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Dec. 3, 2020

No Plan "B" with Christian Thompson

No Plan "B" with Christian Thompson

Broadway sensation, Christian Thompson, shares his thoughts on his career in musical theatre, pivoting and diversifying during the pandemic, and living outrageously. Learn more about his perspective as we discuss:

  • his "no plan B" attitude
  • outrageous parental support
  • honest thoughts on how Broadway performers will feel when theatre resumes
  • Christian's new work highlighting his biracial experience

Guest Biography
Christian Thompson is an actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, director, emerging writer, but most importantly a creator. Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, FL, he had the outrageous idea to become a professional actor at 8 years old. He began performing professional hip-hop gigs by the age of 9. After receiving multiple musical theatre awards and scholarships, he went on to earn a full ride to Penn State University Musical Theatre BFA program. While at PSU, he originated the role of DeAndre in "Blood At The Root". The show would travel the globe and win awards on 4 different continents. Christian built an impressive resume, including regional theatre work,  cruise ship entertainment, the 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT, and finally, his current role as Smokey Robinson in  Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations on Broadway.


Connect with Christian:

Episode References

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Lady Grey is an award-winning international entertainer and educator. She has been at the helm of numerous performing arts organizations and has performed everywhere from Broadway to the Sydney Olympics. She currently serves as Artistic Director of Lady Grey's Lovelies and continues to work as a mentor and empowerment coach.

Connect with Lady Grey

Transcript

Christian:

Because as a creator, your only job is to create right at the end of the day your audience is going to react however, they're going to react. You can't control that. But what you can control is whether or not you're putting pen to paper or you're moving.

Lady Grey:

Hello, you lovely humans. Welcome to the live outrageously with Lady gray podcast. I'm your hostess lady gray. And I have had the great honor to interview a number of super inspiring world changers about how they live outrageously. So we're going to share about how they push boundaries. They fight for change, and how they seriously shake up the status quo. Friends, I am so excited to welcome Christian Thompson to the show. He is currently playing Smokey Robinson on Broadway, and ain't too proud. The Life and Times of the temptations. He is an actor, a singer, a dancer, a choreographer, director, emerging writer, but most importantly, an outrageous creator. Welcome, welcome. Welcome Cristian.

Christian:

Thanks so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here.

Lady Grey:

It's so great to talk to you again. So let's talk about the fact you've had this really kind of outrageous journey already. You're quite young, and a lot of us know you for your work on Broadway. But I wanted to kind of give you the opportunity to kick things off by sharing what you would kind of consider your other career highlights or things that have happened in your life, that you're really, really proud of

Christian:

Sure. I'm really humbled by my journey so far, I think is the best way I would put it. I guess the highlight clip for me right would be starting at eight years old and deciding that I was going to be an actor, right. And everything after that was, it became a practical thing. So it wasn't so much of a dream, which is always interesting to talk to people about. So that was the first highlight was this eight, nine year old kid going, I'm going to be an actor, not I hope one day I'll be I'm going to be an actor, that weirdo. So did that I think the next highlight would be being a part of the Jimmy awards. National High School Musical Theater awards, I think is the acronym, but they're known as the Jimmy's. So I was fortunate enough to win. Basically, the award for Best Male Actor in the state of Florida High School male actor went to New York to compete with actors from all over the country. So I got to do that. And I met some of the most amazing people and got to perform on my first Broadway stage at the Minskoff for one night only. And that was an incredible journey. Right after that, the next highlight is definitely going to Penn State and the full ride to go to Penn State to study musical theater where I met some brilliant people, and just had a great time learning and kind of honing the craft. Right after that. I mean, it was kind of bing bang, boom, after that, I jumped on a cruise ship for five and a half months. And not too much time later, I joined the 20th anniversary cast of rent. And we got to go all over the country and got to go to Japan for a month. So to be able to do that show. And to do it as Benny and understudy Roger to be one of the few professional black Rogers ever in the history was really big for me.

Lady Grey:

Amazing,

Christian:

pretty soon after that was ain't too proud. And I think somewhere in there was also a show called blood at the root, which I'm super proud of. So the first script that got published that has my name in it for original cast, which is unreal. And, but that was a brilliant, brilliant show that I was so fortunate to be a part of the creation of while I was at Penn State. So that's quite a long list of things that have happened just in a very short amount of time.

Lady Grey:

I'm really curious about your decision to become an actor. So you said that when you were super young, you just knew that you wanted to be an actor. Did you have any kind of plan B? Or was that it?

Christian:

no plan B? No, no plan B, that was never kind of a thing for me. And I credit it a lot to my mom, who is the original outrageous thinker of the family, because she had this child and was living in an apartment and it was getting ready to move and made sure that she moved to a house that was in the same district as the arts elementary school. So it was a part of the magnet program down here in South Florida, where each school has a different discipline. And you can bust kids in for that discipline. But a lot of times you have to audition or you know there's different reasons why sometimes you can't go to that school, but she made sure that The arts were going to be important in my life in some way. Did she know this was gonna happen? Absolutely not. But she, she knew how important the arts were it was instilled in her by her mother. And so that's, that's really where it started. And I think because of that, I always thought it was possible, it was never not a possibility. Because even at in first grade, and second grade, I was learning all of the disciplines, I was going to dance, I was going to band. And then in third grade, which is around the time, I decided I wanted to be an actor, they make you pick a major and a minor. So you stop doing all of the disciplines. And you, you major in one discipline, a new minor in another and I picked acting and in strings, where I played the viola, an acting program actually got cut later that year. And so Viola became my major and technical theater became a minor, but we still did shows, and it was between that and a production of cats that I saw, which is why I'm still a cat person to this day, between my initials being cat and cats being the first professional show I've seen, you know, I'm kind of stuck on the cat train. But between those two things, it just felt right. And it felt, again, practical. I think that was the crazy part about it.

Lady Grey:

A lot of people would see that as very outrageous. You always hear of parents who say, what's your backup plan going to be? What are you going to do if Broadway doesn't work out or theater just isn't a reality? And so it strikes me as being kind of outrageous to go out there, and outrageous on your mom's part to let you pursue your career that way.

Christian:

Of course, if I had known my mother, as a friend of hers at the time, I probably would have questioned some of her choices. It was so funny because I was doing Viola. And we started to go to concerts, specifically Dave Matthews Band concerts, because you wanted to show me that you could play strings in a different way. And she told me later, it wasn't that she thought, Oh, I was going to be a professional Viola player, you know, pick up the violin finally and do that. She was just like, it's just going to open so many doors for you, it's going to open what your brain can do for you. And that's really the way she came at it. And I came at it with this idea of like, this is what I'm gonna do. I don't understand how she had the courage to trust in me, I feel like this child, but she trusted that, you know, if this is the journey I was to go on. She would be by my side and has been up until she was my date for opening night on Broadway.

Lady Grey:

That's amazing. That's amazing. Well, it sounds like you have a really special Mom, I look forward to meeting her someday.

Christian:

Absolutely.

Lady Grey:

And also, as a side note, huge Dave fan. All right. So but that's a conversation for another day. Or another day. Right? Okay, so let's talk about right now. It's a weird time. Obviously, the pandemic has totally changed performance life and New York and all of that. I would love to know, how do you think Broadway is going to look and feel changed? When I'm saying when not if but when we go back?

Christian:

Right now, of course when? Absolutely. When? That's definitely not a question. Yeah, I think it's gonna be really different. I think it's going to take some time to get used to. But while I say that, I was fortunate enough to be up in New York this past weekend. I can say this now because they announced it to film with the into proud cast for the special on NBC called one night only. So yeah, thank you so much. Tina Fey is hosting and it's, it's going to be a great time, we got to see kind of a glimpse of, you know, what is this COVID life look like, and it's a lot less touchy feely than it was before. You know, there aren't a lot of hugs and things like that happening. But the chemistry hasn't changed at all, you know, the love that I have for these people and the love I have for what we do hasn't changed and if anything, it's grown. So I think we're gonna see, you know, there's gonna be some hesitation, and there's gonna be some growing pains as far as we've now we've got to get tested, temperature checks and whatnot, or, like when we're in rehearsal, we've got to stay six feet away, and all of those little things that are gonna kind of be a nuisance, but I think what we're gonna see is just an outpouring of love and support that goes back and forth from the people on stage to the people out in the audience of just having this national treasure back of having this art form back. I think it's, it's if you look through history, you know, the American musical theatre, art form has just it's always been at the center of what we do as Americans and how we communicate with each other and how we express ourselves. And to not have that right now, I think is really trying. So I think to have that back is going to just be a really special moment.

Lady Grey:

So in terms of this idea of a plan B, has it changed your perspective on that? Have you had to figure out other ways to be creative or come up with new projects? Or take a side gig or? Right?

Christian:

Sure, that's a fantastic question. And a question I think everybody has kind of tackled right in this moment. But the key word that I keep hearing from myself and from my colleagues is pivot, right, it's not so much of a plan B, but it's inhibiting and diversifying what it means to create. So for me, I've started writing, it's my big, outrageous moment of 2020, is I finally sat down at my computer and decided to write some shows and write, I've got a couple TV and movie ideas that are finally coming out as well. So not just age, but that I would not have had that without Corona. Truthfully, because one of the biggest excuses I always gave myself was I just don't have the time. And Corona said, All right, I'll give you all the time you need. So I started writing, and I've sent out some of my scripts, and I've gotten a great response. And all of a sudden, I'm looking in the mirror and I'm going, Hey, you might not suck at this. You know, no, but it was one of those things where that is such a big worry, you've got the imposter syndrome, you know, where people are just gonna call you out. You know, but you never know until you do it. Or you never know what the reaction is going to be. And truthfully, you shouldn't worry about it. Because as a creator, your only job is to create, right at the end of the day, your audience is going to react however they're going to react, you can't control that. But what you can control is whether or not you're putting pen to paper or you're moving. So I'm doing that every once in a while, you know, still releasing some freestyle dance videos. I've got a couple of choreographed dance videos that are on kind of the docket. But that's been the big thing for me is pivoting and understanding that you've got to diversify. It can't just be one mode of expression. Because God forbid anything happens. You can't lose that expression. You as the artistic person use the creative person. You need that outlet. I think at the beginning of COVID, I was going crazy, because I didn't have it. That's kind of been it for me. So not a plan B, there are some people that have said, thank you so much theater, this is my bow. That is not where I'm at.

Lady Grey:

Well, that is really fantastic to hear. Because I think a lot of I think a lot of people are asking themselves this question like, Okay, I've got to completely give up what I've been doing in the past, that your comment about pivoting and diversifying, I think is just brilliant. I think that's the key here, especially for artists who absolutely, generally artists are naturally multifaceted. I love that you're working on new projects, and I'm excited to hear about them. Are you dancing? How are you staying in shape for returning to Broadway?

Christian:

Well, I'm glad you've asked me today. Because today I get to sit here and tell you I actually just came from the gym. So there you go. And no, truthfully, towards the beginning of Corona, I wasn't leaving my house, my apartment in New York, they had shut down the gym within the building as well. And so for a while I didn't do anything, which has been tough, actually, because then I gained a substantial amount of weight that has really kind of affected my confidence and self image. And you know, all of those things. Recently, I have decided to kind of get back on the horse. I've enlisted the help of my friends over at built for the stage, which is a fitness regimen and plan and whatnot that caters towards performers. And so I'm now working with them to kind of get back in shape. And the big goal, you know, they ask you what's your goal. And so it was twofold. It was to regain confidence. And then it was to get ready for the show. Because even if it's six months out, I spent six months doing nothing. So I need at least six months to to get something back. You know, you got to at least do the same amount of time getting active. It's been a journey. I think this almost a year now has been a full journey.

Lady Grey:

I know for me, there are people that are inspiring to me or mentors or people I check in with. Is there anything like that that you're doing to stay motivated?

Christian:

Actually, I'm doing the opposite which I hate to be contrary, but I'm actually trying to stay away from looking at or towards people. Because I feel like that's when I start to compare myself, which is, I guess, my own psyche and thing. But yeah, for me, it's like, Okay, I need to stop scrolling Instagram, I need to stop looking at my friends that have lost 20 pounds, you know, I was one of my cast mates while we were filming was like, Yeah, man couldn't keep no weight on. So I lost like 20 pounds. I was like, how dare you, sir. You know, but for him that was just as affecting to him as me gaining 20 pounds. And I think that was the big thing that I learned in that moment. There was because a lot of it was, you know, muscle or whatever that he had lost. And that was really devastating. So I think that was the big lesson was to kind of stop comparing, because no two people are alike. So that's, that's really it for me is not so much looking towards people, but kind of looking inward self image wise, are you confident again, are you do you feel like you can do certain things? You know, I mean, for a while there, I couldn't do 10 push ups. I mean, it was a guy breath. So it's okay, we're, you know, we're on the upswing. It's a journey, and it always is going to be journey. So hopefully I'm on the up.

Lady Grey:

I think I already know the answer to this question. But it may have changed since you and I last sat down and had a cup of coffee. So I'm curious what you think that your dream role or your dream show is?

Christian:

Fascinating. What did I say last

Lady Grey:

you said Hadestown

Christian:

Ah, that's right. I did I know because I had just seen it. And it still is just one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen. No, I think and I always grimace every time I answer this question, because it at first glance, sounds very cliche. But my dream role in my dream show right now is definitely Hamilton in Hamilton, which took a long time to get to Quick, quick backstory. Before I graduated from Penn State, they were transferring from the Public to Broadway. And I went in and auditioned and got all the way through to final callbacks for the original Broadway cast, and then didn't get it, which was just heartbreaking. But that was the first of many heartbreaking close calls with Hamilton. I've been in for them well over I think 30 times now. So it's one of those things, and everybody that meets me, everybody that knows me, you know, it's just it's a matter of, not if but when, for the longest time, I was looking at roles like bur, I was looking at roles, like Jefferson Lafayette, but it wasn't until I got to see it. I think for the second time when I was working merch at Hamilton, which I can unpack later, you want to talk about pivoting, I saw one of the Hamilton's that was probably one of the best actors that I've ever seen. And I realized just how brilliant that role is, and just how specific it is to my personage. And my experience, his big metaphor is about being in the eye of a hurricane, I've actually stood in the middle of the eye of a hurricane before because I live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. So I know exactly what that looks like and what he's talking about, in that moment, talking about writing, like you're running out of time, that's the new one for me. But I've got four or five projects that I've already completed. So from that, to his love of hip hop, and use of hip hop, the idea of wanting to show people what you're made of, and to make your parents proud, you know, is one of his big things. So it's one of those things where I'm not an orphan, of course, still have my mother, but I always want to make her proud. A lot of it has to do with making her proud. So all of those little things. And I mean, I can go through the whole show, to the point where it's scary to the point where I went, Oh, I've been looking at the wrong role. And truthfully, I think in casting has also been looking at me for the wrong role. I think they see Lawrence, you know, like his son, or, you know, maybe Jefferson because I've got the afro going on, you know, me and I've either, you know, low effort buddies. But I think as soon as we both come to the conclusion that maybe I should be seen for Hamilton, I think things may fall into place.

Lady Grey:

That's amazing. I feel like that's a confidence thing too, for you coming into an understanding of your ability to carry a show like that, as well.

Christian:

Absolutely. I think that was one of the biggest reasons why I never put Hamilton in that conversation and I didn't really realize it until I got on Broadway until I realized that I was holding myself back from teachable character. Because I was nervous that I wasn't worthy of that. So I'm slowly trying to shed that.

Lady Grey:

Yeah. And it's dreaming big. It's being outrageous with your dreams too. And this part of the reason that I started this podcast in the first place, is to to promote the idea that it's okay to dream these sort of enormous dreams and have a passion and to aim for something that maybe people have told you is out of your reach or your own mind set has told you that it's out of your reach, but we we spend so much time you know, with these negative stories that we tell ourselves, and especially performers are, oh my gosh, we're the worst at

Christian:

Oh, yeah,

Lady Grey:

self deprecating comments, you know, and yeah, and perfectionism, right? I think the idea of dreaming bigger, and outside the box of what everybody else has told you as possible is part of the reason for this podcast.

Christian:

Absolutely. And it's why I was so excited to get on this. But part of my thing, I think, is not only people telling you what you can or can't do, but I think it's also the silence. For the longest time, I looked at really successful people. And I looked at the people around them, the people around them usually are telling them yes, you can do that. Yes, you. But it was because they got to a place where people finally got on board. But at some point, almost every brilliant person in the spotlight, had to say, No, I'm going to do this. And you can either come with me or you can watch me from the sidelines. But for me, that was a big thing wasn't so much people telling me I couldn't do it. There's no one told me that I could write no one was like, Hey, you can if you want to write a script, go write a script, you know, so it's waiting for permission to live outrageously. And you can miss some of the greatest moments when you're waiting for permission to be great. You don't need permission, you've got enough because you already are.

Lady Grey:

that was your sound bite just to be clear. There it is. So if you were gonna dream, obviously, we just talked about Hamilton, right? Like, that's a fantastic thing to dream about. You've written some of these scripts, and you're talking about shows and everything. So let's say that I gave you unlimited resources and time money, people all of that. What would you do? What would be the first thing that you'd do

Christian:

I would do it all Ah, see, now we're not being outrageous now. The outrageousness? No, that's okay, that's like, well, we'll play the game though. I think the first thing I would do truthfully, is produce one of the latest scripts that I'm working on right now. It's a musical with another Penn Stater Maria wearies. We're collaborating on it. And it's really important to us. It's tackling culture and being biracial, and what culture and history means to biracial people. So that is something I'm very excited about and has a good head of steam already. It does mean so much to me. And I think is going to be really important. And you know, and I just want as many people as possible to see it. But yeah, if I was being really outrageous, I would do that I'd finally have an album and I had finally make my own podcast, all those things would also happen.

Lady Grey:

I love that you're writing from your experience, too. I think that is so key right now, in the dialogue culturally in our society. And I think we're at the beginning, I feel like we're just at the beginning of musical theater, being this beautiful vessel for the messages that need to get through. So I love that that's your outrageous dream, right? And the job writing this and putting your heart and your story into it that really is meaningful. I know a lot of other people share the same hope that we will be able to dialogue and gain ground if we can use the arts to do that. No more power to everyone.

Christian:

Absolutely. So thank you for saying that. First off, that means a lot. Right now all I know how to do is write from my experience, at least partially. And I think it's been my mission statement for for quite some time now to highlight biracial stories, and specifically for me mixed of white and black cultures are super, super important to me, because I think it's a large and growing population that doesn't often get the spotlight. I think we get used in a way, right i think oh, you know, beautiful babies. Or, oh my gosh, this makes person so you know, beautiful and talented. But do you know their story? Like how many of those stories have you actually seen, not many, you've kind of just fantasize them and moved on. So it's really been important to me to start to create a space. And I know there are other artists out there doing it as well, to create a space for these stories. But when you're truly almost polar opposite cultures, I think it's a superpower. And I love it. And I wouldn't trade it for the world. I just want everyone else to know how special it is, as well.

Lady Grey:

And thank you for sharing that. Because I know it's a place of vulnerability, and it's a hard dialogue to have in our society right now. It's really difficult. So thank you for sharing that. I would like to make this moment the time for Christian's Outrageous Advice. So put on your thinking cap.

Christian:

Okay. All right.

Lady Grey:

We're looking for practical everyday advice. Okay. Well, maybe you do things outrageously, and or how people who are listening to this can do something outrageous, infuse that into their daily life.

Christian:

if we're going to be outrageous daily, I think the first step for me is doing all the things I give myself excuses not to do. So sometimes that can be going to the gym. I think sometimes that can also be watching a foreign film. That in itself is outrageous, but we don't really think of it that way. Can you get past your own bias, to watch a different culture and read subtitles, because that story is important. Or try that new recipe that you weren't going to do, because it's going to take 30 extra minutes. And I really need to get food on the table. But those little things all of a sudden start to unlock just what's possible. All of a sudden, Oh, those 30 minutes actually went really quick. And my kid helped. And they really liked it. All of a sudden, you got a chef on your hands and you didn't even know it. You know, the the butterfly effect of those small things where you don't let yourself off the hook is just amazing. But there's a balance between giving grace and continuing to challenge yourself. And that's the balance that I think is fun to figure out. And I think that's that, you know that equation equals living outrageously daily.

Lady Grey:

That is such fantastic advice. And I think I think the other thing you know, you were talking about taking care of yourself as well. But for some people, that's the outrageous thing. And absolutely, yes, we put our self care and our own wellness after everybody else or after taking 15 minutes for yourself, right? To read that book that's been collecting dust on the shelf, because it's just what you want. to do. Nothing. Nothing.

Christian:

You know, watch 90 day fiance. It's okay. Right? It's okay. I mean, I'm not saying I'm not okay. Yeah. That's all right. Here we here we are.

Lady Grey:

Let's do one more. kind of fun question here. Let's see, before we wrap up, okay. Obviously, you probably have some fans, I want to know about your most outrageous fan or supporter. And if you want to, you can totally give them a shout out on here. That's fantastic.

Christian:

I think the first one that I will shout out I will shout out our fans, Sarah. She knows who she is, has actually been a fan of mine and turns out to be a good friend of mine now, since rent. So from rent days, and then to ain't too proud and she is now the biggest ain't too proud fan. Second, I have to shout out all of the Japanese audiences when I was with rent, specifically those that came to the New Year's Eve show. So we did a show and it was New Year's Eve. And if you know the show and act two, there's a moment where they go 543 opensesame Happy New Year. And we timed it. We started the show so that that would hit on the new year. And sure enough, we we got it right on the money. And that was brilliant. But it was also our last show in Japan. We had we always had like a little line outside for Stage Door afterwards, which was beautiful. The line was so long, it took us close to two hours to get through. Because it literally wrapped through the building. And it's customary to give gifts in this situation. And they did. Some of them had come before and had printed out the picture that they took the first time they came on like a thank you note. I have someone give me a hand towel which is which is big in the Japanese culture with Benny written in Japanese Gosh, like just just the most thoughtful things are just people that sat there for, you know, two hours while they were waiting for their favorite characters to come through, just to say thank you. They weren't really not a lot of them were looking for pictures. They sat there and said, Thank you. And so for me, that is the most outrageous fandom I have ever been a part of. Amazing. So I that's the shout out I've got to give.

Lady Grey:

Let's say that you have some new fans from this experience and new people that want to connect with you. How can they find you?

Christian:

The best way is Instagram. So @christianthompsonactor is the biggest way. you can also check in on the show ainttooproudmusical.com to see when we get that date for when we come back. And you know, definitely catch us on NBC for one night only on December 10, I believe where you know, you might be able to see a familiar face, watch my Instagram space. There's some cool things coming.

Lady Grey:

Christian, thank you so much. This has been such a joy to reconnect with you.

Christian:

This has been a the biggest honor for me. And I'm just so glad to be here and to be talking to you again.

Lady Grey:

Well, you are always welcome anytime you want to come back on the show. Thank you so much. And thank you for teaching us to live a little more outrageously. Well, outrageous friends. It has been my honor and my pleasure to have you here today. I hope that you took away some outrageous ideas for your own life. If you enjoyed yourself, make sure that you are subscribed to live outrageously with Lady gray on whatever your podcast app is. You can also connect with me personally on facebook facebook.com/outrageousladygrey or on Instagram at lady.grey. Also be sure to check out our podcast website at www.liveoutrageously.com. Once again, this is Lady Grey encouraging you to go out and live outrageously.

Christian Thompson

Broadway Performer

Christian Thompson is an actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, director, emerging writer, but most importantly a creator. Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, FL, he had the outrageous idea to become a professional actor at 8 years old. He began performing professional hip-hop gigs by the age of 9. After receiving multiple musical theatre awards and scholarships, he went on to earn a full ride to Penn State University Musical Theatre BFA program. While at PSU, he originated the role of DeAndre in "Blood At The Root". The show would travel the globe and win awards on 4 different continents. Christian built an impressive resume, including regional theatre work, cruise ship entertainment, the 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT, and finally, his current role as Smokey Robinson in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations on Broadway.