by Nancy Rosati
Every now and then, somebody beats the odds. Many actors talk about writing scripts, and a few of them actually sit down to do it, but how many see their work come to fruition on an Off Broadway stage? Starting in December, Jim Hindman is about to do just that.
A versatile actor, Jim has appeared in five Broadway productions, including The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1776, and City of Angels. He has also been a cast member of numerous Off Broadway shows and national tours, such as Dancing at Lughnasa, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Cats.
In the past few years he has begun to challenge his creative side in another area - with his writing. He’s been quite successful at it, earning a 1999 Backstage Bistro Award for his first effort, I Love New York at Rainbows & Stars. Since then, Jim has written A Christmas Survival Guide, which was released as a CD last year and will see its first staged productions next month at City Stage in Springfield, Massachusetts and also for a limited run at Arci’s Place in New York. Jim’s first full length book musical, Pete ‘n’ Keely will begin previews Off Broadway at the John Houseman Theatre on December 2nd, looking toward a December 14th Opening.
Nancy Rosati: My first question is, “How did a quiet kid from a small town in Michigan end up in New York theater?”
James Hindman: I couldn’t get a ride home from school one day. Some girl said, “If you stay after school and paint the sets with me, my mom will drive you home in about an hour.” So I did that, and as I was painting the sets, the drama teacher asked me to help out with the scenery. I said, “Sure.” I did that and I thought, “This was kind of fun.” I crouched down behind a fake tombstone made out of cardboard. It was a scary melodrama or something. That was my first job in the theater - hidden behind a tombstone. Then Christmas came and they lost a Toy Soldier so the teacher asked me to fill in and again I said, “Sure.”
In the spring I auditioned for Emile DeBeque in South Pacific at my high school. I used to sit at home in my bedroom with my album of South Pacific, screaming “Some Enchanted Evening” at fifteen years old, trying so hard to sound like an adult. I probably ruined my voice, but there you go.
NR: Did you get it?
JH: No. I got Lt. Cable. But that summer I auditioned for Man of La Mancha. My mom wouldn’t drive me, but they knew they needed somebody so they came and picked me up!
NR: Were you Cervantes?
JH: Yeah. They didn’t want to use the local star because he was giving them trouble. They came and picked me up and I auditioned. I sang “Impossible Dream” and everyone said, “You look 25!” as if that was so old. I was fifteen at the time. I had a lot of hair. They grayed it and told me, “Oh, you’re going to look so good when you’re old.” Unfortunately, the hair left! (laughing) The gray came, but there was no hair to put it on.
Then I went to Eastern Michigan University and I was an Accounting major with a minor in Theater. I got a scholarship for acting but I thought that this way I would do the “smart thing” and be an accountant. I thought that was the road to go down. Then a casting director from New York came. He was from The New Dramatists, a group that doesn’t do much anymore but they were like The Manhattan Theatre Club. He came to our college and we all auditioned. He kept picking on me about my audition, but in a good way. He kept laughing about it. Afterwards I said, “I want to go to New York” and he said, “You should.” He helped me find The Neighborhood Playhouse because he knew a teacher there. I went in and interviewed with Sanford Meisner. I went there for both years. I did a lot of soap operas at the time, but then I started musicals. Once you start doing musicals, it’s really hard to break out of them.
NR: Is that because the jobs are there, because they need someone who can sing, or is it because you just enjoy them more?
JH: The jobs are just there. There were more auditions for musicals. I never really got parts that could sing that well. I didn’t need to. I never did Curly in Oklahoma. I was always “the other guy.”
NR: You’re kind of the utility player. If you were on a sports team, you would be the utility man.
NR: Who did you play in Cats?
JH: Gus the Theater Cat, who had to sing the opera stuff. I couldn’t hit a B flat. I had just played Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar, so I could scream out a B flat, but I couldn’t sing one and sound good. That’s when I went to voice lessons and learned how to sing ... so I could do Cats! Because of that, I ended up getting City of Angels. Actually I did that first, and then Cats afterwards. That was eleven years ago.
NR: I have a Playbill from City of Angels with an insert that has your picture and bio on it. You filled in for Shawn Elliott that night.
JH: I got that audition at the eleventh hour. A guy quit. He was older but he looked like me. I went in to the audition, thinking I was going to leave the business. I called up Cy Coleman’s office because I had worked with him before and he got me the audition. I went in to do an even smaller slot, to be an understudy to the singers and to understudy the part I ended up getting. They had me read all these things and Michael Blakemore said, “Why didn’t we see you before?” and the truth was that they just didn’t think of me before.
NR: You were thinking of quitting?
JH: Yes. I was going to quit the business.
NR: Why? How long were you trying to do this?
JH: I had been doing it for ten years I guess. I worked all the time.
NR: Working at acting, right? Not just waiting tables?
JH: Lord knows I did do that. I always worked but it was always regionally or Off Broadway and I just couldn’t seem to get a break. I just thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore. This is not working.” I literally started dealing with that, and then went to this audition. I think because I cared so little, because it didn’t matter, that I was so relaxed. Every time they threw something at me I said, “Yeah, sure. I can do that.” I had four small, great parts in the show. I understudied Gregg Edelman, Rene Auberjonois, Shawn Elliott, and Ray Xifo. They gave me four understudies. You’re only allowed to do three but since I’d already learned them, Equity left them with me. I took over for Rene for awhile and I went on for Gregg and also for Michael Rupert. That was my big break.