He’s apprenticed in the last twelve months. He’s acted professionally in the last twelve months. He’s directing in the next two months. And now he’s graduated! But most importantly, Drew Whitley is back on our Main Stage and having a bit of fun as Hanschen in Spring Awakening. We recently caught up with the Clemson grad and got the low down of his latest experience at The Warehouse.
WHT: So you just finished up at Clemson University…what happens now?
Drew: I wish someone would tell me! Just kidding! Next for me is heading back to high school. I’ll be teaching English at T. L. Hanna High School in Anderson starting in August. I’m stoked.
WHT: And did you grow up in this general area?
Drew: I did, just a few minutes down the road in Anderson. T. L. Hanna is my alma mater, actually.
WHT: You’ve had a busy twelve months between Clemson, learning as an apprentice at Mill Mountain Theatre, working on Urinetown the Musical here and finishing school. What’s been your trick to keeping it all in balance?
Drew: My trick has been planning, planning, planning. I think that might sound trite, but it’s the truth. always try to look both short and long term simultaneously. I keep to-do lists religiously. Last year, around the time Spring Awakening was casting, someone told me that it would be impossible to do a show while student teaching. I wasn’t a fan of that, so I looked long term, planned, and worked on two shows while student teaching.
WHT: What’s one lesson you learned during your apprenticeship at Mill Mountain?
Drew: I learned the invaluable truth (thanks to Mr. Jay Briggs and Ms. Anna Kimmell) that it’s a wonderful thing to be an “actor and”: an actor and a teacher, an actor and a director, an actor and an arts administrator, etc. I was very guilty of feeling that I had to be an “actor or” until I worked at Mill Mountain.
WHT: Late in 2016, 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?
Drew: It’s an absolute dream because The Warehouse has so beautifully poised itself as a theatre that can produce both light and serious works successfully. With both Urinetown and Spring Awakening there has been incredible excitement from the cast, creatives, and staff. And there have been audiences that are ready to receive whatever we threw at them, whether it be the ridiculousness of Urinetown or the heartbreak of Spring Awakening.
WHT: What’s been your favorite part about the rehearsal process for Spring Awakening thus far?
Drew: Being with this cast is by far been my favorite part of rehearsing (and now performing) Spring Awakening. These artists are incredible on stage and off. I have seen so much fearlessness and intelligence in their work and I continue to be impressed by what they bring to the stage each night. On top of all of that, everyone is absolutely hilarious and so kind hearted. It’s honestly the ideal situation.
WHT: What do you consider the single most important influence upon the way you shaped your main character, Hanschen?
Drew: In a lot of ways I see Hanschen as sort of comic relief over the course of Spring Awakening, especially in a heavy second act, so I wanted him to be funny. Not funny in an overt or unrealistic way, but in a way that he is the personification of the parts of yourself about which you say, “Oh my God, I cannot believe I just thought that or that I just said that.” I wanted you to hear and see Hanschen and think, “What a jerk! Wait, I’ve been that jerk!” There’s comedy in that.
WHT: What’s been the greatest challenge overall of working on Spring Awakening?
Drew: The greatest challenge for me has been avoiding the urge to make the musical all about angst and teenage darkness and ugh, parents just don’t understand. Yes, there are definitely elements of all of those ideas in the show, but the work is really an exploration of all emotions and how those emotions manifest themselves. The challenge has been to not over-simplify. This show deserves more than that.
WHT: What was one thing director Jenna Tamisiea said to you or the cast that really had an impact on your work?
Drew: Jenna told us from day one to “stay sensitive”, which just really shaped everything I did on stage. It allowed me to constantly ask myself the guiding questions: (1) Am I staying sensitive to my own character and their objectives? (2) Am I staying sensitive to my fellow actors and what they’re giving me? (3) Am I staying sensitive to the story we’re all telling? And quick plug…if you haven’t worked with Jenna Tamisiea, make that happen stat. What an amazing artist and person.
WHT: Is it weird being in a show with Kerrie Seymour since she’s your professor at Clemson? Do you keep your distance from her in rehearsal or do you trade barbs with her the same as you do anyone else?
Drew: Kerrie told me upfront that I was not to speak to or make eye contact with her during the entire process. I’ve tried my very best to honor that. Completely joking! Being in a show with Kerrie has been one of my dreams since meeting her four years ago and the experience has not disappointed. We constantly joke backstage, whether it’s her leaving notes on my water bottle from James Hetfield (lead singer of Metallica) or me telling her that I’ve been poisoned by her homemade kombucha…which I was and plan to take up with the union at a later date. She’s the cool mom to Matt’s cool dad.
WHT: Wait a minute…Matt Reece is cool?
Drew: Definitely. In the cool dad sort of way.
WHT: I don’t know if that can make it into the interview. Let me think about that a bit. While I’m thinking, answer this. Despite this show exploring serious and dark themes in life, were their moments of levity for you throughout the process? Maybe portions of the show that simply stand out as fun?
Drew: Luckily, yes! Hanschen’s…umm…”alone time” scene in act one always makes me die laughing internally. There’s also a beautiful moment in Touch Me that Clare Ruble and I share that often results in one of us laughing because of how incredibly unserious people we are. And of course, Totally is the most fun you could ask to have on stage. Twerking on Matt Reece? What more could an actor want?
WHT: You’ve performed in two musicals with us now. Do you enjoy musicals or straight plays more as an actor?
Drew: A question that I often grapple with. They’re each so challenging in their own ways, but I have a soft spot for musicals as an actor. I consider myself an actor, then singer, then actor-that-barely-moves, and so I love the challenge of acting through scene work, singing, and dancing.
WHT: You are beginning your post-academic life. We have a lot of readers who are just beginning their college journey. As you reflect back on the last four years, any advice for them?
Drew: My advice is meet all of the amazing people on campus and make meaningful relationships with them. I was a theatre minor at Clemson, but I put myself out there and became a part of the theatre department and made friends that have taught me an unreal amount about every aspect of theatre. I found a campus ministry with people that filled me up emotionally and spiritually. Find friends that will be there for the awesome highs and the inevitable lows of college.
WHT: Any question you did not get asked that you want to be asked?
Drew: Nope, but I just want to give a huge thank you to everyone at The Warehouse and to everyone involved with this production! What an incredible team.
WHT: Where’s your next project?
Drew: I will be assistant directing and assistant stage managing about thirty-five kiddos in Willy Wonka, Jr. at Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke, VA, which will be running July 26 till August 6. Come check us out in the ‘Noke!
Fall in love and maybe laugh a little with Drew Whitley in Spring Awakening, running now until June 10th!