Inspired by our Broadway at Every Stage season, we asked Wicked ensemblist Jeff Heimbrock to share how he defines success in his mid-20s.
I hate feeling young. I hate telling my co-workers my age and getting eye rolls. I hate getting chastised for totally missing a key ‘90s reference. Most of all, good GOD, I resent being referred to as “buddy,” particularly if we are assumed equals on a career or social level and even worse if they’re someone I was interested in romantically.
But I am so young. I am a spry young chicky in a world of self-assured roosters. I look like I just passed my driver’s test, which is helpful if I want to keep playing teenagers my entire career and not so helpful when you want people to take you seriously.
Perhaps this youthful insecurity is because I found success at an unusually young age. When others hustle restaurant jobs, temping, suffering through 10am open calls for decades to be on Broadway, there I was, barely 20, making my big debut. Of course, like all success, this was a magic combination of being in the right place at the right time. I wish there was a more egalitarian answer. I wish there was something more soothing to say to frustrated friends post-audition, dying for that one chance to breathe in the fabled dusty air of a Broadway stage. But that’s the cold hard truth of the matter. I was simply lucky.
For me, the timing of my job at The Book of Mormon was essential. I was in my second year of college, barely affording life in New York City, not sure where my rent was going to come from and living off $50 of Trader Joe’s groceries a week. Am I grateful? You bet your ass I am. But there were things I missed. College. Dating in college. A college diploma. Opportunities to work on my skills that weren’t on this major stage. A small price to pay, for sure, but also time and experiences I won’t get back.
What’s it like reaching it so early, and so suddenly? Being a Broadway performer was the only job that I ever wanted to do. Since I was probably nine years old, my mind was completely made up. I was doe-eyed and naive. Excited and terrified. I felt like an imposter, thrust into an opportunity I wasn’t sure I was ready for, but absolutely could not mess up. My standards for myself were high, not just to please the producers or the director but also to all the years I spent idolizing this art form.
I was (am) so in love with Broadway, that my fandom practically became synonymous with my name. So many people either stumble into the industry, or quickly become coldly bitter. I’ve heard it all: complaints about the day-to-day banality of a Broadway show, or bitterness that they aren’t in the “hot show,” or sometimes actually IN the “hot show” and bitter anyway. I pity that jaded perspective. There are 1,000,000 people who would kill to be where I am. I should know, I was one of them. For all the people who won’t see this success, I refuse to write it off, abuse it, or take it for granted.
All of that being said, there is an artistic momentum that if not sustained, can turn you to the bitter dark side. The dreaded question for every artist is “what’s next?” For the true artists work is never done; there is always a next, there is always a desire for something new, exciting and juicy. Something that will challenge you, make you again feel either relevant or alive (and for many artists, those two are one and the same).
For me it’s never “been there, done that.” It's been “what else!” All of a sudden, this dream of mine that always felt so far away from me came true. There was a section of my soul that felt closure and that same pie slice began aching for new dreams. Things and passions I hadn’t even considered as career options started unveiling themselves to me. People talk a lot about “true callings." If that’s the case, I have about 17 callings. And I want them all, because I’m ambitious and a scorpio.
So what is next, you ask? Well, I just opened in a dream show of mine, and having the time of my life, so hopefully that will continue for quite a while. Other than that, I am thrusting my arms out to the universe and trying to let things come to me. Inversely, I am also working on 7,000 projects, ranging from acting workshops, writing a TV pilot, collaborating on an avant-garde Christmas spectacular and taking online literature classes. I guess I’m sort of shooting a bunch of grappling hook guns and will follow whichever ones stick. I like to think of myself as a gay Lara Croft.
I have some definite dreams. I’d love to see something I wrote be produced. Whether that is a novel, a play, a screenplay or a pilot, I’d be thrilled. I’d love to originate a role in a Broadway show. I’d love to be in more plays. I’d love to make a film. I’d love to collaborate. I’d love to help my friends foster their own dreams and see those realized.
I don’t expect any of those other dreams to come true as swiftly or miraculously as my Broadway dream did. But I will work my hiney off until they do. Oh, and I will love every second of it.