From Here I Can Only Improve

By Chris Heide


Pat Constant is an actor based in New York who will be starring in The Sorceress at the The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Chris Heide, of Chosen, has the opportunity to talk to Pat about his role in the show, his budding career, and his experiences as an openly gay man.

Chris: Tell me a little bit about the show

Pat: It’s part Disney fairy tale and part Grimm’s fairy tale. It’s a fairly dark show, yet nobody dies.

The show tells the story of a young heroine, and her dashing fiance, who must deal with her wicked stepmother’s plot to seize her father’s fortune. Given that the show is called The Sorceress, you can expect a lot of magic, witches and sorcery woven into the plot.

The show itself is an Operetta and is entirely in Yiddish (as opposed to English). This means that a good portion of the show is sung through.

Chris: What excites you about playing the lead role?

Pat: It’s a chance to put my education and training to the test. I literally graduated from college last week and I’m fortunate to have already been cast as the lead in an Off-Broadway show. It still blows my mind that I will be playing opposite an actress who has been featured a Broadway show.

I’ve also never been cast as the leading man. I have been featured in a multitude of supporting and featured roles throughout my college career, but this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to play the lead. To have this chance to exercise what I’ve learned, to see what I can really do, and to already be a leading player in a professional production while just having graduated less than a week ago is nothing short of a blessing.

Chris: Do you feel pressure in assuming a role with this sort of gravitas?

Pat: I assumed I would feel a lot of pressure, especially given that I would be working with such a talented team of professionals. Once I was actually in the theater for rehearsals, however, I instantly felt at ease. The whole creative team is incredibly supportive. I feel respected as an equal. I feel I’ve been preparing for this type of experience my entire college career- it’s like home to me.

Chris: What are your career aspirations?

Pat: Broadway, of course. That’s the goal, the dream. I think I have what it takes to make it there, after a great deal of cultivating my craft. The next step in my career would be to try and get cast in a national tour. That would afford me the opportunity to add credits to my resume, develop a consistent sense of discipline and make those necessary networking connections.

In the last couple years, however, I’ve set my dreams higher than Broadway. Setting unrealistic dreams has been what’s kept me going. It’s what’s gotten me this far. When you make the decision that your livelihood is going to depend on whether or not you succeed in pursuit of something so unrealistic, it does one of two things; you get defeated and apathetic, or you work like hell because you realize how hard it truly is going to be. My ultimate dream is to become a Broadway composer. I know that building a laudable and successful career as an actor will eventually afford me the opportunity to compose. Think about it. It would be like Patti Lupone deciding that she wanted to compose a new show. Given her stature, talent and respected career, producers would be flooding her with calls go work with her. She has the foundation of her own career to explore new opportunities. This is what I need to do- build my professional career as an actor so that I can, one day, achieve my ultimate goal of composing.

Chris: What is the most difficult aspect of this show?

Pat: The show is performed entirely in Yiddish. Normally as an actor, a great deal of the direction you receive is based on how you inflect or deliver a line.  In this instance, we receive detailed direction on every single word and line, to make sure we are capturing the correct intent of the language. It’s a tedious, yet rewarding process of bring every line to life.

Acting, in my opinion, is the most difficult aspect of musical theater. There are three components to musical theater- singing, dancing and acting. With singing and dancing, there is a lot more technicality that goes into building a professional skill set. There is a proper way to hit a note or a double pirouette. Acting is a much more subjective craft. Although there are established methodologies for acting, the craft itself is extremely psychological and personal. Every actor approaches their craft in a slightly different way. A technique of evoking emotion that might work for another actor might not work for me. It’s a craft that requires a lot of time, work and repetition. You have to fumble and stumble and think and dig until finally you arrive at something that works for you. Even now I’ve just barely scratched the surface of what I believe is a technique that works for me. But all things come with practice and patience.

Chris: Tell me about a time you struggled or an obstacle you had to overcome

Pat: I didn’t know I was gay until I was 15. October 29th 2011, actually. That was the exact date I came to the full realization and simultaneous acceptance. It wasn’t that I was in the closet; I just flat out didn’t know. I could tell you exactly why I didn’t know, but that’s a different story for a different article. Although I didn’t know I was gay, I was always different. I was overly sensitive and never really fit in with what was typical of boys my age. People had been making fun of me and calling me gay for years, as children being young and naive always have and likely will always do. The worst part about coming out and telling people I was gay, is that suddenly everybody who has ever called me that word was right. All those bullies and their intentions were validated.

As a result I was constantly policing myself. I’m neurotypical. I’ve never had diagnosed clinical depression. After I came out, I became depressed for a couple years because I found that I was letting everything that anybody said to me really get to me. Subconsciously, my mind was thinking “well they were right about you being gay, who knows what else they could be right about”.

I was hypercritical of myself and every little move I made. Eventually, my skin got thick. I learned to love and accept myself for who I was, because who I want to be and the changes I want to make within myself are irrelevant, unless I can accept who I am and where I am now. I wanted to be cool. I wanted to let words slide like water off a duck’s back. (That's a thing people say, right?). I wanted to stop lisping, I wanted to stop letting my wrists go limp, I wanted to stop popping my hip when standing in place. (For the record, it’s totally fine to have these qualities and be this person. But these were qualities I had decided I did not want for myself).

In order to make these changes back then, I first had to accept that I lisp, that my wrists go limp, that my hip pops, that I’m overly sensitive. They are characteristics that are part of me. Once I learned to embrace and love everything about myself (because you can love yourself and still want to change yourself), that’s when I began to make strides toward growing into the person I wanted to become. When I said “I’m gay” to people back in high school, 6 out of 10 people responded with “Oh Pat, I know”. That sucked. I didn’t want to be a stereotype. I just wanted to be the version of myself I was meant to be.  By the time I got to college, not a single person assumed I was gay. In a musical theater program where the running joke was “you’re gay until proven straight” that was a drastic change.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m an incredibly proud homosexual and I’ll likely bring up that I’m gay somewhere within my first day of meeting you. But until I do mention it, you wouldn’t know anymore. I am who I am, without fitting into a box of stereotypes and behaviors. I think this is what sexuality is truly about. It is a part of us and so deeply personal, but it doesn’t have to define our entire being. My behaviors don’t need to have a bearing on my sexual preference.

All of that being said, this philosophy of mine, this “acknowledge where are you in order to proceed to where you want to be”, born from my coming out experience, is largely to thank for where my talents are today. It kind of rocked my world I went from being one of the best in my high school to, in my opinion, one of the worst at my university. And again I can’t stress enough that that statement doesn’t come from a place of self-depreciation, but from a place of motivation. I needed to improve. I needed to be better. I couldn’t be caught with my head in the sand believing I was more talented than I was, because that would only work against me. When I got into my first college show in my sophomore year, after watching so many of my friends be cast in all the shows freshmen year, I was ecstatic. I was only in a slightly featured ensemble role, but I couldn’t have been prouder of myself. I saw my hard work being validated. I saw progress. I saw results. On that day I ran home, and being a little emotional (you never completely outgrow your roots I suppose), I wrote down a little mantra on a slip of paper. I’m sure I still have with me somewhere if I looked for it: “From here I can only improve”.

I’m not the world’s greatest actor. I can’t cry on command. I have colleagues that are currently doing bigger and better things, but that’s okay. I worked my ass off and landed myself one hell of a job. I will continue to work my ass off. And to stand on THIS stage at the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, harmonizing with a Broadway actress and stellar cast, thinking to myself  “From here. From HERE I can only improve.”- that’s an incredible feeling.