As a big fan of Broadway, and a member of the theatre community in NYC, I must ask our readers to take my word for it when I say that it is so rare that I go to see a Broadway show and am taken aback by the presence of a tall man on stage. More often then not, your male principals and ensemble are comprised of the 5'9"ers. Continuing with this series of Broadway GIANTS, I give you Otto Hahnke from Broadway's late "The Visit" and the man who is about to star as Fred Gaily in the upcoming production of Miracle On 34th Street at the John Engeman Theatre - Aaron Ramey; 6'2".
Homeland/Town: Solon, OH
Profession: Actor, Tech Support professional
What first sparked your interest in pursuing a career in theatre?
In high school I thought I was going to go into computer engineering. Although, truth be told, I wasn’t a super student. Oh, I could start writing a paper at 6am and get an A on it, but even though I took 5 AP classes my senior year, I did just enough to get by. I think my AP Calc teacher is surprised to this day that I managed a 3 on that AP exam. By my junior year I was a pretty good singer and I remember curtain call of Oklahoma (I was Jud) and the exhilarating feeling of curtain call. That pretty much hooked me - plus it required much less math than my AP classes.
How did that lead you to your path to Broadway?
I went to Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio to get my BFA in Musical Theater. Once there it was a pretty linear journey to NYC. We did internships in casting our senior year and mine was at the inimitable office of Johnson-Liff. During the time I was there, they were maintaining or had just finished the Guys & Dolls revival, the ...Forum revival, Side Show, Phantom, Les Miserables, Cats AND Miss Saigon. And that was just the musicals. I learned so much there. Two weeks before I left, an agent who’s office was in the same building came by to drop off a submission and asked if I was an actor and if I had a headshot. I was and I did. We started freelancing and a year and a half later I booked my first national tour covering the Beast and Gaston in Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. That how I got my union card. Spent a little over a year on the road, came back, and 3 months later booked my first Broadway show, Thoroughly Modern Millie. After a couple delays due to the Annie Get Your Gun revival running longer than expected, we started rehearsals in January of 2002.
What is one piece of theatre that you have done that you are THE most proud of?
The multi-ethnic production of Oklahoma that I did at Arena Stage is still the top of my list. It was beautiful, dark, sexy and heartfelt. The theater was in the round and my smokehouse (I’ve done that show 3 times and I’ve only ever played the badguy) came up from out of the deck. It had a ladder and a trap door in its ceiling, so during the ballet, after I’d placed Dream Laurie on my bed, I grabbed my coat, went up the ladder as the smokehouse started to descend, out the trap door, started walking toward the edge and stepped onto the deck just as “the roof” of the smokehouse landed. It was one of the coolest on-stage moments I’ve ever been a part of.
Have you found that being your height has been an obstacle or advantage in your performance career?
Mostly an advantage. While I’m not SUPER tall, I certainly have come across leading lady situations that are...challenging. In fact, I was cast as the leading man in an Off-Broadway show called The ‘It’ Girl some years ago. They were trying to find my leading lady. Anna Kendrick had just done Camp and had a Broadway pedigree, so they brought her in to read with me. Not only was she young, but next to me she was TINY. It looked like a molesty situation. Very unfortunate. However, on the disadvantage side, I’ve certainly found being a big man has its casting difficulties. Legally Blonde, for example. In my heart and mind, I’m Emmett. Always have been. But casting could only ever see me as the jackass boyfriend. It’s also difficult to be taken seriously in comedic roles unless the comedy is ABOUT being a big guy, like Milos Gloriosus, which I don’t have much desire to do.
Being so tall, obviously we know finding clothes is difficult. Where are some places that you find to be reliable in finding clothes that fit?
I’m actually still searching. SOMEtimes I can find off the shelf stuff that fits my frame. Button downs are often a challenge with long limbs and shoulders. I think it might even be MORE frustrating for me given that I’m a big guy, but I’m just shy of the Big and Tall stores. Fitting suits is especially annoying. Everything is so boxy on big guys. Um, excuse me… but I DO have a waist. Also, I can’t wear a skinny cut of anything at all. Ever. I’m totally fine with that, but it’s annoying that that style seems to be all over the place.
What size shoe do you wear? Where do you find shoes that fit you?
Small feet for a 6’2” guy. I’m only a size 10. My mother used to wonder how I didn’t just topple over being this tall with proportionally small feet.
Do you custom?
The only thing I’ve ever gotten custom is a sand wedge. I’m not against custom clothing if I feel like the price premium is reasonable.
What are some of your biggest Tall Guy Problems?
I feel like I kinda hit the height sweet spot in most respects. The only downside really is travel. Buses suck. Planes suck. Being behind someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass that a 6’+ man is sitting behind them so they HAVE to recline to the farthest possible degree - sucks.
What is the strangest thing someone has asked you about yourself or has said to you because of your height?
Everyone assumes that I’ve been an athlete my whole life. Sadly, I have to inform them that while I did play little league baseball, the sportiest I ever got was intramural basketball (decent jump shot), league bowling and ping pong as a teenager.
Do you feel as if though people treat you differently or behave differently towards you because of your height?
I think it’s a combination of things. Being physically imposing, I’m often cast as the badguy or the dark, dramatic character. People therefore assume that my personality is reflective of the roles I play. I’ve surprised many a castmate when they realize I actually have a sense of humor.
In The GIANTS Words:
Big guys have to be… the best men. The most courteous, most respectful, most emotionally in control and yet the most sensitive. Remember when we used to have pillow fights and it only took one over-zealous swing from the big guy to get someone accidentally hurt? Fun ruined. We have to be self-aware walking down the street. Every time I end up walking behind a woman on a street without much pedestrian traffic, especially at night, I always make a point of getting ahead of her so she doesn’t feel uncomfortable with a strange man twice her size walking closely behind her. Having said all that, I really like that I can almost always reach whatever I want, regardless of what shelf it’s on.