On some days Northwestern University graduate Jeff Cuttler rests comfortably at his Long Island home. On others the 22-year-old is a starving artist, roaming the streets of New York City. The latter, of course, is just Cuttler's day job. He isn't actually a starving artist but rather just plays one on stage in the touring production of the hit musical RENT. Cuttler, who graduated from NU in 2007, achieved what many—including his on-stage persona—can't: a successful gig just months after graduation.
As the swing for the principal character Mark, a wannabe filmmaker who can’t pay his, well, rent, Cuttler performs when the lead actor or any other males in the ensemble cannot, which means he’s in about one show per week. And even when he's not on stage, he leads the rest of the cast as one of the dance captains in charge of the show's choreography. Cuttler is one of the few Northwestern grads to return to the Chicago stage so soon after graduation: He’ll appear in RENT, playing Mark for at least three of the shows, February 12 through 17 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
The irony of portraying characters who have long-term struggles for work, food and love while it all came so quickly for him isn't lost on Cuttler. “I feel so lucky and blessed to be where I am right now,” he says. “I know how unstable things are [as an actor]. The beauty of the show is that it captures that lifestyle of believing in yourself and working towards something but not selling out.”
The actor began his foray into theater as a high school student in Long Beach, N.Y. After roles in Oliver and The Music Man, Cuttler knew he should major in theater at Northwestern. “It's one of those things I think I would've never forgiven myself if I didn't make the attempt.” That attempt led to many more roles in NU productions, including the The Boy in the Bubble, produced by the American Music Theatre Project, a collaboration between several of NU’s schools. It was during that show's run Cuttler that learned of the RENT opportunity.
“My agent [who I got through an NU performance showcase] said she could get me in for [the audition],” he says. In August, Cuttler was cast and in October he performed in his first show. He believes his journey is proof just how much can change in the “five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes” that make up a year and is grateful he made it this far, this quick. “I still have at least twice a week where I'll be like 'Oh my god. I'm doing this,’” he says. “’I'm really doing this!’”