Josh and the City: From the Midwest to the Big Apple, exciting adventures in a new home

nyc scape

“Oh, you graduated with a degree in Music Theatre? What are you going to do with that?”

Ladies and gentlemen, my favorite question in the entire world.

Not.

When my undergraduate college experience came to a close, I was asked this dreaded question more times than I even care to remember. Why adults felt the need to ask what I was going to do with my degree baffled me—didn’t they know that young actors typically gravitate to one of the three major cities for performing to begin their lives as starving artists? Did they secretly enjoy hearing answers like, “Waiting tables until I get my big break?” Or were they genuinely curious, due to the uncertain nature of auditioning and the acting industry as a whole?

The more I was asked this question, the more I wondered where I wanted to move after college came to its inevitable end. I knew I had the typical options: I could stay in my hometown, Chicago, and get a basic feel for auditioning and networking. I could fly to L.A., just in time for pilot season. Or I could do what my 80-year-old-self-looking-back would have wanted me to do: Take a leap of faith and go to New York.

It didn’t take much thought on my part. I knew that I wanted to go to New York. After spending the summer diligently making money and allowing myself a few months to mentally prepare, I packed my bags and began a brand new chapter of my life.

As of this writing, I have been in the Big Apple for almost two months. In that time, I have had more adventures than I could have ever expected.

Perhaps we should start at the very beginning, a very good place to—well, you know.

I arrived in New York on a Friday afternoon. By the time Sunday morning rolled around, I was standing in line at my first audition: The off-Broadway production of Peter and the Starcatcher. I wasn’t in line for two minutes when I spotted three alums from my University and one of my cast mates from my first year of summer stock. What were the odds? I was thrilled to see them, but alas, that’s where the thrills ended—after a full day of waiting for the non-Equity actors to be seen (after the Equities, the alternate lists of Equities, and the Equity Membership Candidates), we were told that non-Equities would not be seen that day. I was prepared for something like this to happen, but what I didn’t know at the time was that I would face this exact scenario on a fairly consistent basis. Thus, the internal struggle began: Do I embrace my non-Equity status to acquire valuable performing experience or fight tooth and nail to work in an Equity house and gain points toward my Equity card? Unfortunately, it’s a question I have yet to answer.

To say the least, my first month as a (semi-) starving artist was nothing short of exhilarating. When I wasn’t auditioning (or waiting patiently with the hopes of auditioning), I was attending Metropolitan operas (Maria Stuarda and Rigoletto, both of which featured my amazing opera-singing aunt), seeing plays in Lincoln Center (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) and having spontaneous meet-cutes with celebrities all over the city. At the play in Lincoln Center, I spotted Bernadette Peters in the audience and asked her at intermission if she would be willing to take a picture with me. She was on her way to the ladies’ room but was kind enough to indulge me in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Though I was trembling and probably didn’t speak a coherent word during the entirety of our exchange, I was grateful for Bernadette’s kindness. Hours later, I was shaking hands with David Hyde Pierce and Sigourney Weaver—the two stars of the play—and got pictures with them too. Basically, I couldn’t believe what was happening around me and I definitely thought I was losing my mind when David told me “Break a leg” in my New York endeavors. (Keep in mind that I come from the Midwest, where celebrity sightings are few and far between).

After that evening, I didn’t think my life as an aspiring New York actor could get any better. How wrong I was!

In a matter of days, I found myself in all kinds of amazing situations. I was walking through Times Square with a new friend I made at an audition when we were asked by a bright-faced girl if we wanted to attend a taping of the David Letterman show. All it took was an exuberant “Yes!” and we were in the studio audience the very next day! After watching Letterman interview Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family, I had a crazy thought—“Why don’t we go to the stage door of The Heiress to see Jessica Chastain before she goes in to perform?” Moments later, we were outside the Walter Kerr Theater, iPhones at the ready in case we happened to be so lucky. Sure enough, with 45 minutes to curtain, a black car pulled up to the stage door and Jessica emerged looking just as beautiful in real life as she does on the big screen. Reporters literally appeared out of thin air like magicians with cameras for rabbits. Jessica was courteous and gracious as she slowly made her way to the stage door, from which I was not even two feet away. Apparently forgetting how to speak, I watched her start to sneak through the stage door only for my friend to yell, “He’s your biggest fan! Can he get a picture with you?” Jessica turned around, looked right at me, and said, “Of course!” She took a picture with me and humored me as I told her how much she has inspired me as an actor. The moment was nothing but pure magic.

chastain

The very next day, I waited outside in the biting cold for two hours to nab tickets for a matinee showing of The Heiress. Luck was on my side again—I scored two front row tickets! Yes, friends—my aunt and I got to experience the brilliance of Jessica Chastain, David Strathairn, Judith Ivey, and Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens from the front row! It was my first time attending a Broadway play and there is no other actress I would have rather seen shine in her Broadway debut. When the show was over, I made sure to give Jessica the standing ovation she deserved, an act that caught her eye and evoked a bright smile.

These moments made life in New York appear just as glamorous and exciting as I’d always imagined; however, I knew that reality would set in eventually. Even so, I wanted to get as much out of my everyday experiences as possible. After Jessica told me to “work on my craft every day,” I got back into the swing of reading the acting texts of all the great teachers and dusting off monologues I hadn’t worked on in months. I went to the Harry Potter exhibition downtown as well as “Spy: The Secret World of Espionage.” I watched Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty in anticipation of the Oscars. And I researched every single audition coming to New York. In short, I started immersing myself in as much art as possible and I loved every second of it. It made the low points—like not finding a job as quickly as I’d hoped or getting seen at every audition I attended—that much more bearable.

I know that not everyone who comes to New York for the first time is as lucky as I have been and that has made me all the more grateful for the exhilarating experiences I’ve had thus far. More importantly, I’ve begun learning how to navigate the terrain traveled by the countless starving artists that have come before me and I am thrilled to say that the old adage is true—you really do get out of your experience what you put in. And sometimes all it takes is an appreciation for the little things and the willingness to embrace the unexpected. You just never know where it might lead!

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One Response

  1. I too am an singer/actor in NC
    Break a Leg!!