Tisch Drama Alumni Spotlight: Ben Chavez '15

Thursday, Sep 24, 2020

Tisch Drama’s Office of Career Development & Alumni Engagement recently caught up with multi-talented performer, singer, songwriter, and philanthropist Ben Chavez (class of 2015) to talk about his career post-graduation, creating his own work, and how to navigate a career as a multi-hyphenate artist.

He has performed across the country, most recently as Omar in Disney’s Aladdin (National Tour) and in a reading of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s The Visitor (The Public Theater). He also won the New York Musical Festival Outstanding Music Award for Composition for composing "The Cobalteans." Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, he has hosted Piano Bar Live every Saturday night on Instagram—which has raised nearly $16,000 for charity to date.

Ben Chavez '15
Ben Chavez '15

Congratulations Ben on being our September Alumni Spotlight! Can you talk about your time at Tisch Drama? How did you shift and grow as a student? 
My time at Tisch Drama was the time of my life. You think you’re walking into college to master one thing (in my case, musical theatre), but you leave with a toolbox containing drawers of wisdom from a variety of different worlds. I fell in love with musical theatre writing and applied theatre. What was once a college writing assignment eventually evolved into a career as a composer. Tisch Drama helped me develop into a well-rounded artist who could walk into a plethora of creative arenas feeling prepared. This is, after all, what the industry expects of us: to be multi-faceted.

After graduating from Tisch Drama's New Studio on Broadway, you found success as both a performer and musical theatre writer. How did you navigate being an early-career artist pursuing both writing and performing? 
It was definitely and continues to be an interesting balance. In fact, I can recall times where I’d be auditioning alongside young artists one day and then sitting behind a panel audition-ING those same artists for one of my original pieces the next (which just goes to show how important it is to be a good collaborator always. You never know when you’ll be auditioning for your old classmates.) Yes, at times it can be overwhelming, but I say better to be running around DOING than sitting at home waiting for a phone call. 


In Costume for Aladdin

In April, you wrote and recorded “Buy Back the Time” for Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS. Can you tell us how that opportunity came about? 
I made it a point to write a new song in every city while I was on the road with Aladdin and we would often do cabarets as a company to raise money for BCEFA. We did a fundraiser in Orlando just after Kobe Bryant’s passing and I just remember thinking, “Gosh, how precious is life!” I wrote the song “Buy Back the Time” with that in mind and presented it at that cabaret in Orlando. The feedback was so supportive, I felt I needed to find a way to share it with the world to continue to support this organization. Little did I know that we would soon be hit by the pandemic and this song would serve as a social media fundraising tool for the BCEFA Relief Fund. 

What inspired you to start Piano Bar Live on Instagram? 
When the pandemic hit, I remember feeling helpless. I wanted to support my struggling neighbors and make people smile. After being so inspired by the social media performance work being done by so many artists, it hit me that I could marry my passions for performance and service by offering a virtual piano bar. Twenty-three shows later, we are still going strong with our Piano Bar Live and have raised close to $16,000 for various charities.   


Piano Bar Live

You’ve used Piano Bar Live to raise money for charity. What does philanthropic work mean to you personally, and what charities are you supporting and/or planning to support with the money raised?
I may not have a million dollars to give to charity, but I have a community of friends, family, and supporters who love art and service. When we pool our gifts and hearts together, we can make a difference. Some of my favorite organizations include: Feeding America, the Covenant House, Black Visions Collective, Broadway for Racial Justice, and most recently, the California Fire Foundation. 

So what’s next? Both for Virtual Piano Bar and your art practice generally? 
Piano Bar Live continues! There has still been a demand for piano bar and there are endless charities to support, so I plan on performing virtually until I have the opportunity to be behind the piano in a real piano bar. As for my practice, I am currently working on an album of original songs, which has a 54 Below concert performance attached to it this January. May we be enjoying live performance by then!  

What advice would you give to a Tisch Drama student who might feel stuck or uninspired during this unprecedented, remarkably difficult time? In the face of so much darkness, what keeps you moving forward creatively? 
Create, create, create! Write a song, have a Zoom reading, make a short film, choreograph a movement piece, jot down some poetry. And make a goal of it! For me, it has been a weekly virtual performance that holds me accountable. Maybe you release something regularly or maybe you have an accountability partner with whom you have regular sharing sessions. Have your creative ideas ready and rehearsed now so that you have an entire arsenal at your disposal when classrooms, theaters, and workspaces are completely open. I can only imagine the droves of people who will flock to live performance venues when the doors are open. Your voice matters and you are worth it.