Stephane Magloire is tall. At first I don’t notice. It’s his smile that takes me in, as if he is interviewing me, and something else I can’t quite define. Something organic that I identify all at once early into the interview: his openness to the moment.
Stephane is American, born in Haiti. I hear no accent, but a rich and generous voice interspersed with laughter.
“I consider myself an actor/singer actually. I started out as a singer, always singing, predominantly at (South Orange-Maplewood, NJ) high school. I grew up hearing mom sing and picked up on it.”
His mother, a Haitian physician who came to the U.S. to take licensing exams before bringing her young children over, was “not into me being an artist.” I press lightly for details. “A mixture of things: I was a tenor; I sing high. I was born in Haiti…(his voice drops into a lower register) this is what a man should do.” And, one other ingredient: his coming out at around age 17.
“Even in college, I had this high range, then a space where there is air and what they call squeaks.” He tells me a theory: the squeaks come from trauma. He was told by a voice teacher that he’d had access to a very diverse vocal range (think of a door creak). “But something happens that no longer lets you access that range. I remember when I was really young, Mariah Carey’s Emotions was on in the car. And she does the, like, (he sings very high falsetto) and I was doing it and my mom turns around and says ‘if you ever do that again’… and I like froze: what? ‘It’s high singing and you’re a boy and boys should not sing high.’ I will always remember that! The minute the voice teacher said that, I said, “I know the moment, I know it!” he laughs.
“Any time she was in the room, I’d bring my voice down.” I ask for clarification on his current vocal range. He still sings tenor but the really high notes, he says, are squeaks. I ask him how he feels about that.
“Always two things: I love my mom and appreciate everything she’s done for me. Everything she’s gone through to bring me here now to be in this room with you. I will always thank her. (And) there was always that feeling of following in her footsteps and being a doctor… She’s so driven. She wanted that for us… But I always had artistic outlets; I played violin, I sang and danced.”
So, she supported those artistic endeavors?
“No. Except the violin—”
Help me understand, then, how you persevered —
“I just did it.”
Was there anyone in your life, a mentor or a guide who said, Hey you need to be at NYU. How did you get from middle school to–
“Governor’s School (at the College of New Jersey).”
She was okay with you going there?
“NO! I almost didn’t go to Governor’s School!” He laughs.
I almost yell, This is the story I want!
So, he tells me about his junior year in high school, unaware of the Governor’s School (GS). “I had a best friend at the time who was also a singer. We did regional and all-state chorus together.” She was nominated for GS; he wasn’t. After she told him about the program, an arts-intensive four weeks of college training between junior and senior year, “I told her, ‘you’ll totally get in’ because she’s a phenomenal singer.”
Stephane didn’t think much about GS until his guidance counselor asked him if he was nominated, assuming that he would be. Based on the size of their high school, Stephane learned, two could be nominated. “I went back to my chorus teacher who put me through all these hoops, rings… Hey, I should be nominated!… you… (laughs) crazy person.” Although Stephane laughs, he notices the question in my eyes. “Still to this day, I’m so angry with him because he kept trying to… ‘I’m going to nominate this person, this person’… I was like, No, I’m phenomenal,” he says emphatically. “Eventually I got nominated.”
Stephane and his friend Suzanne worked on their applications, helped each other with audition tapes. Neither imagined that he would get a callback and she wouldn’t. I said, Mom, I need to go to the College of New Jersey. This is a big deal. She said, ‘I don’t know what this is for. Singing? I’m busy.’ I was like NO, No!”
“I fought with her tooth and nail. She got in the car, drove me down there. But she said I can’t bring you back. I said whatever; I will walk home. I auditioned. I felt good about it. I was still trying to figure out me as a singer. And being so baffled I was there. The whole time (thinking) Suzanne should be here… I ended up getting a ride from one of my friends. I found out (he was accepted) three weeks after. This time I got an envelope. Not big. (I thought) oh, no! he laughs. I left it there for a day.”
Sounds like Billy Elliot.
“I didn’t see Billy Elliot. (He sees my eyes widen.) I know I know! Another friend said she’d gotten a thin letter. I ripped it open. It began, “It is …” I thought it would read with regret, but it said with great pleasure…”
Obviously that was a pivotal time in your life. After those four weeks (at GS) did you know that was your path?
“Yes. I went to GS not knowing anything about the artist world (except for chorus in high school). But this was a community of artists… we talked about the arts, yes, but at the same time we were real people. It wasn’t frightening or scary. Coffee shops, paring with people, a small version of what happened in college… (GS) started the whole idea of networking. I’m still close friends with my GS boyfriend at the time. (He’s) in law school, one of my best friends. He did creative writing. He still finds ways of bringing his art into what he’s doing now.”
At the end of a successful summer, Stephane was asked by the GS faculty if he’d considered theatre. “I’d done high school plays but never thought I’d be in a school for acting. They said, ‘You need to be an actor.’” He was 17.
Stephane chose New York University “because if I didn’t want a conservatory, I could switch over to academics.” He chose a double major where he could graduate in three years from Tisch’s (arts) program and double major in psychology.
Stephane did musical theater studio, then called CAP (Collaborative Arts Project) 21. He explains all seven NYU studios as separate, requiring a two-year commitment from the student before switching studios. General theater courses and auditions for all-school plays/musicals were the only opportunities for students across studios to integrate.
He loved his first year: Dreams of a Tony, he had a boyfriend. “Everything would be great. What I appreciated was they got me, as a dancer, to own myself, my height.”
“The bad thing about it (was) making me into one thing. For me, singing, dancing, acting (as a package) is not it. I wanted to explore each of them individually instead of together. They wanted me to keep those three together. Also (it became) way too catty, too dramatic.
“My second year, I hated it. I was so against how they were teaching me… disregarding my needs. After that I didn’t think I wanted to be an actor.” Stephane pokes fun of his younger self: ‘I don’t want to do this anymore… this sucks,’” he whines, smiling.
“So, I booked a flight to Dublin.”
“It was the cheapest ticket I could find. Backpacked 10 weeks by myself. I came back, just wanting to be a student. Third year, no theater. At fall semester, I added to the psychology degree, also (learned) sign language. I decided to study abroad, go to Ghana (where) I could do community service. When I was younger, I’d learned the (American Sign Language) alphabet when mom was working with the deaf.”
So, second semester junior year, Stephane went to Ghana. “I learned dance. Deaf students use drums to feel vibrations. While being there, traveling in Africa… so many stories. (It) sounds cliché but you’re getting all these images and while I like to feel that in my theater, (there were) so many outlets to do that.”
Stephane applied for the experimental theater track, back at NYU. Experimental included Grotowski, an “out-of-the book/box director.” He did physical-based work; the premise that words and emotions will come out of movement.
“People make fun or it, but lay on the floor, roll around and feel your body. You rarely get the chance to do that. (You may be thinking) I’m tired. Just had lunch… (but) how do you feel? What’s affecting me? Why am I crying? You self-explore that through movement. You add script to it. Then add song to it.”
Stephane was able to take “a bunch of different classes: movement, yoga, choreography, music. Also an independent project. I didn’t write anything other than this one email back-and-forth with my friend. It was called Speak (and became) a whole dance project, eight girls who danced to different songs/emotions. Through the whole thing there’s only one piece where one girl is dancing and another is reading the text back and forth between my friend and I. All just… really, just…something about the female form that’s so different from male form.”
That 2007 summer after NYU graduation, Stephane took advantage of the International Theater Workshop (ITW) program in Amsterdam. He took clowning and self-scripting. “You write more. You really just sit there and whatever stream of thought, (you) track it, every time you revisit it you add to it. (You) can take things off. What you thought as random stream of consciousness to a piece of work, like all these things inside of you. I was like okay. I think I want to do this writing thing.”
But “that whole year (after returning), I didn’t do much of it,” he laughs. “I did a lot of off-Broadway shows, helping teachers at NYU; it wasn’t really fulfilling. When I was at NYU I auditioned for things outside the school” (which he points out, he wasn’t supposed to do). He auditioned for STOMP, got into finals, but couldn’t do it “because I was still a student.” He also auditioned for Fuerza Bruta, “a sort of physical-base thing. I got into it, but my height was an issue.” He explains that most males in the cast are the same height because they must switch roles. “They would have had to alter everything for me. (But) those two were the best audition experiences I’ve ever had in my entire life. All physical movement and like doing things… it was great!”
Because he wasn’t able to do “these crazy cool off-the-cuff things, “ Stephane auditioned for more conventional fare. He had friends who had internships with different casting places. “So I got called in for some great work. I didn’t like how the proctor (person calling out names during auditions) … they’re so mean. If you’re not equity (Actor’s Equity Association, a labor union for actors), you might as well be… like… less than human. If you have equity people walk in… I had the privilege of still being put with equity people but you see people you’re friends with treat non-equity/other people less than human. This industry is… (he recalls his thoughts at that time) I don’t like how I’m feeling right now just being in the whole audition process. So I’ll go to graduate school.”
Stephane auditioned for Julliard. “The first year, I didn’t get in. I was really upset. It all had to do with a breakup. I dated this guy and it didn’t go well and I was like, I’m going to show him! Yeah, you’re out of school. You being a big fish in high school and college and then go into real world: Where am I right now? (he rhetorically asks). You’re just sort of a fish, really.”
We’re all fishes.
He laughs. “I needed to do something. And auditioning for NYU was great. But I watched all my other friends audition for like 10 schools and that seemed stressful but also like a lot of fun.”
He auditioned for Julliard and Yale. At Yale he realized “I didn’t want to be in New Haven (CT). There’s nothing there that’s stimulating. I told them I was taking myself out of the audition process. I went back to Julliard and that audition process is cool in a way that’s not expected. People think Julliard is so stressful. They are so welcoming! They just want to see you do your thing.”
(I’m confused.) But you didn’t go to Julliard…?
“No. I didn’t. If I would have gotten in that first year, I would have done it. I have this thing that I do. If I don’t get something, I give myself two days to be upset about it. Just two days. I found out on Friday. I had Friday and Saturday to be upset. I woke up on Sunday. I was like, ‘Oh I really wanted to go! (He continues his inner monologue.) Gosh, if you’re going to be that upset about it, then just kill yourself.’ It was this flippant thing that I just said.
“But then I lay in bed… huh?… what would I do, if I actually decided today’s the day, I gave myself 24 hours before I killed myself? This story came out. I pulled out my laptop. What are all the things you’d do? Why you’d do it? What’s the bucket list? Here’s the baby idea. A screenplay. It stayed there. Then for the next year, I’d overhear something and write it down. All the things people were saying. I don’t know why that happened. This one random idea came up: I’m going to write about this.
“That’s what led me to audition (at Julliard) again. I got in, but it’s four years!” (He mentions that Julliard just started a master’s program.)
So you were going for another BFA?
“No. If you already have a BFA, (it would be) a certificate. That second year, I felt more lucid with decision-making skills. It’s like I’m not going to get a full ride, number one. It’s four years of me doing this. I have all these what seemingly look like random things I want to do. (And) you have three times to audition so if I say no, I can always audition again. There’s opportunity. My drive to go that first year was not my drive to go the second year. So, I’ve been writing ever since.”
This really propelled you as writer, what year?
“2009. Yeah. This was baby project. Ever since then, I would wake up, go to a coffee shop and start writing.“
You’re talking short stories, screenwriting?
“Screenwriting. Then from there, meeting other writers. A friend of mine introduced me to a girl’s blog I found really interesting (part of Effable Arts); they were doing blogger plays. I had a blog at the time.” One of his friends described it as “mad ramblings of Virginia Wolff … I was sort of detoxing from like, whatever. From blog entries, (I) started working on one-act plays. Then, continually putting myself into the writing community. Then some other friends at NYU, one is a graphic designer and someone who’s working with Ryan Murphy at Glee… sending them pieces of it because those are people I trusted. I’d write a scene and I’d send it. They’re like “this is really cool… throwing in other sides of it.
“Essentially what I have now are really cool contents of a package to give someone. When a screenplay is ready, here it is in writing form, here is someone who has directorial notes for it, here is someone with graphic notes for it, and my boyfriend is a photog, so he does a lot of story-boarding for me. Instead of paying all this money to film a trailer, take photos and story-board it; an easier way to do it, it’s cheaper. (It’s) essentially what I’m doing now.”
Where is this leading, do you think?
“I’m doing this because, and this is a life goal of mine, I don’t know if this is actually going to happen but one thing I’ve always gotten since I was young is that I look like, (kind of laughs) it’s always after I’ve done something theatrical, they’re like, ‘You remind me of a young Sidney Poitier.’ I’ve gotten that a lot. So I want to play Sidney Poitier.”
That’s your goal.
“That would be me, like, ‘I have done something successful. Me playing Sidney Poitier.’”
Huge Haitian influence.
“I kept sitting there saying I’ll wait. Finally I said fuck it. Why don’t I write the screenplay? There’s…”
So you did that?
“Essentially I’m working towards going there. My goal is to use my writing to bring me back to into what I love, which is performing, which is acting. It’s okay to wait for that. I read Measure of a Man, which is Poitier’s autobiography. I’ve seen a lot of interviews with actors I really respect. I think Cate Blanchett shits gold. (laughs) She’s like amazing. So it’s like all the things I walk away from when I see interviews, hear them speak. These actors that you see on awards shows, they’re all friends, knew each other when they were nothing, (just) appreciating each other’s art.
“You’re wound up. In high school and college you’re wound up like this little toy. They throw you into the world and you’re freaking out, banging drums and everything. It’s frustrating, it’s upsetting but at same time it’s necessary. If you realize that it’s okay.”
“The wait and the not knowing. I want to say 75% of the people I went to NYU with that I’m still friends with are no longer actors. They couldn’t wait. I don’t know if it was fear, I don’t know if it’s frustration, but they went back to school to do nursing or they are doing… they are pulled into all these other facets in life. Or they can still be an artist in some way, shape, form… I have a friend who is in law school, still going to be an actor, (he’s) just going to be in a courtroom.”
This really dovetails with what Ro (Ro Boddie is another actor I’d interviewed) was talking about, too. He said it in a different way, but I like the consistency of what I’m hearing. As a writer, people talk about rejection letters… most of the time you don’t get one. I like the way you put that.
“It’s patience, one. But also taking the small wins and being appreciative of them. But not making them into a big thing. I recently optioned off a script. It’s like, Yah! But doing that until the moment they actually roll film? Anywhere from 3–5 years.”
“Thank you. That leads me to so many more things: networking, meeting new people. I realize that’s also equally important. You can’t just sit there and wait for things to happen, but be aware of what’s around you. In a way, I’ve never stopped being an actor because I still think like an actor in my writing. Even now, this one (his) script is cool and dramatic… but I realize as an actor, when you go into the audition room you do this one monologue: ‘I like that. Do you have something else?’ If you say no, you’re done. You never say no. Like, never. When I went into Julliard I had seven monologues ready to go. They kept asking you. ‘Oh, wow. You’re versatile.’
“Now I’m working on a sci-fi type of screenplay: What if our initial idea of guardian angels were not really that… what if they, before, were the beings who helped you move onto the other side versus the ones who helped save you? And a series of things that happened that switched it to make it now that they save your life. A series of other things: what would be other things people would ask me? I watch a shi–/ton of movies that makes me seem like I’m not doing anything with my life. But I turn to my friends and I go, ‘You’re in law school. You’re sitting in a library. You’re doing your homework the same way I’m doing mine.’
Being okay with what I’m doing. It’s been a great strength because at the end of the day, I’ll get in front of my computer and stare at it, it’s staring back at me and I don’t write a word for an hour. And I could get really frustrated…‘forget this, I don’t want to do this anymore.’ But it’s… you’re learning. You’re building.”
Your mom is brave, smart… you have that as foundation. But she was not an artist, right? To benefit these kids who don’t know where to begin? Just a love of singing or dance. What kind of advice would you give someone thinking about or dreaming about the arts?
“My initial thought is so cliché: You make the floor you walk on. At end of day there will be someone to help you if you just ask for it. There’ll be someone on your side even if you didn’t realize they’re on your side. My example from GS is that I’d gotten in and the day I was supposed to go, I went into the city, to go with a friend of mine to get her tongue pierced. Mom said you need to be home at this time or I won’t take you to GS. I got home five minutes late. She said I’m not bringing you. Everyone I knew at GS had already gone. A friend of mine… I randomly I called her and her mom said she had time and drove me to GS. There are always people, it seems a random act of kindness, and all you have to do is ask. Really.
“The thing is with my mom, I think anyone who’s going through this, you start to understand your parents the older you get. It wasn’t that she wasn’t supporting me. She didn’t understand how to support me because she had no concept of what I was really doing. It was like we were speaking two different languages.”
Consequences are important to her.
Regardless (of the lack of understanding) maybe?
“Essentially I needed that because I felt that the kind of person I am, if I had that constant push to do something, I probably wouldn’t do it. I need to figure things out myself. It’s also that other side of knowing what you need and how to apply that to whatever you want. But just do it. At the end of the day, just fuckin’ do it. The worst thing that could happen is that you end up realizing you don’t want to do it. My junior year at NYU I was like ‘I don’t want to do theater. I never want to do it ever again.’ But that whole time I said I didn’t want to do it, I was doing it. And finally I woke up and (understood) ‘actually, you want to do this. Do it!’ I could go to law school. I could do any other thing, I could go back to school and get a graduate degree in psychology and be a shrink or whatever; I don’t want to do that, though.”
What do you want to do?
“I want to act. I want to, I want to—”
(whispers) “Yeah. I, oh, man, that would be… wonderful.”