Meet Jacob Tischler as Tony Manero.
Jacob Tischler plays Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. We caught up with him between rehearsals.
I grew up in the circus. Circus Smirkus is America’s only traveling youth circus, featuring kids ages 10-18 in a completely professional tented spectacle. “In the ring”, as it were, I was featured as a clown, juggler, and novice acrobat. To this day, I cherish the respect and unity of this idiosyncratic and loving community and hope to bring a little Smirkus mentality to every job I undertake.
Traditionally speaking, I grew up in St. George, Vermont, which is a far cry from the grit of 1970s Brooklyn. There are many more cows, barns, and fields, but the same number of Bernie Sanders. The foundation of my arts education comes from the fantastic public school teachers at Champlain Valley High School, who continue to inspire me well into my professional career: My acting teacher, Robin Fawcett, is still willing to give me notes on new plays I’ve written. My chorus teacher, Carl Recchia, played piano for a musical I wrote in college and is featured on my new album, The January Project (on Spotify!).
And of course, my family: Marc, Sarah, and my brother Ethan (only 13 months younger than me!). Together, we enjoyed the many oddities of taking care of llamas, chickens, horses, ducks, turkeys, rats, mice, fish, dogs, and one very stinky cat. I miss my old address but am happy to call Westchester Broadway Theatre home for the next several months.
There’s nothing unique about my story. At an early age, I recognized that socializing was difficult for me. So I turned to a place where I could express myself without needing to apologize. Young people are smarter than we’d like them to be; 6th grade Jacob knew that navigating a birthday party was a lot more difficult than singing in harmony in a group of like-minded people.
The first time I really “acted” was as Harold Hill in my 8th grade production of The Music Man. I remember acquiring a sense of spontaneity rather than simply planning and executing my youthful version of reality. I thank that particular director, Charlotte Munson, for introducing me to theater-vocab like “objectives”, “goals”, and “obstacles”.
Circus Smirkus provided abundant opportunities for growth, improvisation, and honing my personal style. For seven weeks every summer, I immersed myself in a performance-based education, playing to sold out houses of 800 people twice a day, 5 times a week. Troy Wunderle, a cast member and the artistic director of the show, was my primary mentor here. He truly captured the essence of “The Show Must Go On.” This is a man who has never missed a show in his life, despite performing while temporarily blind in one eye, with a broken neck, or with two broken ribs. Some call that reckless. I say it’s inspired.
I first heard of the musical Saturday Night Fever when I auditioned for it on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Prior to that, I was unaware of most musicals, having just sunk into the madness of one’s first year as a resident of New York City.
I have never worked at WBT, but I was lucky enough to attend WBT’s production of Cats back in 2002. Not intending to date our esteemed director, Richard Stafford, but he set this particular show, and I can only call myself fortunate that our paths should cross 14 years later.
I vaguely knew of the movie prior to auditioning for the show and watched it in preparation. What I encountered was a vibrant collage of 1970s society, but I didn’t truly understand the impact it had on its original audience. My mom was part of this audience and related her experience of seeing racial diversity, feminist themes, and the pure awesomeness of dance in a mainstream format for the first time.
I have difficulty thinking of any movie that’s had the same influence on my own generation. Ask my cast-mate, Chris Collins-Pisano. He’s a movie buff.
I haven’t done the show before or worked at WBT. Tony Manero, however, is my first lead role as a member of Actor’s Equity, a huge milestone for my career.
I have a handful of shows that I will always love: Sweeney Todd first and foremost, followed by Ragtime, The Scottsboro Boys, Little Shop of Horrors, and a relatively unknown but heartfelt new work, Dani Girl, by Chris Dimond and Michael Kooman. Check them out if you know what’s good for you.
Also, Forever Plaid, a certified silly musical. To me, it’s magnificently delightful, and I’d love to find my way back into those close harmonies someday.
When I’m not onstage, I’m either writing or fly-fishing. Unfortunately, I live in New York City, where opportunities to drop a line in the water are a little scarce. This means I do a lot more writing these days. A couple big projects are looming on the horizon that I can’t talk about. What I can talk about is the pleasure I had of working with several Broadway/TV actors on mini-musicals, including Sandy and Inexperienced Love, both of which can be found on YouTube!
Everything you’ll ever need is on my iPod. They are as follows: Alabama Shakes, Jeff Buckley, The Decemberists, Martin Sexton, Anais Mitchell’s “Hadestown”, Jacob and Ethan Tischler’s “The January Project”, available for purchase on iTunes.
Podcasts: these are the best things. Do you know what these are? They’re the best. Radiolab, Reply All, Stuff You Should Know, The Tobolowsky Files, The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”