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An Interview With...Joe Hoffman

What was the first play you ever saw? Ever performed in?
The first experience I had seeing plays was through my church.  Many years ago they had a theatre group that would perform Broadway Musical revues and every now and then a fully staged musical.  I can still remember them like they were yesterday.  I admired so many of the people in the shows and I wanted to be up there performing with them.  It was basically how I got my early training. After seeing the number "Wick" performed in one of those revues I forced my parents to take me to see Secret Garden.  It was my first Broadway show and I will never forget it.  I finally did my first play in ninth grade.  Little Mary Sunshine, very random for a high school, but when you have Tony Georgan directing, that's what you get.  He inspired me in many ways from that first show in high school to my first show in LI theatre, Murder at The Vicarage three years later at the Stage.  

Did you study acting? If not, how did you get into it?
I took a few acting classes in high school.  We worked on scenes and monologues.  In college I was a theatre minor so I was able to take classes in history and the technical end of theatre, which was an aspect I had never really explored before.  I also had the opportunity to work with an amazing vocal coach who did wonders for my voice as well as teaching me how to act through song.   Most of my acting training however has been through performance.  


What was your first audition?
Well I wouldn't call auditioning for my high school shows really auditioning, although I guess technically they were my first.  I do remember remembering auditioning for Bye Bye Birdie at the Stage as being the first audition for which I prepared 16 bars and read and danced.  I'll never forget my first cattle call though.  I arrived with two friends at Nola Studios and found myself amongst 300 other young guys around my age all auditioning for 6 parts.  I wanted to leave and never come back.  I wound up sticking it through.  Some years later I actually now enjoy auditioning.  It gives you a chance to see what else is out there.  Read or sing or practice for parts you may never get.  Its working on the spot that keeps your adrenaline flowing and keeps you on your toes.  

How do you choose what play you will audition for? The piece itself, the director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
So many things go into what plays I audition for.  I really enjoy learning, so first and foremost there has to be something I can learn from a production, whether it be the director, the character, other actors, or something about the piece that turns me on.  I also usually have to feel I am right for a part.  I am the first one to admit I am not right for everything and would never want to put myself in a position where I do not feel confident with the end product I am putting out.  

Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
Pre-casting is a necessary evil.  It's nice to want to do Macbeth, but if you have no one to fill his shoes, why bother.  So that being said, I think presuggesting is a good thing.  Have auditions, and if you think someone is right for a part, call them up and tell them to come down.  If they wind up being the best for it, great, if someone else shows up that blows them away, you have nothing to tie you down.  No one should have too large an ego to respect that.  

What types of parts do you normally play? Do you feel typecast?
Thankfully I have had the opportunity to play a wide variety of parts.  Generally if there is a young character in a piece I would play that, considering I am only 24.  That being said I have had the chance to play many of the great juvenile roles in musical theatre(Tobias, Matt, Hugo).  In school, where age does not matter, I have sung many great roles from Frederic in Pirates to Sancho in Man of La Mancha.

Looking back on the roles you've been cast in, do you think there's a certain kind of role you get cast in repeatedly? When directors look at a certain role, what do you think they see as a "Joe Hoffman" type?
Hopefully I do not have a "Joe Hoffman" type.  As an actor I like to try out different things.


What is your approach to developing your character?
My characters come from many different places.  Each part connects to me in a different way.  It can be a vocal pattern, a voice type, a physicality that eventually links me to the character.  I like to begin though by seeing what comes.  I think its great to table talk characterization and motivation and objectives, but that can only take you so far.  I am a big fan of Listening and playing off of other actors.  They give you so much by how they react to your character.  So what comes out of one scene often develops into a full character for me.  I like to take the directors vision and my own ideas and play around during rehearsals to come up with a final character.  

Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
Tobias in Sweeney Todd.  To steal from an idol "it was the perfect part, in a perfect show" and everybody died but me!  There was so much to find in Tobias that it made going to rehearsals a joy.  I could not have asked for a better cast and production staff to bring him alive within.

What do you think were your best roles? your worst?
I really loved Tobias, so I hope he was one of my best.  I am a terrible critic, I can only say some other roles I have enjoyed playing were Frederic in Pirates of Penzance, Mimiko in Zorba and all around ensemble boy in The Merry Widow.  My worst, ohhh the father in Boys from Syracuse, I put nothing into it, totally my fault!

What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why? How well do you think you met the challenge?
Don in A Chorus Line, I am not a dancer and I never will claim to be one.  I tried my hardest and that's all I can say for that.  Cocky in The Roar of the Greasepaint  I joined the cast very late in the process and I spent rehearsals simply trying to learn lines, lyrics, notes and blocking.  I spent the run of the show trying to figure out what I was doing with the character.  

What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this time?
Cocky, again, I found so many interesting things in the music and script as it went along.  I also did a lot of work studying Anthony Newley and came to admire him extremely.  

What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future?
Anything and everything.  If it's the right situation, just the chance to perform is motivating.  I have yet to get people to see I have an evil side, and would love to play some darker roles.  Iago in Othello is what I am thinking!


How do you feel when you perform?
I don't know.  When I am really into a character I don't think it is me out there.  So I often don't feel anything but what the character is feeling.  When I get to work on chorus type things where we are out there singing and dancing, its just the greatest thing.  Nothing could be more fun.  I love the creative atmosphere.  No matter if I am performing or doing something on the technical or production side, just to be among fellow people who care about something is thrilling.  

During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to myself?" Why do you do it?
Why not do it?  There is so much to learn from it and so much to give to it.  There are great people to get to know and laugh, cry and experience so many things with.  


What is your favorite theater story?
We were doing children's theatre at local libraries.  It was student production company at Hofstra and we traveled all over the island on weekends.  This one semester we were doing a production of Hansel and Gretl.  I played the Father with another senior as the mother.  We were graduating and being directed by some freshman.  So basically we thought we had free reign and would do whatever we wanted in the show.  The two of us happened to be backstage when the witch was thrown into the oven and we thought it would be a great effect if smoke appeared as she got thrown in.  So we got some erasers and started clapping them together.  We were performing at I believe Half Hollow Hills library on a stage with an extremely low ceiling.  Well it got to that point in the play and we started clapping the erasers and all of a sudden the theatre went dark and the fire alarms started going off.  It turned out there were smoke detectors right above us.  We managed to finish the show, screaming over the alarms all before the building was evacuated and the fire department came.  Needless to say that group has not been welcome back to the library since!

Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable, crack up on stage?
No dropped lines or missed entrances that I can remember.  Laughing on stage however, well doing day rep provides hours and hours of laughing moments on stage.  During a performance of Forever Plaid, I lost it and could not get it back while doing Lady Of Spain.  The Ed Sullivan section is one of the funniest parts of the show, and this one performance the strap to my accordian ripped off so I was trying to hold it up, and then a fellow actor places a viking hat on my head, however, he managed to shove it down so far I couldn't see.  I don't know if or how I got through the rest of the number.  


Why do you perform at the theaters you do?
Shows, directors, actors, proximity.   All of these.  If its an opportunity to work on something special I will take it.  Money or no money if the time is right why not work on a show.  I do continuously go back to theatres where I feel a special relationship with.  A familial bond forms when people have similar production values as you.  That's what keeps me going back to the same place.  I would also try something knew to see what it is like for myself.  If I am meant to go back I will, if not, I won't.  

Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.?
It has grown so much and I think it will continue to grow.  As one of the younger members of the community, I have come across people who want to make it the best quality and the most enjoyable it can be.  As long as people continue to strive to go one step further I think it will grow.  When I was in high school there was a small group of people my age out there auditioning and doing things on LI, now with educational theatre and acting camps at places like CAP, Broadhollow and the Y, the amount of young people out there is huge.  

Who are some of the actors you've most admired or who have been particularly rewarding to work with? Who's the best (in your opinion) that you've done a show with?
Honestly some of the greatest people I know are working in LI theatre.  I can't pinpoint just one or two.  In tribute to Kim Volpe I will say that certain casts I have worked with have been just exceptional and so great to work with and I have made lasting friendships through, they are:  Guys and Dolls, Bye Bye Birdie, Forever Plaid and any Hofstra Opera (even cast members who did not go to Hofstra).  

Who is your favorite performer? favorite L.I. performer?
There are many people I enjoy learning are doing a show I am seeing or doing, I always am impressed with Elisa Karnis, Collen Cannon, Pam Seiderman, Tom Wallace, and Adam Slawitsky.  


How do you maintain your career and do theater?
During school it was very easy, I did more shows than schoolwork, but somehow managed to make it through alright.  I took a year off after college and had the opportunity to work on some great theatre both on LI and touring/city.  It was so nice to not worry about anything but performing.  I am now working on my masters and am finding little time to fit it into my schedule.  Sometimes you have to make sacrifices.  I am finding time to see lots of LI shows though, so that's a plus!

Why do you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater?
It's a great place to experience the craft.  There are opportunities all over the place.  Auditions take place every day so it is easy to do shows here.  If you can find them there are also great chances to work on something special and learn things you may never have the chance to learn elsewhere.  Plus the people!  It gives you a core group of people to hang out with on the weekends and eat lots with!

Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
Yes and no.  I don't think they understand what it truly means to me.  When things start moving towards the professional side of it, they see it as a waste and hope for something more stable, which I have to understand.  They are the first ones applauding in an audience though and are always there for me.  

How has performing enriched your life?
It has added so many great things.  Experiences that would never have been available had it not been for theatre.  And so many people have come and gone throughout theatre that have all touched me somehow.  


What brings you the greatest joy?

What really irks you?

If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would...
Vacation.  I have never been off the east coast.  

What's your favorite word?
Creativity and c*#t (you know it if you know me).

Assuming that there is a heaven, what do you want to hear when you get there?
Rehearsals are over, its opening night!


Do you have any projects on the horizon that you want the readers to be aware of? 
Does graduate school count?  I am costuming a production of You're A Good Man Charlie Brown at Hofstra in May, should be a great production, come down and support the youth of LI theatre.    

Given your choice of parts in plays, which play and role is your heart's desire?
Do you really want the list?    Chris in Miss Saigon.  Che in Evita.  Dickon in Secret Garden.  Candide in Candide.  Alex in Aspects of Love.  Any Sondheim show.  I would also love to do Master Class, Love's Labour's Lost, and A Midsummer Nights Dream.