Company’s Claybourne Elder Celebrates Young Trailblazers at Live Out Loud Gala
By: Iris Wiener
May 19, 2022: Claybourne Elder will provide good “company” for a number of generous sponsors, donors and exceptional high school students when he emcees Live Out Loud’s 21st Annual Young Trailblazers gala on May 23rd. Live Out Loud is an organization dedicated to serving LGBTQ+ youth by providing role models, resources, and opportunities to discover their voices and become leaders of change. As host, Elder will also help present $5,000 scholarships to outstanding high school seniors. The actor is known for his scene-stealing turn as the oddball flight attendant in the Tony-nominated revival of Company, as well as his recurring spot on HBO’s The Gilded Age. In addition to his incredible talent, he is lauded for his kindness, integrity and work as an activist. He spoke with Theaterlife about the importance of Live Out Loud and the Young Trailblazers gala, as well as how the organization’s mission aligns with his morals and the values behind his current projects.
Theaterlife: How did you come to be involved with Live Out Loud?
Claybourne Elder: I followed them on Instagram because it is an organization that is in line with many things that I believe in. I was introduced to founder Leo [Preziosi] through Daryl Roth, who is one of the most kind and wonderful supporters of these kinds of organizations that I have ever met. Leo talked to me about hosting the gala and I really fell in love with their mission and the work they’re doing. Being a parent myself, imagining the difficulty I went through in high school, it’s incredible to imagine an organization that is there separate from the school that is there to support. It makes me hope that that’s what will happen to my son, no matter what challenges he faces or whomever he decides to love, that he has support outside the school that is coming in to help. The people who are supporting the gala are such an amazing roster of kind and generous people who want to further this work in schools. They are to be celebrated for providing the funding behind all of this.
TL: What about the organization specifically aligned with your beliefs?
CE: They send groups of people into schools to work with LGBTQ+ kids, and I was a kid who was growing up in Utah without role models, and had no outside help to navigate coming out or to navigate what it was like to be a gay adult. I only knew other gay kids. It would have been amazing for me to have a role model who I could talk to and help navigate my family relationship and support me in that way.
TL: It must mean so much to you to get to present awards to students who have stood out in their communities.
CE: Live Out Loud award’s scholarships every year for high school students who are visible in their community and trying to change things from the inside. I look at those students with such regard and bravery. I am really excited to get to honor them.
TL: You yourself have been such a role model for teenagers through your kindness and activism as you pursued your goals as an actor. How does being a part of the New York theater community lend itself to being a part of that mission?
CE: Being visible is very important to me. There were gay families when I was growing up, but I didn’t see any of them. Being in the Broadway community, people come see you in a show and then they look you up on Instagram to find out about your life. It’s important to me that I am very transparent about my family and that I’m gay. I was an out-actor from the get go. My manager at the time, as well as many other people, told me it was a bad idea and not to be out on social media; I said that wasn’t an option for me. Living an authentic life was very important to who I am as an artist. I think that sort of representation and visibility is really important.
TL: Company, along with Thoughts of a Colored Man, won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Broadway Production. What does it mean to be a part of a musical that celebrates homosexuality and wins awards for it?
CE: It’s really amazing. To take a musical that is old and so well known and make such different choices… The gender swap in itself is so fascinating. Then they decided that it was very important that there be a gay storyline in the show because we’re talking about New York City–you can’t talk about New York City without talking about gay people! It’s amazing how they show gay marriage and gay love in a very nice light. They could have left it out of the show. That decision was really important to me and it makes so much sense!
TL: How has Andy evolved since Company first opened?
CE: It takes a very smart guy to play somebody so dumb! (Laughs) There aren’t a lot of characters written this way for men. This was written for a woman so getting to sink my teeth into something this fun, interesting and layered is thrilling. When I got the part and talked to the director [Marianne Elliott], I said I really wanted everything to come from a genuine, real place. I didn’t want it to just be jokes that don’t mean anything. She is such a fantastic director and took care and time in talking through it with me. One of the first things that Bobbie [Katrina Lenk] says about Andy is that he’s odd. I knew he can’t just be dumb, he has to be strange too. Now I’ve taken the time to explore that. The show has bloomed since it opened. We have slowly grown into the parts and created more depth as we went. I really wanted to make sure it was reigned in because I didn’t want to be just wacky, wild and crazy for no reason.
TL: You enjoyed seeing yourself air on The Gilded Age while performing live in Company. How did that make this stint on Broadway unique?
CE: Interestingly, we were just about to film the first episode of The Gilded Age and Company was just starting previews when everything shut down. I ended up shooting the whole first season of The Gilded Age during the pandemic while I was waiting for Company to come back. Now, The Gilded Age aired while Company was actually open, which was not going to be the case. It was really fun and thrilling to be doing a Broadway musical and have the show coming out every week. It’s definitely something I always dreamed about. Plus, it’s a show that is filled with so many theater people. Going to set felt like going to family reunions!
TL: The Gilded Age is a period drama in which you also happen to play a gay man. That is a rarity in the business. How does that further the ideas of Living Out Loud?
CE: A lot of time the gay character in period dramas is the sinister, bad guy. The fact that my character, John Adams [the great-grandson of President John Quincy Adams], is not the bad guy, was powerful to me. He is trying to live an authentic life and be happy in that life, which is very strange for the other gay characters in the show. He is living in the weird outskirts of society in New York, but does so in a real way.
TL: What advice do you wish you had been given as a teenager?
CE: I wish somebody would have said to stop spending so much time trying to change who you are, because you are who you are. The sooner you accept that and move towards that, the happier you will be. The longer you wait to do it, the more confusing you will make it for yourself and everyone around you. It took me a long time to come to terms with that. I don’t look at it as wasted time, but I think that I would have been happier a lot sooner had I had that advice.