Five Questions for Satya Bhabha
1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
I grew up in London, UK until I was 12 and then in Chicago, IL for most of high school. I went to college at Yale and never planned on moving to New York; I was choosing between London and Los Angeles. However, a few weeks after graduation I was contacted by Alex Timbers about being in Les Freres Corbusiers’ production of “Hell House,” and immediately accepted (I was not about to turn down professional theatre work… paying or not!). I moved to New York, scrounged up as many auditions as I could, and was lucky enough to start working with Target Margin Theatre on “As Yet Though Art Young and Rash…” as soon as “Hell House” closed. I realized that if I was going to be working and living in New York, even just for the 3 months that I was working with Target Margin, I had to invest in creating a life here. I stopped couch-surfing, and signed on an apartment and an agent and 2 1/2 years later, I’m still here.
2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
It’s a three-way tie: Fred Astaire’s opening number in “Top Hat” because of the fun and ease with which he performs; Laurel and Hardy’s “Sons of the Desert” because of the sharpness, precision and attention to detail; and Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” because he sees into the very heart of humanity and writes true characters who are still true people. Oh, and the Dvorjak’s ‘cello concerto (played by Casals with the Czech Symphony) because it moves me emotionally more than any other piece of art ever.
3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
Oh so many… I’d have to go with being able to sing. Like really sing.
4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.
I have been able, for about a year-and-a-half now, to live solely off of my acting work. It comes in fits and spurts: an hour of voiceover recording for a commercial will allow me to spend a month doing a developmental workshop; a play that pays very little will expose me to a casting director who may give me a part in a film, etc. There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ day for me, which is both exciting and at times frightening. When not in rehearsal, which is a full-time job, I get up at 8:15 and go to the gym. Following that, my day includes some combination of the following: one or two auditions (or preparation for auditions), some cooking, taking care of general home-stuff, and, most importantly, some time spent on a purely personal pursuit (studying a language, some random art project, etc.). Of course I am, as we all are, succeptible to the time-wasting charms of the Facebook and The New York Times online, and have to work hard to keep a professional and productive rhythm despite the complete unpredictablity and irregularity of my schedule.
5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?
At the time I was cast in my first ‘large’ Off-Broadway show, Chuck Mee’s “Queens Blvd. (the musical)” at The Signature Theatre, I was teaching music to little kids about 6 times a week. It was a job I loved, and though the pay wasn’t fantastic, combined with other things it did make a significant difference. I naievely imagined that, as with downtown and Off-off Broadway theatre, I would be able to submit my conflicts and the theatre would schedule me around that. I quickly learned that I was expected and required to be at rehearsal from 10am-6pm, six days a week, and that I woiuld have to choose between the two jobs. I gave my notice to the music education organization immediately. Even if it had meant a much larger financial loss for me I believe the choice would have still been a no-brainer. If I wanted to invest in a ‘regular’ job and prioritize stable earnings I could do, but as this profession is my dream and my priority I was and am comitted to putting it above all else. “Queens Blvd.” turned out to be a wonderful and extremely important experience career-wise, and I learned that unless I treat acting as a ‘regular’ job, and commit to it the time and focus it requires, it won’t treat me as a ‘regular’ employee. Whenever you seriously invest in your craft/passion/art (whatever we choose to call it), the sacrifice required is dwarfed by the returns.