Getting to Know You: Brandon Kirchgasler, Legal Assistant with the Department of Labor and Industry for the State of Montana

Brandon Kirchgasler is a passionate artist with a love for his community and the people surrounding him.

Born in Glasgow, Montana and raised in Helena, Montana, he grew up immersed in that city’s Grandstreet Theater. The theater cultivated Brandon’s innate creativity and fueled his imagination. There, he was directed by some of the most talented directors in all of Montana’s theater community. His acting education began at the age of eight, and after accumulating years of experience on the stage, Brandon eventually joined the Montana Shakespeare Company, where he began working as an actor in earnest beginning at 13 years old and continuing throughout high school and into his collegiate years.

After graduating from Helena High School, Brandon moved to San Francisco to study at the Art Institute of California. From there, he moved on to Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Nebraska, to earn his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater with a minor in Mandarin. During college, he continued to work as an actor to pay the bills.

Immediately after college, Brandon toyed with the notion of a career in the music industry. His rock band, Brandon Kirchgasler and the Indestructible Band, toured for four years, playing nightclubs and cutting records in between gigs. When Brandon felt it was time for a change, he returned home to Helena, Montana, desiring to work in a field that allowed him to give back to the community in a meaningful way. Today, he continues to actively work as an actor, but he also works as a legal assistant in the Department of Labor and Industry for the State of Montana. He has been a regular extra on the set of Yellowstone, and other shows filmed in and around Montana.

In his free time, Mr. Kirchgasler writes poetry and plays and composes music. He also enjoys reading and spending time with family and friends. One of his favorite hobbies is luthier work, which is the act of repairing the wooden frames of stringed instruments.

What do you currently do at the Department of Labor and Industry?

Currently, my day-to-day position is with the criminal team within the Office of Legal Services for the Department of Labor and Industry. Primarily, I research cases alleging fraud and provide that research to the attorneys prosecuting theft of unemployment benefits. They brought me into this department because, in my previous role as a claims investigator, they contacted me with a great many questions, anyway. From their point-of-view, it was easier to have me in-house instead of constantly going back and forth between the departments. My duties include tracking data through the system, maintaining the database for ease of navigation, communicating with district courts around the states regarding the progress of criminal investigations, and any additional research tasks that are required.

What was the inspiration behind venturing into the various careers you’ve had?

When I first returned to Montana, I knew I wanted to feel like I was adding something positive to the community. A friend of mine, who happened to also be the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry at the time, suggested working for them as a way I could make a difference. So, I took the suggestion and ended up loving the job! Now, I’m able to have a positive impact on others, and it really inspires me to continue to give back to the hardworking people of Montana. It’s important to me to be a giving member of the community I grew up in.

What defines your way of approaching your position with the Department of Labor for Montana versus your approach to acting?

I approach them both with the same essential attitude. My work, regardless of either career, is a portrayal of personal character, conducting research, or writing a story, is my product. If I’m doing a data cleanup, the quality of my work is a reflection on my dedication and, in a larger sense, on me as a person. If I say I’ll do the work, then it will be done and done well. When I initially arrived in this department, the Chief Legal Representative approached me with an assignment regarding record retention. The process of digitizing all the department’s old records was overdue, and needed to be done correctly. I approached it from there and dug in. It’s important to me to make sure that the execution of my tasks at my day job is done with the same high standards that I apply to acting. It’s also nice to have the confidence of those around me. While I never saw myself in the legal field, it’s now a position I’m quite proud to hold.

What keys to being productive can you share?

Planning is the best thing I do to stay productive. In theater or any other kind of work, it’s important to be well-prepared ahead of time. Engaging in thorough pre-production—or front-loading the work by making lists, and organizing the project before you even begin—makes the work easier, no matter what it may be. In the office, when a new case is handed to me it’s important to collect all the information and plan the approach before I tackle the work. This means that everything is in place and ready to be filed when I’m finished, which cuts down on wasted time.

I find the same is true regarding the various plays and shows I’ve participated in. Whenever possible, it’s good to get the script months ahead of time. That way, I’m able to memorize and dissect my approach to the character, which empowers the character’s lines, paves the way for variations in line delivery, and ensures my delivery is the best I can possibly offer for each and every line.

Tell us one long-term goal in your career

In everything I do, it is important to under-promise and over-deliver. That’s a goal I aim for daily. What I mean by this is simply promising what you know you can absolutely do by the deadline, and then applying whatever time is left over to achieve what you can beyond that. You’re promising exactly what you know can be done, but delivering what you are capable of; delivering above and beyond. Long term, it would be great to make my 20-year career in the arts my primary career. Right now, my art is a partnered position, along with my day-to-day job. When my day-to-day starts to center mainly around art and performance, I’ll be exactly where I want to be.

How do you measure success?

This is an interesting question. I have a friend, a younger gentleman, who graduated from school during the pandemic. Because of the global situation at the time, he couldn’t move directly to New York as he intended. At one point, I was helping him prepare for an audition for a call-back to a show he’d hoped to book. I recall him telling me that ‌he keeps “waiting for his career to start.” In reply, I said, “Let’s define what that is, then. What is the definition of getting your career started for you? Does it start with your first job on Broadway?” Then I explained that his career started years ago as he began working in shows and gaining immeasurable acting experience.

For me, success is not measured in fame or mass exposure, as many feel it is. Rather, success lies in the quality of the work one does. When we performed to a small house, about 75 in the auditorium, it was just as important as the larger shows I’ve worked. In that case, I could see the audience. There was a gentleman in the crowd one night. He was probably middle aged. On opening night, I sang the last number of the show. He began wiping tears from his eyes, weeping through jagged breaths. From where I stood, there was no way I couldn’t see this, and it struck a chord with me, as the song had also moved me to tears when I first sang it. That’s how I knew I delivered it right. I knew the quality of my work hit the mark I intended, which I would call a rousing success.

It’s important to evaluate the quality of your work in its own kind of bubble, and put the most effort into any project, artistically or not, that you possibly can. And remind yourself of all the good around you as you do because being grateful truly empowers you to put in extra effort, which will become evident in your results. As I work to make my art a more central part of my career, I always make sure to be grateful for my day job and all the wonderful people in the office around me. It’s what makes my future as an artist possible. But I won’t give up on my dream. Not giving up on something you love, no matter the obstacles or struggles you encounter, is real success. The experience with that audience member I described is truly a testament to that, and it illustrates very well why I wake up every day determined to continue doing what I love.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?

Stand up for what’s right even if you’re the only one standing. The next thing that comes to mind is something a mentor of mine, Kim DeLong mentioned to me. He was the founder of the Montana Shakespeare Company. While I was 17, I took part in a production of As You Like It with graduate students and an assortment of other professionals who were enrolled in bachelors or masters programs.

The part I was playing was Silvius, a shepherd boy. Most people were still working off the script, but I had memorized my part two weeks before. We had not been told to be off-book yet, so I didn’t want anyone to feel bad and kept holding on to my script. After rehearsal, Kim approached me and asked me why I held on to the script, because to him, it didn’t appear I needed it. After explaining I didn’t want to become the young person making others feel bad, he said, “If they aren’t ready for you, run them over like a train.” He elaborated by explaining that if you’re at a different level than others, it’s not your place to stand by while they are catching up. Don’t deny yourself. Be confident in your abilities and don’t waiver from that. If you’re putting in that effort, you’ve earned that confidence. That lesson left quite an impact on me. As a child without an active father, having a male figure in this position give me that kind of advice was truly empowering.

What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in either of your fields?

First off, success doesn’t happen all at once. Sometimes it feels like life cascades around us. I’ve found that success comes from waiting and working at things bit by bit. This applies both to my acting career and to my legal career. It’s not a passive waiting process, as you need to be watching for opportunities and creating them when possible, but patience is key.

The best part of it all is that as you move through one success, such as a show, you get a time to recover before whatever comes next. If you’re reframing your waiting period as a moment to breathe between each new success, you’ll have the full breath and full energy and all of your resources to give your best to the next opportunity. An accumulation of everything that you’re doing during the periods of waiting for the next thing sets you up and prepares you for the next step, whatever it may be.

How do you maintain a solid work life balance?

Balancing work and life has been a learning process. Keeping them separate is important. If I’m at the office, it’s time to work. My office hours start a short while before everyone else. I start at 7 in the morning and I work until 4 in the afternoon. At that point, everything that may come my way will be completed the next day. This is common knowledge in the office. While I am here, I work hard and produce quality work, but when it’s time to be done for the day, I’m done. Period. It’s my time. Sometimes I have to put some effort into not thinking about things from the office during my free time, but that has become easier to do over time. The artistic part of my career is harder to separate. Allocating time to dedicate to my creative side is important, but it is equally important to unwind. Relaxation fuels success. Learning to schedule that time has been critical for balancing work and life.

What is one piece of technology that helps you the most in your daily routine?

My smartphone has been incredibly helpful. Carrying my smartphone means my calendar is always with me, as a notepad, recording device, and an opportunity to set up lines to practice for an audition. The reminders I set with it help me stay on track for practicing, appointments, and any plans I have. There is also a script reading app that I use often. The app reads all the lines except mine. It really gives me a chance to practice, back up, go forward, and restart without having to find another way to get lines that aren’t mine read. It’s super handy.

Who has been a role model to you and why?

Kim DeLong was a significant role model. The way he worked, what he taught me, and how much he impacted my creative career is immeasurable. He expected the Shakespeare troop here in Montana to meet the same standards of actors on Broadway. He held me to the same standard he held himself to—even making it a point to pull me aside and tell me not to wait for the others to catch up when I had surpassed them. Treating every actor as an individual was part of his approach. Everything he did, he did with passion. He truly dedicated his blood, sweat, and tears into every project. It was inspiring to be around him.

Another person who I have always counted as a role model is Daniel Day Lewis. He won an Oscar for My Left Foot, There Will be Blood, and Lincoln. As I’ve watched his career, he has achieved a level of success that few reach, but he never let it go to his head. He worked hard, spending a lot of time with each script before even agreeing to the work. If someone sent him a partial script or wouldn’t allow him to read the script before taking the part, he just passed on the work. Sometimes this meant he didn’t work for a while, but he never compromised in his process. And despite the level of success he achieved, he never squandered money. This allowed him the comfort to pass on any job that didn’t fit him. It allowed him to stop working if he wanted to or if he needed a break. Managing his money correctly meant that he could live the lifestyle he desired. He never had to work to support himself. For a time, he even cobbled shoes in Italy for two years between films. This is why Daniel Day Lewis has been an excellent example to me of how to manage a career.

So, to summarize, Kim DeLong inspired me and Daniel Lewis helped me find direction.

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

Good question. Along with all the brilliant advice and mentors I’ve shared, Marianne Adam, the education director at Grandstreet Theater, where I started my acting lessons at eight years old, always shared expert advice, too. She always taught us to be more than just actors. She taught us how to live.

Talent means nothing if you’re a jerk. No one wants to work with someone difficult. She cultivated great results in us, both as people and as actors. She instilled these values in me. Now, if I go to a rehearsal, I want people to know that being in a show with me will be a good time because working together will be a great experience. I’d rather be the guy that they love to work with than the person who can sing the best or dance the best.