Interview: Broadway Actor and Writer Adam Hyndman on Gratitude, Saying Yes, and Living His Dream
Adam Hyndman has spent many years cultivating a thriving and multifaceted career in the arts, as well as a rich and fulfilling life. After graduating from Princeton University in 2012, he moved to New York City to pursue a career in theatre. Since then he has appeared in various productions as a singer, dancer, and an actor, including a production of Children of Eden at the Kennedy Center, 50 Shades! The Musical Parody both on a national tour and off-Broadway, and The First Noel at the Apollo Theater. In January 2017, Adam made his Broadway debut in Disney's Aladdin as Prince Abdullah, one of Princess Jasmine's rejected suitors, and an ensemble member. He also works as a lead nutritionist with Core Rhythm Fitness and volunteers with The Trevor Project, a non-profit that focuses on suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. Recently, Kemi sat down with Adam to discuss his road to Broadway, his journey as a writer and wellness coach, and the invaluable lessons he has learned along the way.
What kind of artist would you describe yourself as?
I would describe myself as a human along for the ride, seeking creative possibilities for my gifts and talents. What I’ve discovered about my purpose is that it is so connected to community. I think that my purpose is about using my gifts and talents to touch, move, and inspire people to be a part of that conduit in connection, to create that sense of belonging. And that can happen through performance on stage. Through singing, through dancing. It can happen through my social work; it can happen through coaching a client in their nutrition; it can happen when I’m on the line at the Trevor Project helping someone through crisis.
When I got clear about what my purpose was, it opened up so many possibilities in life and so much more creativity. So, I definitely see myself as an artist that works with people. Like, I think my medium is connection. I’m drawn to projects that investigate that. I studied anthropology in college, I studied how cultures form, and why we are drawn to each other and what holds us together, and what is significant and special about that. I think that art-making, storytelling, is such a beautiful way that we challenge each other, and how we relate to each other, and also how we preserve these relationships.
I think that makes me, like, a people-person-artist, I don’t know. Like a social artist? A cultural artist? Is that something?
You can make up your own definition. That’s the running theme when I’ve been talking to people. Everybody’s just making up their own definition, there’s nothing set.
I also believe that we’re all artists, you know? I believe that’s a human capacity. We’re all given a creative propensity and our life is the masterpiece we’re given to work this thing out. You know? So that’s the greatest piece of art: your life.
Some people work in genres that we more traditionally call “The Arts,” and some people work in others, but I think it’s all still a dance. It’s all a social piece. It’s all a collaborative process, you know? You can’t achieve anything by yourself and nor would you want to celebrate anything by yourself. So, it does, yeah, come down to that heart of collaboration.
You talk about uncovering your purpose. At what point did that happen for you? Did it happen by accident, or was it very intentional?
I would say both. Yeah, it kind of came from a period where I was seeking out what were my next steps: in my career, in my personal life, in my survival life, in my money making. All of these things. And it took me to a place where I discovered how the things I was most fulfilled by had a common theme, but looked totally different. They were all over the place. The best times I’ve had with my mom or the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had waiting tables or the most challenging, remarkable, profound moments on stage. All kind of had this “thing” about exchange, this thing about sharing, that I’m like: “Oh! For me to be fulfilled, it has to involve that type of connection.” And I started doing more writing and really getting down to the heart of what I thought that could be. I think if I get down to it, it’s like "Oh! That’s kind of how my purpose is driven."
So what made you decide to make that direct move after college to New York? And what was it like building a community in New York right after college?
New York seemed like the right idea. I knew that some dreams I had of pursuing theater, pursuing Broadway . . . [that] was something that I wanted. It’s a type of experience that I really wanted and that’s very location based. And that really narrows it down. You know, I could have gone to a lot of other places to do a million other things. But when it’s something that specific, it kind of made the choice for me. And then having the privilege of having a network that also went from Princeton to New York made things a little more synthesized in terms of having other peers moving to this big city. However, then what I quickly realized was that I didn’t have any peers in the arts. I didn’t have any peers in the industry. So, in that way I was starting from ground zero.
I went to a liberal arts school that didn’t prioritize training. My school didn’t have any conservatory style pedagogy. So, all of those nitty gritty rules of the business, like how to get up and going--I had no idea. So, I was like: "Either I’m not going to do this, or I could trust that I’m just behind the game. Maybe my education gives me other facilities and other training that will aid me down the road. It’s created me as the artist that I am. Am I going to trust that I’m smart enough to figure out the other stuff that I’m behind by four years on?" I was just like: "Okay, I’ll try it out. I’ll try to catch up."
But then finances got real, and real quick. It was like: "Wait, I can’t even do this right now. I need a job! Wait. What? Adulting?" Your savings go real quick when you’ve got a lease.
So then, [through] working, you find your network there. And again, it comes down to me as a social person; I’ve found so many things coming down to sharing my vision, expressing what I’m passionate about, and people showing up and wanting to help. So, I think that building your community always comes down to being courageous enough to step out there and being able to receive the support that you need.
Something that I give [as] advice for people starting out is that you have to trust your journey, because it’s always going to be unique. Don’t be afraid to share your dreams and share your goals because there will always, always be someone to support you and your vision.
So, yeah, I moved out here in the fall of 2012, I’m about to celebrate my 5 years in two weeks.
Congratulations! That’s exciting. That’s insane that it's been five years and you did it [made it to Broadway]!
It does make you reevaluate: there’s this nebulous idea, a goal of Broadway, and now what? Now what does that mean? And also now I’m doing this eight times a week. And it’s someone else’s track (editor's note: a track is an ensemble role often covered by different people depending on the performance), and I don’t have the same type of ownership of it. I’m just becoming this kind of machine and I don’t have a lot of time to step out of it.
You have to learn how to appreciate it. I’m almost eight months into the show now, and I’m now getting some awareness about what it means and what it is, because I haven’t been able to step outside of it. A lot of people get that clarity when the show closes and when they leave the theater they are like: "Wow, that’s what that was." When I go to see someone else’s show or go back in that theater it's the same deal: "It’s this special! This is remarkable! The orchestra is playing and the curtains rising. This is so majestic; it’s grand!" But now [being onstage instead of in the audience] you're, you know, warming up in the basement, and going in the background. The curtain’s up and you’re just in a void and you see blackness, and then you’re off and then you’re laughing with friends and you’re downstairs and you’re changing and the show’s over. You’re tracked.
So, it’s really important and a point that I’m trying to make for myself, of self-care and in conservation of my gratitude, to get outside of my perspective a little bit. See other things, take a break, always take stock of what’s going on.
That’s really cool, I like that. You’re living the actual dream for so many people. For yourself and for so many people.
There’s also something about that too, where I think a lot of things started switching for me, actually. I started getting a lot more traction when I started responding to people and taking ownership that I am in control of my dream. I am in control of where this is going. And that I have agency. Because so much of it is out of our hands: whether you get the part, whether you’re the right body shape, type, look, hair, whatever, all of those things. . . [M]y friends, especially [those] who went into other industries and have no idea what being a professional artist or performer is, supported me so much at Princeton, in school. They’re like: "Oh it’s so awesome that you’re following your dreams". And I remember the switch [where] I had to be clear with myself and even with others: I am not just chasing my dreams. I am actually living my dreams now.
I have to let go of the fact that it’s not when I get my Broadway credit that I’m living the dream. It’s not. [T]he ability to say yes to this life, this path, this journey, is living my dream. And it can’t be justified and it can’t be validated by a job or a person or anything else. Otherwise, it’s not yours. It’s not your dream.
And so, when I started saying yes to that, and saying no to the fact that I’m chasing a dream, that's [when I understood] that I’m actually in it; that this is the dream. That me being in New York and doing these auditions, and being a part of this community, and being at that place where I’m in the room and have the potential, and it could be. The fact that I’m there and available and doing it. I’m pursuing it. All of these things: that’s the dream.
When I started looking at it that way, being so grateful for the community that I’m involved with, that’s when other things and synapses started connecting. And started getting more traction. Because I was going into the room different. Because I was taking advantage of the people I was meeting differently because I wasn’t overlooking other people; being like: "Okay, you’re here, the universe has placed you in front of me right now, but who else is there? What connection can I make? What’s the real step?"
But it’s like: "No, [that person is] actually here for a reason." And then that person leads you to the next, and then the next, and the next, the next, and then you never know.
I like how you’re breaking it down, because I often ask people: At what point as an artist do you consider yourself a professional? Because unlike so many other industries, there’s no concrete milestone where you can say: "Okay I’m a professional." As a lawyer, you take the bar, you go to law school, get your license. Literally nowhere in the world can anyone dispute that you’re a professional lawyer. But if you’re an actor, and you were on Broadway last year but then you’re out of work for a year and a half, or if you’re auditioning for five years but have never been in a huge show or any show that people have heard of, are you a professional?
So true! And it’s so convoluted too. Especially with our union and all the things. Actors don’t have the most protection. It’s just very very tenuous and delicate. People get in their feelings, even actors get in their feelings about it. Because they also oftentimes want to protect the work that they deserved or earned, or the union that they’ve earned. But there really is no delineation. Especially in our era of social media, fame and celebrity. You can book a movie from Instagram, and then, boom! "I’m a movie star." But you can have an MFA from Yale and collect unemployment. So, it comes down to how do you define being a professional, and I think it really means this: when you prioritize, are you keeping the availability open to being ready for a project? I would say that’s when I came to identify as a professional actor. [Before] I wouldn’t say that; I would pretty quickly be like: "I’m an actor!" Because I wanted to be clear about that and prove it.
Yeah, it’s not a hobby, this is a profession.
Yeah, and I think there’s some validity to that and there’s some power. But then once I found myself, I could let go and realize that’s also one side of me. But yeah, I am a professional actor.
I would think so. At this point, if you can’t call yourself a professional actor, I don’t know who can.
That’s what I do want to say. When you have prioritized your art making enough that everything else in your life is keeping room for you to be able to pursue your art making, then you’re a professional artist. Even if making art has never paid your bills, even if you haven’t done a project, if your priority is that, then I think that’s you being a professional artist.
I worked very consistently as an non-eq[uity] performer, too. I wasn’t in the union. It wasn’t until Aladdin, my Broadway debut, that gave me my equity. So, who’s to say that whether you are in a union or not in a union means that you’re a professional or not. Because Lord knows, the minute I showed up for those rehearsals, they required a professional. But it’s not like they hired a union person. Right?
Yeah, right. You better conduct yourself professionally.
Exactly. All the skills and everything going into Aladdin was the same as going into an NYMF [New York Musical Festival] show. It required all the same skills for me and all the same professionalism. There were small and different changes, little things, but it felt very much like going into any other show. Except the fact that this is on Broadway. It’s like I’m taking the train to the theater…
Like, you’re walking backstage and have a purpose to be there. Not sneaking backstage (laughing).
Yeah. . . . I think empowering people to claim their agency is important.
Okay so, how you would compare working on a new show to working on a show like Aladdin that has been around I think three, four years at this point.
Yeah, yeah, there’s a big difference between going into a show and being a replacement to someone else’s track. I mean, for me, I had three weeks to learn Aladdin, in a studio, by myself dancing. I was with two dance captains and it was just me over and over and over again. And then the day before my first show, I have a put-in, which is me on stage with the rest of the cast, in full costume and props and lights and everything, and that’s like my one shot. It’s like real life. And then everything else is in a vacuum, it’s really crazy.
But then when you’re collaborating for a new show, it’s such a long process. So much development. It goes into so many different channels of hierarchy and approval, and there’s different structures in which you go through. Now the industry has changed so much that, because producers and big money now don’t trust anything, they require at every stage for you to jump through more and more hoops to get that full production, to come to Broadway. You go through a reading, then the next reading goes to a lab, or you do a movement, a choreography lab, and then you lab to a workshop, and workshop to out-of-town, out-of-town to Broadway.
So that’s kind of the trajectory, but also it works from collaborating with choreographers, and doing little dance projects with them, and coming to class and getting to know them. Or, I’ve done so many readings for people. I’ve done little readings for so many writers, just a week-long thing. They threw it up, get it done, and I never see it again. But then a person was in the room that was producing [a show], or a casting director was in that room looking for something else.
I mean, that’s how Hamilton and In The Heights and all those things started, right?
Yeah. I’ve done little concerts for people. You just say yes to projects. Say yes, say yes, say yes. And then you start getting to the place where you’re like: "Okay, I’m going to say no."
That’s an important place and that’s what I’m learning. Because you can’t say yes to everything. Because then your yes is also a vote to it. Like: "I’m supporting this; I’m agreeing to it." So now I’m being more conscious about what I say yes to, because it also is a vote of support for the type of work. And often times when I was newer and younger, I was saying yes because it was a vote in support for me being like: I’m in this industry, get to know me! It was more selfish. And now, it might seem more selfish because I’m saying no to projects, but I think it’s actually in contribution because I’m conserving the integrity of my yes, of what I do support. Because I want that art to really get the support I give. And the art that I really don’t stand behind, instead of just using it for me to be seen or whatever, to have something to do, I’m saying no because it actually is not the type of art I want to make. Saying no is preserving the integrity of your yes.
I like that, preserving the integrity of your yes. It sounds like a book! I’m telling you, Iyanla [Vanzant] needs to step back. Adam Hyndman is coming for you!
A little bit (laughs)! Check out my book, though! I published a book on Amazon and Kindle, it’s called Perfectly Imperfect. It’s a guided meditation journal that I developed while working with my wellness and life coaching clients. Really talks about self-affirmation and constructional practice. It kind of talks a lot about that, like how we can be active and involved with how we’re keeping our mental perspective and intention in the affirmative. You know what I mean? Because we all want to be in the game, but sometimes we just have to put the work into being like: “Okay, how am I going to take ownership of my thoughts? How am I going to take ownership of my drive, and my hope, and my optimism?”
Sounds like a companion book to Shonda Rimes’ The Year of Yes.
I love The Year of Yes, absolutely.
They should be sold together, like recommended in book stores.
Hey! Your mouth to God’s ears. I will definitely freeload off Shonda (laughing).
Join Adam in his Gratitude Challenge for the month of November by following him on Instagram at @adam_hyndman, where he posts excerpts from Perfectly Imperfect: A Transformational Journal to Inspire a Purposeful Life. You can check out his book below for more inspiring insights and reflections on his journey!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.