Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag: Q&A with Boettcher Alum Gavin Lodge

Boettcher Alum, Gavin Lodge, running through stadium

In each issue of LEAD, we ask a Boettcher Alum 12 questions. In our debut issue, we hear from Gavin Lodge—father, Broadway actor, designer, entrepreneur, and now nonprofit executive director who nurtures his creativity through persistence and passion.

What was your first acting experience?

I suppose I was first bitten by the applause drug in 3rd grade when I saw a show where kids were playing all the roles, and I over-dramatically grabbed my mom by her collar (charmingly) and said “get me in this group.” Shows in youth theatre led to parts in high school and CU Boulder. And being the son of a huge musical theatre fan, we attended lots of performances that fueled my interest.

When did you know you wanted to be an actor?

Throughout my childhood I dreamed of being an actor, but by the time I got to college, I’d shelved that aspiration for more practical pursuits. After college I worked as a community organizer for a presidential campaign in the Iowa caucuses and other primary states. The bonkers nature of that path, where I was thrown into situations having no idea how to make anything happen, gave me the confidence to “just give it a try” in New York City. I showed up as an utterly inexperienced six-foot tap dancer, and my first jobs were “the tall guy who danced well enough to be stuck in the back and can understudy the leading men,” which is exactly how I made my Broadway debut in 42nd Street.

How do you draw inspiration to get into character?

One of the beautiful things about acting is being able to approach a scene from different angles. In one regard, you conjure emotions from life experiences to inform the scene you’re playing. When I played the lead role in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, it was almost too easy to think about parenthood and connecting with the character’s son, since my first child was born while I was in that show. When you let yourself be vulnerable and emotional, truth comes out and you can be surprised at what organically happens. That’s when you send shivers down the backs of audience members and share universally relatable feelings. 

What has been your favorite role?

Two that stick out are the aforementioned “Tick” in Priscilla (for which I was a Broadway understudy and got to play the role about 30 times…but who’s counting?) I also loved playing “Jerry” in The Full Monty, a show sure to surprise you with its depth and sincerity about the challenges of male friendships. 

How did E.C. Knox start?

I saw my own needs as a new father and sought to fill that need. I wanted a slick, masculine diaper bag that announced, “I’m proud to be a new dad and I haven’t lost my sense of style.” Such a bag didn’t exist. I let the idea fester for a year, had a second kid, and ultimately thought, “way dumber people than me have figured out how to be an entrepreneur.” So, despite having zero business or fashion experience, I designed the bag, networked the heck out of it to get it produced, and landed Barneys in NYC and Beverly Hills as my first store. Of course, I thought that was the end and my fortune would roll in, but that has not (yet) been the case. Barneys folded and the hustle continues.

You started in politics, then went to pursue your passion in acting and added entrepreneur to your resume, is there one lesson that stood out?

First off, I was very, very lucky to have a supportive mother on whom I knew I could count on and would, frankly, bail me out if I made too many mistakes. That was a tremendous privilege for which I’m eternally grateful. Overall, I’d say my main lesson is to always be a kind and dependable person. That feels so cheesy to write, but it’s what stands out. Everything I’ve succeeded at came from my character, not from my resume. Also – follow your passions, listen to instincts, don’t take “no” for an answer. You know – the Hallmarky lessons that really do matter.

What does a typical day look like for you?

With my relatively new job as executive director of 4A Arts  My day is a balance of Zoom meetings, virtual networking, getting kids to and from school, and then being a soccer uber. It never slows and I’m grateful for every moment. Especially because the mission of my current job fuels my soul…almost as much as cheering on my kids in their various activities. 

Shameless plug since my job at a nonprofit start-up is new: I’m able to combine my passion for political organizing with my passion the arts. The American creative economy is equal in economic might to the airline industry. It’s bigger than agriculture and transportation and is the second largest employer in the country, yet why don’t we have a Secretary of Arts and Culture? That’s our mission. 

At Boettcher, our mission is to “connect and build up Colorado’s doers and difference makers.” When did you realize you were a doer and/or difference maker?

For 20 years in NYC, my career and purpose was self-regarding. All I could think about was whether or not I could get an audition to play “King George” in Hamilton. (I did. And I did not get the job. Thanks for bringing that up.) This self-obsession is inherent in acting and I knew it was not how I wanted to conduct my entire life.

Having kids gave me much greater purpose and drive to be a doer and difference maker. I got very involved with their elementary schools and was a PTA co-president. Enough people told me I was doing a good job that I suppose that meant I was making a difference. But there’s so much more to do and differences to make in a world of animosity. I hope to bring great change to how Americans and Congress value the arts; I hope to stop the spread of bigotry and ignorance in my local school board (for which I am a candidate right now); I hope to nurture children (mine and others) to be critical thinkers and doers and difference makers themselves. So I suppose that’s where I’m confident that I’m doing and making the most difference…as a parent. 

What is the most common denominator when things go well and then when things don’t go well?

Communication. When we speak past each other without listening and trying to understand; when we shout reflexively in parking lots and behind the walls of social media; when we feel entitled about our own opinions as superior to others…this is the root of our societal ills at the macro and micro levels. Just the other day I was managing a conflict between two colleagues. My gut was not to let them work it out over #slack. I wanted them to speak via zoom and look each other in the eye. But they both demurred at that, so I let them work it out themselves. It spiraled and devolved. It’s Pollyannaish, but we have to look our fellow human in the eye and connect as people.

What advice would you give to yourself 18-year-old self starting at University of Colorado Boulder as a Boettcher Scholar?

You are enough. Stop over-compensatingly bursting into every room like the Kool-Aid man. Slow down and listen more. And indulge in your education. Don’t let your due-dates be after-thoughts. Prioritize your brain over your FOMO (at least once in a while). The friends, the adventures, and the social aspects are important, but thinking critically will be a lifelong skill that brings great satisfaction, as well. Exercise that muscle as much as the others. 

What is your favorite Colorado hobby?

I’m avoiding being such a basic cliche as listing the fabulosity of hiking the Flatirons or missing the chimiganga at La Iguana (RIP) or the Rio or pretending to study on the patio at Buchanan’s coffee pub desperately. Seeing the sunrises on the Flatirons while rowing with the crew team on the reservoir was always thrilling, as was the absurdity of dorm life in Farrand (loved that massive table in the back left academic room). But since it’s the friends made and the bonds sealed, I’d have to say Thursday nights at the Oasis Brewery (RIP) were the best college hobby for just living life, laughing, sometimes crying, and plotting our futures. Wait – am I saying drinking with friends is my favorite Colorado hobby? Eh – I’ll own that.

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