Bryan Fenkart of MEMPHIS Shares his Wisdom and Experiences
Bryan Fenkart is currently touring with MEMPHIS and playing the role of Huey. He loves playing the role and can relate to his character in many ways. Bryan shared with Broadway World some of his experiences and how he is living his dream.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got your start.
I started acting in high school. I was 16 and I lost a bet with an English classmate that forced me to join the drama that year which was Woody Allen's " Don't Drink the Water" and I fell in love with it. It was a medium that I had never tried and I was a little scared to be in front of people. It forced me out of my comfort zone and ever since then I fell in love with the medium. I ended up going to college for acting. I went to Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers and got a BSA and started working from there. I've been a musician most of my life as well; I'm a singer and a songwriter. That has worked very much in my favor as far as crossing over to the musical theater world that almost happened by accident. This is the first big musical that I was cast in and this ended up being a real boon for me as far as opening up doors in the musical theater world that I didn't even know were there. This marriage of the acting that I had studied and the music that I've always loved, it's created this opportunity. And here I am now.
Was this what you always wanted to do?
Once I had tried it (in high school), I realized that this is something I really wanted to pursue. It was all I ever really wanted. I always have loved storytellers whether they were songwriters or books. I always watched movies with my family growing up. I love stories and to be able now to be a storyteller and to make a living off of it is fulfilling a dream for me. I realized that in high school and that's why I went to an acting conservatory was knowing that this is what I wanted to do with my life.
You seem to have quite a resume to share with everyone. You have done film, television, stage and solo music as well. What are some experiences that stand out the most to you?
Not just to tout the show, but MEMPHIS does stand out. It's a huge opportunity for me because the character is so different from who I am and the way he talks and the way he dresses. As an actor, that's one of those dream roles you want to sink your claws into because it's so different from who you are. It's real intense character work and that's not something you get to do in a lot of roles. That was a real treat. But, also, making my own music is something that I have a huge passion for. I feel like in a world of teams of songwriters who make this polished pop sound that you hear on the radio, I really like the craft of writing my own stuff and using real musicians and working at a sound as opposed to this over processed very polished sound that's out right now. I think that being able to make my own album has been a real blessing to be able to tell my own mini autobiographies over the course of my life.
Do you see yourself as a singer who acts or an actor who sings?
I guess I'm going to have to say an actor who sings because that's where my training was as an actor. I went to a 4 year conservatory who strictly trained in the Meisner technique. It was a very tough program. That's where most of my training lies, in acting. And singing and music is always something I had done on the side. I've taken vocal coaching here and there but nothing as intensive as the college experience I had. So, I would have to say an actor who sings.
Let's talk a little about MEMPHIS now. When did you start the tour?
We opened in October of 2011 in MEMPHIS at the Orpheum and we've been on the road since. San Antonio will be our 46th city.
Tell us a little more about your cast mates and the experiences of working with them.
This is an incredible group that we have working on this show. I think that this touring company is very much Broadway caliber and that makes me happy to be around this group. Bill Parry who plays Mr. Simmons; this guy originated 5 Sondheim musicals on Broadway and my co-star, Felicia Boswell , it quite literally is the role she was born to play. She's so perfectly cast in that role. To be able to work with her every night is a real treat. Her voice is just golden. She's one of the best singer's I've ever heard. To be able to work with her has been a real treat too.
How do you prepare each night to play the role of Huey?
Huey is all momentum; all inertia. Once he starts, he doesn't stop. Once you see the show you see that. He's only offstage for about 6 minutes of the whole show and most of that's the opening number. I really have to get myself more into the mental and emotional mindset that once I start moving, I can't stop. It's always forward motion. You keep in your mind, you're always looking forward. Huey doesn't think before he acts. He acts first and thinks maybe later. Consequences aren't something that applies to him. He's like a pinball. You prepare yourself for being open to whatever's going to happen to you. Even though you are doing the same over and over again, there's always something slightly different in live theater which helps a character like this. He's always bouncing back and forth between different people and new experiences. He doesn't think, he doesn't question he just does his thing. You have to get yourself in this mindset of not thinking and just acting. Luckily, I've been doing the part so long that I don't have to think about the words I 'm going to say or the accent. I can allow myself to live in that pinball world that Huey lives in.
What similarities are there between you and Huey?
Huey is a rebel in a lot of ways. I can relate to that. There's this sort of image of a rebel that people have and I think that's an erroneous image of this guy who disconnected, smokes cigarettes and wears all black and doesn't give a crap about anything and that's sort of considered a rebel. I consider a rebel as someone who sees the rules that are in place and says, "well just because they're there doesn't mean they have to be followed because maybe they're wrong." Somebody who will go with what their hearts say as opposed to what the rest of the world, with what society says. That's something that I can agree with and something I've fought for in my life. Just because something isn't legal doesn't mean it shouldn't be. Somebody says that is the way that it is doesn't mean it has to be that way. I like to portray a character every day that delivers that message that you can be a catalyst for change if you act the way you think the rest of the world should act. Also, his connection to music. The reason he even starts this whole movement almost by accident by playing black music on a white station is because he's just in love with the music. He's not trying to spark a civil rights movement, he's just playing the music he thinks is great and it happens to be by all of these black artists. He has this real passion for the music he wants people to hear. I'm very similar in that it doesn't matter who's writing it, if it's great, it's great. And that goes for any kind of art; acting, visual arts, music, any of those things. It doesn't matter who creates it, as long as it's moving and emotionally captivating in some way.