Jose Solivan, above, has been managing national tour for years now, the latest of which is a complicated farce, ‘The Play That Goes Wrong,’ opposite, which he describes as ‘Noises Off’ meets ‘Clue.’
Why ex-Texan José Solivan just can’t quit Dallas
If José Solivan ever wants to switch careers, he might consider applying to be made Honorary Cheerleader for Dallas. Although he was born in New Jersey and currently calls New York home (when he’s not traveling the world, at least), Solivan spent four years in the city, but gushes with sincere enthusiasm about the well-organized LGBTQ political scene, the gayborhood, the parks of Turtle Creek, and of course our extensive bar and restaurant selections.
Solivan is returning to Dallas as company manager for the national touring production of The Play That Went Wrong, a career he has cultivated over 17 (!) national tours. Although suffering from jet lag after his return from vacation, Solivan discussed his more gratifying moment, touring with a play for once and what, exactly, a company manager does.
— Jimmy Fowler
Dallas Voice: How did you originally end up in Dallas after growing up on the East Coast? José Solivan: My ex-partner brought me to Dallas with him — we lived in the Oak Lawn area from 2007–’11. We lived on Maple, then we moved to Cedar Springs. We were among the first tenants to move into the ilume. I was amazed how many gay bars there were within a three-block radius! I had toured there with national shows before that, and fell in love with the city, especially the theater community. I was surprised how much theater there was in Dallas. I was able to work there as a stage professional. I did shows at Uptown Players with Coy [Covington] and B.J. [Cleveland]. I’m looking at moving back there someday. Coming from New York, Dallas was special. I’ve been to all 50 states, all over Europe, Canada, the Caribbean and Japan. More so than in some other cities, there’s that sense of community that you don’t find in a lot of places. For instance, in Las Vegas — and I love Las Vegas, it’s a great city — there really isn’t a gayborhood there. That makes me look forward to coming back, especially going into Pride Month.
How did you start out as a performer and turn into the role of a company manager? I was really lucky. I went to County Prep High School in Jersey City; they accept only about 100 students a year. They gear your studies to what you want to do, I was able to do dance and acting; they brought in New York professionals to teach. I always promote education as important, but it just wasn’t my path: I went for only a year and a half to New Jersey City University. Then I started touring with national shows. I was a performer on the Oklahoma! revival tour, and then I transitioned into company management. That was in ’05.
What does a company manager do? The company manager is the representative for the producer and the general manager to the road company. We deal with a lot — the payroll, settling the engagements nightly, the box office reports, housing, travel details, marketing. I’ve been a stage manager, I’ve worked as an associate general manager, I’ve been an assistant lighting designer. So I understand where different people are coming from. It’s beneficial for me that I’ve been in all those positions, because I’m able to communicate with people individually and not just as a group. The way I deal with an issue with one person will be different than with another, and a lot of people can’t do that.
What is a live production like from the company manager’s point of view? The stage manager sees the show every night; I can only hear the show every night, sitting in my little office backstage. It’s a different experience — you know when something’s off, but you don’t know what it is because you’re only hearing it. It’s important for me to go out and see part of the show every night, if only because you’re part of something big. We’re all on the road together, working at the top level of our careers, and we get to share this story for two hours with two thousand people a night who’re taking a break from their daily lives, just laughing and enjoying!
Describe something about The Play That Goes Wrong. This is the first play I’ve toured with, but my 17th show total. The rest were all musicals. The Play That Goes Wrong didn’t win the Tony [for best play, though it did win for scenic design], and it’s not typical for the play that didn’t win best play to tour, but the producers have a great crowdpleaser here. We are selling out all over the county and the cast is phenomenal.
It’s similar to Noises Off meets Clue. It’s about a theater company that for the first time has a large budget, and they decide to do a complicated murder-mystery play. In the course of this play there are quite a few mishaps, a lot of physical comedy. Everybody will enjoy this show, but anyone who’s performed in a play and been part of the rehearsal process will get an extra kick out of it. People will think, “That totally happened with my prop, or the same thing happened with my acting partner and we didn’t know how to react, either!”
I have never done a straight play [before, and right before this] I had come from The Color Purple national tour. And I thought, “I’m going to miss the music.” But I haven’t. The Play That Goes Wrong moves like a musical. It has enough big moments that I don’t miss the singing.
What’s been the biggest reward overall of being a behind-the-scenes guy in a spotlight business? I’m a gay man of color working in Broadway theater. And I’m a “head” — I manage the show. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I’m super happy that Dallas Voice is giving me the opportunity to do this interview, because for a long time I sat back and stayed hidden.
I was doing a national tour [in 2016 when] we were in Cleveland. It was 2 in the morning and I was exhausted. The cleaning woman [in the theater] came to me and said, “Are you Puerto Rican?” in Spanish. I get pegged as Hispanic — and Middle Eastern often — but no one ever recognizes me as Puerto Rican. I said, “Yes,” and she said, “I’m going to bring my daughter.” I went on and on about, “Oh, Finding Neverland is great! It’s all about how James Barrie created Peter Pan! Your daughter will love it!” And she said, “No, I want to bring my daughter to meet you.” I was floored! And the next night, she did bring her daughter, and I told the little girl what my job was like, and said, “You can do it too, if you want to.”
From then on, I made up my mind to be more visible and show people what I do and what I am. It’s important for kids to see people who look like them, but for a long time I had never thought of it that way. I’ve always appreciated my life and been very grateful for everything that’s come my way. I never want to be the person in theater who’s jaded and cynical. My friends make fun of me because I always carry this sunny disposition. But that’s because I love what I do!