Steven Strafford is a Brooklyn-born, Jersey-raised actor and writer. He has been seen in "Spamalot" (Original Vegas Cast) as "Prince Herbert" and four other characters (He's the guy who said, "I'm not dead yet," amongst other things) and on the national tour of "Peter Pan." Steven has worked regionally at Portland Stage Company, Sacramento Music Circus, Bakerloo Theatre Project, and has performed in Europe in "Grease!" and in Asia in "Cinderella" (w/ Lea Salonga). Steven has also been featured on UCB TV and audiences can catch his storytelling at The Moth in and around NYC and at www.themoth.org.
Now, Steven is gearing up for the New York City premiere of his one-man show "Methtacular!" Written and performed by Steven, with direction by Adam Fitzgerald, and Music Supervision and Arrangements by Grammy and two-time Emmy Award winner John McDaniel, "Methtacular!" is Steven's hilarious and harrowing account of his three year run as a crystal meth addict in Chicago. A roller coaster ride of a play, "Methtacular!" journeys into the depths of Steven's drug addled, sex-crazed life through stories, songs and "Facts of Life" references.
For more on Steven be sure to visit http://stevenstrafford.com!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright/performer? Every acting class I've ever had, my acting teachers have always said you should write for yourself because nobody will ever write for you the way you write for you. Actress and writer Leslie Ayvazian especially inspired me when she was a guest professor at Drew University my senior year. I had an acting teacher who once told me that because of my voice, I would never play anything but homosexuals and aliens, but Leslie said to me, if you only played homosexuals and aliens, you'd have had a career. Leslie was like you know what, you will play homosexuals because you are one, but you'll also play other parts too. She really pushed me that year to write my own stuff and to really find my own voice and to also be proud of who I am and own the truth. Leslie's a real inspiration.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I would like to work with Bartlett Sher. I think he's an amazing director and I really admire what he's done. I would give a leg to be in a Nicky Silver play. I love his writing. I think he's amazing. I adore Leslie Kritzer and would love to work with her. I also think Bill Irwin is a genius and it would be such a gift to learn from him. I would also love to work with Stew, who wrote "Passing Strange." I left that show completely blown away.
3. What made you want to tell your story of being a crystal meth addict and write "Methtacular"? I did not want to tell my story, but I was up for a part at the Goodman, in Chicago, where all of my using took place. I was auditioning for the Harpo Marx role in the play "Animal Crackers" by the Marx Brothers and I thought I had a real shot at it. When I was auditioning for this role, I was already clean and sober for a year and half, but I had to be okay with the fact that I was going back to Chicago for the first time since being clean. I was terrified. I talked to everyone about it, anyone who would listen. I was finally okay with going back, so I went back, auditioned, and then they cast a woman in the part. I got so mad and I wrote this journal entry "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, (as many times as my fingers would allow)" and then I wrote out of nowhere "Imagine in one sniff every physical, emotional, and sexual insecurity you've ever had disappears." Then I looked at that and wrote for about five hours that day, with just a few breaks throughout. I wrote a bunch of pages in that five-hour block, some of which is still in the show, and then I started reading what I wrote to my actor, playwright, and director friends and they all said, you are writing a show. This should be a show. I said, "Oh, but I can't do that." They said I should just keep writing. I kept reading it and inviting people to come hear it and a director came on board and a friend whom I've known forever said I should be singing in this show and I said to her, "How am I going to sing in this show?" She said back to me that she's never heard me tell a story and not sing! I then started to sing in the show and my musical director John McDaniel came on board. It's just grown so much.
4. How did you decide that you wanted to work with John McDaniel and Adam Fitzgerald and what has the collaboration been like? I was working on Charles Busch's musical "The Green Heart," reading stage directions (director Carl Andress, brought me in for that). John was the musical director on the project. The first day of rehearsals I had to be at; it poured. From the York Theatre, where this was happening, I ran across the street to Better Burger and John was in there. John and I started talking and I told him about my show and he said he was interested in the show. I was so excited because this was John McDaniel from the Rosie O'Donnell show. I grew up knowing him from the show and thought he was the coolest guy. I was completely star struck. I had a reading of my show coming up, so I invited him and he came. Then he took me out to dinner and told me how great the show was and how he thought it was different and special and then in that moment or a week later, I just asked him to be part of it and he said yes. He's been on board since the beginning. Will Hall is our Music Director and doing some of the arrangements and John is supervising him. Everything John touches turns to gold musically. Here's my voice, here are the notes that should be with it and John has a way communicating musically that is unparalleled. I'm just so grateful that he is in the room. John is the best energy to have in the room because he loves theatre. He just loves it! I do too, so to have someone else in the room who is completely not jaded is wonderful.
Adam Fitzgerald and I dated for four years and then broke up. He has remained one of my best friends. He has the ability to say to me you know how it is this, well it can't be like that and I totally get what he's saying. Or he'll be like "It's just like a 'Family Ties' moment" and I just get it. He knows how to communicate with me really well. He's an amazing actor's director. I've seen him work with so many people. He has a show that is opening at Theatre Row ("Getting The Business") and the actress in the show is posting all over the place just what an amazing director he is. Actors love him because he's a great director. He also came on board really early. It felt like the right thing for he and I to work on this together. We both wanted to work on something really good and produce it together, so "Methtacular" is that thing. A lot of directors I had considered wanted to make this show their thing and that's not what "Methtacular" is. Adam gets that. I trust him completely.
5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing "Methtacular"? I think my show is about choices. I believe at any given moment in our lives we are three bad decisions away from a shit storm. I think that when we are in a shit storm, we are three good choices away from getting out of it. I think it's really hard to see that out sometimes. I think there are people who see both at the same time and they are well-balanced, grateful people. I think to be grateful you have to be aware of the fact that it could all go away tomorrow.
I hope people laugh and I hope that people realize talking about the ugliest thing in your life can be fun. It will bring people closer to you and it's how we help another person.
6. Without giving too much away from the show, how did you find the strength to kick crystal meth and stay clean? The show deals with a couple of departures in time. It deals with the three years I did crystal meth heavily in Chicago. The story chronologically does not end with me getting clean and sober, it ends those three years. The truth is I put down crystal meth and picked up drinking heavily. I'm about 160lbs now; I was 135lbs at the end of my using crystal. About a year after I quit crystal I blew up to 180lbs because I was drinking and drinking and drinking. That was okay...for a little while. I was still in my twenties, but that life stopped working for me when I started doing "Spamalot." Nothing horrible happened, but it just go to be too much and too scary, and quite frankly, too lonely for me. I don't have a problem with anyone else who does drugs. If it makes them happy, then that's fine for them, but for me, it wasn't making me happy, so I put it all down. Getting clean and sober happened when I was 29, the show ends when I'm 25.
How do I find the strength not to do it? I have wonderful friends and I talk about it all the time. There was a great article in the Times not too long ago from a guy who said it's time to drop the second A from Alcohol Anonymous. I'm not ready to say that everyone should be open about it, but I am ready. I tell everybody that I'm sober because I'm not somebody who just doesn't drink; I'm somebody who needs not to drink. There's a difference. Because I've gone to the depths of where I've gone to, I just want to share that. I think that if I'm always talking about it, maybe others will come to me, and they have.
7. What excites you about "Methtacular's" NYC premiere from August 30-September 23? Like "Little Red Riding Hood" in "Into The Woods," I'm excited and scared...hahaha. I'm excited because this is the most fulfilling thing I've ever done in my whole life. I get to tell jokes, sing songs, do story telling, and share a piece of my life with audiences. I feel like I am completely showing up. It's the coolest thing to have your show run in NYC. Underneath it all, I'm really just 13 years old really excited about the fall musical. I dreamed of being in shows in NYC, so the fact that my show is happening here is unreal and great!
It's scary because it's out of my hands. You do it and there are reviewers out there who can create or destroy a show. We are a little engine right now and I think we can...I think we can, I think we can...hahaha, but if it's not someone's cup of tea, there's nothing I can do about that. I am also prepared that this could be the only run of it, but there are some theatres in Chicago, Maine, and California that are interested in it and a success in NYC would guarantee those things.
There are so many people I've worked with that are going to come see the show. I'm going to officially name drop here, but I just worked with Randy Graff and am freshly in love with her. She's excited to come see my show. Stephanie D'Abruzzo who I just worked with, is amazzzzing, and she's so excited for my show. It's so just cool to be a fan of these people and then see them be a fan of yours. I can't even wrap my head around that it's happening.
8. You recently presented a benefit concert for "Methtacular," which included a line of amazing people such as Becca Ayers, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Autumn Hurlbert, Molly Pope, and hosted by "Queer As Folk's" Melanie Clunie. Why did you present the concert and how did you decide which performers you wanted to be part of it? Here's the thing, if you are doing a concert called "3 Choices Away" and the show is about drug addiction, it's a very easy road to have a very maudlin concert. We did not want that because the show is not maudlin. What we wanted was something that was fun.
The people we asked to do the concert were people we all have some kind of connection with. For instance, Autumn Hurlbert sang Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back To Me Now," but literally acted out the lyrics. She was a riot! She is so, so funny. She and I have worked together before...and we just became fast friends. I really think at any moment, she's going to be a huge star. Stephanie D'Abruzzo came on board for the concert because we worked together on "The Mad Show." She is so generous with her time and so supportive. Molly Pope and Danielle Grabianowski are two nightlife performers who are both exceptional! Molly sang "House of the Rising Sun" and blew the roof off the place. Danielle sang "La Vie en Rose," in French, and I will tell you the only people not crying were those holding it together. It was that sort of night. My agent, Chris Nichols, performed. He is so great. He's been really supportive! My boyfriend, Wade Elkins, who's an amazing singer, sang in the concert as well (he's currently doing "Blue Man Group" in Chicago right now, which is ironic because he has one of the best voices in the world and he's silent in the show). Cindy Cheung (she was in "Lady in the Water" and wrote her own hilarious show "Speak Up Connie") sang amazingly with her ukulele, Isaac Oliver also performed. He read these poems that are like for the Abercrombie and Fitch model doing a crossword in pen. He writes these hilarious, sad, and funny gay poems, and my friend Frances Mercanti Anthony performed who is legit great, (She was Christine Estabrook's stand-by in "Spring Awakening") and Frances did a mad-lib with the audience. Kristy Cates got up and did an acoustic version of "Defying Gravity" that was awesome. There's still whole bunch of people I haven't even be able to mention that were just awesome! The concert was a really great night. It was all people I love and all people who love me. It was a perfect kick off to start rehearsing for the show, which happened a few days after.
9. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer/playwright? I definitely know that I'm more comfortable in a crowd of 50 people than with "a" person. I think I want to affect people. As I work more and more, I've done a couple of jobs that have been good, but they're not for me. I want to be a part of something. I want to continue to bring joy, clarification, and a little bit of knowledge to someone. Writing and performing really allows me to do that.
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? My college professor, playwright Buzz McLaughlin, said to me when I was 21 and freaking out, "If you are 30-years-old and know what you want to do with your life, you're ahead of the game, so just relax." I didn't listen to him, but it's probably the best advice I was ever given.
11. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? If I had to pick one person, I'd probably pick my maternal grandmother. She died when I was 2, but she and I were apparentley very close. I would love the chance to talk with her.
12. Favorite way to spend your day off? With my boyfriend. I don't really care what we do as long as it's together.
13. Favorite way to stay in shape? Anxiety...hahaha! Seriously, I love tennis!
14. Boxers or Briefs? Boxer-briefs or briefs, but they have to be the right brand and cut the right way.
15. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Teleporting.