Big Dreams For A Small Town Guy

This probably sounds like a cliche, but I’ve always wanted to be on Broadway. Most producers would take one look at me, and say “Yeah, you and every other vocal major fresh out of college.” And I get it; I had to earn my seat at the table. I had no problem with that, but it was hard for me to even pull out the chair at first.

In high school, I starred in a few minor productions. And by “starred”, I mean I had roles like Villager #4 and Tree Behind Rock. Of all these minor productions, my favorite was Wicked. I loved not just the soundtrack (which I got to sang when the first actor for the Tin Man got sick, thank you very much!) but also the characters and how deeply it all drew me into the story.

During my senior year of high school, I asked the Theater teacher Mr. Ragan to write me a letter of recommendation for the Juliard School. I could tell he thought I was setting my sights too high, but he agreed to write it nonetheless. Well, needless to say, a high school Senior who “dabbled” in a few productions here and there does not simply “get into” Juliard.

At first, I thought my life was over. I’d never get into a good school, never have a decent career or agent looking my way. It took a few months for me to realize that said rejection letter was actually a good thing. I’d never trade the friends I met at my new school for anything.

That summer, two universities sent me acceptance letters. Ironically enough, I’d never really heavily considered either, but these two “safety schools” were fast becoming my only realistic options. Both NYU’s music program and Northwestern University had accepted me into their programs. Now the only thing left was choosing one.

For the past few months, I’d had a job selling cars at a local dealership. I was about to quit to go to school full-time, but the money was pretty decent, and going to school would be expensive. I decided to make a list of the most important factors in a school and/or its music program, and the list went something like this:

  1. Social Atmosphere
  2. Academics
  3. Financial Aid/Scholarships
  4. Music Program’s ratings
  5. Distance from current job?

I put a question mark next to the last one because that depended on whether or not I worked as well as going to school full-time. I checked into Northwestern first, because I’d heard good things about their financial aid and the quality of their music school.

A few friends I knew talked about Northwestern positively when I asked, so I decided to bump it up a little higher on my list. I would already know several students there, even though some were graduating, and they spoke very highly of the Vocal program at Northwestern. I decided this school might be worth a shot.

Well, four years later, I graduated from Northwestern. It was a crazy ride, but the earlier positive reviews I’d gotten were spot-on; I really felt like I was in top-notch vocal shape after my commencement ceremony. Now to find an actual job!

That part was a little more challenging. I worked a string of odd jobs both at and near Northwestern with the (perhaps naive) goal of staying in touch with my college friends while saving up and trying to figure out my plans.

I also thought being plugged into all the connections and information I’d gotten from contacts in the program would increase my chances of getting a gig in the theater. I was partially right; in September 2014, I was enlisted as a part-time stagehand for the PrivateBank Theatre. It wasn’t great pay, but I was happy and more or less financially stable for the first time in a while.

What happened the next few months was sort of a whirlwind. In a very short amount of time, several huge life changes hit me: I got a new apartment just on the outskirts of NorthWestern; a few close friends of mine shipped out to California or New York in the hopes of making it big as recording artists; and I lost my job at the used car lot due to “downsizing.”

All of this didn’t affect me as much as I thought it would, mostly because I had enough saved from working at the Theatre and was planning to quit my soul-sucking sales job anyway.

But moving away from Northwestern felt like the death of an era; my friends had all run away to one coast or the other, and I was quite literally left somewhere in the middle.  I had visions that my friends were now huge stars rolling in corvettes and ray-bans, while I was wasting time working towards a goal that might never be achieved.

In Spring 2015, an actor at my theatre fell sick. I was asked to be a temporary replacement, but the actor then wrote a letter of grievances and announced that they weren’t coming back anytime soon (to put it politely).  I stayed on as a permanent actor until early 2016, when a talent scout noticed me and hired me for a Broadway production! I was so excited, I could barely contain myself during the business meeting.

My show only ran a few short weeks before the writer announced he was backing out because marketing the play was costing more than it earned. The producer quit not long after for similar reasons, and morale remained in the dirt for a couple months thereafter.

Even though I was slowly going broke, I was happy I’d gotten to be on Broadway for a short time. I tried to collect my nerves, and get ready for the next opportunity to come along.

Before I head out, I wanted to give a quick shout out to my friends at Screen Printing Danbury CT.  Visit them if you need some awesome shirts made!!

How I Learned To Like Music Class

I always thought “Music Appreciation” was a funny title. It was music, alright, but I didn’t appreciate it. Not at all. We listened to everything in Music Appreciation, from James Taylor and the Stones to Metallica and classical.

It was weird because everything appealed to me outside of class on a strictly artsy level, but whenever we were in class I dreaded having to learn about and memorize the history of the pieces. To make it worse, this kid named Nelson (total suck-up) sits in front of me, and loves every minute of said torment.

Sometimes, I sleep through class. Others, I daydream or doodle on the desks. Once or twice, I wrote notes to my best friend and crush, Ellen, but I never sent them. One Friday, as I’m sitting bored and almost asleep, my teacher announced in his monotone voice that we were about to do a class project. I tried not to let Nelson see me roll my eyes at the risk of getting lectured.

“We are going to split you up into pairs, and each pair will investigate a certain musical genre or period. You can pick anything you like from the list I’ll hand out in a second.”

I sighed. I was willing to be this didn’t include anything cool like Wu-Tang Clan or slam poetry. I doubted my teacher even knew what real art was.

As I started scanning the list, an overwhelming fear hit me that I might be paired with Nelson forcibly. In order to prevent this, I looked around and tried to find someone with exactly the same level of engagement I had–zero.

I was about to ask my friend Robert who sits next to me (he usually spends class making paper airplanes, that is when he shows up at all). But then, I noticed Nelson was about to get Ellen to pair up with him. I couldn’t let that happen!

“Um, wanna pair up, Ellen?” I blurt out.

She turns to me, and I can see she’s half-smiling. She had dimples. I love dimples. Especially hers. She nods with this perfect little angelic nod, and I smile.

“Yea, totally. Any idea of what topic you wanna pick?”

I was aloof for a moment. All I could think of was how perfect she was, and how happy I was I spited Nelson. He looked around for someone, and then paired up with Robert. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

Anyway, Ellen and I traded numbers and she agreed to let me know when she picked a topic. I had let her choose because I wasn’t particularly concerned with what we did, so long as she was in the room.

About a week after that fateful day, my phone lights up. I can barely believe it’s Ellen texting me..then I remember we have to do a stupid project. I grab my phone and take a look:

“Hey can we do the 1960’s?”

I say yes, and a few days later Ellen is over. We’re working on the project, with her doing research and me trying to find some clips to show examples of the types of music they listened to.

“So, I’m thinking we could make a little poster or diagram or something. Maybe like The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Animals?”

I nod even though I can still barely believe Ellen’s in my house. At this point, I’m pretty much just going with what she says so this project can wrap up. Then, it happens. I stumble upon Simon and Garfunkel’s song “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” I was never really into the songs of the 1960’s, but I’d heard of the band before, so I decided to press play.

The song trickles into the room, and I smile a little. It’s actually a really nice song, and so I decide to turn it up a little.

“This is a good song,” I say.

Ellen nods, shaking her long blonde hair a bit.

“Yeah. Simon and Garfunkel are one of my favorites. Maybe they should go on the pinboard, too.”

I smile back at Ellen. We spent a good part of the night just jamming to clips by Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, and many more. I’d never been so happy before. Maybe music appreciation wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Music Saved My Life, Literally

Fair warning: this is a bit of a dark one….

One night in December, totally freezing cold, I was at my friend Leanna’s house. Leanna and I had dated on and off throughout high school, but always made better friends than lovers. Leanna called me up after she learned I was back in town, and had offered to share a smoke with me.

We were lighting up in Leanna’s apartment listening to some oldies-but-goodies. Stuff like the Grateful Dead, The Who, and of course, The Beatles. Leanna stumbled over to the record player to change the record.

“Shit, I’m stoned,” she cackled.

I’d never seen Leanna like this. It wasn’t by any means the first time we smoked together, but in my experience she’d always had a higher tolerance for the stuff. She took another hit of the bong as she returned back to her seat. Before I knew it, her arm was around me as the sounds of “Electric Funeral” poured into the room.

I laughed a little in an awkward way. Leanna bit her lip and looked at the record player suddenly.

“Oh, God, I hate this song! It’s the first one I ever heard when–”

She stopped abruptly, looking at the four walls. The first thing I noticed was that Leanna wasn’t getting up to change the song. She was just looking around like nothing had happened.

“Leanna?”

Her eyes darted to me quickly as if she hadn’t noticed I was there before. I tried to stand slowly, my knees wobbly. The whole room felt as if it were spinning, but I knew I wasn’t moving. Leanna glanced over at me. She appeared to be in another world, as if nothing on this plane mattered or was even going through her brain.

Then it happened.

Her indifference turned to tears suddenly, a flood I neither expected nor knew how to control. She was crying hysterically, and I had no idea why.

“Leanna? What’s wrong?”

I wondered at first if she was having one of those psychotic breakdowns you hear about when people have been using too much. I tried gently shaking her, but she kept sobbing.

“Leanna?!”

I don’t know if it was the alarm in my voice or something inside her, but I’ll be darned if Leanna didn’t come to that moment. Her sobbing stopped, and she looked at me with a clarity I hadn’t seen in her all night.

“Are you ok?”

She looked shocked for a moment, like I’d just asked her a riddle. Then, her gaze softened and she frowned a little.

“Sorry. It’s just–this was the song I listened to the night I almost tried to kill myself.”

My face turned completely pale. I almost wondered whether this might be a sick joke Leanna had played. This would be her sort of humor. But when I looked at my friend and once-girlfriend, Leanna was anything but laughing.

“You’re serious. How come you never told me this when we were dating?”

I wanted to take the words back almost as soon as they came from my mouth. Why did I sound so judgemental? I hoped they came off as concern, and not judgement.

“I-I didn’t want to bother you or anyone. I just wanted to stop being a burden.”

I turned away and glanced at the ground for a long moment. How do you explain to someone who thinks you’ll be better off without them that’s not the case? What do you say to someone when they just shattered the entirety of what you thought of them?

It wasn’t like I was judging Leanna, of course, but things suddenly felt surreal. Like I didn’t even know the girl I took to Junior Prom or who I picked up drunk from a bar countless rainy nights.

I took a deep breath before saying anything. Without realizing how or why, I found myself gently touching her arm.

“Leanna, you are not a burden. At all. You can always talk to me.”

She sniffled a little, and I could see her smiling through the tears. I brushed her hair back out of her face a little.

“Do you want to talk about that night? It’s okay if you don’t.”

There was a long silence. I don’t think either of us knew what to say for a while. Finally, she broke the silence.

“It was three years ago. Just after Jeremy dumped me. I was alone, stupid, and feeling like crap.”

I listened as she told me the story, about how after Jeremy dumped her she’d gotten in with the wrong crowd. Said wrong crowd also encouraged her to stop going to school, drink, and smoke. Leanna then told me after her escape into drugs and alcohol, she realized they didn’t solve her problems.

“…and that was when I locked myself in the garage and tried to….to.”

She began breaking into tears again suddenly. I hugged her, half because I wanted to comfort her, and half because I had no words. I tried to stop my imagination from filling in the horrible blanks.

“It’s okay. We all make mistakes. I’m just–I’m really glad you’re here.”

Leanna smiled through her tears and nodded a little.

“I am too. Thanks for listening. Thank you so much.”

I smiled a bit. I have “Electric Funeral” by the Grateful Dead to thank for that night, and every other one since.

 

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My First Concert Experience

Like a lot of other first times, I wanted this one to be perfect. I could just imagine it: the lights, the music, the energy and thrill of it all. But also like a lot of things in life, things didn’t exactly go according to plan.

The show starts at 11:00, and one of my favorite bands, Florida Georgia Line, is opening. So I text my friend Rob around 9:30 “You ready to go?” You could have written a book in the time it took him to reply. Finally, he texts back:
“Car broke down. Might not make it. :(“

For a sample of this awesome band, check out this video

Are you kidding me?! How can anything possibly go wrong tonight, of all nights? So, I decide to call Rob and tell him I’ll pick him up. No answer. I call again, leave a voicemail, and finally hear back from him around 10:15. At this point, I’m trying hard to bite my tongue and all but grinding my teeth to dust with anxiety.

So, I get in the car and manage to drive to Rob’s house. By this point, it’s 10:30 or so, and any chance of tailgating outside with the FGL guys is pretty much gone. I punch the pedal, and we end up rolling up into the venue around 10:45.

“I’m starving,” Rob whines.

You could be dead, I think to myself, quite easily. I give him a granola bar mom made me put in the car three days ago when I went to sleep at a friend’s house. “For an emergency,” she said. I am so glad I reluctantly listened.

So, we get inside, and Rob is just moseying on in, taking his time, like nothing ever happened. I am somewhere between grumpy and just plain inconsolable when the most amazing thing occurs. I see a bunch of people huddled in the distance, and they’re all cheering for something–or maybe someone–in the center.

“What’s going on?”

A tall, thin guy with no hair turns and looks at me. At first, I think he’s going to push me away from whatever awesomeness is clearly in the middle. But then, he answers in a gravelly voice.

“Florida-Georgia Line. They’re signing autographs. Not for much longer, though.”

I half-walk, half-push past bald guy, and try to get me some huddle action. In the middle, Tyler is standing there with his signature long hair and signing this teenage girl’s merch. I finally get to the center…and realize I have nothing to sign. Well, this is embarrassing.

“Um, hi. You sign this granola bar wrapper?”
No lie. This is actually how my sentence came out. Well, more or less. I was too wrapped up in my own clumsiness and stupidity in the moment to remember verbatim. Anyway, my embarrassing moment aside, Tyler just laughs and smiles as he takes the granola bar wrapper.

Why couldn’t I think of anything better to sign? Or to say? Of course I would blow my first major interaction with a celeb. I sighed and decided to just take things as they came that night.