couple shows here at Ball State and sat down with him to talk about Next to Normal, college, and general survival tips for actors.
How did you find out about Next to Normal and what was the audition process like?
My friend Caitlyn did Spring Awakening at the Phoenix and talked about how they were doing Next to Normal. I thought “I would kill to be Gabe!” and sent an e-mail to the head of communications there. Two to three weeks later, I still didn’t get any reply. Finally I was called to set up an audition. I had my own appointment, no one else was there. After they told me to learn the music and come back tomorrow. I thought I would be Gabe, but then they called me and told me I got Henry!
How do you personally connect with the show? What have you learned from the rehearsal process that you didn’t know before about Next to Normal?
I have always struggled with depression and Next to Normal deals with bipolarism, psychology, and what goes on in the mind. Even though Henry never has a mental breakdown, I relate to him because he’s a little awkward and when he tries to be smooth, it never comes out right. It’s an awesome show to work on; the actors are nuts, but of course it all makes sense.
They actually just put up the dramaturgy stuff in the hallway, which is so interesting. There is a section about celebrities that are bipolar, like Britney Spears and Ben Stiller.
What is the difference between working on an equity show than a college production?
Not to put down artistry, but in college you sit around and sauce out the big meaning of the show. In an equity show, you have already done the work and start to work on the show. You just start working and not talk about feelings. It’s very cool to go in very prepared, in some college shows there are actors day one who have just printed out the script. It’s all about professionalism.
Not only have you been involved in Next to Normal, but also other deep shows like Dog Sees God and Spring Awakening. How do you approach shows with such heavy and sometimes controversial subject matter?
It’s weird, sometimes the show is so touchy to people that no one wants to talk about it. I have a friend who didn’t want their parents to go see Next to Normal if it had sex in it. It comes from an emotional standpoint. Whatever the subject matter is that has touched me before, I pretend to watch while offstage stage or I’ll get upset. It’s the same with other shows that go into the psychological stuff; you play a character and are not yourself experiencing these things. You have to leave your emotional baggage at the door with topics like suicide and slitting wrists.
Some people are so close minded. Next to Normal is a difficult show to sell, with a mom going crazy and its effects on a family. Some don’t realize how great the score is and what a good message it sends. However, we have sold 700 presale tickets, even with those issues there. It really just depends on the audience.
What has been the most difficult role you have played while being in college, and how did you eventually overcome the challenges of that role?
Spring Dance, there were so many contributors to why that show was hard. Our director, Mead Jackson, changed the character perspective of the show with her view, with the three patients being figments of the woman’s imagination. Being on stage but not actually being there, that was hard to deal with.
In Next to Normal, Emily Ristine, who plays Dianne, told me that you just have to do it and not deal with how to do it in your mind. You just need to be there and let the audience imagine themselves.
You were part of the ensemble and a dance captain for Circus in Winter here at Ball State. What was it like to work on an original musical, especially one created by students?
Watching an original work and the trajectory it’s going now, it’s cool saying you were part of the original cast. There was not a lot of choreography, more movement than dance. It was frustrating with so many changes happening underneath our feet. Our director, Beth Turcotte, changed lines once from four people to making it a monologue. It’s hard to remember the changes. I prefer established musicals, but I’m excited with where the show’s going!
Since you are graduating this year, I want to ask, what has been your best experience at Ball State in this department?
ACTF was my favorite, taking Circus. I wouldn’t have been able to audition for the Open Jar Institute, best week of my life. We performed there for a packed two tier house, it was amazing. Sometimes at Ball State you stay in a bubble, you go out there and realize there are so many artists just like us. I wish we had a sister school somewhere in the world, where we can trade students. There are just so many people, it’s a big world.
What has been your worst experience and what did you learn from it?
My decision to opt out of shows this semester. I’ve had a fine education here, but I have a large ensemble resume. I got the e-mail for Henry and went “Hey, I got something!” I decided that going to SETC screenings had a better job opportunity at the time. I destroyed a relationship with one of my professors, which was rough. I was fine with opting out of shows, but it was my last opportunity to work here. The worst is if you get into a tiff with a teacher, I think it’s about holding a grudge, if not I feel bad.
Originally you went to the University of Dayton, what made you decide to transfer to Ball State University?
I was a high school English education major, believe it or not (laughs). I didn’t know what to do when I got to college. After a year as an education major, I knew it wasn’t my career path and changed to a double major in vocal and theatre. There it was like two departments tugging your arms. I wanted to go where the two departments are together and found Ball State.
After being an actor and dancer in college for four years, what advice can you give students who want to go to college and make a career in the performing arts?
I got the best advice over the summer, do the thing you hate, because it’s probably the thing you need to do and work on. If you’re not a great dancer, take dance classes, not a good singer, vocal lessons, etc. If this is not the career for you, you don’t want to graduate with a degree you are not happy with.
Make sure this is what you want to do! It is what you contribute to the profession. On the worst days that you need uplifting, and there are few days when you get that, but when you do you know you are doing something meaningful.
Favorite Broadway Show
Newsies, a big duh as a dancer! Also, Peter and the Starcatcher, it is so creative. I have always wanted to be Peter Pan since I was little, and you know Adam Chanler-Berat who played Peter was also Henry in Next to Normal.
Go to Show Song
Natalie Weiss EP Soundtrack (laughs). I have a crush, it’s so disgusting. I also harmonize when I drive down to Indy, it gets bad.
Biggest skill is I’m a contortionist. I’m secretly really crafty, I hop on Pinterest and I’ll do anything! When I get my own apartment I’ll make all the furniture and decorations. I also do photography, headshots and otherwise.
Most Embarrassing Moment Onstage
All of them, but no, there are so many.
This one is not so embarrassing because I would do this now. When I was in Guys and Dolls, I had to do a quick change from a full suit in tiny white shorts and a tied shirt. I went to a Catholic school, and went onstage in the just the shorts. I literally saw fumes coming out of my teacher’s ears and I thought “This is how it ends!”
Also in Bat Boy, the first half of the first act I was only in a dance belt. I was the most uncomfortable thing! In the archive photos, there was one taken when I was crouched on the front of the stage. You can see my butt, but it was dark enough to look artistic.
Dream Female Role
The white cat or Demeter in Cats, Cats for the rest of my life! That was my first professional show in Louisville; most fit I have ever been in my life! Couldn’t throw anything at me and hurt me!
You can see Tyler in Next to Normal at the Phoenix Theater in Indianapolis through February 24. You can call 317.635.7529 or go to phoenixtheatre.org. Also be sure to check out his website, and follow him on Twitter, @YAS_Tyler .