Episode 142 – Alexander Mendoza on Being a Working Musical Actor

Being a working musical theatre actor is not just the bright lights of Broadway. There is opportunity working in touring and regional companies in the US and all over the world.

Alexander Mendoza has a flourishing career touring the world in musical theatre.

In this episode, John and Alex discuss his vocal journey and the demands of singing at a very high level.

EPISODE LINKS:

Alexander Mendoza Instagram

Episode Transcript

Episode 142 – Alexander Mendoza on Being a Working Musical Actor

John: Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. All right. Today I am speaking with Alex Mendoza. Alex is a very talented young musical theater performer and I first worked with Alex when he was 15 or 16 and he has gone on to a solid career in musical theater. And the reason I wanted to talk to Alex today is he just has a wealth of experience in this field and also what it’s like to be out there on the road. I know everybody thinks that musical theater is the glitz and bright lights of Broadway, but there are a great number of highly dedicated, very talented people who are out on the road in major productions of shows. And Alex’s currently touring with Phantom of the Opera. I believe he’s done Dubai, Singapore, the Philippines, and when I was speaking with him, he was just about to leave for Korea. So, it certainly can be a very exciting career, but there’s also a lot of work to it as well. So, I hope Alex’s story is instructive for you. And without further delay, I bring you Alex Mendoza. Alex, welcome to The Intelligent Vocalist podcast. A: Thanks for having me. J: So happy to have you here. I want to know your quick vocal history. When did you first get interested in singing and when did you know you wanted to do this for a living?

Alex: When I was nine in a high school production of Oliver and I still didn’t know if I could sing, but a voice teacher told my parents, he’s got a really nice voice and if this is something he’s enjoying, maybe that’s something he should start working on now. Because I was a boy soprano and we were headed into that time where my voice was going to change. But then I think around 15, 16, my drama teacher in high school said this is something you actually could do. And then the dreaming aspect of it, of, oh I can do this, I do want to do this. Because it wasn’t something I thought that could be on my radar. I thought it was something you just did for fun. And then I started doing research and I was like, oh, there’s schools for this and this is what I do want to do. So around 15, 16 is when I was like, this is the goal.

John: And then at that point, how was your voice dealing with the dreaded change?

Alex: If I say like the Brady bunch episode where Peter Brady, like I only mentioned that. Only a couple of times of that happened. Mine changed quickly, but I feel it wasn’t as torturous cause my parents put me immediately in voice lessons. I had a teacher at the time because I hadn’t gotten to you yet because you got me right after my voice had changed somewhat.

John: Yeah. I mean this is a little while back, but I remember just thinking what a wonderful voice you had, but it was starting to stop at about the E, F above Middle-C, I think.

Alex: Well I used to cry over high G’s. Prior to you. I just cried when I got home. I was like, oh yeah, I think it was, we were doing Lost in the Wilderness from Children of Eden and I kept cracking and I think you helped me. The last, it’s a G, and found– and I think– what was the, what placement did you have me do? It’s fun, it’s fun but I got very frustrated because I remember thinking, my voice changed. It was stopping at E and F. I wanted to be in Phantom and well, Phantom sings a G and higher and now I’m crying because I can’t hit it. And you think at 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, forever is, it’s never going to happen. It’s that eternal, that word. Never. And now I look back and go, wow, on days I’m not feeling that well. And it’s still not hard, but I should’ve been patient at the time.

John: And that’s I often tell young men, time is part of this. It’s, you train and you get better technically, but the clock also has to tick off a little bit and some voices mature at different speeds. But you know at the time I just remember thinking just such a beautiful sounding voice, that if you could just remain patient it would all work out for you.

Alex: Yeah. I don’t know if I’m patient now, maybe a little better, but still.

John: So then, so you got through the teen years and off to college.

Alex: I think because when I realized this is what I wanted to do and my parents, like we were talking about earlier, they love theater. They let my brothers in sports, they appreciate all of it. That’s knowledge they didn’t have growing up because they weren’t singers, but they were very supportive. But they said, if this is what you want to do and then you have to do the work that goes into it, which is you don’t go to a voice lesson and you’d go one time and that’s done. Like you were saying, that Instagram moment we were talking about, it’s not about– you have to put in the work after the voice lesson and listen to the recording back. And so when I started talking to my teachers and working on monologues to, you know, new repertoire, when I was auditioning for college, it became a– you have to be good at all three.

It can’t just rely on one. You have to work on each. And, so I, when I did go to Boston Conservatory for a year and then I transferred to Azusa Pacific University and just kind of switched gears just a little bit. But it still was, when I got there, I was in voice lessons twice a week. And I remember my voice teacher, in the musical theater program, Carrie, she said, I’m putting your rep lesson at 9: 30 in the morning. I said, why? She said, because when you go do this for a living and you start auditioning, you’re going to have auditions at 10:00 AM and if you can’t learn to sing this material and warm up properly and be ready by 10:00 AM, then you’re not doing the work. And I will always remember that.

So now if I do have an audition at 10:00 AM I get up fairly early and start warming up properly and doing all the things requiring. So that’s something that has stuck with me, especially, you know, when you do eight shows a week, and then you get the phone call that you’re going on for a lead at 2:00 PM. I wake up for every two-show day around 8:00 AM to start getting my body going. So that was kind of from high school. We jumped a little bit from high school to college to kind of life in general.

John: And when you referenced the Instagram moment, that’s because, well, before we started recording, we were just talking about that people will spend time and money on the more fun things associated with music. But the actual work that needs to be done, they don’t always find time for that. And that’s one thing I’ve always really appreciated about you, even from a young age, is you understood that you had to do the work. It’s not about the moment. I mean, so much of it, and it sounds like a cliché, but it really is just the toil, if you will, of putting in the road work, of getting up early, of practicing, of warming up all the time, keeping yourself healthy.

Alex: I think that’s what’s been interesting about the journey is that sometimes it’s lonely. But if it’s really what you want, my dad always says, work shouldn’t feel like work. If you truly love it, it’s hard. It’s not easy. But if you love it, it’s worth the work. And, if singing, I mean for me, it’s everything. I love it so much that it’s worth the warming up. I enjoy, oddly enough, as much as singing a song because it’s just getting it already. Like I said, my parents in high school said, if this is what you want to do. I wish I’d been a better student in piano. Like, I wish I understood that it was so important to today. But my mom was like, you’re not putting the work in and if you want to be good at this, you have to put the work in.

And I wasn’t, and I wish I had. So with singing, I’d put in so much effort, but then I realized that I also need to put that effort into the whole thing. Musical theater. It’s the scene work and the– how you– even auditioning, low level audition, and then vocally adding that all together. Of that off day where your agent calls you and you have an appointment the next day and you’re a little under the weather and you don’t really get the option to decide, well I don’t want– I mean there’s a difference if you really can’t, you can’t, but you gotta do it. And how do you show up at noon the next day ready to go when you’re a little tired without saying, Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m not feeling well, and just bring in the technique. And that’s what’s been interesting lately, of everything I’ve learned from you and in school. When you start understanding the anatomy of what’s going on in your voice, your technique, and everything you’ve been trained comes into play and your body naturally just goes into it without overthinking. And you can rely on your technique and the training behind it, but that’s not overnight. I used to think I wanted it to be so quickly, especially when I was cracking on certain songs. I wanted it now.


John: 
Also, it’s really important because as you pointed out, you can just get auditions thrown at you with no notice, is to adopt a healthy lifestyle and an approach to your instrument. The bass player can still play with a hangover most of the way. 99%, let’s say. But vocalists, that affects your instrument.

Alex: It’s silly as it is. We’ve talked, I love coffee so much. I have to keep track how much water I’m drinking in a day, because I will forget because I love coffee so much and that will be in my car faster. So I actually have, in my phone, a little calendar of ‘did you drink enough water today?’ And I think that’s been interesting is, you know, especially being on the road, you have to remind yourself. Okay, being a swing in Phantom right now, I don’t know what my life is going to be every day. You know, one minute I could be one of the leads or the next minute I’m a big movement roll in the ensemble. I don’t know. So I do try to go to bed by midnight at the latest sometimes and then up at a certain time, go to the gym, make that part of my lifestyle of getting, taking my vitamins, not drinking as much coffee, being careful what I eat. And at first it was exhausting, but then I went, what is the goal in the long run? To be a healthy singer, to do this successfully. it was adapting to that, that routine and it just takes a minute to adapt to it.

John: I will admit here for the first time I just gave up coffee and this is something I never thought I would do, but my coffee was just starting to be a behemoth.

Alex: I think it was our conversation. You said I have this many, you need to cut back Alex. I was like, because I thought about it like, okay, John is drinking this much coffee. What am I at? It’s a lot. 

John: So far I’m okay white knuckling a little bit, but I’m okay. I will see if I bring a little bit back into my life. But coffee tends to take over. I say I’m only gonna drink this much, and the next thing I know, I’m just going all day. Yup. So, explain for the listener, what is a swing?

Alex: So a swing for a show is someone who has to learn– typically they can learn, well they learn most of the ensemble. They are given a certain amount of ensemble tracks, as we call them, parts, or sometimes a role. So in the show I cover one of the principles and about five or six other men in the ensemble. So my job is to keep notes on all of them and if one of them is sick or is going on for another role, because they also understudy in the ensemble, I fill in that hole in the ensemble. So at any moment– there’s been moments where you go on mid-show and you just have to be ready. And so the blessing of the show is that, we get to– the five of us, we sing in a booth, as well, offstage, cause we’re still part of the ensemble.

And what has been really nice is that I take that opportunity even on the days I’m really tried to focus on my technique, and take that moment, so this song today is going to be a little harder. This is something that’s at the top of my range today. It feels a little heavier. So how do I go into the mechanics of my technique? How to rely on that? But at any moment it can change, you know, one minute you’re one character and then the next, I think I’ve been maybe three different people in one week. And it just depends on what is needed. And so that’s what a swing does, is you’re just ready at any moment.

John: Now, one of the main reasons I wanted to bring you on is I think you’re just a beautiful example of a working actor, because very oftentimes people when they go into musical theater, think I have to be on Broadway, I have to be a star. And there’s this whole world that’s actually amazing with all kinds of opportunity and, opportunity to travel and make a living doing what you’re doing in wonderful production. So give me a history. After you got out of college, how did your professional life begin? 

Alex: Well, mine was a little weird because patience was not a word I liked. So, and we were kind of talking about before, we started the podcast about the comparison game, and comparison’s the thief of joy. And I was grateful that I had gotten an agent around 19 and I’m still with them and I really, really love them. And, they would send me out on things.

And at first it was like, okay, I’m going to get into the ensemble of this and try to work there and you know, networking. But it’s still, I am guilty of at the time of like 19, 20, but like isn’t this big thing the goal? And then I would go audition and I take on, I would take ensemble everywhere. And so I finally learned quickly that it wasn’t just about being the lead. It can’t just be about that. When you’re in high school probably a lot of your students, your kids, especially the ones with such big voices, they’re probably the star at their high school. And my parents wanted me to go to school and learn that you’re not the star. Like it’s not all about you all the time, so when I started auditioning, you’re like, cool, I’m in the ensemble.

Great. So I’m meeting people and it takes so much time. And then I think it was when I went on tour with Mama Mia, that’s when I started like realizing that. So this took a minute. It was about auditioning and going to everything and showing up prepared. I was so grateful and I think the key is being grateful in the moment where you are. And if you’re a working actor, you can be on Broadway one day and that’s amazing. If you can keep going from Broadway show to Broadway show. But you also may go from Broadway to I’m going to go be on tour or I’m gonna be on tour and I’m going to do a regional gig or I’m going to be off Broadway. 

John: And I have had students do exactly that. Broadway to a regional tour, to a local production.

Alex: And being proud of what you’re in. Someone told me once, there was an agent friend I met. She said, I love seeing clients who promote their show, no matter how big or small it is, and being proud of where they are because I find them to be more interesting and more of a humble human being and that they’re doing this to be an artist and to do the work. It is not about just this one, that the goal isn’t been expanded because it’s kind of, you’re saying there’s so many other opportunities. And I think if you narrow in only on that one thing. It’s a beautiful thing. But you’re going to get there and then you’re going to say, okay, I think you said, you said this earlier, you’re going to get there and be okay, and now I’ve gotten this. Now what about this? And then what about you’re going to that level a little higher. And then you’re like, what about the next thing? And now you have your Tony award or whatever in the case. But now how do I get an Oscar? So it just, I think it’s being present in that moment and enjoying it even when it’s hard. And we’ve talked about social media, but social media makes it 10 times harder because you’re sitting there comparing yourself to everyone else.

John: And you’ve certainly done leads in your career. I mean you actually did quite a run as “Beast.” And some really good tours.

Alex: I’m so grateful to have done that. I think that was nice. I was Beast this past summer and a great theater in Austin and I loved it. I’m grateful to be a swing in Phantom, you know, I still am part of the world. It’s just part of it. One minute you can be, again, you want to make, you’re the lead and next minute you’re in the ensemble. But something I’ve been trying to help when I coach high school kids on auditioning for musical theaters, that everyone’s as equally important to each other as the lead. And the lead is just as important as the ensemble to the swing to the crew. Everyone is important and that is cliché and people think that’s cheesy, but it’s so true that, you know, the chandelier cannot go up unless there are other people who– that’s part of their art as well.

What I do is just as valuable as the Phantom and the Phantom is just as valuable as the accompaniment. Like it’s such a team effort and that’s so cheesy, but, and you think that in high school, like, Oh, that’s corny. I hear that in a Hallmark movie, but it’s just the truth. And I think coming at that has helped a bit, and I am grateful that my parents have, you know, when I was impatient, they were like, if you want this, work hard. And it’s just as valuable every, you know, the work is valuable. And I guess that’s true. There’s no small parts. That there are no small parts.

John: And I mean, that is the attitude that people really need to take. Cause I did a recent podcast on comparison; comparing and just how it will just eat you up. It will destroy you if you just keep looking around at what you don’t have. And I mean, and you’ve been able to see some amazing parts of the world while working professionally. So where have you had your passport stamped recently?

Alex: I just got back from Dubai. Never thought I’d get to go to Dubai, Singapore, Tel Aviv, the Philippines, getting to see how other people live, has been incredible. I mean, we meet like, what’s really cool, the fans overseas are so, the culture is so welcoming and kind like when you go do a show overseas when they’re at the stage door, it’s not like it’s not your normal fan. It’s, thank you for coming and doing this for us. We really appreciate. There’s like a genuine energy about it. That’s really been nice. But six years ago, when I was just super excited to be in Mamma Mia when we were in Kansas City, which is a great place, or when we were in Dayton, Ohio and I didn’t think I’d get to be in Dubai six years later and I was just happy to be touring the U.S. where Target was down the street.

Like I thought that was cool. Like I could just hop to different Targets around United States. I thought that was amazing. But again, I didn’t think six years later I get to, and I think, one of the, something I learned over time is to let kind of word this properly. There was a moment in time years ago where if I wasn’t getting close to something or if I did get close, if I didn’t get it, I let that make me sad and defeated and then I don’t know what switched exactly. I think now I remember it was when I realized that people behind the table are rooting for you and they want you to succeed. And I was getting closer to things. I let that fuel me into enjoying this 10 times more than just sitting in the, Oh, you’re critiquing me or you’re putting, no, you’re not.

You’re actually, you brought me in, you’re cheering me on. You want me to succeed. And it’s hard. But I started working on the criticism in your voices from the teachers, if you respect, they want to help you and it comes from that place. And so yeah, I didn’t think I’d be traveling like this. We go to Korea on Monday, so I’m bouncing around the world and I didn’t think, that 20, no, I didn’t think at 28 that I’d seen most of the United States and a big part of the world. And I think when people are like, I think it makes me sad. I will not do; I will not do a cruise ship. I will not do a non-equity tour. I will not do. And I’m like, why? I will not do that regional theater that’s in that small town and I sit there and go, but why?

That doesn’t make any sense. Like, that’s how you grow. That’s how you meet new people. That’s how you learn. And that’s corny, I guess, but it’s the truth. Like I’ve done theaters, you know, like Beast in Texas, beautiful theater, and they put me up with this amazing apartment. I was like, wow. And I’ve done shows where the people were nicest and I was staying in a dorm room, and it just you just never know. And its just part of the business. Like you’re saying, you have students who were there on Broadway one minute and maybe they’re not the next, or they’re on TV or their pilot gets canceled. And did you just keep going. I think it’s back to the Instagram thing. If there’s this polished look that we all put out there that I’m fine and everything’s great and look at this filter. That’s great.

John: You’re going to be recording an EP. Are you cool with talking about it?

Alex: We could talk about that. It’s a slow process. I mean, I know you’ve done that before, right? For years I tried to make my own stuff and record it and I realized that’s just not going to work. And what I found tour in this last year, there are certain songs that kept coming up by other artists – Idina Menzel and Josh Groban – and they just kept popping up as, what if I can make an EP that kind of ties my experience touring and being in theater, songs that keep coming up in my life that means so much to me. And some of those artists kept coming up. So I was like, I had a friend who has a studio and I was like, I want to make an EP. And I didn’t really, I didn’t also didn’t realize how popular it was to do covers on a piece, like a full album of different arrangements of songs we all know.

I went, well, I’m never going to be Elphaba in Wicked, so I’m going to do Defying Gravity. This is my chance. Something like that, you know, because you can. So that’s been a slow process.

John: But we can look forward to that. So where can people find you on the web?

Alex: You know, the only– Instagram. I love that we talk about Instagram. Let’s see. @alexander.mendoza1. That’s my handle that, yeah, I’ve changed it a few times. Alexander Mendoza. You can find me. I’m really serious in my picture.

John: You know what, I’ll put a link in the show notes. So, all right, Alex, I thank you so much and look forward to hearing music from you and many more adventures.

Alex: Thanks for having me.

John: Hey, if you want to know more about me and get more singing tips, etc. please visit my website, johnhenny.com and be sure to sign up for my email list. I send out emails regularly, I let people know when there are new podcasts, and also when I have new products and certain things coming out. So be sure to sign up for that. And if you are interested in learning to belt and you have aims to be a musical theater performer yourself, I would suggest you check out my Boldly Belting course — boldlybelting.com.

I’ve come up with some rather unique ways to help you learn to belt and get your voice dialed in. And until next time, to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye bye.