Performing as a professional actor in 20 different productions in 12 different states over a five year period can be a little hectic, but for Spencer Lawson it’s also living a dream.
Lawson, a former Stansbury High School drama student who was born and raised in Tooele County, retreats to his apartment near Times Square when he’s not in a production in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, or some other state.
In 2017, Lawson spent Christmas in Maine as part of the chorus for a production of “White Christmas.”
In 2018, on a Saturday three days before Christmas, Lawson sat in an empty Transcript Bulletin front office talking to a writer, before catching a plane back to New York. He came home to attend his best friend’s wedding.
For the 23-year-old, card carrying member of the actors union called Actor’s Equity, singing, dancing and acting is what Lawson enjoys. At times, he said, it’s hard for him to believe he’s getting paid to do it.
“I’m a professional actor,” Lawson said, almost as if he has to say it out loud to believe it. “It is my job; it’s not something I do on the side. I get my healthcare and a 401k through the union. I get to perform in big theaters with thousands of people watching and costumes professionally designed to fit my body.”
Lawson’s first acting role came when he was four years old. His grandmother held him on stage during a scene in the Benson Gristmill Pageant.
He later was cast in speaking roles in the pageant.
His early acting roles also include a part in the children’s chorus for a Tooele High School production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” under the direction of Carol LaForge when he was six years old.
“I kind of was bitten by the acting bug when I was young,” he said.
Lawson participated in drama at Grantsville Junior High School and Stansbury High School under the direction of Glen Carpenter.
For his senior year, knowing that theater would be his future, Lawson transferred to the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts in Sugarhouse.
“I wanted a more rigorous training,” Lawson said. “And with all my required classes out of the way, I could take a full day of theater and music classes.”
Before graduating from high school, Lawson traveled back to New York to participate in a unified audition for about 20 musical theater colleges and conservatories.
After sorting out several different offers, Lawson accepted an invitation to enroll at the Hartt School. The Hartt School is the performing arts conservatory of the University of Hartford in Hartford, Connecticut. The school has a history in music and theater that goes back over 100 years.
Lawson described Hartt School as a destination school for music and performing arts with a connection with a top tier regional theater.
“Utah has some great theater schools,” Lawson said. “But despite loving Utah, I wanted to experience other things.”
But Lawson didn’t wait until college to start to leave town.
The day after he graduated from high school, he left for Edinburg, Virginia, where he worked in summer stock theater, theatrical productions organized for the summer season at the Theatre Shenandoah.
While earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Hartt School, Lawson spent his summers in regional theaters in the northeast.
However, his first professional theater job after college was at Arrow Rock Lyceum Theater, a regional theater in Arrow Rock, Missouri.
Lawson eventually moved to Manhattan, where many regional theaters, including Utah’s Pioneer Theatre, hold auditions.
Attending auditions, standing in line and waiting, is in itself almost a full-time job, according to Lawson.
“If you get a part, the theater pays for your transportation and housing,” Lawson said. “And then you move back to New York when it’s over. It’s kind of a crazy gypsy life.”
New York is very different from Erda, according to Lawson.
“New York is crazy and exciting and nerve wracking,” he said. “It was very much an adjustment. Just going to the grocery store takes effort. You don’t just go to the grocery store and take your sacks out and throw them in your car. You take them on the subway with you and then you walk up four flights of stairs.”
Lawson said that at first he felt kind of lonely, but eventually he built a network of friends with fellow actors who live in New York but travel to other states for productions.
“I was homesick at first,” he said. “As a little kid, I couldn’t have a sleepover at my grandmother’s house because I missed my mother. But I just decided I’m going to do this. It was hard for a little while. I was uneasy about it, but I was doing what I love. My parents were supportive. There were a lot of phone calls to home at first.”
Lawson estimates that he goes to about 80 auditions for every part he gets.
The rejection was hard at first. Again there were a lot of phone calls home, he said.
But after a while, he realized that you have to put yourself out there if you want a part.
“There’s a lot of talented people out there,” he said. “If you don’t get the part, they aren’t rejecting you personally or saying you don’t have talent. There’s maybe 15 people in a show. That’s all they need.”
Lawson counts himself lucky to get parts in shows. It’s been fun and an opportunity for a “little boy from Erda” to do great things, he said.
“They pay you enough to live when you’re doing a show,” Lawson said. “I’m doing OK, but it’s hard. You’re up and down all the time. When you’re doing a show, you’re on top of the world, but then when you get home it can be a while before your next show.”
Some actors get down on themselves and become negative during that down time, according to Lawson.
“That’s because they are waiting tables and doing things they don’t like doing,” he said.
Lawson said he decided he wasn’t going to get negative, so he found something he enjoys to do between shows.
He worked at a gym for a while, but now teaches cooking classes at Sur La Table, a fine cookware and kitchen store. Lawson also has his own cooking show on Instagram.
Lawson’s favorite part has been Billy Lawlor, the lead in “42nd Street.” He’s been in “42nd Street” at least five times, including the opportunity to work with Tony Award winning choreographer Randy Skinner
Lawson likes the part because he not only gets to sing and act, but he also gets to tap dance, a talent he learned in Tooele from Sheila Bertrand at Busy Bee Dance Studio and Andrew Pankratz at the Pankratz Academy of Dance.
“I love big flashy dancing shows,” he said.
In addition to traveling to different states to perform, Lawson has been in an off-Broadway production of “Anything Goes.”
Getting a big part and breaking out with a role on Broadway was one of Lawson’s original goals when he set out for college, but his outlook on life has since changed.
“I’ve worked really hard and have done great things and I hope to do more,” he said. “I kind of let go of the star thing after going to school and learning the craft. I enjoy what I am doing. It’s not about the big role anymore. I love the art form — dancing, acting, singing and doing all that. That’s why I love theater.”
However, Lawson said a Broadway role is still a possibility.
“I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I’d love to be on Broadway; that goal is feasible. But I feel fulfilled with what I am doing. I do the shows I love and the parts that I love.”
When Lawson returns to New York after his brief trip home to Tooele, he said he has no acting jobs waiting for him.
“I’ve got nothing at the moment,” he said. “I was the choreographer for a show in New Hampshire at the New London Bar and Playhouse. I’ve choreographed there before and I have been in a show there. They might have something for me.”
Long term, Lawson said he doesn’t really know what his plans are.
“I don’t really know,” he said. “I love it, but it’s hard. It’s not a long career, but it can be. I have friends that have done it for a long time. But I do have dreams of family with a farm in Connecticut or Tooele.”