The Velocity of Autumn Star Stephen Spinella Recalls The Night in College That Changed His Career & His Life
April 17th, 2014
by Josh Ferri
Two-time Tony winner Stephen Spinella returns to Broadway alongside Oscar winner Estelle Parsons in the comedic and moving two-hander The Velocity of Autumn. Spinella plays Parsons’ estranged son Chris, who arrives at her Brooklyn brownstone in hopes of getting her to not blow up the block and leave her longtime home gracefully.
Spinella cemented his place in Broadway history a little over twenty years ago, when he originated the role of Prior Walter in Tony Kushner’s ground-breaking and award-winning drama Angels in America.
For his performances in Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Angels in America: Perestoika, Spinella received back-to-back Tony Awards in 1993 and 1994 for Best Featured Actor in a Play and Best Actor in a Play. He also picked up Drama Desk Awards and the Theatre World Award.
Post-Angels, Spinella was seen on Broadway in A View from the Bridge, Electra, James Joyce’s The Dead (Tony nomination and Drama Desk Award), Our Town and Spring Awakening. His memorable screen credits include Love! Valour! Compassion!, Lincoln, And the Band Played On, Rubber, Connie and Carla, Milk, Desperate Housewives and 24.
Spinella has also enjoyed a vast and celebrated off-Broadway career as well; he was most recently been seen in CSC’s A Man’s A Man, VOLKPONE or the Fox, An Iliad, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures and Shakespeare in the Park’s As You Like It. He also starred in off-Broadway incarnations of The Dead and Love! Valour! Compassion!.
So with a resume like this, it came as a surprise when BroadwayBox caught up with The Velocity of Autumn star to chat about what he considered the game-changing moment in his career that none of these credits made the cut. Instead, Spinella took us back earlier to a night as an undergrad that set into motion his career as an actor.
The first thing I thought of was something I’ve thought of ever since my career started to go well. It was a crazy event that happened when I was in undergraduate school in Tucson, Arizona. I was taking an audition class, and for our last class they called in several different theatre artistic directors from Tucson, including Sandy Rosenthal, who ran the Arizona Theatre Company (the big regional theatre in Arizona). They watched our audition just to give us a critique afterward, and I remember that particular night my audition just went incredibly well—I did Richard II and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Three months later he called me to have a meeting with him and he gave me a season the next season—three shows at the Arizona Theatre Company. And from that, I met a man named Israel Hicks (who directed Tartuffe) and he convinced me to go audition for NYU, which I did. While I was at NYU, I met Tony Kushner. So that one crazy night, that one event in my life set in motion all these other things that changed the course of my life. And I always think of that one speech from Richard II. The obvious thing for me to talk about would be Angels in America, which was this immense professional event that happened; that was the thing that changed everything in terms of a professional career, but the thing that put me in the world—in the constellation of things to actually having a career—was the night I did those two speeches for Sandy Rosenthal. If I hadn’t connected that night with those two speeches in the way that I did, my life could have been completely different.”See Stephen Spinella and Estelle Parsons face off in Broadway’s The Velocity of Autumn.