Appearing in Dear Evan Hansen at Arena Stage through August 23, Will Roland is a Brooklyn-based actor whose recent credits include The Black Suits at Center Theatre Group and Barrington Stage Company, The Bus at 59E59, Billy Witch with Studio 42, and The Joe Iconis Christmas Spectacular at 54 Below. He has a special passion for the development of new work, and has brought his unique talents to that process at 2nd Stage, the La Jolla Playhouse, and the New York Musical Theatre Festival, among others. He is a resident artist at Studio 42 and a founding member of Musical Theatre Factory
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
The first show I can recollect seeing was Cats on Broadway. 10-year-old Will who really liked singing in choir bought that cast recording and listened to it non-stop for the next few years. Though the show has since been usurped as my favorite, I still think the score is absolutely inspired. I also remain torn about which cat is my favorite: some days it's Bustopher Jones, others it's Gus, but most days it's Skimbleshanks.
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
I started doing theater in middle school at Friends Academy, in Locust Valley, NY. I was in the ensemble of Once on This Island. I still know all the tenor harmonies in that show. They're really pretty.
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
I think Bat Boy is one of the best musicals ever written (that's a big statement and I stand by it). I go crazy for big, epic stories about weird people doing weird things. That show is a huge, bloody Greek tragedy with a rock score that shows us a bunch of isolated and wacky-but-real people trying to live their strange lives as best they can.
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
I spent a summer working for a not-for-profit choir cold-calling donors. I wouldn't say the job was necessarily bad, but I was really really bad at it. The early humans roamed plains and climbed trees. I gotta move around, I go crazy if I don't.
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
This wasn't really embarrassing for me, but it was awful to endure: I was doing a dramatic play in the round in a very intimate 50-seat theatre. An elderly woman sitting in the first row (because there was no second row) had her phone ring while I was delivering a monologue from three feet away. Her ringtone was "The Entertainer." She let it ring and ring and go to voicemail. Twice.
6) What do you enjoy most about working on Dear Evan Hansen?
Working on new musicals is my absolute number one favorite thing, so that feels like enough right away. The thing that I really love about this show is that you've got quite a lot of people at the top of their fields really firing on all cylinders to tell a current and bold story in innovative ways. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score is subtle and nuanced and filled with color, which really reflects Evan's morally grey decisions in this play. Steven Levenson writes incredibly honest, believable dialogue, and all three of those guys (along with Michael Greif) are using this process to really help the show grow and change.
The designers on this show are also really pushing the envelope with how much their work can move this story along, especially our projection designer, Peter Nigrini. I think people are gonna see something that they haven't really seen before.
And last but certainly not least, this cast is truly an amazing bunch of people. We've been working together on this show for a while, and they are a bunch of incredible smart and open actors who are also, unsurprisingly, really lovely people.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
Probably Julianne Moore. She's really awesome. Every time I see her in anything I'm entirely swept up. Then I watch it a second time and I learn some stuff about acting.
8) What is your dream role/job?
Well, not to sound lame, but making new musicals is my dream job, and I'm doing it right now. But dream role? I've always envisioned a 2026 Broadway revival of 1776 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of this country's birth wherein I could play John Adams.
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
I wanna go back to March of 1996 and see Floyd Collins at Playwrights Horizons. I bet that'd be awesome.
10) What advice would you give to an 8 year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?
To the 8 year-old, keep doing what you like, and work hard at it. Always do what you like, and go see lots of shows. If you do that, you'll be ready to do anything. To the MFA student, try to remember what it is that got you into school in the first place, because the only thing you learned in school was how to do that, but better. And be nice to everybody. Like, literally everybody. It's a small industry filled with wonderful people, and the best thing you can do is make yourself an individual and positive force within it.