Who doesn't remember their first job out of college? The first time you had to navigate the worlds of business casual versus business formal, how terrible at salary negotiation you were, how many hours you spent perfecting the art of the handshake and how you jumped for joy when you received your first business card. Fairfax native Kevin Clay will undoubtedly never forget his, as he headed straight from Penn State to the Broadway stage.
Clay, who calls D.C. his hometown, graduated from Pennsylvania State University in May, 2015 and was busy exploring Mormonism by November after landing an ensemble role in the second national tour of Broadway darling and international sensation, "The Book of Mormon." He quickly worked his way up to the position of Elder Price's understudy ("the theater equivalent of the third string quarterback," as he explained to us) and was prepping for his Elder Price debut by August 2016; six months later he was promoted to "second string QB" as an Elder Price standby. Now, as Book of Mormon returns to the Kennedy Center for the third time since the show's debut in 2011, Clay is ready to take the leading reins in front of his hometown as the tour's official lead Elder Price.
"I'm feeling very fortunate," said Clay. "I see so many of my friends in New York and classmates that haven't gotten consistent work yet, or are really, really scraping to get work and I know how lucky I am to have fallen into one of the best jobs in the industry right now."
It's not all luck as the humble actor would lead us to believe. Clay spent every summer in college auditioning for various summer stock theatres, where he would only have a week or two to rehearse a show before performing it for a week and then traveling on to the next stock where he'd start the process all over again.
"The rehearsal process in stock theatre is so brief, much like joining a national tour, where you are literally dropped into an existing company and told you have two weeks to learn a show," said Clay. "I was very grateful for my summer trainings, which I think helped me pick things up quickly."
In fact, Clay had never even seen "The Book of Mormon" until his first rehearsal on the tour. But he had long been a fan of the soundtrack, and had actually read the entire book of Mormon long before landing his Broadway role.
"I went through a period where I loved reading all different religious texts, and one day in college I met two missionaries on campus who offered me the book, and I gladly accepted," said Clay. "Actually, anytime I see missionaries, who often hang out by the theaters we are performing in to talk to our audiences, I'm always one of the people who loves to stop and talk to them to see how they feel about our show and hear about their faith. I've always really admired people who have strong faith, so I love talking to them. In a sense, it's also a bit of a character study to see if all Mormons really are that stereotypically nice and happy. More often than not, they truly are."
Surprisingly, Clay says most practicing Mormons are really interested in the show, and not nearly as put off by it as one might think. Many are curious to hear's Clay's perspective of what the show is truly about.
"I tell them the show is really pro faith," said Clay. "Mormonism just happens to be the specific avenue used to explore faith in general, but I hope people can walk away seeing that this show is very positive towards having faith and beliefs, as long as those beliefs lead to a better life, or bettering your community. I hope audiences won't walk away saying 'what a ridiculous show, I had some laughs.' I want them to be able to say 'what a hilarious show, but it really spoke to me.' That's what I always hope for."
Clay sees the intense traveling schedule of a national tour, which is currently slated to land in nearly 30 cities over the next year, as one of the biggest perks of his job.
"Getting this job so soon after college was the perfect way to get more involved in the professional theater world, without feeling like I was too locked down by anything," said Clay. "I really love traveling around, seeing tons of new cities, meeting new people. Now, when I'm in any random hotel and someone mentions Tempe, Arizona, I have a story about it. I really love that aspect of my job now, where I am to relate to so many difference experiences."
Traveling was not previously a large part of Clay's life, as his family stayed mostly on the east coast growing up. But now when he has any vacation time, Clay says he "is the one known for using my time to go over to Europe and explore and just have a good time."
Despite the love of traveling, Clay is looking forward to putting down roots in D.C. for almost a month -- one of the longer stops on tour. He cannot wait to show his castmates around his hometown, particularly Ford's Theatre, where he had his first professional gig in seventh grade, and take them out to eat at his favorite D.C. restaurant: Asia Nine.
"I'm really looking forward to feeling like I live [in D.C.] for a bit," said Clay. "On the road, you realize you just want a place that feels comfy, and feels like home. I'm excited to wake up in my apartment downtown each morning and say 'Ok, I'm going to go to work at the Kennedy Center tonight, and then come home, go to bed and wake up the next morning and do it all again."
The second national tour of "The Book of Mormon" is running at the Kennedy Center now through November 19. Tickets range from start at $59- $229. More information can be found here.