Faces of Pittsburgh

Struggle and Disappointment Pave Performer’s Path to Success 

By ANDREA ZANAGLIO
alzst10@mail.rmu.edu

A salty, tangy familiar scent fills the air of the Byham Theater’s lobby in between rehearsal scenes of the Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s latest production of “Seussical the Musical.” Definitely that of Italian dressing, which possibly served as the final touch to an Italian hoagie grabbed on-the-go because time is money in this business, the aroma secretes from the perspiring pores of an overly jubilant, 29-year-old ready to sprint back on stage at a moment's notice.

Although he has been here for at least two hours already, nothing seems to have an affect on his energy level, enthusiasm and certainly not his passion, a passion that anyone could spot from miles away.

Growing up in North Hills, Christian Delcroix has always been bursting with energy, needing something to channel his uncontrollable liveliness. As some may say, fate brought him face-to-face with the ideal source, allowing him to unleash his abundance of enthusiasm all thanks to the concern of his fifth grade teacher.

“I picked him up from school. He had a dislocated elbow from baseball practice,” recalled Cindy Delcroix, Christian’s mother, “and the teacher said, ‘Not only is he getting a lot of attention from the arm, but did you realize that he came to school dressed as a cowboy?’ and I said, ‘Well not really.’ And she said, ‘Well, you know, he needs an outlet like acting.’ And I looked at her and said, ‘Well, he’s always been acting up!’”

Despite Mrs. Delcroix’s dismissive response, she followed through with the teacher’s suggestion, sending her eldest son, Chuck, with Christian for an audition for the North Star Kids, a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to providing children with musical theater education.

“What was crazy about [the audition] was that his older brother made it in, and he didn’t. His older brother was ready to kill him,” Mrs. Delcroix joked.

A few years later, Christian auditioned again and succeeded, beginning his journey as a performer.

For Christian, it was eighth grade when things really began to click, and he realized he was meant to be an actor. Thanks to the mentoring of people such as Dr. Ken Gargaro, founder and director of the Pittsburgh Musical Theater (PMT), Christian was able to hone and perfect his skills at an early age.

Having first met Christian nearly twenty years ago, Dr. Gargaro can still recall the “infectious mentality and incredible voice” that Christian possessed prior to his training and mentoring he received throughout his years at PMT.

“He’s been part of my encouraging process since he was a kid,” Dr. Gargaro recollected. “I brought him back when he was waiting tables. He would come back and do shows. Part of the company’s philosophy is to continue to provide a means for young performers to continue their craft.”

After graduating from North Hills Senior High School in 1999, he went to Florida State University to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in musical theater and graduated in 2003. In order to jumpstart his career, Christian decided to move to New York right after college.

“We weren’t shocked,” Christian’s father, Charles Delcroix, explained. “We knew he wasn’t going to make his fortune here in Pittsburgh. New York seemed like a logical choice. We were happy to see him go, we were happy to see him embark on a career, and I guess we were happy it was New York instead of LA.”

Faced with a potentially life changing opportunity straight out of college, Christian sadly recounted how he wasn’t exactly the person he is today, resulting in a major setback.

“Right after my showcase in college, I had an amazing opportunity, and I completely messed it up because I wasn’t prepared. Since then, that casting office didn’t call me in for five years after that because they remembered. So, I think a lot of the struggles I had was working hard and commitment. I moved to New York and wanted to live the New York experience and go out to bars and see all my friends and do all that stuff. I just didn’t work hard enough. You have to be willing to work really, really hard for it, and if you’re not, then you’re screwed,” he shared.

Since he began his work in theater productions, Christian was rather steadily placed in lead roles. As a result, in New York, he was faced with more rejection than he was use to handling.

“When I first got to New York, and I went through rejections, it was kind of jarring. I had to do a lot of thinking and soul searching and grow up a little bit,” Christian recounted. “Moving to New York, there are so many people trying to do what we are doing. I think more than anything it’s getting past your ego. You can go on a hundred auditions and not get a role, and then you can get that hundred and first, but you have to be willing to rough it out. You have to be willing to wait. Even if you get in the door when you first get there and screw up, they’ll shut the door right on you.”

Although Christian felt his main roadblock to success was his lack of maturity, struggle is an inevitable component to the life of a performer.

 “It’s always a struggle. It’s a struggle because it’s a labor-oriented profession. I don’t think our society as a whole values the artist as much as they should. Being an artist, it’s a constant battle with disappointment,” Dr. Gargaro stated. “You have to learn to accept disappointment because things don’t go your way very often, and you have to believe in yourself. That’s the upside.  It really teaches you how to believe in yourself. And it is those people who are not only talented, but are fun to work with and are humble. Those are the ones that succeed. And that’s Christian.”

With a two-year stint on Broadway in Lincoln Center’s “South Pacific” and his next role already set to play Young Buddy in the Kennedy Center’s production of “Follies,” his lifelong dream of becoming a professional performer is becoming a reality.

Establishing himself above the amateurs seeking roles in New York after eight years full of hard work and determination, Christian’s ultimate goal in life has morphed just as his maturity and dedication to this career have throughout the years.

“I use to want to be famous. Obviously, growing up you dream of doing that stuff, but I don’t really care about that anymore. I would just like to have a successful career, hopefully in New York or regionally, enough to support a family, own a house. That to me, in this business, is success because it takes a lot of money and a lot of hard work and patience. It’s kind of a low goal, isn’t it?” he said with a laugh.

As someone who has been in this business for many years, Dr. Gargaro knows this path is not for everyone, especially those unwilling to accept disappointment.

“There are only certain people who can do this. Only someone who can’t do anything else and is just not happy doing anything else, is destined to be a performer,” said Dr. Gargaro. “The disappointment can be your gateway to your greatest successes.”

Performing is Christian’s passion, his life. Watching him lazily roll around in an imaginary patch of the jungle, embodying the spirit and soul of Horton the Elephant, anyone would undergo the same sensation as those who know Christian best feel when they watch him perform: a heart-swelling emotion, knowing that his heart is in it 100 percent.