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.