Benjamin Davis returns to our stage in Spring Awakening! After his starring turn opening our season as hero Bobby Strong in Urinetown the Musical, he’s back to close us out as the troubled and lost soul, Moritz Stiefle. We recently caught up with Benjamin to discuss the show and what it’s like to go from Urinetown to Spring Awakening in the course of a season.
WHT: Given that you are relatively new to our audiences, could you share with them where you went to school and where you sharpened your skills?
Benjamin: My love for acting and musical theatre began in middle and high school at Buford City Schools, under the fierce direction of Kimberly Staples. From there, I went on to the University of Georgia to obtain a B.A. in Theatre and a B.S. in Psychology. After graduating from undergrad, I continued my education at the Aurora Theatre as a part of their 2013-2014 Apprentice Company. I’ve also studied extensively with the Broadway Dreams Foundation, as well as with several private coaches. I like to think that I pull a lot of knowledge from a multitude of sources.
WHT: Where are you from originally and where do you now call home?
Benjamin: I’m originally from Buford, GA and moved to Atlanta after my undergraduate years in Athens.
WHT: Back in October, you wrapped up Urinetown the Musical with us. What’s it like making a return visit to The Warehouse in a show that is far more serious than your previous production?
Benjamin: I feel as if it’s a personal lesson in versatility. As an actor, one of the most rewarding aspects of your career is to have the opportunity to flex those acting muscles and really stretch your capabilities. It’s difficult, but ultimately the reward is so fulfilling. I’ve really enjoyed getting to shift gears with Spring Awakening.
WHT: What’s been your favorite part about the rehearsal process for Spring Awakening thus far?
Benjamin: My favorite part of this process is simply being in the room with so many talented artists. The Warehouse has assembled a dynamite selection of cast and creative team. We have all learned so much from each other over the past 4 weeks, and are continuing to absorb so much knowledge.
WHT: From the beginning of rehearsal until now, what’s been the biggest shift in playing your character, Moritz?
Benjamin: My focus throughout rehearsals has been to really find specificity in how I’m approaching certain scenes or relationships with certain characters. With a character like Moritz, it’s easy to lean into the emotional distress of the character and lose sight of what he wants or why he is the way he is. So from the beginning of rehearsals until now, I’ve tried to really ignore the emotional aspects of Moritz and instead focus on his relationships and the intent behind his actions. The correct emotions then just fall into place.
WHT: Related to that question, what was the single most important influence upon the way you shaped Moritz?
Benjamin: Because of my education in Psychology, I tend to approach each character as a case study. What do they want and how has their past shaped who they are today? Moritz has such an intricate journey throughout this show, as well as in the moments we don’t see. He’s curious, well-intentioned, and loyal, but ultimately his fate swallows him no matter how much he tries to fight it.
WHT: What was one thing director Jenna Tamisiea said to you or the cast that really had an impact on your work?
Benjamin: Jenna has informed us all of so many specifics in regard to how we’re approaching this show. But early on in the process she said something that immediately rearranged my priorities in rehearsal. Early on, she told us to forget about pacing and simply connect with, and listen to, our scene partners. As an actor it’s easy to get bogged down early on with the pacing and rhythm of the show. When you do that, you lose the opportunity to really engage with your cast mates. During the crucial early rehearsal time, Jenna wanted to make sure that we spent those early moments really connecting with others onstage and she reminded us that pacing would come later on in the process.
WHT: Often actors find that certain scenes in shows are just flat out fun to play every night. Despite this show exploring some very serious, and at times dark themes in life, is there a scene in this show that bubbles to the top for you? That you simply look forward to playing every single night?
Benjamin: Honestly, despite the fatal consequences of this show, the entire journey is thrilling for me. There is exhilaration in the challenge and even comfort in the misery inducing material. I simply look forward to the entire show.
WHT: Now that you’ve been away from school for four years or so, what’s one thing you would share with a young actor coming fresh out of academic theatre today?
Benjamin: Find out who you are and what makes you stand out. Once you get into the professional world, everyone can sing and everyone can act. What is it about you that’s going to stand out from everyone else? If you can bring a little bit of yourself to every audition, you’re going to start getting work. It’s somewhat vague and difficult to articulately explain, but find out what your “thing” is and make sure you’re bringing that to the room every chance you get.
WHT: What’s next for you?
Benjamin: After this show, I head back to Atlanta to produce the 2nd annual Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival. It’s a 3-night festival highlighting 3 new musicals still in development. At AMTF, we provide a platform for writers to showcase their new musicals so that they may gain valuable feedback and support moving forward.
Catch Benjamin Davis in Spring Awakening, running now until June 10th!