Garen Scribner leading An American in Paris’ dance across the country

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Garen Scribner with Sara Esty in “An American in Paris.” (photo by Matthew Murphy)

By Amanda McNulty   

BUFFALO — Garen Scribner sat on a beige couch in his quaint dressing room at Shea’s Performing Arts Center two hours before taking the stage as the lead in An American in Paris. With a Tim Hortons iced cappuccino in one hand, and the other brushing his dark locks out of his face, Scribner was warm and engaging as we discussed his journey from a young ice skater to the starring role in a beloved and timely musical.

The principal dancer grew up near the Kennedy Center in Washington ,D.C., yet his career did not begin on the stage, rather, on the ice. On Friday nights, Scribner’s family would take him ice skating for fun, until one day he was approached by a woman who said he would make a great figure skater and offered lessons.

Scribner eagerly agreed and began to take figure skating very seriously at the ripe age of seven, when he first began competing. It just so happened that a bystander at the rink worked for the Washington Ballet and was in need of extra boys for their production of The Nutcracker. Scribner auditioned, having never danced a day in his life, was cast as “Fritz” and did 50 performances that December.

“I got to be backstage and see what it was like to be apart of a ballet company and see and feel what it’s like to perform everyday, and I just fell in love with it,” said Scribner.

Years of training led Scribner to the North Carolina School of the Arts for high school and then the San Francisco Ballet school before his senior year. There, he was seen by Helgi Tomasson, the director of San Francisco Ballet and invited the 17 year old to join the company later that year.

“It was what I was dreaming of and hoping for since I was 12 or 13. It was my goal. It was a great sense of relief to have a job and take a risk, but I’m so glad I did,” Scribner claims.

When asked about Scribner’s journey into acting, he replied, “What I love about ballet is that it incorporates ballet and it’s telling a story through movement.”

As the years went on, Scribner realized he wanted to express himself in a different way; through singing and acting as well as dancing. Scribner played “Tony” in the San Francisco Ballet production of West Side Story, a role that does not require singing in that version, but then played “Riff” in the same production and was able to sing on stage for the first time.

“It really lit a fire in me,” he said. “I’m able to tell the story in a much more relatable way.”

Ballet can be confusing to some audiences, but there something that pulls Scribner to express art through voice as well as movement.

Scribner currently portrays the character “Jerry Mulligan”  in An American in Paris on its first national tour. Although Scribner and the rest of the talented cast are dancing into the hearts of thousands across America, the movie dazzled audiences 66 years ago, starring Gene Kelly.

When asked about living up to the incomparable Gene Kelly, Scribner replied with just that — incomparable.

“There’s no comparison,” he said. “He inspires are characters, but in no way am I trying to replicate what he did because nobody can! I’m just trying to be the best Jerry that Garen can be…it’s definitely a different take.”

After being a part of the Tony award Broadway cast, Scribner is no stranger to the show. To go from Broadway to a national tour is a difficult transition for most. Usually, producers of tour show invest in smaller sets, hire a smaller cast, and put much less funding in the show than Broadway.

“That is the opposite of what these producers did,” he said. “These are the exact same sets, they have the same cast size, they set out to make this show the same, if not better than the Broadway cast.”

When Scribner was 17, he picked up everything and moved across the country. Now at 30, Scribner is picking up everything and moving across the country constantly.

“It’s difficult but I love this show and I love this cast,” he said. “They’ve been so good to me and it was so exciting to jump on board and join the circus.”

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Garen Scribner and Sara Esty are the leads on the national tour of “An American in Paris.” (photo by Matthew Murphy)

After finishing a tiring two and a half hour performance, an actor with their aching muscles, throbbing throat and tired eyes realize that it is time to brave the most difficult yet rewarding part of the job: the stage door.

Fans gather behind metal gates outside the theater and wait for their favorite cast member to come out to sign autographs and take pictures. It can take a performer anywhere from ten minutes to an hour to get through a typical stage door.

The fans bring gifts and treats for the performers, but the fans can also bring some unwanted gifts.

“I had a hugger that wanted way too many hugs once…He just really wanted to hug everyone a lot and it was a little odd, yeah we had to ban the hugger. Hugs aren’t the worst thing in the world but from strangers they can be uncomfortable when they come from strangers!” Scribner recounted with a smile.

Since Scribner won’t be dancing around the streets of Paris for the next 20 years, I asked him what role he would like to play in the future. His response?

“The role I’m dying to play doesn’t exist yet. I want to be in a brand new show and originate a character.”  

However, I had to ask Scribner my signature question; Where do you see yourself in ten years?

“In 10 years I will be continuing to do my best and share what I love and teach and inspire others of what I’ve learned and have a lake house.”

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