"I’m an Ohio kid who had New York dream...and I’m here now."
Seth Stewart is performing eight shows a week for 'Hamilton'--the hit musical that was nominated this week for a record 16 Tony Awards.
But before Stewart hit it big on Broadway, he was finding his way in Northeast Ohio.
The performer grew up in Kent and graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in 2002.
newsnet5.com sat down with Stewart for an exclusive interview via Facetime.
Watch the interview in the video player above and read what he said about his life, success and childhood below:
Tell me about your background.
I was born and raised in Kent, Ohio. I've been living in New York now for 14 years and I went to Kent Roosevelt, I'm a Rough Rider. I'm a Buckeye. But I basically grew up in Kent, wrestling, I played football from pee wee all the way through high school. I started training heavily at a dance studio there, James dance center, which was all the way in Youngstown so when I was really training I had to drive like 45 minutes each way just to get to classes. And then I went to Ohio Youth Ballet because they said to do it and I didn't want to but I knew it was going to make my technique a lot better so I did that and so I'm an Ohio kid that had New York dreams and I'm here now.
So how did you get your start in Northeast Ohio?
It’s because of what the school systems and the education systems provide as a base. If there’s no funding for the arts program for schools, kids won’t have as good of an opportunity to not only live out their dreams but make a career out of it. And I’m proof in the pudding that somebody can make a career out of the arts who’s from Ohio.
What hardships did you face when moving to NYC?
There's definitely, coming to New York there was no immediate success. I came to do the BFA program at Fordham in conjunction with Alvin Ailey and I went for a year and a half and I loved the program but it wasn't for me completely because I wanted to get out and audition and perform. And so there was about 7-8 months of semi homelessness, crashing on couches because I did not want to come back to Ohio because I felt like, at that time, I felt like I would have given up. And then I actually auditioned, I booked a music video that was in Italy and my agent called me back to say there was an audition for Madonna so...my agent got me a ticket, I came frrom Italy, auditioned in New York with 20,000 people, stayed in the States because they wouldn't let me back to Italy to finish the job, then went to LA and auditioned there against another 2,000 people and then booked my first gig with Madonna.
So how was the Madonna tour?!
The Madonna tour was one of the best experiences of my life. The thing about success…Success is different for everybody but I’m talking specifically career success, is that once you hit a certain place it becomes a matter of not staying there but finding other things that are going to allow you to enjoy what you do and so that was a great career success and I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that there’s a life success. But I had a blast. I toured the world at 20 years old. Which is great and dangerous.
How did growing up in Northeast Ohio contribute to your success?
I just feel like growing up in Ohio, the community of Ohio and the community of Kent makes you keep a strong head on your shoulders....I feel like that was a blessing for me, growing up, coming from a place of being humble and being responsible.
How has your life changed since the Tony Award nominations were announced?
Life doesn't change right now, being in Hamilton. I put it in this regard. We’re in the inside of the house looking out but we’re not really looking out because we’re just living our lives. Everybody outside looking in is like ‘that’s the greatest house you ever built’ and it’s like okay but we’re still in here working. So, again, because of the Tony nominations, and even if we win a few or a lot, it doesn’t really change what you have to do on a daily basis to keep that level of expectation.
What's your day-to-day life like?
My day to day life looks crazy. I do eight shows a week. I do two on Wednesdays and two on Saturdays and in between there I have physical therapy three times a week. I cook my own meals because I just know what I need to sustain my energy so cooking takes a lot of time from my day. At least once or twice a week I’m running to an audition for anything… for a voiceover, for a movie audition.
(Guess what ladies? He was in Friends with Benefits!)
And then any free time, there’s not much free time, but if there’s free time I’m working on my music. I’m actually releasing an album that’s coming out in two months, probably around the end of June and I’m actually producing that with Chris Jackson who plays George Washington in the show.
So that’s what I do in my free time is I make as much art as possible and I go as hard as I can because life is too short!
Did you know as soon as you joined Hamilton that it was going to be a success?
You know something’s going to be a success, but I don’t think anybody really knew how big it was until we finished off Broadway because once we finished off Broadway we realized that the first big slot of tickets was sold out for Broadway and then it was like 'oh okay' but then, again, I think it’s bigger than the people in the cast realize. We know things are in magazines, we know things are on the news but you can’t pay attention to it. So I probably won’t realize how big Hamilton is until I’m done with the show two or three years later.
I see you go back to Kent sometimes to participate in alumni events. Is that something that's important to you?
Kent is always going to be home. Ohio is always going to be home. I actually even thought about moving back in a couple years and my dad was like 'no, not yet.' And I get it now but..I…going back to Kent specifically, especially because they’ve been developing it makes me proud and I realize that seeing people I haven’t seen for years, seeing my high school teachers who I love, I love my high school teachers, seeing my friends. I would teach all over Ohio. I’ve been teaching for over a decade all over Ohio. It’s kind of like a vacation, as crazy as to people living in Ohio as that may sound, for me coming home is soothing. And you just have to remember where you came from. Especially if it was a great place to grow up and it made you a better person.
How have your parents contributed to getting you where you are today?
My mom has taught me different strengths in terms of laughing through life and keeping things simple and just being silly and just slow down and my dad has always been the stay out of trouble, focus your energy, the positive reinforcement in my life and the hard working reinforcement in my life because if you don’t have a strong work ethic you’re never going to make it in anything. And it’s not a matter of making it but it’s a matter of doing more for your life to achieve the things you want to be, whether that being getting married and making your relationship strong or having the career and making your career strong so you can always continue to do it. You need a hard, strong work ethic and at the same time you do kind of need to chill out and enjoy the fruits of your labor so I’m still learning how to slow down and enjoy the fruits of my labor but I’m so hungry, I’m not done yet. Like I have so many movies I want to make, so many albums I want to do, I have so many places in the world that I want to see, because again life is too short and coming from Ohio gives you a strong foundation but to me it’s like a launching pad.
Like sometimes I feel like I carry Kent on my shoulders, sometimes, not all the times, but people have told me that I made them feel proud and to me that’s a responsibility to be like ‘Oh, Seth don’t do anything too stupid’ you know because people are watching you and you have to honor now your city, you now have to honor Ohio and I do take that to heart.
I want to be at LeBron level in terms of what I do, in terms of responsibility. Because I know he does great philanthropic work as well and I’m going to get to that level at some point.