If you like to laugh, get yourself to the unrelentingly hilarious The Play That Goes Wrong Off-Broadway forthwith. A ticket to the hit show comes with a high dosage of medicinal grade laughter, much of it courtesy of its current cast including LGBTQ+ actors Trevor Braun, Clyde Voce, and Kolby Kindle who recently spoke with The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann.
Co-written by Mischief company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, The Play That Goes Wrong introduces us to members of the fictional British Cornley University Drama Society as they attempt to put on a 1920s murder mystery, The Murder at Haversham Manor. The group features model-turned-actor Jonathan (Voce), Perkins (Braun), whose only previous stage credit is his primary school nativity, and frazzled lighting and sound techie Trevor (Kindle). As you might have gathered from the title, everything that can go wrong…does, as the accident-prone thespians battle against all odds to get to their final curtain call.
Trevor Braun has previously appeared on Broadway in The Ferryman, Billy Elliot, and The Little Mermaid, while his Off-Broadway credits include If I Forget. On television, he’s been seen in Dash and Lily, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Clyde Voce makes his Off-Broadway debut with The Play That Goes Wrong, having been part of the national tours of The Color Purple, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Rock of Ages, as well as the regional tours of Ragtime, Kinky Boots, Till, Peter and the Starcatcher, and The Wiz. Kolby Kindle has previously appeared Off-Broadway in Harmony and was part of the original Australian cast of Come From Away. His national touring credits include Waitress, The Book of Mormon, Sister Act, Dreamgirls, and Beauty and the Beast.
During their conversation with The Queer Review, the actors discuss what it’s like to be at the receiving end of so much laughter from their The Play That Goes Wrong audiences, interacting with the Tony-winning set as it falls to pieces around them, the vital and often underappreciated skill of understudying, navigating the business as openly LGBTQ+ performers, and their favourite queer culture.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Going in, I thought I’d laugh but I hadn’t expected the show to be that body-achingly funny throughout. What’s it like to be on the receiving end of that kind of response from the audience?
Kolby Kindle: “What I love about doing The Play That Goes Wrong—especially after two years of being stuck inside—is to come every day and be in a room with people again and to hear laughter and feel the energy coming back at us. It’s something that we were afraid we would never be able to do again and now that we’re able to and can feel that it’s very special.”
Trevor Braun: “It’s rejuvenating. Sometimes I’ll be having a bad day, then I’ll go to work and not only share that joy with the audience but with each other joking around in the dressing room and having a good time. So it’s always the best part of my day, no matter what. It reminds me that despite some of the terrible things going on, we can all just get in a room together and laugh and share joy. That’s what life is about.”
Clyde Voce: “I have a bit of a different experience on the couch because my eyes are closed for the first part of the show. Not only can I hear the laughter, but I can feel the joy from the audience for something that they probably weren’t expecting to be that funny. It’s nice to be able to help give a release to everyone because we’re still dealing with the aftereffects of the pandemic. It’s really special to be with this group of people and give that kind of a gift every night.”
People will see your credits in the Playbill when they come to see the show, but could you each give me a bit more of an insight into how you first got into performing and what has brought you up to this point in your careers?
Kolby: “I’ve been singing, dancing, and acting since I was a kid. It’s something that’s always been in my blood. I was a really shy kid and I guess my parents were like, ‘when he’s on stage all that goes away, he’s bold and he’s out there’. So they invested in that and I’m very fortunate to have parents that did that. I went on to get a BFA in Musical Theater at Audubon University and it kind of snowballed from there. I’ve done a few tours here and there. I’ve always been like, ‘maybe I should find another career? Maybe I should look into something else?’ But I feel like I’m in too deep at this point, so we’ll just ride this wave while we can! Now that I’m in my 30s I’ve been riding it for a while, but I love what I do and I’m really fortunate and grateful to be able to do it.”
Clyde: “I grew up in a very arts-forward community. I’m from the West Palm Beach area of South Florida and I went to a middle school of the arts and then a high school of the arts. I was a singer, very musically rooted, but I didn’t necessarily want to do opera or teach or anything like that. Then I fell into the school musical Ragtime and I was like, ‘Oh, this is fun. These are my people. Let’s go into that!’ I went to the University of Miami as a Music major for Musical Theater and then I moved to New York when I graduated. Things started happening and I got a few tours and a few sit downs. Kolby and I actually toured together on Sister Act which was a lot of fun! I’m so lucky to have been in arts programs growing up because people don’t always have that opportunity. Now I do teach anyway as well. I love doing this, so I’m going to keep doing it.”
Trevor: “I started doing this really young and my whole family was involved. My sister and my mom both did community theater and my dad would help build sets and do lighting, so I fell into it from there and I got bitten by the bug. I grew up right outside of New York in North Jersey, about 15 or 20 minutes outside of Manhattan, so I had a lot of access to the city. I started working pretty young. I was in Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Billy Elliot from around seven through 12 or 13. So most of my childhood memories come from doing theater.”
“Then I went through the dark ages where I was going through puberty, so nobody wanted to hire me for a little bit! At high school, every opportunity there was to do a show I would do it; plays, musicals, everything. Then I went to Pace University and did a brand new program—acting for film, television, voiceovers, and commercials—which was my way of exploring different parts of the industry that I didn’t have as much experience of. While I was there, I was an understudy in The Ferryman and then the pandemic hit. This is my first time back on stage since the pandemic and I’ve missed it so much.”
Tell me about your characters in The Play That Goes Wrong. Kolby, we see you first because you play stage technician Trevor, so you’re trying to get the stage ready before the play can begin.
Kolby: “The fun of this role is that I’m part of both worlds. I’m part of the play, but also a viewer of it along with the audience. I’m visible from the audience for most of the show and I can connect with everyone. Every day the show is different for me because the audience is different and so that’s really exciting. It’s like, ‘okay, this is the vibe I’m getting today, I’m going to go off that’. I’m on this journey with the audience but I’m also able to have moments with my co-workers as well. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I enjoy it a lot.”
People need to make sure that they arrive a little early to take their seats don’t they?
Kolby: “Yes, they do because the shenanigans start very early on!”
Trevor: “I play Dennis, who is the youngest member of the Cornley University Drama Society. He’s never acted before and is not particularly interested in acting. It’s something he fell into because he was looking to make some friends and his mom recommended that he try out the theater group. He’s holding on by the seat of his pants and trying his best. He plays Perkins who ironically is the oldest character in The Murder at Haversham Manor. He’s really struggling and trying to remember his lines and is the opposite of who I am because I’ve been doing this for so long. He walks out on stage and just the sight of an audience is the most jarring, unsettling thing he’s ever seen, which is fun to do because it’s so contrary to who I am. That’s acting, to just play.”
Clyde: “Jonathan is a newer member of the Cornley Drama Society. He’s a model who is getting into acting and he happens to be very good at it, but in this show everything happens to him not necessarily for him. It’s a very physical role, which is great for me because I’m a very physical person. I love fitness and all that kind of stuff. It’s slapstick physical comedy the entire way for me. I don’t want to give anything away, but I’m falling a lot and he’s the person in the company who’s keeping the car going and the one that ties it all together at the end so we can finish the show. He doesn’t say a lot, but when he does have something to say he’s ready to go.”
Clyde, at the performance I came to you were actually understudying the role of Chris, who is the Drama Society director and also plays the inspector in the show. I was so impressed and had no idea that you were understudying until intermission when I looked at my Playbill. It feels like understudies have become more appreciated and valued since the pandemic hit. How far would you agree with that and what has your experience of understudying been like?
Clyde: “I’ve actually understudied a lot in my career and it is a really specific skill set. It’s very difficult because you have to keep your show and another show in your brain at all times so that you’re ready to go on at a moment’s notice. Switching gears, especially for me in this show, from somebody who doesn’t speak much at all to someone who speaks the entire time, then looking at the person that you play actually do it is very jarring and discombobulating at times! It’s great because as actors we love having different experiences and different moments and it’s fun to play with no expectation. That’s hard in this show because it’s very particular, it has to be safe and it has to be methodically done in certain ways. In this company, I’ve lucked out because we have a lot of theatre veterans and there are times when I’ll forget a line and not know I forgot a line and someone will come right in and “shove with love” as they say. I have nothing but the utmost respect and appreciation for anyone who is swinging or understudying. It is the hardest job. Everybody should be bowing down to swings and understudies.”
Trevor: “In this show, I’m the understudy of the understudy for Trevor, Kolby’s role. That’s never not confusing! I’ve also understudied in the past, and like Clyde said, it’s one of the hardest jobs. They’re also the unsung heroes of a show. They come in and save the day. If someone gets injured or sick the show has to go on, but how are we going to do that? That’s when an understudy comes in, in their cape and their mask, and saves the show!”
“It’s challenging because you come in and there are certain rhythms in the show that you don’t want to break up for the sake of the other actors, but you also want to make those truthful choices coming from yourself. So it’s a constant renegotiation and you have to balance all these opposing factors. Every time there’s an understudy on I always hear people go, ‘I had no idea that was the understudy’ and that’s a testament to how wonderfully prepared and hardworking the understudies in this industry are. I agree with Clyde and bow down all the way to understudies.”
Kolby: “When I go see a show and an understudy is on I get excited because I know the rest of the cast is also on their toes and on their game because you have someone new on the stage. We’re doing eight shows a week and if you’re with the same cast you might get into a rhythm, but when you throw in a different actor with different choices it makes the cast alert and want to try new things.”
I’d love to hear from you about what it’s like to interact with the show’s incredible, Tony Award-winning set.
Kolby: “The Murder at Haversham Manor is being put on by the Cornley Drama Society, which might have a lower budget, so when you look at the set it seems pretty simple. The genius of it is that there are so many mechanics and elements involved that when the show is over, you’re like ‘wow, that was pretty genius, how did they make that work?!’ So the Tony is definitely deserved when it comes to this set. My job as the character Trevor is to make sure that all of it is intact and all of it is safe. The comedy is that none of it is intact and none of it is really safe.”
Clyde: “I want to give a shout out to the folks backstage who you don’t see, the people who are operating that set. I bow to them as well because they’re keeping us safe, they have the timing down and they know how things work inside and out. They know this set better than anybody and it’s really incredible to me. Every day they come in and clean it, fix it and make adjustments. They’re always working on the set to make sure that it looks like it’s the first time it’s been used. I’m constantly impressed by how hard they work and how much they love it. So a shout out to the crew along with the set itself.”
Trevor: “When I first saw the show and when we were in rehearsals, one of the things I was most excited about was getting to work on the set. At the start of rehearsals I felt a tentativeness and hesitation around it. They were like, ‘slam the door shut and then kick the door open!’ I was really scared about doing that initially but realized over time that you really can do that. The set is another character and she can take a lot! She is the strongest person I’ve ever met and it’s nice to feel so comfortable with her. I trust her and I know that she’s there for us, though she can be a little temperamental at times!”
Do things ever unintentionally go wrong in The Play that Goes Wrong?!
Clyde: “Maybe they do, maybe they don’t!”
Kolby: “That’s the beauty of this show, if something messes up no one knows whether it was supposed to happen or not! So for us on stage it might be messed up, but the audience doesn’t know that!”
Trevor: “I think it adds to their enjoyment of it too. One of our understudies went on and he knocked himself in the head, but he kept going with the show and the audience just thought it was part of it. He was fine, he wasn’t hurt. He wrapped up his head with some gauze during intermission and they thought it looked funny backstage so they just put more on, pushed him back on stage and the audience ate it up! I feel like the joy of this show is from big things to little things. I’ve gone on stage and fumbled over lines and the audience laughs at me and I’m like ‘cool, that is exactly what I meant to do!'”
Kolby: “I ripped my pants on stage one night and it was like, ‘hey, you’re welcome!'”
I’d love to get an insight from each of you on your perspective on navigating the business as an LGBTQ+ actor and whether you feel like there’s a sense of community for queer performers in New York?
Kolby: “What I’ve always loved about theatre is that it’s been a very welcoming community when it comes to LGBTQ+ folks. As for me navigating it, I’ve always felt welcome and heard, but there are also places where we can continue to grow and learn from each other because that’s the beauty of theatre. I’ve always felt that we’ve been at the forefront of social issues and the first group of people to say, ‘we stand for this’. What I love about this community is that we listen and if we continue to do that it’s going to be great. I have wonderful co-workers like Clyde and Trevor, we banter and we joke and I feel very comfortable being able to be myself in my dressing room with all different types of people. I feel very fortunate to work where I do because the love is there and we’re honest with each other and it’s very comforting.”
Clyde: “It’s been great. Not to say that things don’t come with their own challenges. With A Strange Loop and other shows that are coming out now, I feel like it’s a turning point in our industry where you don’t just have to play particular characters when you go for auditions. At the end of the day, we’re actors, I go in and I audition or I play the role that is at hand, but it’s so refreshing to be able to go into a room and not have to work so hard. One beautiful thing that I love about this show is that our amazing director, Matt DiCarlo, was just like, ‘I want you to be you. Just do you and we’ll go from there.’ So my Jonathan has a little thing going on with him. I don’t have to hide it or cover it. It’s part of me and actually coming into the room with me and that’s been really refreshing and I can see it with my co-workers too. It makes the show better and more lived-in. Getting to explore that on stage as an actor is really wonderful. It’s not often you get to see that in this kind of a show, where the principal cast are everything in between; they’re all very different, and it’s a beautiful moment.”
Trevor: “It feels really special to be a part of this community. I think the theatre community is a really open, welcoming space and to have allies within the theatre, people who aren’t necessarily part of the community and yet still are so supportive of it, is so important. It’s funny, Clyde, Kolby and I joke around that at the start there weren’t as many people in the show who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and then all of a sudden we came in and we totally took over! To have that supportive space, to have Clyde and Kolby, to look up to them and to learn and to grow from them and to feel supported by them and to also feel supported by the other people who are so open and kind is really special. I don’t think every industry has a safe space like that. I’m incredibly grateful and proud to be a part of that.”
Lastly, what’s your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ culture or a person who identifies as LGBTQ+; someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years and why?
Kolby: “Watching Paris Is Burning was such an eye-opener for me because where I grew up I didn’t see a lot of queer people, or people who were out, and it was not celebrated the way that it is here in New York. When I saw that documentary, I was like, ‘oh, there are so many layers and types of people in this community who have unique stories and who are queer and who are of color’. All these things that were in my face and I was like, ‘okay, that’s really relatable. I see a little bit of that in me as well’. That really flipped a switch in my mind to seeing that we’re so complex, we’re so beautiful, we’re so colorful, and I love that it could be showcased in a documentary of real people in this big city. I still watch it and I’m fascinated by and in awe of and grateful for the people who came before me and told their stories so that I can sit here today and be around my friends and tell my story comfortably. It holds a dear place in my heart.”
Clyde: “This may be a little abstract, but for me it’s the theatre community itself. Even though I grew up in a very arts-forward community, there were no LGBTQ+ people that I saw living out loud, no one was waving a flag, no one was having a parade. If it was a thing, it was very hush-hush. But when I walked into any theatrical space, the leaders of those spaces were people I could look up to. I’m grateful for all the teachers that I’ve had that were in that community across the country that gave that space for a little Black gay boy who had no idea even what theatre was at 17. I thought I was alone, but no, here they are. So I say the theatre community—thespians, I guess—because as Kolby said, it’s the place where people are willing to listen and learn and move forward, so it’s ever-changing and ever-growing.”
Trevor: “It’s hard to narrow it down to just one thing because there’s so much. I really love to read and books by queer authors have illuminated the queer experience in such a specific and honest way. I think about James Baldwin, who is my favorite author, who wrote about the queer experience at a time when it was a bit more taboo to talk about that. Queer writers have always really impacted me and my viewpoint.”
By James Kleinmann
The Play That Goes Wrong is now running Off-Broadway at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street, New York). Tickets are available online at Telecharge.com or by calling Telecharge at 212-239-6200. Read more about the show at BroadwayGoesWrong.com.