Joe Donohoe (DAWN-oh-hoe) is an actor and musician, just off the national tour of RENT. I had such a great time talking to him recently about his life before and after theater, as well as his in-progress album. Now I'm just hoping my new friend will find his way to Seattle one of these weekends to hang out! Check out my interview with this sweet & shy guy after the jump!
Hunk Du Jour: Where did you grow up?
Joe Donohoe: I was born in England. My dad was in the military so we moved all over the place, but ended up in Denver for most of my growing up years. We lived in Lakenheath, England; Pensacola, FL; Fayettville, NC; Dayton, OH; Littleton, CO; then i went to school in Virginia; then moved to LA, and I'm in NYC now! (Plus i toured with the rock opera RENT for several years so i've been all over the US.)
HDJ: We hear a lot about the "army brat" lifestyle, moving from base to base... what was it like for you?
JD: I really digged meeting new people all the time. It gave you new opportunities to assume a different persona, which is especially cool when your a kid. It also prepared me for all the moving i continue to do in my life now. I guess I never really minded all that much.
HDJ: Did you find yourself bouncing around different crowds, or fine-tuning "you" at each stop?
JD: Totally. Figuring out what people like and don't like. It wasn't until recently that i decided that people could just like me for me.
HDJ: I imagine you might have started developing some of those acting chops early, then.
JD: Absolutely. I attribute any acting skill i have to my father's military career.
HDJ: When did you first start getting interested in theater? What sparked that?
JD: I started getting into it in high school, through musicals and plays. My group of friends were all doing it, so i thought I'd give it a shot too. I really liked becoming another person for a while. I never thought I'd ever make money at it... at the time i had every intention of being a journalist. I'm finding as i grow up and begin to focus on my music career that I'm straying further and further from the stage.
HDJ: So you joined because your friends were doing it... the theater interest was almost accidental?
JD: Totally. It seemed so far fetched at the time to make a career at of singing and acting.
HDJ: And yet, when high school was over you weren't headed towards a newsroom. What happened after graduation?
JD: I auditioned for a few schools to see if they thought I was any good and I eventually ended up in a music conservatory... I just recently left with a Bachelors in Fine Arts from Shenaondoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA -- just outside of Washington DC.
HDJ: What was your first day of class like?
JD: Man, i was terrified. I don't have quite the same demeanor as a lot of music and theatre students. I'm pretty reserved and shy. These kids were singing at the top of their lungs and dancing around....I felt pretty intimidated.
HDJ: Shy?!? ...Do you consider yourself an introvert?
JD: Yeah, for the most part. I can open up around the right people and be pretty crazy, but I also love my book and my alone time.
HDJ: A bashful performer is a pretty unique kind of person. Do you think that gives you a leg up on your peers? Or do you see it as something you have to work at overcoming in situations?
JD: Definitely something I have to work at overcoming. It makes me really bad at networking. I just can't get myself to do it and I'm so far from a kiss ass. I can't stand it! I always end up hoping the directors and music execs will be able to see past the introvert in me and give me a chance. Unfortunately, it rarely works like that and I end up digging up one of the silly personas we talked about earlier.
HDJ: Is there a big difference in the kinds of meetings you have as "you" vs. one of the personas?
JD: Definitely. Folks in the industry want to see a really outgoing personality, and you can't blame them. It's hard for them to envision someone reserved as being anything but boring. The sad part is that often if you give the reserved musicians/actors/artists a chance they can be fascinating!
HDJ: Did you study music exclusively in school? Or theater too?
JD: Well, it was a music conservatory so we studied theory alongside the hardcore musicians. I also studied theatre and dance (yikes!)
JD: I just turned red.
HDJ: We HAVE to talk about this. What was that like?
JD: Um....let's just say I'm not the best. My talents lie in music and acting....
HDJ: But surely with your rhythm (from being a musician) and your talent for acting you couldn't have been horrible!
JD: I'm what they call in the theatre a "singer who moves." so no, I'm not terrible. I've had to do my fair share of dancing. In RENT there was a contemporary dance to the song 'Santa Fe.' I had to put my dancing skills to the test!
HDJ: Is being "a singer who moves" something you're at peace with, or do you secretly want to join a modern company during your off-hours?
JD: (Laughing) No way! I'm totally cool with only dancing after 5 or 6 drinks.
HDJ: (Laughing) That's usually how many it takes to get me moving, too.
JD: We're on the same page then.
HDJ: How did you connect with RENT?
JD: I auditioned while I was in school. You wouldn't believe how many people show up for a RENT audition! I was so thrilled [when hired] I dropped out of school to do it.
HDJ: You were hired onto the national tour to play Steve (and others) -- were you on a natural high at each rehearsal leading up to it?
JD: Hell yeah. It was amazing. Mind you, I was about as terrified as I was the first day of college. RENT kids are just as loud. Friendly, but loud!
HDJ: Productions of "Hair" have tribes... is there a name for a bunch of RENT performers?
JD: Not for the RENT performers, but they call the RENT fans RENTheads. They're amazing!
HDJ: Ahh, I think I've heard that before. What amazes you about them the most?
JD: They're just really dedicated to the show. They really care about RENT's message. It's a very positive thing to be involved with.
HDJ: When I was researching for our talk, I ran across a page/blog post with someone saying how nice and great you were.
JD: Really?! that's good news! I know that some RENTheads would get frustrated cause while I always loved signing autographs, I never though anyone wanted mine so i kinda hauled ass out the stage door. (laughing)
HDJ: Shy guy! In addition to being in the ensemble, you also understudied for Mark & Roger. For the less theater-literate, How do understudies work?
JD: I went on whenever the Mark called out. It's a lot of work to be an understudy! Very difficult to do a part you don't get a lot of rehearsal for.
HDJ: So, the "Mark" can just kind of call out whenever he's not feeling up for it?
JD: Anyone in the cast can call out. There are also 5 swings who cover but are off stage. I actually got really sick in your home city and called out for a couple of days.
HDJ: Speaking of... How did you like Seattle? Seattle audiences?
JD: Seattle was without a doubt my favorite city on tour. So much fun, and the audiences were amazing. I think we nearly sold out in Seattle.
HDJ: I know it was packed when I went! Did you go out at all while on tour? Or just head back to the hotel to hide out?
JD: Went all out! You gotta experience the cities you're in!
HDJ: Absolutely -- what do you remember doing in Seattle?
JD: The rock and roll museum...the needle of course. Went to a karaoke bar that look like the inside of an IKEA store.
HDJ: What was your favorite moment in RENT... onstage and off?
JD: Onstage... Seasons of Love is a very special moment for any RENT cast member. Offstage...secret santas! That's a tough one. so many good memories.
HDJ: Secret Santas! Did you get great things? Give great things?
JD: I won $20 on a scratch off LOTTO ticket!
HDJ: Is there a particular fan encounter that comes to mind? Anyone who has proven unforgettable?
JD: Definitely...one fan bought me overalls the night after I mentioned that I didn't have a pair. He rocked!
HDJ: How nice! Do you remember which city? His name?
JD: It was in Tempe, AZ, but I don't remember his name unfortunately. Also Britanee is the president of my meager MySpace fan club! She rocks too.
HDJ: Are you spending your time all in NYC now, or are you split between New York and LA?
JD: I'm residing in NYC, but remaining pretty bi-coastal.
HDJ: What's been going on on the music front?
JD: Some really exciting shit! I'm working with my buddy Casey Mahoney on an entire new album. We've got this sweet imprint with Universal so we have tons of liberty financially and in the recording studio. An entire album is on its way... I'm crazy stoked.
HDJ: That's fantastic!
JD: Yeah, I'm so pumped about it.
HDJ: I saw two tracks available on your web site -- are those from this new album?
JD: Those are the demo versions. We've completely revamped them to be phatter and cooler. Should be releasing the new versions sometime in December.
HDJ: Excellent, I'll watch for them. Are you writing all of your own material, or do you collaborate?
JD: Some is my buddy Casey's, some is mine, and some we're collaborating on. We work pretty well together if i don't say so myself.
HDJ: Is the music world completely different from the theater world?
JD: Yeah, it's even more political. Gotta know all the right people. Fortunately, I'm starting to run into a few of them! However, i think my music has the ability to speak for itself which doesn't hurt either.
HDJ: What influences your choices in creating music?
JD: Well there are certain things you gotta do to appeal to the masses, but mostly it's just having fun, and being real. I'm still perfecting my style.
HDJ: Which artist or artists out there really strike you as being the genuine "real thing"?
JD: Muse, Tori Amos, Dashboard Confessional, Bjork... you're getting their guts directly through your speakers. I love that. it's something I strive for and I'm still working at it.
HDJ: As a self-admitted shy guy... how difficult is it to get that kind of raw connection out there in the hopes of a listener finding the other end of it?
JD: It's extremely difficult. You just hope someone connects with how you're feeling and is drawn to both the lyrics and the music. It's always good to hear from friends and fans that my music has touched someone in some way... even if it's just given them a smile.
HDJ: Will it be difficult to read reviews after putting yourself out there?
JD: Definitely. You put yourself in an incredibly vulnerable position when you let your music be heard.
HDJ: How do your parents feel about your profession?
JD: Like a lot of parents they wanted me to be in a more stable career. But my mom promises that our dog Otto barks whenever he hears one of my songs. Not sure if that's good or not.
HDJ: And is there much room for a personal life right now? A special someone in your life?
JD: I've sorta made the decision to remain ambiguous in regards to things like sexuality and special someones.
HDJ: So -- maybe you do, maybe you don't!
JD: (Laughing) Totally!
HDJ: Well, we try to ask everyone we talk to some wackier questions... I didn't prepare them this time around, so we'll just make them up as we go...
HDJ: What are you wearing?
JD: Flip flops and a ball cap. Weird?
HDJ: ...that's IT?
JD: Hell yeah! NYC is hot and humid and the A/C is too far from the computer.
HDJ: That's what I get for not insisting on in-person interviews! (Laughing) What do you LOVE about New York?
JD: All the diverse people who don't give a shit what you think about them.
HDJ: Do you have any secret spots to go to to disappear?
JD: Not yet. I've only been here a week. I'm still looking.
HDJ: Favorite Olsen Twin?
JD: Yikes. I don't know which is which. Ashley, cause her name is shorter.
HDJ: What's the last song you listened to that is completely embarassing?
JD: My guilty pleasure is Paula Abdul. I jammed to 'Opposites Attract' earlier today.
HDJ: Finally -- what is your favorite insult? (You may need 'em to be a rough-and-tumble new yorker!)
JD: Hmmmm...tough one.
HDJ: (Mine is, "Come on, fattie.")
JD: (Laughing) I like it. My little sis like to say "are you sure you want that" when you're ordering a burger. That's pretty insulting too. "He'll have lettuce and water."
HDJ: Joe... thanks so much for talking with us!