Ethan Slater ’10 made his Broadway debut in November 2017 as the titular hero of the hugely-anticipated SpongeBob SquarePants! Musical. The show, directed by Tina Landau, and featuring music from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, The Flaming Lips, Cyndi Lauper, and John Legend, rests squarely (bad pun) on the shoulders of its leading man, who is primed to show the Great White Way exactly what he can do.
What activities did you participate in at GDS? How did your time here help pave the path of your career?
I was involved in a number of extracurricular activities at GDS, but mainly wrestling, theater (fall and spring), a cappella, and choir. All of them had (at least) one thing in common: they taught me to have high expectations for myself—and to meet those expectations. Whether it was the hard workouts on the wrestling team, or putting on a production with student-built turntables, GDS expects a lot, and gets a lot in return. I could go on and on about how GDS prepared me for my professional life, but it all starts there.
"GDS expects a lot, and gets a lot in return."
Are there any teachers/class experiences that left a lasting impression?
So many. Just to name a few, Laura Rosberg and Jim Mahady's classes in directing and acting, respectively. I never would have dreamed of being a professional actor if it weren't for them (and some of my classmates).
They helped us put on ambitious productions like Elizabeth Rex, Amadeus, The Producers, and more. I say "helped us" because they really entrusted students with a lot of responsibility: building and designing the sets (along with Will Ley), costumes, lights, props, producing, and tackling challenging roles. Their attitude that we were capable and creative taught me as much as any classroom lesson.
One more! Senior year I had Thu Nguyen for English. The books we read were challenging, and sometimes dense, but she treated us like adults, while always having our backs. I remember reading Paradise Lost--it was undecipherable! We all came in the next day, tail between our legs, eighty percent of us having quit before finishing the assigned section. But she had planned for this. We spent the class time breaking down the first five or so pages, line by line, seeing how and why Milton wrote the way he did. And she reassigned the same section for the next class period. What sticks with me about this lesson is that Paradise Lost went from being unimaginable literature, to one of my favorite books we read that year. It's a lesson that I have revisited any time a situation, academic or other, has got me stumped.
But of course, I had incredible teachers through and through, from Bill George to Bill Wallace, Sue and Bruce and Suzie, C.A. and Bobby. I also have many teachers to whom I owe an apology. My senior year I shared four classes with my good friend Lilly Jay ’10, during which we spent far too much time comparing notes and chatting. So for that, I am sorry! But you should know, it paid off! Just this past summer, we got engaged and I have GDS to thank for being the place I first got to know and fall in love with my future wife.
You have masterfully taken a well-known character, and made him uniquely your own. How did your education at GDS prepare you to approach this task?
Oddly enough, it was my non-theatrical education that came into play the earliest—wrestling. The show is incredibly physical, and many of the acrobatics and physical things that I do in the show I learned through wrestling training: the discipline, the stamina, the room for improvement.
The process of working on the SpongeBob musical has been undeniably special. I've had the opportunity to work with Tina Landau, a director whom I have always admired, and whose process is imbued with exploration and creativity. Working with her has been reminiscent of being a student of teachers who provide guidance, but who are also excited to learn with you. GDS treats students like capable learners, which in turn makes us feel like capable learners. So as daunting as it was to take on a character as ubiquitous as SpongeBob when I was just 19, I knew (and learned along the way) that it was going to be a learning process helmed by a brilliant director, and that with her help I could figure it out.
Founding Student Coordinator, Tufts University Peace and Justice Society
Author & Recipient of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction
Co-Founder, Ragged Wing Ensemble and The Flight Deck
Director, Choreographer, Actor, Dancer & Playwright
Principal, Environmental Charter School
Reporter, Washington Post
Deputy Director, Collective Action for Safe Spaces
Founding Partner, The CC Group at Morgan Stanley
Conservation Scientist, The Nature Conservancy – Wyoming
Professor of Mathematics, University of California, San Diego
Co-Founder, Latin American Society of Chagas
Playwright & Television Writer
U.S. Congressman, Maryland's 8th District
Vice President, Live Wire Media Relations, LLC
Six-Time Grammy-Winning Nonprofit Record Label Founder
Founder and CEO of Illumix
Founder and Executive Director, Jevaia Foundation
Executive Editor, News Practices, ABC News
Principal, Success Academy Charter Schools
Owner, Hills Kitchen
Founder/CEO, The League of Kitchens
Founder, huMAN Expressions & Co-founder, Breast Cancer Comfort Site