Breakout Stars Ushering in a New Golden Age on Broadway: SpongeBob SquarePants Tony Nominee Ethan Slater
May 8th, 2018
by Josh Ferri & Curtis Brown
BroadwayBox teams up with photographer Curtis Brown to present "Ushering in a New Golden Age", an exclusive photo and interview series in which we spotlight the breakout stars from the 2018 Broadway season and style each like Broadway's original age. This illustrious crew of Tony nominees, Drama Desk nominees, and fan favorites was photographed at the beautiful Hudson Theatre (home to next season's new musical Head Over Heels). Launching the series is Tony Award nominee Ethan Slater, who makes his Broadway debut this season as the title star of the acclaimed, Tony-nominated hit SpongeBob SquarePants.
1. Was there a big role in high school or college that gave you the confidence to pursue this?
Absolutely. My junior year of high school, I was in the school production of The Producers, playing Leo Bloom to a Bialystock played by my good friend, Noah Robbins. So many things about my high school drama experience made me the actor/writer that I have become, but a big one was Noah. He taught me during that show that being a "good" actor was, in his words, about making your scene partners look good. If they look good, you look good, and the scene looks good. In other words, be generous. It helped that the day of our final dress he returned to DC from NYC where he had just been cast as the lead in a Broadway show.
2. What has changed most in your life since taking on this role?
I've been working on SpongeBob for nearly 6 years now, so I have to say that a LOT has changed. I graduated college, but continued learning; I made tons of friends, including my BFF Danny Skinner (we met day one of the first workshop. It's been quite a ride); I have grown more flexible, and more durable; but maybe most importantly, I have become more optimistic in my daily life. SpongeBob's beautiful worldview has rubbed off on me.
3. This series is all about this Broadway season’s breakout performers. If you could time machine back and see any big Broadway icon’s breakout stage performance, whose would you want to go back and see?
Oh man.... I think I have to go with Mandy Patinkin. I know he did some stuff before Evita, but I would do anything to see him do that (or, even more so, Sunday in the Park with George) live.
4. What’s the most sentimental thing in your dressing room?
That's a tough one.... I have saved the opening night cards from my friends and family, because it reminds me that we got to share such a special night together. But I have to say, I also got a gift from a fan that I keep right next to my mirror: it's a jar filled with slips of paper, each with a nice thought on it. Nothing too big, just little things to make you smile on a tough day like: "Ducks like to surf. They have been observed riding tides and swimming back to ride them again”
5. What’s been your biggest obstacle in reaching this point?
I think one of the biggest obstacles for me has been the self-doubt involved in waiting for someone to cast you in their project. Even though I was cast as SpongeBob years ago, we never knew whether the show would actually see the light of day. So, I was auditioning, and working as a barista, and "waiting" for opportunities. And that can really make you doubt whether you are good enough. But I've always loved to write, so I threw a lot of my energy into writing over the past few years. Not only did it give me some control over my creative life, but studying how to write (and actually writing) made me a better actor. I think that is something that I have learned over the past couple of years: often the biggest obstacles end up leading you to the biggest breakthroughs, whether it's the challenge of giving dimension and human emotion to a character like SpongeBob, overcoming crisis' of confidence, or figuring out how to pay rent while pursuing your dream.
6. As the originator of the role, what piece of advice would you give to future actors who will one day play SpongeBob—be it on Broadway, on the road, or at their school?
Approach every challenge with an open mind! I learned so much about myself through struggling with the physical (and emotional) demands of this role, and all because Tina asked a lot of me. And when someone you admire asks you if you can juggle plates, or do a backflip, sometimes the only answer is: "I'll be able to tomorrow." (Though, also, take your time! It's never worth getting hurt trying to do the splits if you haven't practiced enough). So, leading up to rehearsals, make sure you are in tip-top shape. And then once in the rehearsal room, have the most fun you possibly can. SpongeBob is all about invention, so invent! Come up with bits and moments, onstage and off! Make strong choices without telling yourself "no" (let the director be the one to say yes or no)! Make him your own.
Photographed by Curtis Brown at The Hudson Theatre. Makeup by Claudia Eltabie & Liv Swenson from Rouge Makeup Salons, Hair by Austin Thornton, Styling by Kinsland Howell Alice in Kinsland Styling. Clothing courtesy of Alberto pants, Our showroom, & Hyela Makoujy.
Click here to see the entire "Ushering in a New Golden Age" series, and don't miss Ethan Slater's unbelievable Broadway debut in SpongeBob SquarePants at Broadway's Palace Theatre.