Deaf West’s revival of Shiek and Sater’s Spring Awakening, is one of the hottest revivals on Broadway, and recently swept the Los Angeles Stage Alliance’s Ovation Awards. The entire company was just invited to perform at the White House as part of a celebration of “diversity and inclusion,” honoring Americans with disabilities and the arts.
At the core of the show’s success is the extremely talented cast of both deaf and hearing actors, singers and musicians; over 20 members of the company made their Broadway debut in the show. One of the hearing actors is Sean Grandillo.
While also voicing Otto Lämmermeier, one of the students, Grandillo plays bass in the on-stage band and is their conductor. In addition, he acts and writes his own music. He’s someone that Mariska Hargitay (Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU) described as “brave” in an Instagram post after filming an episode with him. I got the chance to talk to him via email about his start in theater, and about Spring Awakening.
Angela Tricarico: Where are you from? Did you have easy access to Broadway as a kid?
Sean Grandillo: I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, and while there is actually a tremendous theater scene there, I wasn’t really a ‘theater kid’ by any means. The first professional show I saw was the touring production of Spring Awakening, actually, when I was about 16, and I didn’t perform in my first production until I was 17.
AT: I know that Spring Awakening is your Broadway debut, but have your past theater experiences prepared you for this at all? Was Broadway always a goal for you?
SG: I sort of started answering this in the last question, but prior to theater I was in rock bands around the Cleveland area, and I played basketball. However, I started going to acting school for half the day my junior year of high school, and once I started performing in the theater at 17, I was hooked. Of course I dreamed of being on Broadway, like I think many kids in theater do, but it seemed like such a crazy, lofty goal. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be here!
AT: What was the auditioning process for Spring Awakening like, and when did you join the production?
SG: I actually auditioned via YouTube videos that I submitted from my house in Ohio over the summer, in 2014.
This was prior to the original downtown Los Angeles production. I got the gig after sending a few tapes of singing, acting, and playing bass, and had to move to Los Angeles (where I knew no one and had never been before!) within two weeks. Crazy! But again, I’m so happy I did!
AT: Did you play the bass or conduct prior to being cast? What about American Sign Language; did you have any experience or did you learn for the show?
SG: I had played the bass in school orchestra since fourth grade. I consider it such an awesome, fateful thing that they needed someone to play bass and I happened to have that skill. I knew absolutely zero ASL, and had actually never even met a deaf person before I started the show. Learning through immersion with my incredible cast mates has been such an unexpected gift.
AT: What was the process like for you and Miles Barbee, specifically, to create what the viewers see as Otto?
SG: I really see the hearing actors’ jobs in this production as honoring what the deaf actor does. While it is definitely collaborative, too, they are truly the face and body of the character, while we (the hearing cast) get the awesome and challenging job of seeing what choices they make and translating them from their beautiful language to our own. Also, getting to share music with the deaf cast members has been so powerful and moving, and to watch them learn about that as we simultaneously learn about sign… It’s just a beautiful give and take.
AT: What have you learned from working with Deaf West Theater, and if the opportunity presented itself, would you work with them again?
SG: I’ve learned that art truly does break barriers. An entire culture that I had zero exposure to, much less any place in, is now accessible to me. I’m proud to be a part of a company that embodies what I think of as meaningful work. I couldn’t have asked for a more special show to make my Broadway debut in. I’d be thrilled to work with Deaf West again in the future.
AT: I’ve noticed you do solo music also. Do you have any plans for the future with your music?
SG: Yes! Thanks for checking out my music. I’m sort of always writing, and hoping that the show and the other projects I’m doing will sort of give me a platform to be able to continue releasing music to a wider audience. I’d love to put out a full length album next year, and play some shows with a band in NYC or LA, depending where the work takes me!
Spring Awakening is running at the Brooks Atkinson Theater until January 24, 2016. You can find Sean’s music on both Spotify and iTunes. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @seangrandillo.