Theater Profile: Santino Fontana YoungArts Winner, Theater Master Teacher
Coming back to Miami for YoungArts Week was easy for actor Santino Fontana. He was the 2000 YoungArts winner in Theater and had returned already twice before during the significant week. This year, he was already in Miami to perform at the opening show of the Broadway Concert Series at the Aventura Cultural Arts Center with his wife Jessica. While here, he spoke to his former mentor and one of the YoungArts judges Kenny Mitchell and offered to be a Theater Master Teacher to the high schoolers.
Fontana was the ideal candidate to speak to them, given he’s a successful Broadway and television actor. He is a Tony Award nominee and Audience Choice Award winner and has appeared on Broadway in Billy Elliot, Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Importance of Being Earnest and Sunday in the Park with George, and co-stars with Laura Osnes in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. In 2011, he received acclaim for his starring role in the off-Broadway play Sons of the Prophet. He is also widely known for playing Greg on the television show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and for voicing Prince Hans in the 2013 Disney animated film Frozen.
Fontana took a moment prior to teaching the master class during YoungArts Week to talk to Artburst Miami.
Artburst: How did you find out about and eventually become a YoungArts winner?
Santino Fontana: I’m from a small town in Washington State, where no one is into the arts. I was involved in drama in high school when the principal handed me the YoungArts envelope and encouraged me to apply. I shot my audition tapes at home and in the high school choir room over a couple of months. I later got notice that I was one of the 20 finalists and that week totally changed my life.
I still remember two of my fellow finalists – Jared Padalecki who stars on the show Supernatural and starred in Gilmore Girls, Sara Chase from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and one of the judges Ken Washington, who influenced a lot of actors. Ken helped me distill who I wanted to be, focus it and figure out where to go next. I am in constant contact with Ken and we ended up connecting at the Guthrie Theater [in Minneapolis] where I performed.
How did it feel to be back as a Master Teacher and how was it speaking to the kids?
It was inspiring and moving and beautiful to be back. To see the hope, excitement, and glimpses of fear or anxiety in these kids’ faces… about to start their lives, whether in the arts or not, was a beautiful reminder of why I got into this to begin with. And I hope I was able to impart something of value to them, if only to give them a kind of hug welcoming them into this crazy life and encouraging them to keep going.
Santino Fontana (center in baseball cap), surrounded by participants in his Master Class during YoungArts Week 2018. (Photo by Katherine Bollens)
What did you see in the kids you spoke to with regards to the future of theater?
Tenaciousness, curiosity, concern, vulnerability, and energy. Everything that makes us human and, coincidentally, makes great artists. I had an overwhelming feeling of wanting them to know that this week should be a vote of confidence as they go into the future and that we’re all thrilled to see what their generation comes up with. And that this is too hard to do alone. I wanted to protect them from what they may face or at least help prepare them. But I’m not sure anyone really can do either. Basically, assuring them they’re not alone I hope will help them down the line.
What is in the future for you as an actor, and is it possible you will be back in the future as a Master Teacher?
As an actor, you know, I keep going after great stories, great characters, and great people to collaborate with. There are a couple things in the pipeline but I’m always tentative to say them because, so many things fall apart. As to coming back to YoungArts in the future…when you’re able to identify a person, an organization, or a time that changed your life and helped you become the person you are, you’re willing to do anything to keep that connection alive and that well of gratitude never dries up. At least not for me. And if I can be a part of that for generations to come, I will.
Coming up next is the YoungArts Miami 2018 Visual Arts, Photography and Design Exhibition Opening, Feb. 23 from 7-10 p.m. at the YoungArts Campus, 2100 Biscayne Blvd. https://www.youngarts.org/