Joe Butler and the rest of the University of Miami senior conservatory class began their spring break in New York City, where they performed in the UM Senior Showcase on March 16.
The showcase was no minor farewell recital. Instead, it was a major opportunity for the 16 seniors to get a head start on a career in musical theatre. They displayed their skills before a crowd of talent scouts, directors and agents. The showcase provided these seniors with a chance to get a foot in the door.
Joe Butler’s been kicking it wide open for years, though. Throughout his four years at UM, Butler has starred in a number of musicals at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, performed at one of the most prestigious summer theatres in America, become a member of a major actors union and is eligible for membership in another, and has even appeared in a commercial.
As a teenager in northern Virginia, Butler figured he would follow his parents into a career in business. He only began to consider a career in theatre during his junior year of high school.
“It was after a rehearsal [for a production of Footloose] that both my director and my choreographer sat me down and said, ‘You should really think about doing this for a living, because you’re really good,'” Butler said.
In the summer of 2004, Butler entered the prestigious Governor’s School for the Visual and Performing Arts at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., where his passion for the stage hit full stride and fueled his desire to pursue a career in the theatre.
“I didn’t decide to go into musical theatre until the summer before my senior year of high school,” Butler said. “I never really thought that performing or being on stage is what I was going to end up doing.”
Butler’s stint at the Governor’s School left no doubt in his mind about what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He began his career as a musical theatre major at UM in 2005, but it wasn’t until two years later that he really began to make a name for himself.
In the summer of 2007, Butler was cast in two musicals at The Muny, a renowned summer stock theatre in St. Louis. There, he performed in productions of Hello Dolly and The Pajama Game. The summer he spent at the famed St. Louis institution was enough to earn him a membership in the Actors’ Equity stage union, which led to professional opportunities as well.
“If you get cast there, they just give you your union card,” Butler said. “And pay well because of it.”
Butler’s breakthrough role at UM came that same year. In November, he was cast as the lead in the Stephen Sondheim musical, Sunday in the Park with George, a role that presented a major challenge to his tenor voice because of the demanding stage time and the difficulty of the material. His performance was met with considerable acclaim, including praise from the Miami Herald.
Butler’s performance and love for the stage have impressed Vincent Cardinal, the head of the UM Theatre Arts Department who has more than two decades of experience in theatre and television.
“Joe is a talented singer with great determination,” Cardinal said. “That is a powerful combination in the entertainment industry.”
Now, Butler spends two hours a day at the conservatory practicing for the Senior Showcase and four hours a night rehearsing for the student production of Hello Dolly, which premieres April 22 at the Ring Theatre. He will appear in a commercial for the National Guard that will air nationally this month, which makes him eligible for membership in the Screen Actors Guild.
Such an unforgiving routine may faze any other man, but Butler is an actor. The stage is his domain; the craft is his passion.
“It’s incredibly hard work and it’s exhausting, but for me rehearsal and performance is therapy,” Butler said. “I love it so much.”