Introduce Yourself(ie): 10 Questions with Admissions Breakout Star Ben Edelman
April 9th, 2018
by Ben Edelman
Ben Edelman gives a breakout performance as Charlie Luther Mason, the son of Jessica Hecht & Andrew Garman's characters who dreams of attending Yale, in the new Joshua Harmon play Admissions, running at Lincoln Center Theater. Ben gives an electrifying performances bursting into the show and delivering a huge, ferocious monologue that leaves audiences in awe of the young talent.
BroadwayBox gets to know Ben a bit better as he talks to us about learning and rehearsing that monologue, creating short films, and his rollercoaster ride with Significant Other.
When it comes to selfies I have a specific style—take it as fast as you can, to the detriment of photo quality. I think it’s fun. I’m weird, I know. But I’m consistent. This is me (bottom right) and one of my BFF’s from growing up Neil (left) and his awesome roommate Brian. And Jessica and I on the electronic billboard-poster-thingy outside LCT. SO COOL! It’s surreal and a literal dream walk to work every day and occasionally see that pop up. I’m reminded, “oh yeah, this is really happening!”
1. What do you love about the way Joshua Harmon writes?
Josh takes these notions we all carry around common thinking-and-feeling patterns and writes them 100 steps out. His characters get many turns to stand up for themselves in such a personal and often hilarious and biting ways. And right as you've come to know and love one character and their point of view, an equally strong character undercuts everything you've accepted in a paradigm-shifting move. It's not "2+2=4" it’s "2+2=4, but we need 5, because 5 is fundamentally better than 4, so we really need to work with 3s, and that very fact makes all the more clear that whoever was in charge of number selection was seriously not privy to our goals in the first place" followed by "Your math lecture sucks, let’s play video games." Everyone has moments like this. (Note: I am not Josh Harmon, so instead of my bad example, read and see his amazing plays!)
And he creates and exposes situations that are so emotionally challenging that every character is forced to respond to their own flaws, which creates growth. What emerges is a complicated, living, thrilling experience. It's really good.
2. You have such an epic monologue. What was your process like to tackle it in rehearsal?
Dive in. We did a one-day and then, a year later, a one-week workshop of the play, so I had a few cracks at it outside of a staged context. Similarly, we did a couple read-throughs of the play during the first two days of the process. But Daniel Aukin, our fearless leader, led us straight into the process of putting the work on its feet. When we approached the scene that contains the monologue, I did it once or twice slowly/piece-wise at Daniel's direction before he said something like, "Thank you for doing exactly what I asked. It's definitely not working." A few minutes later, we took a full swing at the scene from the top—I went forward without any room for doubting how 'good' or even comprehensible it might be, instead doing everything I could to maintain the unbridled energy of a rejected teenager with an axe to grind. It kind of just worked. Generally speaking. Josh's writing does so much of the groundwork; the confusion, the humor, the rage, it’s all there. And I am lucky (depending how you look at it) to have a brain and upbringing that has worked enough like Charlie's that I understand the thoughts and torrent of it on any given day.
After that, the door was wide open, with the one consistent variable being that the monologue really isn't break-down-able. It can't be rehearsed in parts; only as it is, in full. Daniel would pull me aside with specific comments like "more whiny here," "losing this word," "I think it can be sweeter," "let's make this part really clear," and so on. Early on I would run it once or twice for myself before rehearsals just to grease the wheels of moving so quickly and energetically through so many ideas. But the only way to know how it was coming along emotionally and situationally (which is what matters to me) was the next time we went through it in full. Side note: Josh and Daniel are geniuses and working on this section has been an incredibly fun, challenging, and generally amazing experience.
3. We meet Charlie during such an emotional moment for him. What’s your pre-show like to get there?
Logistically speaking I aim to do 3 body things and 1 voice thing pre-show: I do a joint warm up and a lower and upper body mobility routine, and our wonderful vocal coach Kate Wilson's vocal warm up. I throw in some things here or there from college and the wisdom of others I have picked up on over the years. Depending on the day, I may only get through half, a quarter, or have time for double this routine. After these I feel warm (literally) and limber, and both relaxed and amped.
Emotionally speaking, I check in with where I am at naturally on that day, any particular notes that occur to me from Daniel over the course of our run or recently, and I think about key moments from the play that are important to me personally. I work with or against whatever is happening in me, and promise myself that when I go onstage I'm not just doing this for 'a play', but to stand up for everything Charlie stands up for, because it really is life and death. Family, dreams, education, the future, politics, reputation, lifestyle, legacy. And I really have to fight for my life.
4. Three words to describe yourself in high school:
Energetic. Slacker. Troublemaker/Jokester. Is 4 okay since there's a slash involved?!
5. What were you super passionate about at 17? What are you super passionate about now?
At 17 it was acting, my high school improv troupe (MACH ONE, OH YEAH!), Starcraft (best video game ever), my friends and family, and goofing around.
Now it’s my friends and family, the arts, health & fitness, and encouragement and education of self and others. I tutor kids for the SAT and ACT and love working with them, seeing them grow. I'm a Wikipedia addict, and while I don't love mindlessly surfing, I always seem to hit upon some obscure article that relates exactly to something happening in my life. I love learning. And a special shoutout to POWERLIFTING, which is especially new and exciting to me. I powerlift three days a week. I actually started on our first day of rehearsal. It's awesome. You make the decision to put yourself under the bar and as supportive and helpful as everyone can be (and is!) no one can do the work but you. And you grow, and learn that you're capable of more than you thought you were before you started. So good. Highly recommend to all demographics.
6. You made your Broadway debut understudying the lead character of Jordan Berman in Joshua Harmon's Significant Other. What’s your most cherished memory of that show?
As you may have noticed I have a habit of saying too much and breaking rules...This is no exception, so here's THREE.
One: Walking into The Booth for the first time. It was surreal. I was entering a Broadway theatre... for work!
Two: Dressing room hangouts with fellow understudies Brooks Brantly, Kathryn Kates, and Sasha Diamond. We tossed around a Men's Regulation Sized Softball(TM) and goofed around and worked on our roles and generally got to know each other.
Three: Off-Broadway. I was part of Carnegie Mellon's NYC Showcase during the Spring Break of my senior year. A few weeks later, Roundabout e-mailed me asking me to send in a tape to audition for an understudy role. I did so and forgot about it. Fast forward to the end of the year, and our LA showcase. Mid-week, I receive an e-mail from Roundabout asking me to come in for a callback that Friday night. After much debate and family guidance, I cut my LA showcase trip short and fly to NY, and do the callback. Having not even graduated yet, I don't know the appropriate professional protocols, so I call Roundabout directly the next day and ask if I got the part. They tell me yes(!!!!) and I will start Tuesday AKA three days later. After much freaking out and celebrating I take my suitcase (packed from LA) and sleep on couches for my first week of professional rehearsal in NYC. That Saturday is our first tech rehearsal and (the wonderful director) Trip Cullman released me so I could schlep up to Pittsburgh to officially graduate, much to my parents and grandparents relief and joy. Fast forward another week or so and (the truly incredible) Gideon Glick has lost his voice. Having literally just graduated, I would now be going on in this gargantuan role off-Broadway. It may even have been our first preview. It's so early on that they cancel the planned shows that night and the next day for impromptu put-ins, because we had had none. Josh had been doing major rewrites fairly consistently, and for the first put-in I knew about half the part. I went 'home' (to a close friend of my parents' from college, Joan Katz, who absolutely saved my life and on whose couch I was staying) that night and worked until 3 or 4 AM. I came in the next day for the second put-in and nailed it. I felt completely out of my mind, but also amazingly proud of myself and ready to go on that night. A few hours later, Gideon's doctor cleared him and he went on. The entire experience could be put as the definition of an emotional roller coaster, and taught me so much about what an unexpected life acting can entail. Side note: the cast and creative time and my family and friends were all so unbelievably supportive throughout, and I’m so glad to share the rollercoaster with them all. Worth every second.
7. You have over 10+ years of magic on your resume. How did you get into that as a hobby?
I went to French Woods Festival for the Performing Arts, an amazing summer camp in upstate New York starting when I was very young—I believe about 5 or 6. My sisters had gone the year before and loved it. It was, I think, my first sleep away camp. I don't know if this is exactly true, but in answering this question I always say that because I was so young there wasn't a ton for me to do, and kids were often shuttled to the magic department at this age. For me, it stuck. I loved it, and kept going basically every year I went, and I went for 10+ years. I don't practice new material much anymore, but I credit learning magic (along with playing piano) as my introduction to performing, and for interacting with and feeling out an audience. And whenever I'm with family members there is inevitable a request for some card tricks. Especially from my Mom.
8. You’ve co-written, directed, and co-starred in a series of short films. What do you love about creating for that medium?
Working across roles on projects has allowed me to understand different perspectives on creation. Writing is creating something from nothing. Directing is interpersonal-heavy and being able to operate in multiple modes simultaneously, delegate, and lead. Acting is self-expression, discovery, and for me, so much f***ing fun.
A short film is less intimidating than a feature, so there’s a greater feeling of spontaneity and ease. It’s short. You can't pack an encyclopedia in, no matter how much you do with it. On the other hand, because your scope is limited, you get to find all the density that does exist in a single slice; a character, an event or few, a location. It’s all about bang for your buck. It teaches you how to optimize value.
9. In your opinion, what film is as close to perfect as can be and why?
OH boy. It's a Wonderful Life. My family has a tradition of watching it every Christmas Eve (after our other traditions of Chinese food and a movie). It is imprinted in me because of the love I feel my family shares in the ritual of watching it together. What are plays, movies for, ultimately, if not to enrich and encourage and connect us all? It's a Wonderful Life does that, for me.
10. Tell us a memorable audition story.
When I was I think 10 years old, my family got a call from a counselor at French Woods about an educational series, Word Wizards, that was seeking a lead child actor. I skipped a day of my 5th grade class and went with my mom up to NYC. At this point, I don’t think I had done anything acting related in my life, other than be a generally crazy kid. At the audition, they asked me to say the word “wow” in as many ways I could. I did probably about 29 “wows”. Maybe it was 28—That was the whole audition. It’s hilarious in retrospect. We left, and on the train back home my mom was basically trying to help me manage my 10-year-old expectations, saying things like, “this was a fun experience, no matter what happens!” (not gonna happen, kiddo). I believe on that same train ride she got a call from someone in charge saying I got it. It was unbelievable. I was NOT gifted (I’m not being humble, the final product showed...), but they must’ve seen something in my huge breadth of “wows”. The project never saw the light of day beyond a VHS in our house, but I cherish the audition memory dearly.
Don't miss Ben Edelman in 'Admissions' at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater through May 6.