Clea Alsip: Tisch Alumna on Broadway

Ever wondered what it takes to make it to the big stage? Tisch alumna Clea Alsip recently made her Broadway debut in M. Butterfly, a play written by David Henry Hwang that first premiered in 1988. Returning to Broadway in October 2017 with an updated script, the story follows a French diplomat’s recollection of his affair with a Chinese Peking opera star. Read below for Clea’s experiences and insights on the thought-provoking piece.  



Name: Clea Alsip

Age: Whatever the role requires of me

Education: BA from Stanford University; MFA from NYU Grad Acting

Hometown: Tulsa, OK


HC NYU: Congrats on your Broadway debut! How did you come to be in the production and what was the audition process like?

CA: Thank you! It was a pretty standard audition process, though a bit more rigorous. I happened to be doing a show out at The Humana Festival in Louisville, KY, at the time of auditions, but had a week off where I had already planned a trip home to NYC. Serendipitously, the initial audition fell in that week. I went in for Adam Caldwell over at Telsey & Co. initially, then had a callback the next day for casting with Julie Taymor (the director) where she worked with me a bit. Then I flew back to Louisville and found out a few days later that they wanted me back in New York in two weeks for the final callbacks. So I took a leap of faith, booked my (expensive with short notice) plane ticket back, went in for the callback with like fifteen people in the room (writer, director, casting, and producers), but just did my work. And I found out the very next day that I had booked it.


HC NYU: What does an average show day look like for you?

CA: We opened recently! So right now our days are not quite average. Since we’re in Previews in the evenings, the days can be used for rehearsal. So I am often there 12:30 to 5:30 working on various, mostly technical, aspects of the play, before having a break to eat dinner, do a little yoga, and start putting my makeup on before the show. After opening, though, I will have the days free beforehand, and I don’t even know how I’ll fill them yet! Writing some projects that are floating in my mind probably.

HC NYU: I loved how M. Butterfly broke the fourth wall and inverted themes from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, such as the relationship between the East and the West. What was your reaction when you first read the script? I still can’t decide if Gallimard and Liling’s relationship was real.

CA: Ooooo very interesting. I love that you took away that maybe it wasn’t real! I think that’s the most exciting part of this piece for me. Every audience member can take away something different from it. It is beautifully metaphoric, which you don’t always find nowadays in plays, and it makes you think and analyze and, in my opinion, that is the key to a great piece of art. One that keeps you thinking and questioning and wanting to discuss ideas with others afterwards. And the script we’re doing is very different from the original script that was on Broadway in 1988. Since then, a lot more facts about the real life love affair that the story is based on have come to light, and David Henry Hwang, the author, has used many of them to ground both of the main characters and to make the story that much more real. And that grounding has spread to the other characters in their life too. So on my first read, I thought it was beautiful and it very much excited me. But when I read this new, updated script, I was blown away. It’s something you don’t see often, a classic play being made better by its brilliant writer. What a gift.


HC NYU: How was your experience working with Clive Owen and director Julie Taymor?

CA: Oh man, I love them both! So much. I think Julie is, quite simply, a genius. Getting to watch how her mind works and being a part of this process was awe-inspiring. What she has created for you on that stage is stunning, what she’s known for. But what’s more, she was very focused on the characters and the relationships and was so insightful on who these people were and their relationships to each other. And Clive is just a dream. He’s so professional yet fun and laid back as well. I am so grateful to be working alongside such incredible people.


HC NYU: Do you have a preference between film/television and theater?

CA: I honestly love working in both of them, for different reasons. On stage, you really get to sink your teeth into something and have the camaraderie of the cast who you basically live with daily. And you get to hone your performance over time. Whereas on film and TV, you come in, do your work, and it’s done. Yet the world around you is so specific, it’s more like just living in that moment, multiple times, and then moving on. Which I also really really enjoy.



HC NYU: One of the post-graduation fears a lot of students might have is becoming the “starving artist,” constantly auditioning and being on the lookout for new projects. Have you ever had an inconsistent workflow or period of rejection, and how do you deal with the feelings that go along with that?

CA: Absolutely. Yes. We ALL have had them. And I might have it again! And that’s okay too, because that’s a part of it. In my biggest bout of non-working, though, I began writing, something that was new to me and that I was always scared of doing, but I had to do something! So a friend and I had an idea and I began, and it flourished into a beautiful thing. And now I crave writing more and continuing to create in that way. I would never have discovered that about myself if I hadn’t been out of work and depressed. So, genuinely, those low times are SO important to your overall growth as a human and artist and I’m thankful for them now. Two things:

1) Don’t let anyone make you feel like there’s not a place at the table for you, because there is. But the seats are all different shapes and sizes and yours is going to look very different from anyone else’s.

2) Don’t look at slow times as times of rejection. In an audition, you are not being rejected, you go in and do your work. That’s the job really. The rest is about the story that is told before you even open your mouth. And you have very little control over that. So let it go, you’ve done your job beautifully, move on to the next.



HC NYU: What was your favorite class at NYU and why? Any advice for students thinking about the Tisch grad program?  

CA: NYU Grad Acting changed my life. It made me a more whole human being and taught me who I really was. I didn’t have a favorite class really because they were all important and terrifying in their various ways, but I will say that I took away from it a fearlessness, a sense of “just do it! Just play!” and trust your instincts, and that has helped me along the way enormously.



HC NYU: For our last question, would you like to share any funny/embarrassing stories?

CA: In my Pin-Up Girl scene, I’m in like 7 inch heels, 8 feet in the air. It’s totally made me nervous, but I’ve gotten super comfortable with it and am feeling great. I walked off stage afterwards the other night to the quick change booth, where there are two steps to walk down, and my heel caught on something and I just ate it! Thank God it was just two stairs and not on the stage, but everyone around saw and screamed. I felt like a baby giraffe.


Connect with Clea on social media!

Facebook: Clea Alsip

Instagram: @clea_alsip

Twitter: @cleaalsip