We are excited to today share an exclusive interview with Adam Grupper, who is currently performing the role of The Wizard in the Broadway production of WICKED. Mr. Grupper has previously performed in several other shows, including the original productions of THE ADDAMS FAMILY, THE WILD PARTY, and INTO THE WOODS on Broadway. Check out his thoughts below!
Tell us a little about yourself outside of performing – what kind of hobbies do you have; where did you grow up, etc.
I grew up in New City, NY, just outside of the city. No one in my family is in the performing arts. My dad was a social worker and director of a senior citizen’s center in The Bronx; my mom’s a retired school guidance counselor. I currently live in Brooklyn with my wife, Maxine Resnick, and my twin 11 year olds, Harry and Phoebe. In addition to my work as an actor I also have a management consulting company, Act Professional (www.actprof.com). I provide theater-based training and coaching, helping people in the world of work become better leaders and communicators.
What made you decide you wanted to pursue being a performer as a career?
I was a psychology major at Yale. When I graduated I planned to attend graduate school, get a PhD and become a clinical psychologist. I decided that before going back to school, though, I needed to get this acting thing out of my system. I had done theater all through high school and college and always loved it. I moved into Brooklyn and began auditioning, working as a night time paralegal to pay the bills. I did lots of readings and Off-Off-Awful Broadway before I landed my first Equity job through an open call. That job landed me an agent, and the first thing that agent got me seen for was Into the Woods on Broadway. When I booked it, I knew there was no turning back to graduate school.
What was your first professional performing job, and what did you learn from the experience?
That first Equity job I got was performing at The Florida Studio Theater in Sarasota. I had never formally studied acting or been to an acting program or conservatory. We were performing in rep, and in many ways the experience was my first total immersion in theater. I learned a lot about the business from my fellow actors, got a chance to play some varied characters and it was there that I developed a work ethic as a performer that I still carry 25 years later.
Tell us a little bit about performing in the original production of INTO THE WOODS. What roles did you cover, and did you go on for them? What was that like?
I took over the role of The Steward and understudied the role of The Baker, played by the wonderful Chip Zien. In my 10 months in the show I went on as The Baker more than 30 times. The part was very meaningful to me. My father had died the year before. He never got to see my Broadway debut, or know my future successes. Performing “No More” with Tom Aldredge as the Mysterious Man (who turned out to be The Baker’s dead father) was profoundly moving to me. Stephen Sondheim made regular visits and offered me guidance, support and praise. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the world of Broadway.
What has been your favorite performance job to date?
In 2000 I did a play called Spin at The Wilma Theater in which I played a conniving, profane presidential campaign manager contending with a scandal that threatens to derail the entire campaign. I never left the stage, had pages and pages of obscenity-laced rants, threatened, pleaded with, bullied and verbally abused every character in the show. It was the most fun I’ve ever had onstage (and it got me a Barrymore nomination for best actor in a play that year).
How did you come to audition for Wicked? What was your process like?
In February of last year I did Merrily We Roll Along at Encores. Folks from Wicked were in attendance. Based on my work they somehow deduced that I was a good fit for The Wizard and I got an offer, no audition necessary! More than a year later I’m still pinching myself and marveling.
When you got word that you would be joining WICKED, what was your initial reaction? Who was the first person you told, and how did they react?
My first reaction was a bit of unreality. I hadn’t auditioned so I hadn’t prepared in any way to play The Wizard. In fact I had never even seen the show or heard the score! Truly, it wasn’t until I began rehearsals that it actually became real for me. I told very few people about the job until I had a signed contract in hand. But of course the first person I told was my wife, Maxine, followed soon after by my kids (whom I swore to secrecy). Harry and Phoebe were thrilled and as soon as I gave them the green light they told all their friends. It’s hard to keep from telling everyone that your dad is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz..!
Tell us a little bit about your first performance in the show.
That first performance I took all the pressure off and decided my goal was to avoid destroying the set or killing anyone onstage. By that standard I was a huge success. Honestly, those first performances were all about the basics: doing my blocking, saying my lines correctly, handling my props, listening to my fellow actors. Anything else I achieved was gravy.
What is your favorite part of the show to perform?
I only have a few brief scenes in the show so I don’t have a lot to choose from! Still, I love my second scene in The Wizard’s Chamber when I try to seduce Elphaba into joining me. The arc of the scene is, well, wonderful. It’s a lesson in the art of persuasion from a master manipulator, and The Wizard uses every trick in the book, appealing to Elphaba’s loneliness, her pride, her intellect, her compassion. And just when he finally succeeds in winning her over an unexpected visitor appears and The Wizard’s triumph turns to utter defeat in an instant.
Do you have any memorable or humorous onstage bloopers from any show you’ve done you’d like to share?
Funny you should ask. At each performance of Wicked during the second act I casually remove a bottle of magical green elixir from my coat pocket and offer a swig to Glinda. Later, at the end of the show that distinctive bottle becomes a major plot point.
Well, a few weeks ago I forgot to put that bottle in my coat pocket, and it wasn’t until the moment before my onstage cue that I realized my error. I quickly changed my line to Glinda from “Here, have a swig of this.” to “Why don’t you have some green elixir?” Fortunately, audiences are very forgiving of these kind of errors and naturally fill in the story gaps themselves. My stage manager, however, was not quite as forgiving…and I got a well-deserved scolding. Lesson learned.
As someone who has both toured and performed in a sit down production, which do you prefer and why?
The allure of the road is lost on me. I long ago decided to forgo touring, regional theater and out-of-town try-outs. I’ve got a wife and kids and I hatehatehate to be away from them. Life’s too short. No doubt that’s had an impact on my career, but it’s a choice I can live with.
Do you have any dream roles you have yet to perform?
I’d love to revisit Sweeney Todd – it’s a role I played in college and still remember well and fondly. I’m amazed to be performing nightly in the same Broadway theater where Sweeney originally played. That show, and that role, had a huge impact on me as a young performer.
And I suspect, whether I want it or not, there’s a Tevye somewhere in my future.
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
Two good pieces of advice. The first is from a book I read when I was just starting out about making a career in acting. The author wrote: “a child is rewarded for being good; an adult is rewarded for being useful.” As a professional actor you can’t look for validation and approval from others. You need to think carefully about what you uniquely have to offer and how you can make yourself useful to the people who would hire you. In other words, even though actors are expected to be child-like in their creativity and their openness they need to be adult in their attitudes toward the work.
The second piece of advice came to me from an agent of mine who was leaving the agency. He told me, “Remember: careers are defined as much by what you turn down as by what you accept.” Actors don’t generally have a lot of power in this industry, but we always have the power to say no. Think of every job offer as an announcement to the theatrical community of what kind of work you want to be doing and what you think you’re capable of. Then either take the job – or have the courage to turn it down – by that standard.