New York Vocal Coaching Podcast Ep. 26: Grant MacDermott hero

New York Vocal Coaching Podcast Ep. 26: Grant MacDermott

Posted February 21, 2020 by Greg Kefalas
Grant MacDermott joins us to share his expertise as an actor and teacher! He speaks about his experience on the stage, his process as he works with acting students who audition for universities and performances across the globe, and how to be true to yourself as a performer.
In this episode:
 

Released: 2/21/2020

iTunesSpotifyPodbean

Episode Transcript

Andy
Welcome back to the New York Vocal Coaching Podcast, I'm Andy. Grant MacDermott is an award winning actor, writer and teacher. He began acting professionally at the age of 13 in commercials and live theater, then headed to Boston for college where he immersed himself in the Boston acting industry by performing in commercials, small roles for movies and all kinds of stage work. He helped found My College Audition, a company with the goal of helping students prepare for their auditions for top performing arts programs all across the country. He later moved to New York City and with the help of co-director, Arbender Robinson and NYVC founder Justin Stoney, Grant championed the idea of a place in New York that would be a one-stop shop for all actors' needs, thus New York Acting Coaching was born. Welcome Grant.

Grant
Hi. Thanks for having me.

Andy
Yeah, we're glad you're here.

Grant
Me too.

Andy
Matt sends his apologies, he wished he could be here today, but he's traveling. So-

Grant
That's okay.

Andy
... here we are. So, you are head of New York Acting Coaching, so what does that mean? What do you and, the folks have heard Arbender, but what do you do? What do you offer here?

Grant
We offer all kinds of acting things, which is super vague but-

Andy
That's great.

Grant
... it's... No, it's... What you said in the intro was right, it's a one stop shop. So, anything that you can sort of think of that you need, we will find a way to help you with. But I think the stuff that we offer on a pretty consistent basis is, one-on-one acting coaching, audition prep, a program to help you audition.... To help you prep for auditions that are happening day of or the day before, that's called our Audition Now Program. And then classes of all kinds, audition classes, scene study classes, and we're starting just... Beginning to get into... Getting industry professionals into... For masterclasses and casting directors and things like that, to really immerse people in all aspects of the industry, sort of the artistry and the sort of professional aspect as well.

Andy
So, do you work with mainly folks pursuing professional theater or theater at the college level? Or... On the vocal side, we get lots of amateurs and we get people who just... They do it as a hobby, do you get folks like that very often or?

Grant
Yeah. We do. We definitely get people who just want to... They like theater, they like acting, it's an art that they just want to get better at for their own pleasure. That's a smaller portion of our business, but it's a strong portion nonetheless. And they are more than welcome. They're like, "I like watching Meryl Streep and I wonder if I could get a little better so I can be a little more like her." Absolutely, come on down. Even if you just want to learn about how the industry works because you're curious or why... How come when I watch a movie, a scene really sizzles, what makes that happen? And all that sort of stuff. Or when you watch a play you're like, "Why does my eye gravitate towards that person?" That sort of stuff. So, anyone. We have all kinds of people. More of, I'd say over 50%, is people who are more professional oriented. We have... Everyone runs the gamut and from 17-year-olds to, I think I had a student once who was 75, so...

Andy
That's amazing. That's really cool. So, switching gears very quickly, you were doing industry stuff or acting things when you were fairly young. How did all of that happen for you?

Grant
I was in... Well... So, I grew up right outside of New York City in New Jersey and I had... I caught the acting bug kind of early. And so when I was really young, like 10 or 11, when my parents were like, "What do you want for Christmas?" I said, "An agent." And then-

Andy
How did you know that?

Grant
Just because it's in the air when you're so close to New York City, you just can absorb it.

Andy
I need an agent.

Grant
Yeah. I just knew I needed an agent. And I have been taking acting lessons at this local theater, and then I also did some theater summer camp stuff. And then, I auditioned for this production of Oliver at the Bergen County Players. And I got cast as the Artful Dodger. And who else was in that cast with me years ago but, Rob McClure? Broadway's Rob McClure. And he was signed with someone and invited her to come and see it and they came backstage afterwards and they said "We want to sign you." So, it was pretty cool. And so, I got into that and I kind of did it all through middle school and high school. And then I thought, I would like to further my education because I was sort of learning on the fly, kind of going to auditions and stuff and following my instincts. And then, so I did. So I went to Emerson College in Boston.

Andy
Cool. And you majored in theater?

Grant
Yeah. In theater, in acting performance, so yes.

Andy
Cool. No, that's great.

Grant
But I did musical theater while growing up, which is weird. But, I sort of left that behind when I went to college.

Andy
How long were you in... Because you stayed in Boston, right? After you graduated. How long were you there?

Grant
Four or five years.

Andy
What was that scene like? It's thriving, but it's smaller obviously than New York City. Because I was also in grad school in Boston, so I'm familiar with the scene there and it is quite thriving. But, what was that experience like?

Grant
Thriving but smaller, is accurate. So like my first year graduating, I did six shows in Boston, you can do that sort of thing. I mean, you can do in New York too, but... So, definitely much smaller. The film industry is also much smaller but it's the... If want to get bumped to that sort of professional technicalities, the contracts that they all work under are all smaller, so your living is smaller as well. But, you do work a lot. The pool of applicants is smaller as well, especially for TV/film. And then the theater community is really tight-knit. I mean they... Everyone knows everyone. And there's the super small fringe theaters, and then there's the huge theaters like the Huntington and the A.R.T, which are some of the... Those are the two biggest theaters in the Boston area. And even those artistic directors know the fringe companies and who runs them and probably have worked with them at some point, so... Although it's stratified, everyone knows each other for sure.

Andy
Is that a good thing when people know each other?

Grant
It is, and there's also some drawbacks. So the good thing is that, you can go in and be like, "I'm having an off vocal day." And they can understand. And a bad thing, the sort of drawback is that... When I moved to New York, some people saw it as this huge betrayal. So, it was a... Because you're leaving this family and you're... And so, you kind of like, "No, sorry."

Andy
Yeah. So let's talk about that, why did you decide to move? Because you were kind of threatened. And I know countless people who I went to school with, who live in Boston now who have great careers, but what made you say it's time to move on?

Grant
Well I was... I mean I was teaching, and that was great too. And I wanted to grow that portion of my life as well. And I was teaching with My College Audition at the time. And they had a New York chapter as well. And a major player in New York was leaving, and so I saw that as an opportunity. And then, I also kind of had... I had worked at the Huntington, I'd worked at the A.R.T, I'd worked at with all kinds of people. And so I thought, I've sort of become a bigger fish in a smaller pond. And like I said about the contracts, that professionally, there's only so much economic growth that you can attain as an artist in Boston, which is not a negative or positive, it's just a fact. And so I thought, well, if I really want to make art and teaching my entire life, then New York is probably the place to do it. And it's afforded me the opportunity to open New York Vocal... And with the help of New York Vocal Coaching, open New York Acting Coaching, and to pursue other staff as well, so...

Andy
So what was that experience like? You were kind of used to the scene in New York as a teenager, but then you moved. Was that a culture shock, so to speak, or was it a pretty smooth transition because you'd been here before? Or was it... And it can be in regards to teaching or auditions or acting or anything or...

Grant
Yeah, for sure. It was highly familiar and just different enough where it was a challenge. But, the interesting thing was I... Because I acted here professionally as a kid, and I went into Telsey's office, Bernie Telsey, one of the largest casting, if not the largest casting office in I would say the country, because they're everywhere now. And I went in for this one casting director and he was like, "I remember you." So, I was much smaller and skinnier and... But, he totally remembered me. And not fake... People often described that to artsy people, "Of course I remember you." No, 100% remembered me by my full name, you know what I mean? And some of the things I'd auditioned for.

Andy
That's amazing.

Grant
So anyone listening, casting directors are real people and they have real memories and real feelings and they will... And they use them, just like you. If you remember them, they might remember you too.

Andy
There you go.

Grant
And so, that was nice. That almost made me feel more at ease. But at the same time, this industry changes so rapidly that the people I knew growing up as a kid, half of those offices that closed or someone from that office, moved and opened up their own or... And by the time I moved here, streaming had become a thing. So just, the landscape changed, the bones felt the same but a lot of stuff had shifted. And I had never been a teacher here, which was interesting. And so, that really was interesting to navigate because there are so many opportunities for people to take lessons in New York City, from all kinds of different people. And so, the challenge with the New York Acting Coaching was, okay, how are we going to differentiate ourselves from these people? And we wanted it to be really, like we said it to top, to this one-stop shop.

So all the things that New York offers actors, what if it was literally all in one place? And you could get the information you actually need. Because so many times, you can go to these classes and they're great because they give you maybe a connection to a casting director, but they're not going to be honest with you. And that's unfortunate. You're making this great connection but you're not getting the connection of the teaching that you need underneath to make that connection that you... The professional connection that, really worth it and really work for you. So we were like "We need somewhere where you can do both at the same time." Where you can make your professional life, polished and wonderful. But the... Underneath of the artistry, just as wonderful to support that professional life. So, it was sort of nice to come to New York and realize how oversaturated it was and from that be able to find a niche from that. So, that's the answer to that question.

Andy
No, that's-

Grant
That was the long-winded.

Andy
No, not at all. I think that's important. New York is one of the... It's a beast for anyone who's been here and for anyone who's lived here, it's... And you certainly feel this way, I'm sure to, where it's... It feels equally exciting and overwhelming. When you think of like, there are 500 acting teachers, there are 5,000 singing voice teachers and I'm here, why am I special? What am I going to do? And there's an excitement to it because it's like, Ooh yeah, there's a lot of fish in the pond. But at the same time it's like, who am I to... What makes me? What's my niche? Why would someone be like, "Oh yeah, that's the guy I'm going to go to."?

Grant
Right, you have imposter syndrome sometimes. Who am I? But then, I'll work with someone and something will happen and they'll look at me like, did I just do that? And like, okay, I should be a teacher. If you can get someone to that point, not to cry or whatever, because... I mean that's a breakthrough in of itself, don't discount yourself if you've cried and counted that as a milestone. But, something... Whatever happened beneath the tears, that made those tears happen, to watch someone register that they just achieved that and then look at you and you realize that you facilitated that in them, you didn't give it to them. I always make that very clear to all my students. I'm not teaching you anything you don't already know. But I... I'm here to navigate you through it.

And this weird wonderful maze that is you, that no one has the answers to, I'm here to weave you through with questions and exercises and stuff, and then we're going to find what's at your core. Because what's at your core, is what makes you special and that's why you get the role and that's why you're exciting, et cetera. Whereas other studios, teachers that I've come across in my many years, break you down and then build you up as to this perfect model of what they think is what an actor is. And I just... That's something I fundamentally disagree with.

Andy
Yeah. That's important, and I like that. That's something people also say and in the voice studio it's like, "Oh my gosh, thank you so much for..." It's like, "It's your voice."

Grant
It's your voice, I didn't give it you.

Andy
Our job as teachers, is to almost trim away the fat, so they can really get to the meat of what it is. Because at the end of the day, it's their voice, it's their heart, it's their soul, it's their whatever. And so, I'm just here, you're just here kind of guiding the ship a little bit so they can carve their own little half.

Grant
Absolutely. I think that's important for students to know is that, you already have it. And if you... Because that's empowering. And so much of this business takes your power away. And so, if I can give you that little glowing orb of power that you always keep with you, then I've done my job.

Andy
Because people can't take that away.

Grant
No, they can't. They can try, but they can't.

Andy
Yep, exactly. So, you've mentioned a couple of times kind of college audition prep and, I hadn't heard of that company, but can you tell me a little bit about that? Because you do that here in New York Acting Coaching, as well. And you and I have worked on... Clients will come see voice teachers and then come see you and then come see Arbender and all that stuff. So, what is that experience like for you? Or what do you offer or...

Grant
Well, we try to offer this sort of holistic, I think I'm using that word correctly, I hope so. Don't listen if you're my English teacher.

Andy
Big fan.

Grant
Approach to... Big fan of... So there's the audition itself, and an audition is a strange beast in and of itself. So there's the audition, we teach you about auditions. Then we work on the material. The material is a thing. And then we have to talk about schools. And schools are different thing. So... And that encompasses, what kind of degree? Is it going to be a BA, a BFA? Is it going to be conservatory, city, rural? All those things. So, it's... We go through each one of those spheres with you and really walk you through it, so... And those are all also interconnected, so this school you're looking at, does pre-screen.

Then we have to move over to the audition sphere and talk about auditions and what a pre-screen audition is, and the requirements for that. And then we move to the material sphere and then realize, they want a one-minute cut of your material for the prescreen audition for this school in North Dakota, or wherever. So, we really have to... We kind of are always bouncing around, but we're guiding you. Because it's such a beast, it's so different than when even you and I were auditioning for colleges.

Andy
I was just going to say that.

Grant
It's crazy. And so, I've... I keep up on it, so I know what to do when people are like, "I am very lost." I'm like, "Well don't worry, I'm not." And so, we kind of help you navigate all that stuff. And I always make sure because we're dealing with minors, we make sure to... We always bring the parents in, because it's a family decision where you go and money is always a thing you talk about and the kind of material that you do. Maybe a family doesn't want a student doing a certain kind of thing. We always check and they're like, "No, it's totally great. That's fine." So, we really try to pride ourselves on being abreast of what's current, what's happening, audition trends, trends in schools, schools as they have been ranked, which is not as important to me, but it's good to just be aware of. And then of course, the core is the audition itself and prepping the material for you.

Andy
Yeah. There's a lot of... Because I'm starting to even help juniors in high school. I ask them and they say, "Why do I have to think about this right now?" It's like "I'm telling you right now, let's just start thinking about it a little now, because-

Grant
Just a little.

Andy
Just a little because you're going to come back to me October in a panic because you've got 4,000 requirements. You may as well just start nibbling away." Which I totally understand. When I was a junior in high school, I wouldn't want to think about that crap. That's-

Grant
No, absolutely not.

Andy
And we shouldn't expect that from high schoolers, because it's-

Grant
Towards 16 or 17.

Andy
Yeah. It's a huge decision. And so, I think that's really important. Something that it's not just, Oh, musical theater, so I'm looking at Carnegie Mellon and Boston Conservatory and Michigan and CCM and, we say good luck. And those are amazing programs and they're in the top for a reason, but it's not as simple as just like you said, looking at rankings of school. There's... We have to look at the whole person, even though I wasn't a part of it, my undergrad was at a huge university in Nebraska, and then my grad school was at Boston Conservatory, two totally different experiences. And I know I would have absolutely drowned if I would've gone to Boston Conservatory, when I was 18 years old.

Grant
First year.

Andy
I would've absolutely died. And yet kids now are like, "Oh, I got to here." It's like, "Wait, stop. That's not..." Just... It's, Whoa.

Grant
Yeah. And we talk about that. People say, "Oh, I'm going to go to Carnegie Mellon." And we go like, "Okay well, but why?" "Well, because it's the best." I'm like, "Well yeah, cool, but are you going to fit there?" And that has nothing to do with your talent. Are you going to fit there? And what's also important, and I was just telling a student this the other day, are they going to fit you? You're not auditioning for them only. They're auditioning for you. If you go into the room and they're dismissive and impolite or just don't seem interested in you, why would you want to spend four years of your life there? So, we have to sort of let the kids in on this adult secret of, it's not perfect, and just because you want it doesn't mean it's for you.

And also to realize that there is a shift in power. That you grow up thinking, they are the gatekeepers and they let me in. Sure, but flip it. I mean, when you come down to brass tacks, who's paying for it? Them or you? You. So, you have a huge say on a whole lot of power. So we also really about empowering people when they make decisions, and when it comes to actual decision time, when they're getting those decision letters in, you not getting into NYU doesn't mean that NYU thinks you're bad. It means NYU, who is full of smart people who've been doing this a long time, look at you and go, "As good as you are, we know you're not going to fit here. And that's why, we're not letting you in."

Andy
That's amazing.

Grant
It's not because you're not good. It's, we know that based on our interview with you and your audition, all the stuff you've talked about, our rigid program that doesn't allow for any extracurriculars, is not going to appeal to the someone who loves costume design, and wants to explore playwriting and puppetry.

Andy
Exactly.

Grant
And that's why you didn't get in, it's not because you're not good-

Andy
Or who wants to minor in history, or-

Grant
Exactly, right. Or psychology or a science or a math. You can love all those things and still be a performer. And so that's the stuff that we have to help kids with is, we want you to maintain the core of you. We don't want you to shift who you are to fit a school. That's four years of your life, then you have the rest of your life. We want to make sure that the rest of your life is great.

Andy
Exactly. It's hard to look past that because for anybody, it's hard to look... Have a five year plan. It's like, well, I'm just barely... I feel like I'm just in high school. I'm not thinking about outside of college, whereas we're kind of thinking, just trust me on this, I know you're not going to, but just trust me on this.

Grant
Yeah, for sure.

Andy
That's a... When I was in... So, two comments on kind of something you said there. One of my acting teachers in grad school, a big thing that he would always make sure we knew, and I think I've said this on this podcast is, auditions are just as much of an audition of that company. So people need to remember, you may go to an audition and you can be like, "Gosh, they are kind of jerks." Or like, "They really didn't seem to..." And then he would say, "Why in your brain would you be like, please give me a job?" When it's like, they don't... They're not interested. So, why... He said, "Think about if you're trying to date someone, and they're just on their phone the whole time. You're like, 'Oh, please-'"

Grant
...good date, so you can ignore me some more.

Andy
Yeah, exactly. It's like... But we get so desperate and like you said, you have more power. We think there are only 10 school, 10 colleges in the United States, and the great thing, especially in acting and especially in musical theater is that, there are a hundred amazing colleges now, and we just get stuck on those top five. Again, nothing is those top five because they are amazing schools.

Grant
They are, absolutely.

Andy
But high schoolers get so stuck and then they say, "Well, I didn't get accepted into those, so I suck." It's like, "That's not at all."

Grant
Do yourself a favor, google the people who have won Tony Awards for the past 25 years. Yes, a lot of them will have gone to NYU and Carnegie Mellon. A lot of them also will have not. Does that mean that their Tony Award, weighs less? No. Norbert Leo Butz went to a school that I can't even remember the name of, it is in the middle of nowhere, no one's ever heard of it, that man has two Tony Awards. So, that doesn't mean... Now Tony Awards are not a measure of success or worth, but...

Andy
But still.

Grant
But still, when people are looking at these sort of big idea, career life defining rubrics, like Tony Awards, colleges, when you look at them, there's a whole lot of overlap. But then there's a whole lot of non overlap.

Andy
Exactly.

Grant
And that's the stuff that interests me. So, remember that there are plenty of people who are wildly successful and we can define success in all kinds of ways, but... who are wildly successful, meaning they just get paid for their art and they didn't go to those programs. And their lives are perhaps richer for it, because they went to the right program. I'm glad I went to where I went, because I got an education that's going to last me a lifetime. And there are other people who I know went to schools that they didn't like as much, but they're really good programs, but they weren't very happy there. So, they have a really great degree and that's about it.

Whereas I got an education that I will use forever. And I think that's what we try to make sure that our kids, because they are kids, our kids know when they come in and to just put that into their professional sphere for a little bit too. I was listening to this podcast with Tony Hale and he was talking about getting Veep, no getting Arrested Development because that's when he got first, and he got on set and was filming for about two months and that was his big break. And at the end of those two months he's like "Why am I still empty?" And it's because he hadn't done the work on himself. These big schools, these big roles, they're not going to make you happy. They're not silver bullets. You have to do... You have to have that base, and all of that is going to be icing on the cake.

It's also like, I'll bring back to acting even more because I'm a nerd. Michael Chekhov talks about when he built... When you build a character, there's all this base core stuff you do, and then the very end the last thing you do, he refers to as adornments, and you can think of it like jewelry. That's the last stuff you put on. It's beautiful, but it's the last stuff you put on. If you don't have a good core, the jewelry... You can put a diamond necklace on a potato, it's still a potato. So you've got to do your work first, and then you can have those nice things to sort of complete it. And so-

Andy
Exactly.

Grant
... I just... So, that ideal is at the core of New York Acting Coaching for me, all of what I just said.

Andy
No, that's... It's so important. I know I've said this again on the podcast, but it's that important. This kind of piggybacks on what you're saying. Merri Sugarman, who's a casting director at Tara Rubin, came to do a workshop at... Again, when I was at grad school and they do acting stuff with us and blah, blah, blah, blah blah, but then they kind of talk to us just about life in New York City, and... Her big speech that she gives to college kids, which goes exactly to this is, she said "If you're moving to New York, you need to find your home. You need to find the subway, you need to find your grocery store, you need to find your friends, you need to make sure you're comfortable in the city, because when you go to auditions, you're going to feel like crap probably, and you're going to be exhausted." And if you haven't actually made a home or have your local restaurant or bar or-

Grant
Friends.

Andy
Friends, exactly, she said "It's because the New York thing, is a long-lasting thing. That's how people have careers here." It's not just... Of course, there are people who come here, they have one audition and then they're famous. Fine. But for most people-

Grant
Those are exceptions to the rule.

Andy
Exactly. For most people, they're here making their home here, and grinding in and out day to day. And then when they keep getting, "defeated in their auditions" at least they can say, "Well thank God, I love my home." Or, "I'm going on-"

Grant
Book store.

Andy
Exactly my local things. And this is at the core of kind of who you are as a person because that is what is going to carry you through. It's not the name of the school, it's not that huge acting gig. It's not the pearl earrings, like you said, it's who you are as a person. That's super important.

Grant
Yeah, absolutely. And you also don't fixate on like "Okay, now I have to be the best person possible." You're enough. You're already there. You already did it. You got that role. You booked that.

Andy
You're the best.

Grant
You booked you. So, you got that job and you have it forever. And that reminds me of something I learned my first year of college, where I was trying to get last-minute work study job, and they were all out. And they finally had something opening at the box office, because this wonderful woman named Julie took me under her wing and she... Either she said it or she was reiterating what someone else said to her once, but it was you don't make a career in the theater, you make a life.

Andy
Mm-hmm. Wow.

Grant
And how true that is, of what you just said in New York. You're not... This isn't about your career, it's about your life. And the more you are yourself, the more that stuff, that external stuff, that career stuff, I think you'll see to start accelerate. It's the people who come in and don't want it, who book it. Which is unfortunate because it's... You want it so bad. And I'm not telling you not to want it, and I'm not telling you to try to mask that either, but if you redirect some of that energy to something else and sort of even the scales a little bit, even if you don't get it, it'll feel better. I mean, I was-

Andy
100%.

Grant
... very close to a very big thing last year on Broadway and me and another person, and then the other dude got it. And I just had to... And I was so glad that I had... I mean, yes, my other outlet is writing and that is a whole other kettle of fish. But, vocal performance is a whole... Is geared towards this sort of career thing, there's also this element of practice. And practicing the art, like ballet, you have the barre and it's just where you do your craft and you can be in Swan Lake later, but you do your craft. And so I have writing, and so I went home and I wrote stuff. I don't know if it was good, I don't remember what I wrote, but I had this place to go. And so, you need your place. You just do. I mean, I feel like this is a therapy session.

Andy
No, but... I mean it... Because at the end of the day, doing the arts is very vulnerable and it's so connected to all sorts of things that we have to kind of untangle from our past, from our present and for the future. So it's of course, it's all interchangeable and it's very connected to all that stuff, so it's so important. We have to have you back again. We... You're a busy guy we're busy people, so we have to end it here, but... Gosh, that was such a pleasure. Because like you said, Grant is an award-winning writer. He was in this long-running off Broadway play. He teaches all these other stuff. There's all these other stuff we can talk about, but we just don't have time unfortunately.

Grant
Correct.

Andy
But, thank you so much.

Grant
Thank you. This is great. And I hope we inspired one person.

Andy
I'm going for two, tonight.

Grant
Okay, two.

Andy
All right, awesome. Thank you Grant.

Grant
Thank you.

Andy
All right.

Matt
Thank you for joining us for this episode of the New York Vocal Coaching podcast. If you like what you hear, please subscribe, like, leave a review, and share the podcast with friends and family. And we thank you in advance for that.

If you have questions, comments, or topics that you would like to hear more about, please email us at podcast@newyorkvolocalcoaching.com and we look forward to hearing from you.

You can also find more NYVC content with our Voice Lessons To The World, Quick Singing Tips, and Voice Breakdown series on YouTube. You can also catch us on Instagram and join us on Facebook for our weekly live videos coming to you on Sundays.

We're looking forward to seeing you again two weeks from now for another episode of the New York Vocal Coaching podcast.