Let me paint a picture for you: It’s 2012. I am 14 years old. I have crimped hair and am in love with a lacrosse player named Chad and also Zac Efron. I’m watching “Saturday Night Live” by myself in the dark. I look out of the window at the stars, longing to be as cool and witty and smart as the people on “S.N.L.”
Four years later, I am still not as cool or witty or smart as the people on “S.N.L.,” but I am now interviewing two students my age who were on “S.N.L.”! I’ll take what I can get!
Jacob Clemente ’19 and Lance Chantiles-Wertz ’19 both have IMDb pages. Clemente began dancing at the World of Dance at age 7, but he’s best known for his portrayal of Billy Elliot in Broadway’s “Billy Elliot the Musical.” Wertz debuted at the Met on his seventh birthday. His filmography includes roles in “Pan Am,” “The Three Stooges” and “Go, Diego! Go.” Both have performed on “S.N.L.” and remain active in Yale’s arts scene. WKND sat down to chat about theater, love, life and the movies.
Q: Both of you began your careers very early. Do you think your parents influenced your decision to go into the arts or did you push for it to happen?
JC: It was as simple as my parents saying yes. I asked if I could take a few dance lessons because my siblings had already tried it. And being the competitive person that I am, I wanted to try it.
LCW: Yeah, my parents were so supportive. My mom suggested auditioning while I was dancing, and I sort of stuck with it.
Q: How did you guys get into performing?
LCW: I started at the Children’s Chorus at the Metropolitan Opera at 6, and it sort of evolved into doing voice-overs for Nickelodeon. Jobs just led to other [jobs].
JC: I did a show, this little play in elementary school. I had like three lines, but — I don’t know — I discovered myself as an actor. So I went out for community theater after that, and started doing plays.
Q: What is auditioning professionally like? Putting yourself on display for a board of adults must’ve been tough.
LCW: I mean, it’s kind of fun! Auditioning gets you out of yourself and your comfort zone. It’s pretty amazing in that sense. What would you say?
JC: It’s very weird. Every audition process is a little different. It was weird to perform in front of a board that couldn’t show any emotion or approval at anything you were doing. It was a silent audience.
Q: How are auditioning professionally and auditioning at Yale different?
LCW: I think because we’re all fellow students, [there’s so much more] camaraderie here versus when you’re auditioning for a Broadway show or film. You can joke around and stuff; it’s not just doing the script.
JC: It’s like the opposite — [at Yale] whenever you say something, somebody snaps.
Q: What was your most cringeworthy experience you’ve had performing?
LCW: I almost ended up on someone’s lap. I had to do an exit in the dark during a play, and I didn’t know where I was. The lights started to come up and I just started running, and suddenly there was [an audience member] there!
JC: The entire first act of “Billy” … I had at most two minutes offstage. I realized in the second scene that I really had to … pee. I told my dresser during a quick change, and she said, “OK, we’ll figure something out.” There’s a scene when Billy is in the bathroom stall onstage, but it’s blocked off so nobody can see or hear him. I saw a cup in there with a note that said “This is for you” … and I used it. I didn’t think that I would finish in time to come out. All my lines were very slow and drawn out, stalling.
Q: Are you guys planning on continuing to perform during your Yale career?
LCW: I’m still auditioning professionally, and I’m also in the Yale Ballet Company.
JC: I’m in The Yale Alley Cats, The Fifth Humor and Taps. I haven’t actually been able to do theater on campus yet because it’s such a time commitment. I hope to keep it up through those clubs, maybe eventually do a show here. When I get out of college, if I’m feeling confident, maybe I will.
Q: When you take on a character, how do you approach it? How do you make your performance your own?
JC: In terms of distinguishing myself from the other Billys, I had certain skills that they didn’t have and they had certain skills that I didn’t have. A lot of them were far better than I was at ballet, and I had more of a tap background. To connect with the character of Billy, I read through the script several times before the first rehearsal and came up with the feelings that I thought he would have, even during the parts where he’s not onstage, when he’s in between going to the dance studio and his house. What is he thinking? How does that affect him going into the next scene? I tried to piece together what he was feeling.
LCW: Yeah, just coming from an organic position: trying to analyze what the character would be thinking, and relating that as much as possible with your experience as possible with the character. And if they’re a real person, paying respect [to who] that person was, and being true to them.
JC: A lot of it is easier if you can establish what the character wants from a scene. There has to be some sort of game. That helps with a lot of character development. Even interacting with other people — what is his meaning behind it?
Q: Are you guys embarrassed of having a career here? Are you confronted by it at all?
LCW: I never bring it up. We never really bring it up. Somehow someone else finds out.
JC: It’s like this separate life from what we’re doing here. There’s not much overlap.
LCW: First and foremost, we’re both students at Yale.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about Yale?
JC: You can be an engineer or a math major, and at the same time be in a singing and acting group. You don’t have to major in it to be involved in it on campus.
LCW: One of the things I love about Yale is that you’re not pigeonholed into anything. I’ve always had this interest in technology and here I’m able to explore that. You can be multifaceted.
Q: Growing up, being so involved in theater, did you feel a disconnect between your lives onstage and your lives at school?
LCW: I always felt like it was an extracurricular activity. It just happened to be in a professional environment. I guess the one thing it really made me appreciate was being around adults and seeing the responsibility they brought. You have to be prepared. It taught me to have a good work ethic — when someone gives you a responsibility, you have to fulfill it.
JC: Maturing faster. You are being paid like an adult, you’re being treated like an adult, so you have to act like an adult.
Q: Do you get a lot of action because you’re so involved in performing?
LCW: I did have my first kiss on “Pan Am,” so that was cool. [Chantile-Wertz’s first kiss was with the beautiful Karine Vanasse. She was 26; he was 12. I promise it was cute.]
JC: My first kiss was a broom. [Jacob was joking; he jokes a lot. His first kiss was probably really attractive and nice and not a broom.