When the Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards begin tonight, Broadway will be in the house. That's because the ceremony is being emceed by Tyler Mount, a producer on the current revival of Once on This Island and power source for the astoundingly popular Tyler Mount Vlog for Playbill.com. He's a big B'way deal.
Just five years ago, though, Mount was a senior at St. Edward's University, finishing up four years in Austin during which he appeared in numerous productions at St. Ed's and logged two years with Summer Stock Austin. His performance as Roger DeBris in The Producers there earned him a B. Iden Payne Award nomination, and his overall work in town was honored with a W.H. "Deacon" Crain Award for Outstanding Student Work from the Austin Critics Table. His rapid rise from aspiring actor to Broadway producer and social media phenom with 3 million viewers in 168 countries is a drama all its own – one he shared with the Chronicle during a whirlwind week in which he visited London to cover the Olivier Awards and jetted back to NYC before shooting down to Austin for the GAHSMTTAs.
Austin Chronicle: You’re coming back to Austin for the High School Musical Theatre Awards. What connection do you feel to that audience right now?
Tyler Mount: Well, first of all, we should talk about is where they’re being held, which is Austin. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the incredible enriching artistic experience that I had in Austin. I was working as an actor, and I was able to get my Equity card in those four years, and I was mildly successful, right? At the same time, I owe a portion of my success to the Austin arts community – to St. Edward’s University, to people that I worked with like David Stahl and the actors who have inspired me and shown me that it was a viable means of a career, to my educators, to people like Ginger Morris and Michael McKelvey, and to Summer Stock Austin and programs that I participated in that really gave me a passion for theatre and, most importantly, the education I needed to be successful. And sure, I moved to New York wanting to be an actor, and that’s just not how the cards were dealt for me, and maybe they would have if I had played the game longer, but that’s not something I wanted to do. But because of my experience at St. Ed’s and in Summer Stock, I was able to stage manage, which led me to Gloria [Estafan], which led me to my show, which in a roundabout way led me to my career today. So the first thing, I am always willing to come back to Austin, because I am very cognizant of the fact that I wouldn’t be where I am right now without the city and the artistic people who live there, right?
Second of all, I do what I do for young people. I talk about it all the time. I remember growing up in a small town in Texas: 300 people, one stoplight. I didn’t feel like I fit in until I got to college. The only safe space I felt was in a theatre classroom and the stage, working on work, whatever it was. And I wanted to be a part of the Broadway community so bad, and [in those days] I was able to connect to the Broadway community through YouTube. It was the advent of social media. Not a lot of people were posting about it on Facebook, but I could watch bootleg videos on YouTube. I could watch stage door videos and backstage videos on YouTube, and it really connected me. That’s why I do what I do, specifically for the young people who desperately want to be a part of the community, who feel different, who feel less than. I’m a shining example that if you are authentic and true to who you are, then you can eventually achieve whatever your dreams are, even if they don’t get achieved the way you thought they were going to be. Never was in The Book of Mormon, [even though I] knew I was going to be, but I’ve done everything and more that I’ve ever wanted to do in my life in the first two years of having my vlog. And it’s by me being authentic, which is a young, eccentric, theatre-loving person. And people, for whatever reason, like that, and it’s stuck.
AC: Is there something in particular that you think of when you think of Ginger, maybe in the way she worked with students, that has tuck with you?
TM: Yeah. Ginger introduced me to the idea of summer stock. I had no clue about it beforehand. She instilled in me and in so many young people an all-encompassing education of theatre in a very short amount of time. I did Summer Stock Austin two years, right? So like, the year I did The Producers, I was not only starring in a leading role in one show, I was running spots for another show, something I had never done before, so I learned how to viably do that – not that I would ever use that on Broadway, but I had the ability and skill and knowledge and the working vocabulary on how to talk to a technician, how to talk to an electrician the second I got to a Broadway theatre. Then I was a dresser, and again, I’m not going to be a dresser on Broadway, I’m not a member of the union, but I do understand what it takes to do it and I understand their prep and I understand a lot of the things that it takes to be successful as a fully rounded theatre professional. And I was also able to stage manage the other [Summer Stock] mainstage shows. So I got first-hand experience calling a show with multiple cues and moving parts and lights, so I felt really confident to work professionally in New York City in part because Ginger’s direction and my involvement in Summer Stock.
AC: So what was the biggest challenge that you faced and overcame when you got to New York?
TM: That’s interesting. You would think, because you’re interviewing me, that I overcame this challenge. Surprisingly, I would say that my biggest challenge was something that I just gave up on and failed at, which is a lesson in itself. I came as a member of Equity. I knew that I wanted to be a professional actor – we could talk for ages about whether that was a good decision or a bad decision, but you always hear that it is a grind, it is so exhausting auditioning all day. You hear it, you understand it. I understood it intellectually, and I was ready to do it. But even living at Midtown, getting up a 5 in the morning every single day and hiking through the snow in January and singing at three different auditions and taking your entire day to do it is exhausting. And it’s emotionally draining. And I hated it. I felt so insecure. I felt so much less than everyone else in the room, even though I didn’t know anything about anyone else in the room. I just knew, like, I’m not tall enough, I’m not handsome enough, I’m not buff enough, I’m not straight enough, I can’t sing high enough. I was so self-defeating. I was so unhappy that ultimately it didn’t make sense for me to do it anymore, and that’s when I transitioned to stage management. The moral of that story is something that I’ve learned through my vlog, because I ask people the same question: What advice would you give a young person? And 99% percent of the time, it’s always to be authentic, to be yourself. And that’s something I wish I had known then. I don’t know if that would have changed anything, but I am an example of trying trying trying, failing failing failing, and then figuring out once I really am myself and authentic, then oh, that’s when I can start not only being successful but thriving.
AC: I've always felt that it's also important to be open to opportunities that might lead you somewhere, even if it's somewhere that's away from your planned destination. Did you have an opportunity open up to you that you said yes to even though it didn't fit your plan for yourself?
TM: Absolutely. I was auditioning at the time, doing callback after callback, and I was never booking, so I started to apply for stage management jobs. And I finally got an interview, and I heard about the contract and I was really excited, but then I’m thinking, “Oh my god, this is a terrible decision. I won’t be able to audition during this four-week contract. I won’t be an actor. I’ll be giving up on my dreams. I’ll be a failure, blah blah blah,” all these things going through my head. Then I found out, oh, it’s starring Patti Lupone. M’kay. Well, do I take it or do I not take it? Believe it or not, a lot of people told me not to take it, because they had heard through the grapevine that Patti could ruin your career if she hates you. But how many times do you get offered an opportunity to be the assistant stage manager in a show with Patti Lupone? So I was like, I’m gonna do it. Come to find out, her and I are like besties for the resties. We had a great time on the first show. Then I did another show with her. then I started working as a stage manager show to show to show, and then ultimately, I wound up on On Your Feet with Gloria. And if I hadn’t taken that first opportunity, it wouldn’t have snowballed into the stage management stint that I had on Broadway, which wouldn’t have led me to Gloria, which would not have led me to my show. So that’s exactly it. I was given an opportunity, and some opportunities, even though they do not per se fit your timeline or your ideal version of your journey, you have to go, “This is an opportunity I can’t pass up.”
AC: The vlog – this was originally just for you and your friends, right?
TM: Oh my god, absolutely. I just did it to pass the time, I thought it would be fun. My friends from St. Ed’s [who now live in New York] and I just did it for fun. I didn’t care if anyone watched it. I didn’t promote it. And then it kind of snowballed into this thing that it is today.
AC: I read that it was Gloria Estefan who was like, "Can I be on it?" Did you think she was serious?
TM: I had been friends with Gloria at that time almost two years. I saw her every day of my life working on her show. So I knew that was her personality, and I knew if she offered, she probably wasn’t kidding. I definitely had to follow up – she didn’t just show up at my house – but she was serious. She showed up, and not only did she give me a huge Broadway credit, but she also changed my life and the trajectory of it by giving me the opportunity of interviewing her first, my first Broadway guest – I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing. Like I didn’t intend for it to be a Broadway show. She was just one of my friends, and she came over. And after that, it’s turned into only Broadway people.
AC: Obviously, you’re making a deep impression on young people right now. Is it safe to say that that’s your core audience for the vlog?
TM: Absolutely. I mean, I probably have viewers in every demographic, but the core is easily 12-24, gay men, and women. So the young, young Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen fans of the world.
AC: Tell me about your BroadwayCon experience. That sounded like it was a huge wake-up call for you as to how much influence you were putting out there.
TM: I started the vlog in 2015, and Gloria came on around November, and when January rolled around, I was asked to do some digital content for Playbill at this first-ever BroadwayCon. I didn’t know what to expect, I just knew that it was gonna be thousands and thousands of Broadway’s biggest fans descending on New York City to look at shows and get an exclusive first-hand look at panels and shows and things that you would only get at this convention. And it was that moment when people were yelling my name and screaming at me over balconies that I was like, “Oh, people actually like this and know who I am and what I’m doing.” So that was fun, that was a cool experience. Fast-forward to the following year: It was almost twice as big. There were hordes and hordes of people around me taking photos and [getting] autographs, and I couldn’t go anywhere unaccompanied because I would be swarmed just because of the influence I have in the Broadway community. And that is for the most part pretty standard any time I’m in the Theatre District. It’s not like I can’t go to dinner – I’m not a celebrity in that sense – but the Broadway community and 12 year olds seem to really like what I’m doing.
AC: So you’re in a better position to answer this question than anybody else I know: There has long been a fear that other forms of entertainment are killing Broadway – first film, then television, now social media. But you’re using a social media platform to build audiences for Broadway. So isn’t it possible that social media can help build audiences for theatre?
TM: So first of all, Broadway is not dying. We have record-breaking box office numbers each year for like the past decade, right? So it’s growing and growing and growing. With the advent of really, really pop-culture phenomenon shows like Hamilton, followed by Dear Evan Hansen, young people are connecting to shows through social media in ways that they’ve never done before – mostly because they’ve never had the opportunity. So my job, [along with] my team at Playbill, is to make sure that I make Broadway accessible to the masses. How can I connect the young kid in Idaho to this show without having them have to be here? So that’s my ultimate goal, and that is where all the money is being spent right now, advertising-wise, on Broadway. Sure, you have your big buys for TV commercials and billboards in Times Square, but the majority is being spent on digital, because that’s how young people who are going to convert to ticket sales are consuming media. Social media is making Broadway more accessible, but more importantly, more people want to go see it once they’re exposed to it. So if anything, social media is definitely helping our business.
AC: One of my favorite features on your vlog is you recapping entire musicals super-fast. Is there any show you can’t do in three minutes?
TM: Oh my gosh, I don’t think there is a show I couldn’t do in three minutes. There are some shows that I would be banned from doing in three minutes, but I don’t think there’s any one I couldn’t do.
Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.