Lessons from a Broadway Star

I have known Dr. Dave for more than 20 years. During that time, I have always been impressed by his dedication to his profession, his care and concern for his patients, and his knowledge of just about anything. Here is his story about his passion for singing and pursuing your dreams.

So you have appeared on Broadway! Tell us a little about your experience.

Well, the particular show in question is Jane Austen’s Persuasion: A New Musical Drama, which we premiered in Chicago at the Athenaeum Theater in 2011 and revised in the summer of 2013 and previewed at Chicago’s Mercury Theater before taking the show on the road to the Theatre Royale Winchester, England and the Shanklin Theater (Isle of Wight), back to Chicago at the Royal George, and then on to NYC at the DiCapo Opera Theater.

My experience? I don’t know where to begin. Life in the theater is a remarkable journey. And for me personally, it is a very enriching journey. Just as an example, let’s take the multitude of “characters” involved in a single production — on stage, back stage, singers, actors, dancers, extras, costumes, make-up, hair, lighting, sound, props, projections, directors, choreographers, dialect and script coaches, vocal coaches, conductors, management, marketing, photographers, videographers, pit orchestra players, crew, electricians, ushers, box office and audience, janitors, parking valets, security guards, and caterers. Whom did I leave out–ah, loved one–my wife Connie. And surely there are many other persons.

Dr. Dave and Connie on location at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton

My point is–just imagine this extensive microcosm–involving personalities and technologies and study and cooperation and inspiration and hours of rehearsals. Then, like magic–OPENING NIGHT. everything comes together before a live audience, who communicate to you–GO FOR IT. And as a performer, in that moment when the curtain rises, I am simply transported–to a time and place that poets through the centuries have aspired to depict.

You are a successful dentist. And you are an accomplished star in singing. What are your secrets to success?

In part, luck has a lot to do with who I am today. But also, it has been my good fortune to be encouraged and guided by family, friends, and teachers to follow my passions and to smell the roses and most important–don’t give up, just keep trying. Did I mention the word “journey?”

As kids we played from morning till night; soldiers, bike riding, ball and “school.” So I entered college with nebulous plans for teaching maybe Physics (nope) or German (bingo, because I won a scholarship to Germany). And along the way, I learned to read music, play the oboe and piano, sing a little, and act a little (K-16).

Next I taught school, married Connie, started a family, and became a dental professor and dentist. The years flew by and our home became an empty nest; and I was in danger of becoming a couch potato. Well, no way!

I currently work six days a week as a dentist; and evenings and Sundays I rehearse and perform. It took me ten years of hard work and discovery and trial and error to get to the point where I have more performance opportunities than I can possibly handle, so I have learned to gently say NO. And you can do this too. For me it was baby steps: University choirs, chorale, music theory and other fundamentals, voice lessons, opera and music theater workshops and performances, master classes, recitals, auditions, church musician, and ultimately show biz.

Tell us a little about your journey to become a singing sensation.

Word of mouth and luck pretty much says it all. I joined one University choir and was recruited by a second and a third. And then one community orchestra chorus and then a second and then a third and 4,5,6; I have lost count. And then professional orchestra choruses and opera companies and music theater organizations came along. Many church jobs.

It is a small world, indeed; and so, you find yourself on the director’s rolodex; and you get called. Half of the time, you never auditioned for a particular role, but were called anyway because of prior collaborations. Sometimes you take the place of an ill performer. Or, new directors watch your performance and speak to you afterwards. It’s a journey.

How do you find balance between your two worlds?

I find the interplay between the two worlds to be fascinating and synergistic. As a dentist, I am exposed to additional life experience through my performing colleagues, who all have acquired day jobs, often totally unrelated to theater work. And as we interact, I feel I can walk in their shoes and help them or people like them with their teeth as the need arises.

So, quite by chance, I have become the dentist to the stars. On the other hand, performing helps me recharge my batteries, so to speak, and be joyful and creative and curious and inquisitive as a dentist. I’ll be studying a script in my dreams and suddenly the answer to a dental situation will come to me. How strange, how our minds work, right?

Also, I appreciate what a rewarding profession dentistry is. You are helping people every day and earning a good income. By contrast, many performers have anxiety over where their next paycheck will come from; and their stress is palpable. So, just imagine how challenging it is for them to perform on stage or succeed in an audition when faced with financial difficulties. Little wonder, I always seem to adopt a “starving artist” who cannot afford dental care–a good way of giving back.

What advice do you have for others who want to have a second career while keeping their day job?

Here is my list:

  • You need the moral support of your spouse, significant other, family.
  • You need a flexible work schedule.
  • Don’t quit your day job; it will help you stay focused and organized.
  • Party less.
  • Study more.
  • Be prompt or early, never late.
  • Take baby steps while you test the water; giant steps and multi-tasking will come later.
  • Find ways to enjoy the interplay of your day job and your nascent new career.
  • Your contacts at your day job may lead you to gigs in your new career; it is a small world.
  • Take your vitamins.
  • No TV.
  • Eat, sleep, work, study for six days; relax on day 7; repeat the cycle.

What are your favorite inspirational quotes?

“Morgen, morgen, nur nicht heute; sagen alle faulen Leute.”

This German quote translated kindly is : Don’t put off till tomorrow, what you can do today.

“Arbeit macht das Leben sȕss.” Work makes life sweet.

I guess I really enjoyed my student days at the University of Munich, where I learned these quotes, which seemed to suit me.

Good luck!

Dr. Dave

David E. Wojtowicz is a veteran of Chicago, regional and international stages–touring Winchester, Isle of Wight, Bruges, Ghent, Munich, Vienna, Verona, and upcoming Salzburg, Ljubljana and Zagreb and U.S. performances throughout metropolitan Chicago, Door County, New York, and Ravinia. In Chicago this year, he was the soloist for Buxtehude Jesu Meine Freude, and sang the role of Gastone/ La Traviata and Mr. Musgrove & Colonel Wallis/ Jane Austen’s Persuasion and will perform in ten concerts and shows during the remainder of the fall of 2013. Recent roles include Abraham Kaplan /Street Scene, Joe the Pawnbroker / Christmas Carol, and Don Curzio / Le Nozze di Figaro. Other favorite roles include, Benny South Street / Guys and Dolls, David Bascombe / Carousel, Trentell, Bob, Stan / I Love You’re Perfect, Now Change, Alcindoro / La Bohème, Ben Weatherstaff / Secret Garden, Mr. Splinters / The Tender Land, Dr. Blind / Die Fledermaus, Elder McLean / Susannah, Ferrando / Cosi Fan Tutte, Dr. Finsdale / Li’L Abner, Rev Parris / The Crucible, El Remendado / Carmen, Samuel / Pirates of Penzance and Company Ensemble / Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Dr. Dave also maintains a busy dental practice in Skokie, IL. He is professor emeritus at Northwestern University Dental School and an active member of four Dental Professional organizations where he has performed service and leadership roles including president and board of directors. He can be reached at [email protected].

Originally published at medium.com