Exclusive Feature: Darren Criss

 

DA MAN: Have you always felt the need to perform on some level?
DARREN CRISS:
Of course, always. I have always been overly idealistic, though. I want to do everything, but fame is not the motivation, creating good work has always been the main thing.

 

 

DA MAN: What are some other roles you’d love to play?
DARREN CRISS:
I’d love to be the Master of Ceremonies for the [Broadway theater production] “Cabaret.” Alternatively, there are a lot of [playwright Edward] Albee plays that I’d love to work on …  There’s a wonderful play called “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” by Albee and I’ve always wanted to be the kid [Alan Strang, a stableboy at a horse ranch with a violent streak] in the theater production of “Equus,” [written by Peter Shaffer].

DA MAN: What about starring in some of your own plays?
DARREN CRISS:
Yes! I have a theater company in Chicago and I write musicals: That’s what I did before “Glee.” I started a theater company with my best friends from college and it has been a huge part of my life. Being a musician, writing musicals, running a theater company—that’s been my most important endeavor. In fact, sometimes I feel as if I’ve been moonlighting as a “Glee” actor, while I support my life in the theater.

DA MAN: You must be referring to StarKid Productions, your student-created theater troupe founded in 2009 by you and fellow students from the University of Michigan; what can you tell us about that?
DARREN CRISS:
StarKid Productions has become a kind of a brand with the shows we create. Most of what we’ve done you can see on YouTube. It kind of got started with writing shows for ourselves, for fun, and the only reason we started putting it on YouTube was for our friends when they’d miss a show due to exams and stuff like that. And, I was very shocked when so many people that didn’t even know us started watching the productions on YouTube. It was really special, because what we were doing was such fun, and the works were innocent and genuine—very low profile. I’ve written songs for five of the shows. If I ever do a musical on Broadway, I do hope it is one of mine. I would even love to just sit in an audience and see one of my shows on Broadway.  Currently, I’m releasing the music from my own musicals and a lot of the people coming to my shows, or starting to follow my character on “Glee,” are actually StarKid fans.

DA MAN: Does either your work in the theater or on Glee ever interfere with each other?
DARREN CRISS:
Yeah, I’m juggling both of these things and it has definitely been a real hard job. But, we keep introducing more shows for StarKid, and I keep shooting for “Glee.” I was planning on releasing a music album and then “Glee” happened, and sure, there’s been a holdup, but in the end, it all makes for more interesting records.

DA MAN: Let’s talk a little bit about StarKid Productions and the road before your huge success on Glee: How did it all begin?
DARREN CRISS:
It all started when I was in college. My friends and I created StarKid to put on shows, because it was fun for us and our friends. Everyone just wanted to have a good time. We would write versions of “Star Wars,” and “The Hobbit” with Celine Dion music—irreverent self-effacing things that aren’t very conscious of the story. “A Very Potter Musical,” which was the first of our videos to go viral, was the best because it’s clearly by people who love the franchise. But while we were creating these shows, people are in school. They have essays to write and finals to take and when we did the “Potter” musical, very few people got to see it. So, like many of our shows, we got it on tape, and after we graduated from the University of Michigan, (which was like my own personal Hogwarts), we kept talking about the show and thought, ‘man we really got to get this to our friends,’ so we just put it on YouTube. We didn’t think anyone except our friends would watch it, and then, quite unexpectedly, our video was number one around the world.

DA MAN: How great a challenge is it to produce your theater show in conjunction with shooting “Glee”?
DARREN CRISS:
It’s a huge undertaking.”Glee” is the most chaotic production and it is a lot of work. I don’t want to misrepresent or belittle “Glee,” however, I have to admit that “Glee” is a welcome vacation, which is insane because I work really hard on “Glee.” But, when it comes down to it, it’s really nothing compared to running your own show—especially through correspondence—from L.A. to Chicago—in my room with just a piano and an Internet connection. I mean, If I told any of the regulars on “Glee” that it’s my vacation, they would think I’m crazy, but I don’t air as often as them anyways, since I’m a guest star. The great thing about working on TV is the advantage of time. You sit in the trailer for a long time, and I actually get a lot of StarKid Productions work done. “Glee” has both complicated my ambitions in terms of scheduling and also empowered them because “Glee” is undeniably one of the largest, if not the largest, platforms for any new young actor. So, I wasn’t going to say no to that. And though I’m proud of all the work I’ve done on StarKid Productions, which has gained a fan base in the hundreds of thousands, it’s nothing compared to “Glee”’s millions. So, I’m glad that my different projects have reached different demographics. To say the least, “Glee” has augmented attention for StarKid Productions in a great way.

DA MAN: With “Glee” showcasing your voice and StarKid Productions showcasing your other musical talents, do you have any interest in pursuing an independent career as a rock ‘n’ roller?
DARREN CRISS:
Actually, I was at a crossroads right before I got “Glee” when my main personal investment was StarKid Productions. At that point, I was really going to start pursuing music more. I was weeks away from sitting down with my agents to say that music had proven to be more lucrative on many levels and, though I was auditioning all the time and things weren’t going badly, I was playing more shows and getting more momentum from pursuing music over acting. I was in the middle of a decision to potentially sign a record deal, and I had some very good options. Being a recording artist was going to be a whole new route in my life: Put a record out, tour around and that was going to be my life. And then “Glee” called, and when it rains it pours. “Glee” keeps me busy, but I was anticipating releasing an album, so depending on how things play out in the next few months, I’d still like to pursue that. It’s six years overdue! StarKid Productions takes a lot of time out of me, but I would love to take some of that time for myself and really go for it.

 

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