BWW Interview: Layne Roate of SCHOOL OF ROCK at Orpheum Theatre
Sometimes paths cross in unexpected ways. When I discovered that the actor playing Ned Schneebly in SCHOOL OF ROCK is a former "Young American" who toured with my kids a few years back, I had to call him to ask a few questions. Like, how did touring with "The Young Americans" prepare him for this national tour? And, what has it been like filling the shoes of the (can I say nerdy?) character Ned Schneebly? SCHOOL OF ROCK will blast onto the stage at the Orpheum Tuesday night, April 23 and run through the 28th. This show has the perfect composition of a chart busting hit: laugh out loud comedy, great music, and incredibly talented kids.
How long were you in "The Young Americans" and what tours did you do? (Note: "he Young Americans" is a nonprofit organization that has been around since 1962. The group was founded by Milton C. Anderson and continues to promote good will around the world through singing, dancing, and musical performance.)
Oh man. I was in "The Young Americans," I think two years? I went to Japan. The first tour I did was a German tour. The second one I think we went all over Europe. We went to Russia for the first time. That was crazy
How did the YA's prepare you for touring?
I think by just traveling around. We were always setting up and doing a show, or an event, or television appearances. I think that kind of prepped me for the business. I learned the guitar. I played bass and I got a couple of solos. So I bought a guitar-I think it was during one of my tours over in Germany-and I learned to play it.
Does your character Ned Scheebly play guitar?
Dewey and I have a song and I do play a little bit of guitar at the end. It's pretty cool. We have really nice guitars, sponsored by Gibson, so we have Les Pauls. They're nice! I also have a little bit in the show where I play some Guitar Hero.
Did your past experience prepare you for working with kids?
Totally. Yeah. Even before this tour with all the kids, I was teaching and directing and doing improv stuff with high schoolers and with kids from age 10 and up. This is kind of the same age. It's been awhile since I've done that. I was living in Ohio as a resident artist working for a theatre that did that. I was well-rehearsed.
These kids are so adult. Some of them are just as mature, if not more mature, than I am. It's ridiculous how smart and wise they are with being only 11 or 12 years old. You look at them off stage and they're playing their Switches or whatever, and I think, "Oh, you guys are kids."
What have you done between then and now?
I worked regionally a ton. I lived in Ohio for several years as a resident artist for a theatre there. I branched out doing other work for different theatres in the area. After that, I worked for a theatre in Kansas and then for a theatre in California. I moved with my girlfriend to New York for only three months. I got this tour. Now here I am!
Why Ohio? Is that where you grew up?
Why Ohio? No, I'm from Illinois, actually. It was just a theatre that I enjoyed working at. I wasn't financially ready to go to New York. I wanted to be able to save up some money because I knew how ridiculously expensive it is there. I really enjoyed the theatre. I enjoyed creating. The directors let me direct. And I got to do Rent and Jesus Christ Superstar. They did awesome shows there.
Who were you in Jesus Christ Superstar?
I was Pilate. He is in three songs. In those three songs is the whole gamut of emotions.
Did you go to school during this time or did you work the whole time?
I worked the whole time. I decided to just go audition. I wanted to be an actor. I lucked out with "The Young Americans" because I got what was like a Presidential scholarship, so I didn't have to take out any loans or end up with any debt. That was the primary reason I went that route. So, I kinda stuck with what I learned. Audition. Find your niche in this business and roll with it.
I was talking with someone from another show and I noticed so many of his touring cast came from cruise ships. He thought that, for him, it was better to just jump out there and do the work rather than study the craft in school. What do you think?
That makes sense. I think it depends on the person. Obviously, you want to learn the business. It's not show art. It's show business. You have to learn the business aspect of it. I've had a lot of buddies working on the cruise lines. I think "The Young Americans" preps you for that because of the style of shows they do. They are variety shows where you have dancers, and singers, and musicians.
How do you relate to your character, Ned Schneebly?
It's always such a funny question to get. Ned is so controlled by his girlfriend. He's controlled by everyone. I guess he's the Type B personality. HIs tendency is to surround himself by these controlling Type A personalities. Dewey, who is a kind of sloppy, not put together person is still very much a Type A personality. So, I guess I would say that Ned and I are both Type B personalities, but Ned is much more so. But, my girlfriend is awesome and not controlling at all!
What positive message can kids get out of this show despite Dewey being such a liar?
I guess it's like The Music Man kind of thing. Harold Hill is a liar the whole time. His name wasn't even Harold Hill. (Funny story, that's how my girlfriend and I met: we played opposite each other in The Music Man in Ohio.)
The kids can get so many good messages from this show. I think the big message is that music speaks to everyone. There's a beautiful song the kids sing to their parents called, "If only you would listen." It's like saying, "Hey, I have all these dreams and these feelings inside." The show says, "Go for it! Don't worry that you'll be held back because this kid at school is smarter than you." I think kids will look at the kids in the show and think, "That's me and my friends," or "That's what's happening to me in my situation." That's what's really cool.
How can we make our school music programs equally as important as football?
Oh man! Umm. By having everyone get involved. It's all the same thing. It's entertainment. This is also a sport. Do you know how many actors there are compared to athletes? It's a hard business. The kids who get into the arts are the ones who normally do well in school. I say, why not? Why not expose your kids to as much art- as much life- as much of the world as humanly possible? Football's cool, but not everybody plays football. I certainly couldn't. I was way too tall and skinny!
What are some of the reactions you get from the audience?
Screams. Screams and laughing. We get, hopefully, a standing ovation at the end because we end with a big concert. They scream your name and the audience yells and claps. It's great! I talked to one of the doormen at the place where I did an interview and he saw the show. He said that he got goosebumps and he's an older guy. There's a whole gamut of emotions in the show.
What do you love about this show the most?
I love being a part of it! I feel so blessed, so fortunate to just be a part of it. I really lucked into it. I knew the movie. I loved the movie. I kind of remembered that it was a musical. The little kid in me who watched the movie is like "Wow! Years later they created this show and I get to be in it!" It's awesome! And the music is by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It's this amazing thing.
Photo credit: Courtesy of SCHOOL OF ROCK and Evan Zimmerman-MurphyMade