Off-Broadway, Where to Get Camera-Ready

With two-thirds of its clientele working in the entertainment field, Mark Fisher Fitness caters to people whose livelihoods depend on their bodies being in shape.

[image] David Kasnic for The Wall Street Journal

Mark Fisher presides over a class at Mark Fisher Fitness, where many patrons work in show business.

At a recent “Ninja Essentials” class at Mark Fisher Fitness, instructor Amanda Wheeler went around the room asking the 10 attendees for their names and favorite high-school subjects. At least half responded with “choir,” and the last person to answer was Constantine Maroulis, the erstwhile “American Idol” contestant who most recently starred in “Jekyll and Hyde” on Broadway.

With more than 400 members, about two-thirds of whom work in the entertainment field, Mark Fisher Fitness caters to people whose livelihoods depend on their bodies being in shape. Socializing is encouraged, and both patrons and staff say that pushy networking is a nonissue. Mr. Maroulis, despite his relative fame, was left alone to swing his kettlebells and grunt through his burpees like everyone else.

Mr. Fisher says his Hell’s Kitchen facility is for people who don’t like gyms. He likes to think of it as a clubhouse, his patrons as ninjas. His irreverent approach is part love and acceptance—the unicorn is the Mark Fisher Fitness unofficial mascot—and part adults-only raciness. One teacher has been known to wield a glitter gun during classes, another might dress up as an S&M pirate, and if all of this sounds ridiculous, that’s the point: to make working out not feel like work.

Mr. Fisher, a wavy-haired 33-year-old who sometimes dons a cape and top hat, grew up in New Jersey and put down roots in New York after eight years in and out of town as an actor. He began working as a personal trainer at New York Sports Club in 2007 but eventually struck out on his own, feeling that the traditional gym experience didn’t jibe with his style of teaching. In 2010, after settling back into city life full-time, he taught his first class, which led to the creation of “Snatched in Six Weeks.” The program, according to its website, promises “to unlock your own health and hotness with our special blend of ridiculousness and proven serious fitness techniques,” and at $779, is Mark Fisher Fitness’s most popular class.

David Kasnic for The Wall Street Journal

Gymgoers swing kettlebells and sometimes work out amid glitter-gun fire.

One “Snatched” disciple is Jerry Mitchell, the Tony Award-winning choreographer and director of “Kinky Boots.” “To have that much of a change in such a short period of time, in the business I’m in, that’s what it’s all about,” Mr. Mitchell said. “You get a job—you have to be ready for a photo shoot. You have to be ready for rehearsals. Mark can get you there in six weeks.”

Instruction takes into account some of the particular concerns of actors, singers and other performers, since even minor workout injuries can derail important gigs. Before beginning exercise, Mr. Fisher’s staff will spend an hour with new patrons to assess how they move as well as who they are and their goals. Proper technique is meticulously taught and reviewed.

“As compared to other fitness facilities, what we’ve been able to do effectively is make it so offbeat and entertaining,” he added, new clients “just trust us and take the time.”

And to avoid stressing the core, where pain can be particularly problematic for singers, rarely are crunches performed at this gym.

“If someone is looking to train their abdominals for aesthetics, that’s really about body-fat levels,” Mr. Fisher said. “Usually that means they just need to eat less bagels and ice cream.”

Katie Finneran, a two-time Tony-winning actor who recently played Miss Hannigan in Broadway’s “Annie,” came to Mark Fisher Fitness after overhearing a hairdresser praising “Snatched in Six Weeks” backstage. With two young sons and a role in the upcoming NBC series “The Michael J. Fox Show,” her goal was to be offered less Spanx by the wardrobe department. (To her delight, she met her goal.)

“They taught me how not to hurt myself, how to spiral my knees. I didn’t know that before, and I’ve been doing this a really long time,” she said. “It’s not about whoever is the skinniest wins.”

David Kasnic for The Wall Street Journal

Mark Fisher

Not every MFF patron is a Broadway star, of course. Roughly a third work in nonperforming roles in the entertainment industry, and another third—the gym’s fastest-growing clientele, Mr. Fisher noted—are in other fields altogether.

“They have performers on the regimen of being onstage eight performances a week versus someone like me, who tends to have a more Monday-through-Friday office experience,” said Andrew Flatt, a senior vice president of marketing at Disney Theatrical Group. “I might need something different.”

Mr. Fisher credits social media with helping him stay in touch with patrons and letting him spread the word. “The advantage of the online stuff is that it’s so scalable. The profit margins are so high that it becomes so much more doable. It’s not as high-touch as we’d like, though,” he said, emphasizing another mantra: showing up. “Fitness is lucky, because I think there will always be a market for the in-person thing.”

Community is an important part of the Mark Fisher Fitness culture, especially for performers who, contrary to popular belief, are often isolated by endless audition cycles and short-term, out-of-town shows that see friendships quickly struck but then dispersed. That’s one reason Mr. Fisher makes it easy for patrons to freeze their accounts and start back up when they return to New York.

“In the short term, it’s not the best for our business. But also in the long term, I do know it’s the best for our business,” said Mr. Fisher, who co-owns MFF with his childhood friend, Michael Keeler. “It’s just one more way we can be like: ‘Hey. We know the other places are going to give you s— about this, but we get it. Go do your thing. We’re happy and proud of you.”

Of his own acting career, he said that, in a way, it hasn’t gone anywhere.

“People ask me sometimes if I miss performing, and I’m like, ‘Not really,'” he said. “I get to do my own one-man show however many times a week I want to act. I get to be a fitness coach-slash-professor-slash-philosopher-slash-motivational life coach.”


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