EU Talks with Bandstand’s Rob Clove
Before each performance of the award-winning Bandstand: The Musical, Rob Clove takes pause to tap into the struggles facing young African American men returning home from war in 1945. He digs deep into the pressures of working hard to rise above the societal pressures and make a meaningful mark on the world. Clove found inspiration in his character, Jimmy Campbell who discovers music as a way to cope with the horrors of war in his generation.
“I have a ritual. At the beginning of each show, I just take a moment to myself and just breathe and welcome in the energy that flows through the show. I say out loud, ‘let this be a show that moves people’. You have to get in the mindset about what it means to be in 1945. And with that comes so many different parameters. For me obviously, I’m African American. What is it like to be in 1945 as a black man without civil rights? That’s already something that’s intense as well as coming back from fighting for a country that really was not fighting for you,” he says.
“I think that’s the toughest thing to kind of get in the mindset and realize that it raises the stakes for the role music plays in Jimmy Campbell’s life. You already have the turmoil in life from going off to war and coming back. But I think the difference for Jimmy and a lot of the other characters is the vices that they use to get past their PTSD and not being able to speak about some of the things they saw in the war. That’s helped me a lot in dealing with the universe that we create in Ohio, that world. I try to stop and remind myself before each show who these characters really are.”
Calling from a three-day stop in South Bend, Indiana, Clove talks with EU Jacksonville about his connection to his character and the universal healing power of music. Bandstand: The Musical is presented by the FSCJ Artist Series Feb. 18-23 at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts (www.artistseriesjax.com).
It’s 1945, and six soldiers return from war to a changed nation. When NBC announces a national competition to find the nation’s next great musical superstars, they form a band unlike any the nation has ever seen. Along the way, they discover the power of music to face the impossible, find their voice and finally feel like they have a place to call home. They came home to a new America and made the music that inspired the nation.
From three-time Tony winner and Hamilton choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand: The Musical is an inspiring American musical that explodes with an energetic score featuring music of the era and high-octane dancing.
“It’s a fantastic show but it’s a demanding show. This show requires a lot of you. Not only are we portraying characters but we have choreography and playing instruments live so I’m playing three different instruments during the show so it keeps me focused. You just make sure you center yourself and get there. My goal is to make sure that by the end I’m completely exhausted and I feel good about that because that way you know really expended all the energy you can to give a lasting performance for the people who come out to see it.”
Like his character in Bandstand: The Musical, Clove pushes himself to deliver all of himself every night. It takes a physical and emotional toll but it’s helped him leave it all on the stage. “You go through so many emotions through this show every night. You, as a human being, have to know this is the show and I’m going to leave it there. It brings out these true raw emotions and you’re really going through that.; You have to tell your body you’re only faking,” he laughs.
Jimmy Campbell is working toward a law degree and Clove sees his character as overworking to relieve stress and bury the emotions. Music offers an escape and an outlet for his fear, anger and confusion. It’s something he relates to on an intimate level.
“I very much am an actor but my first love is music. I’ve been able to use music in my life to get over loss of family, to express happiness, joy or if I’m dealing with anger, whatever it is. I can sit down at the piano and sing or play saxophone,” he says. “In that respect, it’s really what the highlight of the show is. Music is another member of the ensemble.”
Clove moved to New York at 18 and has worked continuously as an actor and musician in New York City. He attended the North Carolina School of the Arts when he was still in high school. He auditioned and gained entrance into a program for high school students to take classes during the day and at night, they attended university-level master classes..
“It prepared me so much to show up each night, be present, doing the homework, those are the important things that help you in a role like this,” says Clove, who is thrilled to see a new generation of fans tuning in to Bandstand. “When I first got this role, I got a lot of messages …from young people who were fans of this show. There’s a lot of young people who have come to the shows and done fan art of our characters and brought us little treats. I’m just blown away by that. Obviously, our demographic is still with older crowds who want to see what it’s like when they were kids.”
Recently, the cast met a WWII veteran who was 103 years old. “It’s quite incredible. I’ve seen veterans come up to us and cry. This story is so touching and it still speaks to America today and this willingness and desire to get back to how things were before. I think that’s what the struggle is with these characters. They’re coming back and thinking life is going to be like it was before but now they have so many extra layers to deal with. In that time, there was no name for what PTSD was. As a man in the military, that wasn’t something that you talked about. That’s why music plays such an integral part. It’s therapy.”