Tony Vo: Appreciate the Beauty of Your Own Story

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Tony and I met in 2015 when Douglas introduced me to the amazing members of the band he is a part of called, The Lobbyists! Tony and I met at the incredibly delicious Australian café, Blue Stone Lane and talked rejection, resilience, and what’s on the horizon! He recently closed The Great Leap at Atlantic Theater Company, made his TV debut on Queen Sugar on OWN,  and is currently in production at Next Door at New York Theatre Workshop.

Drink of Choice: Cold Brew

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AF: We have Tony Vo on the blog! I met you in 2015.

TV: It might have been 2014!

AF: We became quick friends.

TV: It’s not hard… Annabelle’s so charming! Haha as she rolls her eyes…

AF: Well today’s already been a rollercoaster! We were supposed to meet at Maman, then it was closed, then we were going to go to Roasting Plant… it was closed. So we’ve ended up a Blue Stone Lane! Which is also great!

TV: Australian!

AF: Australian coffee is the way to go. So Tony what did you get? How is it?

TV: I got cold brew with regular ole milk… and you got cold brew with soy…

AF: What is your drink of choice usually?

TV: During the summer I usually get a nice cold brew with milk or I’ll order a cappuccino. I used to be a barista actually!

AF: Sometimes I think if you were a barista it’s a bad thing because you’re a little more of a coffee snob!

TV: It’s definitely a good and a bad thing. The good thing is that your palette becomes super aware of the different tastes. The bad thing is that you become totally addicted to coffee. I used to have about three a day!

AF: So let’s start from the very beginning. How did you get to New York City? What’s your backstory?

TV: I’m from Boulder, Colorado originally. I kind of fell into acting in a really roundabout way! The first time I did theatre I was in second grade. The University of Colorado was doing a production of South Pacific and I auditioned to play one of Emile’s kids. The creative team scouted our elementary school. I was the only Asian kid in my class and so that made it easy! It was such a cool thing I got to do after school. I did my homework while I watched people sing and dance! I remember being backstage and going on… it actually didn’t occur to me that I was performing. I did sports in high school and got into punk rock music. I learned how to play the piano because my mom made me take lessons when I was young. But then I got into playing the drums. I remember seeing this guy drumming at a talent show and thought he looked bad-ass and wanted to try it out.

AF: Are you self-taught?

TV: A lot is self-taught but I did take drum lessons for about two years. I did music, I was a wrestler, and then Junior year of high school I took a theatre class as an elective and the teacher encouraged me to audition for the upcoming show, A Christmas Carol. She said you should go to the thespian ice cream social to meet some fun people before auditioning.

AF: Networking!

TV: Networking! I just wanted to go for the ice cream! People were really nice. They convinced me to audition for the show, I got in… and was actually cast as Business Man Number 2 who talks badly about Scrooge when he dies. When I got cast I had to decide between the show and the wrestling season. At that point I was on the Varsity team and the coach was trying to groom me for the state tournament and I didn’t want to do that… I felt like it wasn’t totally me. I joined the theatre community because I got along really well with that group of people! I liked all the personalities. I liked how weird they were! I’m weird too! And that was okay! I joined choir, I auditioned for Madrigals and auditioned for their shows and our local community theater shows as well. Our high school has theatre but wasn’t super competitive. It gave me the courage to just try it out without judgment.  That’s not the case with all high schools so I know I got lucky!

AF: That’s awesome!

TV: I went to Fairview High School and their choir is insanely competitive. And then I transferred to Monarch High School my junior year… so I probably wouldn’t have auditioned for theatre if I had still been at Fairview.

AF: Crazy how things happen. So where did you go to college?

TV: I went to Ithaca College. Here’s a funny story. I went to Ithaca College and didn’t finish school. I was there for two years in their Acting program and I couldn’t afford school after sophomore year. I was applying for the Moscow Arts Program and got waitlisted. They suggested that I consider the National Theater Institute, which is another program at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Those programs are both through the O’Neill Center. You study in Connecticut and then London which sounded pretty awesome. I ended up going to NTI. But before going there, I booked my first regional theater gig, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at The Hangar Theatre. So that was an exciting experience going from the show, to NTI into the real world. I felt like I had these opportunities coming up and after NTI, I felt it really formed me as an artist and I felt equipped with these connections to go to New York. We had a lot guest artists and teachers who worked with us, many of whom are successful and are still working here in the city! It was like grad school, but even more intense and condensed into one semester! We had classes seven days a week with no weekends and we had classes from 8 am to 6 pm, which didn’t include rehearsals and homework. They taught us acting,  directing, playwriting, and designing.

AF: And you’ve applied all of that to your career thus far!

TV: I believe as an artist you have to learn all these other art forms because it informs who you are as a human being and that translates to all the other aspects of your craft and your life. Yeah, NTI was really informative.

AF: I think I knew that you didn’t finish school but didn’t realize you did that incredible program!

TV: I’m absolutely not bashing other schools that have cut style programs but I’ve watched a lot of my peers deal with that kind of pressure and rejection in a negative way whereas at NTI, they found the individuality of the specific actors and they nurtured that and tried to bring that out. You could be fat, skinny, tall, short and they would find a way to bring out the artist in that person and nurture that creativity. I believe in that.

AF: It’s about finding what is unique about you and not trying to fit into a certain mold the city deceives into thinking we need to be!

TV: That’s what I really like about NTI. It really shaped me into who I am.

AF: So then you move to New York… what has been a high and what has been a low?

TV: A high has been doing These Seven Sicknesses at the Flea Theatre.

AF: Everyone talks about that!

TV: It was my first show in the city. Through the NTI program they referred certain theatre companies to us and The Flea was one of them. It’s a great company for young, hungry actors to go and sharpen their teeth. They were having open auditions. One of my classmates from NTI auditioned and got in, and she was in the company before I got into the city. She recommended I check it out and so I auditioned and was cast in These Seven Sicknesses. It was a cast of thirty-four people. It was life changing. The group of people that I met through that show… many of us are still very close. Besides your husband all the Lobbyists formed out of The Flea Theater! Because of that show the band was formed because the director asked for musicians to play in the lobby to sort of warm the crowd up. So Tommy and Will, who were the music captains were like, “Let’s jam in the lobby”- because they jammed at Yale in school, and Alex was like, “I have a mandolin can I join?” and I said, “I have an egg shaker, can I join?” and thus a band was created!

AF: Also how cool we’re meeting on the day of your Lobbyists concert!

TV: So apropos!

So that was a really big high. Another high was the creation of Seawife, written by Seth Moore and directed by Liz Carlson. The Lobbyists formed out of the Flea, the show closed, and we played at a ton of dive bars and venues and decided we wanted to tell stories because on top of being musicians… we’re all actors. Alex, Tommy, and Will came up with the idea of a Nautical Ghost story because they were playing at this benefit in Sag Harbor. The Flea Theater’s producer, Carol Ostro, she has a place there and they were convinced that the place they were staying at was haunted by a Sea Captain. Alex wrote a sea captain song and that was kind of where the concept of the ghost story came about. And Seth Moore, the playwright, an actor in Seven Sicknesses as well, randomly had a radio play written about a captain at sea who was haunted by his wife.

AF: I did not know any of this!

TV: Yeah! And we were asking around and we got connected to Seth through our costume designer friend Loren and she was like, “Yeah Seth has a script… you should check it out.” And we read the script because we knew Seth, it was perfect. What’s even crazier is Seth sadly had a heart attack during Sicknesses. It was a pretty traumatic experience for him and for all of us. He was in a coma for a couple of days. Eloise (the woman of the Lobbyists!) visited him in the hospital and gave him a notebook as a get-well gift. The first pages of Seawife was written in that notebook!

AF: Woah! I just got chills all over my body!

TV: How serendipitous that it all came together like that.

AF: That’s like a rebirth with a new show. That’s amazing. Seawife was life changing for all of you. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

TV: Yeah! After Seawife closed we got nominated for two Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Lighting by Jake DeGroot because he’s freakin brilliant… and for Outstanding Music in a Musical. It was nuts! We didn’t expect much with the show but when we got nominated it really validated the group and made us realize…we must be doing something right. It was also validating because our names were next to Andrew Lloyd Weber, Sarah Bareilles, Michael John Lachiusa and Steve Martin. We were the new kids on the block! It was pretty humbling. It gave us reason to continue creating.

AF: And now you guys are working on…

TV: It’s called The Golden Spike and is about the Transcontinental Railroad. We’re working a brilliant playwright named Don Nguyen. It’s about the Chinese immigrants and Irish immigrants working to build the railroad from opposite ends of the country. It’s specifically about a character that I’m playing… he’s trying to get back into America after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882. Pretty timely because the Muslim travel ban has been reinstated… The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first Immigration Policy of its kind. It had banned Chinese people from getting into America and they cut off the borders. So Chinese immigrants who were already in the country working, weren’t allowed to bring their family in or return after leaving. My character is being interrogated by an immigration officer and isn’t allowed back in… it’s very prevalent since it still happening right this minute. It’s a thing that we’re really inspired by and need to talk about. There are so many relevant themes in history. In Greek tragedies and historical events, there are so many parallels. We love mining things from the past and finding a modern context for them. We love taking modern music and making it really anachronistic… that’s something we’re really inspired by. We’re in the middle of a workshop right now. It’s been quite productive!

AF: And you can pull a lot from your own parents.

TV: Absolutely. This year I’ve been very lucky to be involved in some projects that are about Vietnamese culture and working with Vietnamese artists. It’s pushed me to learn more about my own roots and learn about my family’s history. I was on the phone with my mom for about four hours and I learned about her childhood in Vietnam. We had only talked about it vaguely but I hadn’t really asked her “what was it like growing up during the Vietnam war?”

AF: Were you afraid it would bring up too many bad memories?

TV: I never asked the hard question like, “What was it like to be six and hear bombs dropping all around you?” There were so many things I didn’t know. That has inspired me as a human being to be more empathetic and to do much more mindful and politically active work.

AF: It’s amazing that you had these opportunities to dive into things you can draw from. So you just came off of Atlantic Theatre’s, The Great Leap by Lauren Yee and directed by Taibi Magar. Tell us what that was about.

TV: The Great Leap is an underdog story about a Chinese American kid named Manford, from San Francisco who is a relentless basketball player. It takes place around May and June of 1989. He weasels his way onto the University of San Francisco’s basketball team. That basketball team goes to China and plays against Beijing University. China during this time was in the throes of the Tiananmen Square protests, which was more or less about everyday civilians demanding a more democratic government. The people were inspired by western society and wanted the same freedom. At the height of the movement, there were millions of people marching and protesting all around the country. The communist party eventually silenced the movement by exerting military force and declaring martial law. The Tiananmen Square Massacre happened on June 4th, where tens of thousands of civilians (the majority of them students) were tragically killed. So the basketball game kinda symbolizes USA vs. CHINA, West vs. East, at the height of the protests.  It’s politics and family and sports all into one play. Crazy fact, opening night of The Great Leap was on June 4th.

AF: All these things are so timely that you’re a part of.

TV: Yeah it is!

AF: So what are your words to live by? What’s something that’s ringing true for you now?

TV: This was my senior quote in my high school yearbook. It’s from a play by my friend Robin Feldman, she was a playwright in high school. “Appreciate the beauty of your own story.” I’ve had a very sporadic life. I moved around a bunch as a kid, didn’t have a lot of consistent friends, and then high school is confusing, switching schools, was in sports, and then theatre, and then dropped out of college… I think those are the words of wisdom I still find truth in.

AF: That’s something we should say to ourselves every day.

TV: It’s been really applicable to a lot of things. I went through a string of eight really big auditions last year… big projects: Film, TV, and Theatre stuff. I got zero callbacks, zero yes’s. The actors I’ve worked with who are in my eyes so far ahead in their careers, they go through the same thing!

AF: It never stops being hard.

TV: It’s just a matter of what your mindset is… always onwards and upwards. Grow that thick skin. Be in touch with who you are and your craft. The amount of adversity you’ll come across in this career is endless. We can’t let it deter us! When you get a yes you’re not going to expect it and when you get a no you’re not going to expect it. You’ve just got to take it as it all comes!

AF: I love that. You’ve shared so many amazing nuggets of wisdom. You’re a very talented and inspiring human with a bright future!

TV: Thank you!

AF: Cheers! Now you can eat! Hahah.

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Nolan Baker: There is NO Timeline

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Nolan and I met when he transferred into the Belmont Musical Theatre program our sophomore year. He embodied joy and fun and I KNEW I wanted to be friends with him. Fast forward a theatrical contract together post graduation, pounding the pavement in the city, and continuing to meet for regular coffee and wine dates and even recently… co-parent a foster pup together! He is a true blue friend and a focused performer. We met at my favorite neighborhood coffee spot, Darling Coffee (IN APRIL) to reflect on the past and dream about the future. He just opened Mama Mia! at the Winnipesauke playhouse this weekend as SKY and I couldn’t be prouder! At the time we met for coffee he had nothing lined up for the summer and I am excited to tell you he has work at reputable theatres line up through December. That goes to show his mindset, positivity, and go-getter spirit came through!

Drink of Choice: French Press Coffee OR something sweet i.e. vanilla latte or frappuccinos.

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AF: So Nolan, what are you drinking?

NB: Right now I’m drinking this New Orleans Blend Cold Brew…essentially it’s sweet coffee.

AF: It’s amazing. Incase you didn’t know Darling Coffee doesn’t have flavors you can add to your coffee or lattes.

NB: It was a bit of a rude awakening. I’m kind of extra…I typically go for an iced lavender latte….something floral. If they don’t have it I typically go for vanilla because I’m kind of a b*tch and I like to have sweet coffee. I can’t drink it black.

AF: Skinny vanilla latte was my drink of choice all through high school and college so…

NB: I started off with frappuccinos!

AF: What’s your drink of choice at home?

NB: If I’m making coffee at home it’s French press. I grind up those fresh beans, do French press with some sweet cream, or a little sugar… but if I’m out it’s iced. Iced all year long. Unless it’s really cold and I have to stand outside for an audition… it’s hot. My roommates don’t drink coffee… I don’t get it.

AF: It is one of the only things that can get me out of bed in the morning.

NB: I think I’m naturally a morning person… my alarm goes off and I’m like, “Good Morning!”

AF: haha Nolan’s like a Disney princess… “Hello little birds!”

NB: I just like the flavor! I was a barista at Caribou Coffee in college and that’s when I started liking it.

AF: So what’s your background story?

NB: I’ll give you the condensed version! When I start rambling tell me to shut up. I’m from Waverly, Iowa. My dad would always say I would hum myself to sleep as a kid, started singing in church really young… my first solo ever was “Happy Birthday Jesus.” So I always loved singing. I would do these talent shows in the summer. It was called the Bill Reilly Talent Show and if you won in your town you could sing in the Iowa State Fair… which was HUGE. I was a choir kid all growing up. I started taking voice lessons in seventh grade. In high school I started touring with the show choir in the summers called, Celebration Iowa. That’s when I really found my love for performing. We were slumming it! It was an audition group all through out the state. We toured throughout the summer. It was the best of the best of Iowa kids. We’d wake up in the morning, get on the tour bus, set up at the location, do the show, home with host families at the end of the night. I was on the costume crew an so we had to put up our costume tents, do laundry… There were twenty singer dancers, ten boys and ten girls and the jazz band. We had what looked like wooden coffins, separated by Soprano Tenor Alto Base, they were giant boxes filled with costumes. We’d have to Febreeze them every night because they got no air. It gave me that love and appreciation for adapting to any and all situations I was performing in. I was going home with strangers every night. It was always nice when you got an actual bed rather than an arm chair!

AF: Wow I didn’t know any of this… good thing we’re doing a coffee interview!

NB: Yes! I did that three summers. I didn’t get into Musical Theatre until later… I didn’t really know much about it. I didn’t realize how competitive it was… I was clearly very small-town minded. I grew up doing community theatre… and so I started looking into schools that had theatre. Yet I was not very informed. Growing up I was definitely a big fish in a small pond and thought, “I’m pretty good… and I’m a boy so I’ll probably get in some place.” I found out about Belmont.

AF: How’d you find out about the school?

NB: There was a girl that went to my church and she had gone to Belmont for Music Business. She worked on Glee with her husband! I read an article about it as well… We visited Milliken and it was a really dreary day. Then we visited Belmont and it was a beautiful, sunny day. Gorgeous campus. I decided I HAD to go there.

AF: What did you do for your audition?

NB: I chose the most basic songs. I sang “Giants in the Sky” and “Close Every Door” and I chose a monologue from the show “The Foreigner.” I had just done the show in school and I played Ellard Simms… the twelve-year old! It was a mess. I was also like one hundred eighty eight pounds at the time.

AF: You have had a total transformation!

NB: I know. Then for the dance solo that we had to do…I’d asked the girls on the dance team at my high school to choreograph it for me. And Ms. Halbert asked if I had been a cheerleader… All I did was leap around..

AF: I choreographed mine two nights before to “I Will Remember You” by Sara McLaughlin. It was very interpretive.

NB: Dead. Well… I didn’t get in to the Musical Theatre program… but I got into the Music program. I did Commercial Voice. That was cool. Every time I would sing they would say I sounded “too Musical Theatre.” So I thought…”Well what am I doing in this program?” So I tried out again… it went a little better this time. I made it in and started my second semester sophomore year! I learned more about what I wanted to do post college and how to actually achieve that in that one semester as an MT than I had in the previous three semesters. So I fell in love and from that point on I became super focused on my goals. I lost a bunch of weight and have become a go-getter. It’s been about “work, work, work.”

AF: You really have. It seems like you haven’t gone more than like three months without something on the horizon.

NB: Yeah… I’ve been lucky. The longest since 2014 I’ve gone without a job is six months.

AF: That’s nothing.

NB: It’s great. It’s not always the most advancing things but I’ve been artistically fulfilled!

AF: You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. You’ve grown to be a lot more grounded this year!

NB: It’s been a game changer. I think there’s been an awakening with everything that I’ve been through in years post-college. There’s more to this life than just this industry. I can’t put all my value in worth in “what I’m booking.” It’s amazing that we get to do what we do.

AF: It’s Thursday and we are drinking coffee right now…

NB: In the greatest city in the world. Cheers.

AF: So we’ve talked about your time in the city thus far…

NB: Been in and out for three years… I did a ship for a bit.

AF: What has been the biggest thing that you’ve learned since moving?

NB: For me personally it has been to be versatile. I think something I’ve prided myself on is that I can sing a variety of genres. There’s always the best of both worlds… if I was more specific maybe I could book more consistent work… but as a Non-Union boy they need you to be able to do it all and fulfill multiple tracks so I feel I’ve been able to do that. Honing those different abilities and being able to offer that on the table has been something very important for me on my journey.

AF: In your situation you’ve been called in for roles all over the map.

NB: I try to be well-rounded. We all have our strengths and abilities. I take more care into my voice and sound. We should all be in class…me included! Nolan- get into class! I’m called in for a lot of ensemble… so I see those skills I need to work on.

AF: Your work ethic stands out. You’re a quick learner. You are malleable. You’re able to shift…

NB: Having a good work ethic is something we developed in school. Being able to give one hundred percent all the time… goes so much farther than holding back. It’s about being a person that somebody wants to work with. One of our directors at Matt Davenport (I worked there a summer during college), said it’s all about the “Encore Effect.” It’s about being a performer and person that makes people want to come back for more. You’re on that stage… give the performance that makes them want to see you perform again! It applies backstage too…

AF: What has been your proudest moment in the city??

NB: I think one of my proudest moments was performing at Actoria. Singing in the city, being here… being able to showcase what I do IN New York.

AB: Low stakes but equally magical…

NB: I feel very lucky. I feel things have fallen in place for me. It’s never been a struggle for me to find a place to live… or be with people I like. Finding side jobs… God’s orchestrated it all. The things haven’t all necessarily been what I think they should be but it’s always been just right.

AF: Trusting the plan.

NB: That’s what I need to have faith and trust I’m exactly where I need to be and keeping an open mind. I guess my proudest moment was probably booking Carnival Cruise Lines. I’d always said in school, I wanted to book a ship so I could pay off my loans and travel so that was so amazing so quickly after graduation to achieve that goal. The most discouraging moment… the city’s hard. I think the most discouraging thing is that the city can easily distract you. I think there was a phase where I allowed myself to be negative. I wasn’t plugging into people, situations, or environments that mattered. I went a couple months allowing myself to be happy. This was last Spring. I wasn’t actively pursuing positive outlets. It wasn’t me to live in a “mopey state.”

AF: It made you realize that you need to be surrounded by positive people to be in the proper mindset.

NB: During audition season I never wanted to get up, I wasn’t as hungry, I wasn’t bringing a light into the room… and yet I booked three different contracts. It’s funny. God works in mysterious ways. He was laying out for me the path that I needed.

AF: I’ll never forget you were the reason I booked Magnolia in Showboat. The day before I had found about a contract I really wanted to book, I was distraught. It was the first time a big theatre called me and I had a great callback. I remember texting you and being so sad and saying, “I don’t know…” and you said, “Well… want to go to an audition with me this morning?” and the only reason I went was because I hadn’t seen you in so long! We caught up that morning, and you put me at ease, and I booked it!

NB: What an amazing day. That was the first time we’d seen each other in so long.

AF: It was magical. I came out of that room and told you, “I just had kind of a crazy experience.”

NB: Well I remember because I was up at six am to get on that Non-Union list and this Equity star waltzes in and is seen before noon and we are all quickly dismissed to come back after lunch but you know what…keep your chin up!

AF: You were my good luck charm!

NB: You’ve got to find those people who bring light and positivity to your life. My mindset has always been “got to book.” I’m finally in a place where I’m ready to start planting some roots. Contracts are great but it’s hard to be taken out of the city. If you put all the time together that I’ve been in the city it’s probably a year because I’ve been in and out so much. I just know I need to be here because if I’m constantly away I’m taking myself out of those opportunities.

AF: On that note…what do you see for yourself in the next ten years?

NB: The dream would be Broadway. I’ve always said…I would be content if I could make a living doing what I love to do. I hope that I can do it in many facets. If I’m able to use my gifts and have a financially stable life then great! I love the city and I love the community I have here but I’m open-minded. If it’s been years and it’s not working out here… I am open to moving to other cities!

AF: The world is your oyster!

NB: Right now I’m really giving New York a try. As actors we’re bad about putting ourselves on a timeline. That’s just not how it works.

AF: There’s no race to the finish line.

NB: I want to keep giving it a try. I don’t think I would be here if I wasn’t supposed to be here. I don’t think God would have given me these talents if I wasn’t supposed to pursuit this.

AF: Last but not least… what is a quote you love to live by?

NB: I guess this could be a theme throughout my life… find your community. I’ve always been very close to my family. I started doing Theatre in community theatre. I was always singing in a choir. Then I moved to New York and had my instant Belmont community. The alumni are so caring and likeminded.

AF: Well I’m so glad you joined me! Cheers.

NB: Cheers! Love you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samantha Schiffman: Remember that YOU Are Also Great

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I met Sam Schiffman in 2015 when we were both in callbacks for Theatreworks shows and we’ve remained friends from seeing each other at many of the same appointments and callbacks! She is SUCH light in the holding room, with her Mary Poppins audition bag in hand always. We had such a blast at the adorable Penny Lane Coffee, talking about everything from her first few sublet adventures in the city to her magical booking experience last summer and what show she and her boyfriend have created for themselves!

Drink of Choice: Soy Chai Tea Latte

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AF: What did you get to drink, Sam?

SS: I got an iced coffee because I already had a large chai this morning with soy milk and cinnamon syrup.

AF: Now, is that your drink of choice?

SS: My drink of choice is always a soy chai tea latte.

AF: So you’re a tea girl!

SS: I am a tea girl… I find that I crash after coffee but with my chai the caffeine lasts all day.

AF: Smart.

SS: But when I’m drinking coffee it’s usually iced.

AF: It’s also VERY humid today so a cold drink was necessary. So I always ask… what is your back-story?

SS: I’m from the suburbs of Chicago, Highland Park which is the like the Westchester to New York. I have four siblings and a twin sister! There’s five of us. I have been acting since second grade where I did Bugsy Malone Junior. If you haven’t seen it…go check it out! I played Louella who was the girlfriend of a guy named “Danny Dan.” She was also a dancer at Sam’s Club so she was a two-timer. I played sports for a long time. I played a lot of soccer. My dad was the coach. And then I realized I didn’t want to do this any more, I wanted to perform and I started trying to sing and I was I Chorus. In sixth grade I auditioned for Once on This Island which was really appropriate. I thought I got cast. And I did not… a girl named Sam Shiffran got cast. She was an eighth grader. I was a sixth grader. Then in eighth grade I did Once Upon a Mattress and then high school I did the whole thing. I played Connie in A Chorus Line, which was also…very appropriate. I went to Indiana University and got a degree in Theatre not Musical Theatre. I minored in Dance and Spanish.

AF: Can you tell us how a Theatre degree is different from a Musical Theatre degree?

SS: At Indiana, basically the difference was the masterclasses and showcase. I had a lot more requirements inside and outside the degree of Theatre. I had to get like twelve credits in the school of Theatre and then fourteen credits in the college of Arts and Sciences but my Senior year I studied abroad in London and all my credits transferred outside the school of Theatre so I got to take whatever I wanted! I took all the dance classes, voice lessons… it wasn’t my first choice school but I’m glad I ended up there. I was in a Sorority… I did the whole college experience. I don’t regret going there. I’m very happy with where I’m at and where I’m going. It almost doesn’t matter what your degree is…as long as you’re going on the path that works for you.

AF: And putting forth the energy to make the strides you want to see in your career.

SS: I heard so many “No’s” in college because I wasn’t in the program like, “You can’t be in the main stage if you’re not in the program…” but I moved to New York and was one of the first of my friends to get my Equity card.

AF: I bet that helped shape your stamina and build a wall subconsciously where you could deal with the rejection better than somebody in the program!

SS: Yes, because I was so used to the “No’s.” It also didn’t hurt that my boyfriend is also in theatre and trained at Boston Conservatory and he taught me how to work that audition circuit. “You wake up at five am… you go…and you wait…” It was really nice to have him teaching me. He moved in July and I moved in September.

AF: It’s so helpful to have a partner to help guide and push you a little bit. I have so much respect for people who are doing all this independently.

SS: Right- and I’ll push him! He’ll say, “Oh I don’t want to get up yet” and I’m like, “You’re perfect for it! Go!” And maybe if I didn’t say that he wouldn’t have gone and booked it, you know? It’s a nice partnership.

AF: Any time I tell Douglas to go in for an audition, he gets the callback! Anyways so you move to New York… what has your time looked like?

SS: I moved in September of 2014 and I moved with one of my best friends. I moved with four suitcases and a prayer. And my dad came with me so we were spending an entire day on Craig’s list. I ended up living with a mid-sixties woman and her Israeli exchange student in a one bedroom with her yappy dog.

AF: That is something out of a TV show.

SS: I was working at a Yoga studio…and the Israeli student took a class with me at the studio. The woman slept on a Chaise lounge and there were two twin beds for the student and me. There was no closet space, you couldn’t use the stove because there was so much all over the place…but I was paying five hundred dollars a month. I lived there September through November and signed a lease December first.

AF: That’s amazing.

SS: Right… and then I booked my Theatreworks tour December seventh. Six days later… Like, BYE!

AF: As soon as you commit to something… you book. When it rains it pours. We met each other on the audition circuit in 2015… at Theatreworks.

SS: I had just gotten back from tour!

AF: Any time we would see each other… we would encourage each other and then the next week we’d touch base and be like, “We booked!” I was thinking oh I’ll book my trip to Spain… and then something will come along! Nothing has happened yet so maybe this will be a good pitch to people to cast me! (haha) Okay so first New York experience was kind of crazy… then you signed the lease, then you left for tour…

SS: Then I moved into a place on the Upper East Side with two other people in a one bedroom… really thriving. This was before the second avenue subway… so it was really far from everything. I came back end of May, early June, moved into a new apartment in September. Then I moved into a four bedroom in Washington heights and we had a washer dryer, and a dishwasher but that apartment was PLAGUED. We had a fire, we had bedbugs, we had mice, cockroaches, water damage from the fire…

AF: I’m learning so many new things right now. That’s a lot.

SS: That happened and now I live with Max!

AF: And you still are here! Even through ALL that!

SS: Yeah and all the time auditioning, babysitting the same kid for three years…

AF: That’s so special!

SS: It’s so unheard of to be with a family for that long.

AF: It’s good for you, it’s good for the kid. Wow- you’re so busy! What’s been a high point and low point?

SS: Two years ago my boyfriend left for a contract and I felt very lost in the city. I was so happy for him but it took me a while to realize his successes weren’t my failures.

AF: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. It’s hard to come to that realization.

SS: It took me all summer. I had a concussion… and this was also at the height of the bedbugs! We had to clean the entire apartment and all of Max’s stuff was in the apartment and I missed him and I just felt very lonely. We had gotten to this place where it was just the two of us and I didn’t see a whole lot of my friends and so I wondered where I was at. When he got back there was a lot of readjusting and that was my hardest time. I never wanted to leave New York but I was very much like, “Woe is me.” This was summer 2016…so I’d been there two years.

AF: I feel like when you’re at that two-year mark… it’s like “Okay I’m really doing this.”

SS: It didn’t feel like anything I was doing was fulfilling. I wanted somebody to hire me and pay me to do that as my only job. It was really hard. It took me a full year after that to book my next gig. I worked at Maine State last year and took a class with Bob Cline and he said all the agents want their clients in a Maine State season. It’s such a great place to work. It’s a hard job to come by because you have to be a triple-threat! I don’t consider myself a triple-threat. I am a singer, I am a mover-“plus”… it takes me a minute but I’m willing to put in the work to learn the combo. I went in for Grease for Frenchy… didn’t hear anything and then got an email three weeks later and went in for Patti. It was one of those where you leave the room and know you booked it… but they said they’d be having a dance call and I never heard. When I didn’t hear I assumed I didn’t get it… and I hadn’t done Yoga in six months because I’d had surgery and I did my at home practice and I laid down and rolled over and my phone started ringing and it was my agent telling me I’d booked it.

AF: I just got chills all over my body. That’s amaaaaaazing. That’s such a great reminder that if you just center yourself for a second, let it go, and be okay with where you are at. I’m preaching to the choir…but I know we all struggle with that. We’re never going to be as far along as we would like.

SS: Sometimes I question, “Did I take my card too soon?”

AF: Same. But we gotta keep pushing forward! No regrets. So booking Maine State was a highlight…

SS: Also this year has been kind of an awakening that what I’m offering in the room is the best I can do and the best representation of my abilities. I didn’t book anything for this summer but I’m in voice lessons and I’m really comfortable with who I am and what I’m presenting to the room is really honest and what I am… and just because I didn’t book anything doesn’t mean I didn’t have a good season. I’ve had more callbacks this season than I’ve ever had… not that it was a lot but more than I’ve ever had.

AF: So that means you’re pursuing who you are and embracing your honesty and bringing your full capabilities to the room.

SS: And going to auditions that I know I’m really right for.

AF: It’s getting to that place of maturity of fully going for it and giving it everything regardless of whether you receive anything back in return.

SS: For so long I’ve obsessed over which dresses to wear because certain dresses are right for certain characters…and not that you don’t want to allude to it but wearing overalls for a Mama Mia! audition isn’t going to get me the job… being me and being honest and being as close as I can to being in that character is all I can do.

AF: But also you ALWAYS look fierce. You always have a massive bag with you, filled with so many great options.

SS: I only brought two dresses with me today!

AF: I’m getting to that point in the year where I need a new “audition something.” That’s how I justify shopping. So not to dampen the mood but…what was your low?

SS: The year after Theatreworks. I got back with all this momentum and things weren’t happening and it was really hard. It makes you realize just how good it feels when someone DOES choose to take a chance on you. I had to wait for it to come along.

AF: This season of waiting is not failure. You’re working on yourself, working on your craft, and you just know the next thing that comes along is going to be amazing because the last thing you got to do was great…and it can only go up the ladder! So I always ask… what are you working on now?

SS: Max and I booked Bed the Musical which is us sitting in our bed eating snacks all summer. This joke has been going on for six months… he’s starring as Pajamas and I’m starring as Junk Food. He wrote me a contract… it’s legit. We have an email thread with the offer. The kid I babysit will be gone for most of the summer so I might spend some time at home and auditioning, keeping on top. If there’s anything I learned this week it’s that you can’t let things bog you down. If you stay on top of it you can take on the world! Spending ten hours with a kid can take a toll on you…but I’ve found time to breathe into it and take into account the fact that I need to prepare for these auditions.

AF: You have to make it a priority. Some days you work, work, work… and then when you have something coming up you take a second.

SS: Two years ago I would have been like, “Ahh this week is so busy I can’t go to any auditions…” but now I’m in control. It feels good. I’m putting myself to bed earlier because I know I have THINGS to do.

AF: You’re creating that career for yourself.

SS: You have to put the work in. You can’t expect your agent or manager to do it all for you. You have to look at everything. Someone said to me once “If you can’t book a job, don’t audition for it.”

AF: What are your words to live by?

SS: Somebody else’s successes aren’t your failures. It took me a really long to grasp that and I still struggle with it. But whenever I see you at auditions and I say, “I really hope one of us books this” I mean it. I would love for someone I know to book. If that person is the best one for the job… they should get it. Also- just because the girl before you sounds great… remember that you’re also great. You can both be good.

AF: Everyone brings a different quality into the room!

SS: And if that person is booking, that’s great for them! It doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. Your time is coming… or it’s not! And that’s good. You have time to work on you!

AF: There’s a reason we’re here for the summer.

SS: I feel at peace about it. I can go to Coney Island! I’m really enjoying this coffee by the way… I’m all hyped up.

AF: Well thank you so much for coming on the blog! I’ll probably see you at an audition like… tomorrow!

SS: Cheers.

Douglas W-Tieman: Give Yourself Permission

annabelle and douglas

Douglas and I met my Freshman year, his Junior year of college at Belmont University. We started out very good friends and it eventually bloomed into romance by December 2010. I joined him in NYC January of 2015, were engaged July of that year and got married October 2016! Life has been truly joyous as newlyweds in this crazy city. He left this week to go work on a Disney cruise for the summer so I thought I would snag him for an interview! He is an actor after all ;). Since he is a gardener and landscaper on the side, I brought him to the Plant Shed on 86th and Columbus where we could perused the plants and flower selection over our drinks. 

*Drink of Choice: Mochahontas from Bongo Java in Nashville, TN


 

AF: Today we have Douglas on the blog! My very own husband! It’s taken a long time and lots of convincing to get him on the blog but he is finally here. He is ready and about to drink his cappuccino! So I always ask what are you drinking?

DWT: I’m having a cappuccino with some beautiful flower art on top! It’s absolutely delicious. It has a rich nutty flavor to it which is exactly what I like.

AF: And what else did we get?

DWT: A s’mores cookie… (He tries it)

AF: Is it amazing? (I try it) Oh my GOD. So what is your usual drink of choice?

DWT: Usually a drip coffee but my favorite is a Mochahontas from Bongo Java in Nashville!

AF: Nashville plug! Sponsor us! Hashtag Nashville! So Douglas… give us a little bit of your back-story. I mean I know everything but tell everyone! When did you first discover your love for performing, the fiddle, and how you got to New York!

DWT: I’m not even sure if you knew this but my first ever performance was in preschool in a production of Hickory Dickory Dock. I dressed up as the clock and had a little mouse hand puppet. That was the mouse that ran up the clock. And there are pictures of that somewhere… That was my first time on stage in front of people. I don’t really remember that. But I DO remember my first experience doing a role and that was in fourth grade playing Ebenezer Scrooge in childrens version of A Christmas Carol. I was really lucky to have an incredible teacher that encouraged me. Susan Owens… my music teacher. Even though I was only in fourth grade she cast me as the lead. It was an elementary school so there were fifth graders too and a fifth grader played younger Scrooge and he was way taller than me… hastag casting.

AF: Hashtag type casting, haha.

DWT: Then that same year I started playing the violin when my orchestra teacher gave us the option of picking an instrument to play in the youth orchestra. He played the violin and did little bird songs and sounds on the violin and I was like, ‘Yeah I want to play that.” So they both kind of started at the same time!

AF: I think some people would be surprised to hear that you didn’t start violin until fourth grade.

DWT: I had been playing the piano prior to violin, which is even more interesting.

AF: So you stuck with the violin…

DWT: Stuck with the violin… and so after elementary school Susan Owens after  encouraged me to go to my very first community theatre audition…

AF: Which was?

DWT: Oliver!

AF: And you played…

DWT: Oliver!

AF: How funny that both of our first shows we played orphans…

DWT: The auditions were around Christmas time… I think I sang like “Jingle Bells.” I had no idea how to do an audition. My parents just took me to this little theatre in Winchester, the Leeds Theatre and I went in and sang my song. I was eleven or twelve and they basically cast me on the spot! It was really cool.

AF: So you did all the shows in high school…

DWT: Yes. I did shows through high school, community theatre, and even got involved in the UK’s Opera productions and did some roles there. I did Carousel and then all my shows through high school and also played fiddle and then went to Belmont University and studied Musical Theatre! I continued fiddle lessons there.

AF: So did you audition for a bunch of schools?

DWT: I auditioned for multiple schools. I auditioned at Otterbien, Baldwin Wallace, Belmont, CCM…

AF: Did you get in to BW?

DWT: No… I got in nowhere except for Belmont, the Theatre department at Otterbein and University of Kentucky.

AF: And Belmont accepted you as a Presidential Scholar so that kind of felt like a no brainer…

DWT: Yeah and I also loved it!

AF: That’s a big deal! What had to line up for you to be a Presidential Scholar?

DWT: The qualifications I guess had to do with GPA and test scores… but I had no idea that existed. I knew some people that had gone there and they contacted me about the scholarship and that I was being considered and then I had to write a few more esssays…

AF: So you go to Belmont… you meet me…

DWT: Yes- I met my wife Annabelle.

AF: That is I. What was your favorite role you got to play in college? What was a defining moment for you?

DWT: That’s a great question.

AF: I have my own idea of what your answer will be.

DWT: It was probably Billy in Anything Goes.

AF: Oh- really?

DWT: Were you going to say Dicken (in Secret Garden)? That wasn’t really defining… Billy was my first leading role… it’s also the first show we did together. It was the first time in college where I felt like I owned the role and felt supported and felt like a leading man. It was definitely the role that felt like, “you can be successful at this.”

AF: So then you graduate… and what happened after?

DWT: After graduation I knew I was going to be employed in two jobs.

AF: Which for most actors is unheard of…

DWT: So I was playing Rolf in Studio Tenn’s production of Sound of Music

AF: I was in it too! I was Louisa!

DWT: And my best friend Chris Rayis was the Music Director…which he still can’t believe.

AF: We were all so young…

DWT: He did an amazing job. After that I worked at the Cumberland County Playhouse and did shows in rep there. And then January 1st 2013, I moved to New York City!

AF: That’s cool because I literally moved exactly two years after you to the day!

DWT: Two years later.

AF: So what have some of your highlights been living in the city? It doesn’t have to be roles… but what are some experiences, things that have happened that have shaped who you are today…? I know it’s crazy to think about all of this….

DWT: It’s great to think about all of this… because I have had so many incredible experiences… that if I didn’t live in New York City I wouldn’t have had them…like getting to perform for Stephen Sondheim when I did Robber Bridegroom. He was out in the audience. I also served him pea soup when I was a Caterer. Highlights have been doing Merton at the Movies with Jim Parsons and got to go to Bond45 for a dinner after… it was incredible. And then they got me a car home… it made me feel like a real professional… haven’t had anything else like that since then, haha!

AF: Yes you haaaaave.

DWT: But that was the first time I realized they remembered me. Casting knew I played the violin and they contacted Judy, my agent and that’s how I got the job.

AF: So many of the things you’ve done are attributed to the fact that you play the violin.

DWT: Everything. I don’t think I’m good enough to be considered for anything other than a good instrumentalist.

AF: That’s not true. I would say because you’ve had so many successes with the violin you haven’t spent as MUCH time working on just being just an actor. That makes sense though because why would you when you have this other skill-set….

DWT: Yeah- it just feels like I’m competing against so many other people as just an actor and it takes so much longer. I feel like I can get to a place where I feel fulfilled and maybe branch off from the actor/musician role later in my career. Right now there are so many guys who can sing and act and dance…

AF: There are also so many more opportunities for actor/musicians right now. So now that you’ve been in the city for five and a half years…and we’ve heard one of your highlights share with us one of your lowlights…

DWT: The rejection around Once was really hard. It was at first a really heartbreaking situation.

AF: You were in for Broadway and the tour….

DWT: The first big thing I auditioned for was Once in Nashville. And they brought me in for auditions in New York and I think it was one of the reasons why I got my agents. One of the main reasons I moved to the city was because I saw that showing on the Tony’s with actor/musicians and I thought, “I can definitely do this.” And the thing is I was in the midst of trying to negotiate a contract to go away and figuring out if I needed to be in the city for more callbacks and I remember getting the call, “They’re not going any further with you for Once…” and being heartbroken and just crying. It was so sad. It was especially hard because so many people said, “You are perfect for this… you will be in this show. “ I think that is a real disservice we do to each other. We think it’s complimentary or encouraging but really there are so many people that are perfect for shows and they can only hire so many people… It’s not that youre any less perfect than anyone else it’s just a numbers thing. Since then I’ve tried really hard to not say that to somebody because that’s not the point. You’re perfect for what you’re going to end up doing. I don’t think actors should make themselves specific to certain shows to fit a mold… I think they should cater to what their passionate about.

AF: That’s a great segue to hear about what you’re working on now!! You’re creating opportunities for yourself and other people…

DWT: Yeah- I’ve always wanted to write a show about a fiddle player. It has these mythological elements about the south and pride and the devil. I happened to be jamming in Nashville and spoke to a songwriter and I bounced the idea off of him and he sort of gave me permission to start it. It’s really important in any process to be able to give yourself permission to go for it. That’s what so many people struggle with. They have an idea but it almost takes an outside push to get it started. I wish I’d started sooner, honestly. That would be my encouragement to anyone! If you have an idea… just do it! Just start. Just begin. Don’t wait for somebody to tell you to do it.

AF: I feel like you’ll agree with this but it’s like once you start creating something that you’re in control of that’s when other opportunities come into your life.

DWT: It gives you more to talk about.

AF: It makes you a full person. It fills you up in the sense that you’re working on something that you’re making on your own, developing on your own, and people see that and it’s natural for other things to follow because you’re putting yourself out there. So along those lines… what has filled you up outside of theatre?

DWT: Oh! Spending time with my wife.

AF: Haha.. what inspires you?

DWT: I mean honestly family is so important. Whether that’s being home, visiting our families… just making personal relationships the priority in my life. I have found that my day job as a gardener gives me so much joy…

AF: Oh yes- it was intentional that I brought the gardener to this plant café!

DWT: I love being outside. I knew I wanted an outdoors job to keep my sanity. I love making things grow… I’ve brought some friends on board. It’s a community that I’m really proud of. I’ve learned a lot about myself because I’ve gotten to a point of management and it has played into my abilities to navigate the team dynamics of my musical… how am I doing? Am I doing well?

AF: Yeah, you’re doing fine. Now…I always ask. What are some words of wisdom or advice you’d give to aspiring artists…?

DWT: Be the change you want to see in the world. I think that’s attributed to my love for Ghandi. Also- treat others as you would like to be treated.

AF: Are you going to get a tattoo of either of those?

DWT: Yeah- maybe a highlighter thing that’s also glow in the dark…

AF: Is there anything else you really want to share with your fans?

DWT: You mentioned words of wisdom? Find things outside of acting you find fulfilling. Always look for ways to create your own work and put yourself out there. Because I was playing my violin on a subway platform one day, I was able to meet somebody who asked me to join their band…and it was all because I was playing in a station and Tommy Crawford came over to me and took my card.

AF: You just need that one person to believe in you…

DWT: Yeah- then I had all these experiences! I went all the way to Nantucket with Seawife and met Liz Carlson and was able to see how a show is developed from the very beginning. It’s given me that knowledge to apply to Johnny. 

AF: Any last words before we go pick out a plant?

DWT: Just be happy. Help others. Be engaged in important relationships in your life. Don’t place value in flaky relationships. Find the people that are most important to you and spend time with them.

AF: And what are you about to go do!?

DWT: I’m heading out of the states to hang in Europe on a Disney cruise for three months, and dressing in ren faire style leggings.

AF: Like you’re in Tangled but not! Great- so I’m sure you’ll be trying amazing coffee all over the world.

DWT: Yes- follow my journeys on Instagram!

AF: Haha he’s joking. Cheers.

 

 

Jeff Ostermueller: Do it because you enjoy it.

JEFF

Jeff and I met through a mutual friend a year ago and recently reconnected over the trials and tribulations of being an actor in the city. We met at ForGround near Bryant Park on the first real day that felt like Spring to attempt a Podcast recording. Unfortunately my technical skills failed and I opted for the regular blog medium! Jeff talks about his Elon audition, time on tour with Spring Awakening, and how important it is to stay curious.

Drink of Choice: Hot coffee with half and half


 

(Jeff was eating brussels sprouts)

AF: That looks like what I had for dinner last night!

JO: I’ve done a veggie cleanse before!

AF: I just wanted to do something that would make me feel healthy!

JO: You do you. What’s your go-to smoothie?

AF: Favorite is strawberry, banana, kale, peanutbutter, strawberry, yogurt, almond-milk…

JO: Same here except for a couple differences. Strawberry, banana, organic frozen blueberries, flax seeds, chia… I made it three days of my veggie cleanse and eight days of Whole 30.

AF: I’ve heard that first week is the hardest…

JO: I guess I crossed that hurdle and was like, “I’m out. Where’s my bacon egg and cheese?!”

AF: Haha. I’m very excited to have you on the blog! You’re such a fun, talented individual and you’re going to tell us all about your time in the city and how you got here! We met through Matthew Glover at Sweet Afton.

JO: Shout-out.

AF: So Jeff…I always ask… what are you drinking?

JO: This is my second cup of the day and it’s an iced coffee. I put half and half in, no sugar. Today it’s almost seventy and tomorrow it will be seventy-six! It was time!

AF: This is my favorite weather. I’m drinking an iced coffee black which is what I usually do. What is your drink of choice?

JO: I usually do hot coffee with half and half. I don’t know why… I mean we all know coffee is bean water. It is water that passes through beans. Which are ground and filtered…but it’s bean water. And I’m okay with that.

AF: That makes it sound so gross.

JO: I just want you to know if you’re a black coffee purist, you need to know that I love myself and I’m okay with adding a little dairy.

AF: Nobody is judging you, Jeff. We just needed to know what you added.

JO: Oh- you mean I didn’t need to be defensive and fire back at all the haters?

AF: A good banter is always welcome! So moving right along… what is your back-story? How did you get here? Where did you go to school?

JO: I grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey. I played sports… which I know is really surprising.

AF: You were a little jock!

JO: I WAS a little jock. It was a small town so I didn’t need to feel that separation. All the jocks were also in plays because that’s just what you did. For instance when I did A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in High School, a couple guys that were friends that played Football were like, “You know what we want to do this play!” So our prodient, who are basically the three guys that follow Pseudolus around the stage… two of them were the linemen on our Football team so they were huge. It was so funny. It was probably my favorite theatrical experience growing up.

AF: You peaked.

JO: That was my A-Ha moment. I knew deep down… So I played a million sports growing up.

AF: What was your favorite?

JO: Soccer. But then I got hurt my Freshman year running track- a growth injury. I had to get arthritic surgery, cortisone injection, and it was really tough to recover. I ended up quitting soccer which was tough and I lot of my friends hated me for a very long time, which I don’t blame them! But I wanted to recover so I could get back to running track. During that time I realized that I missed theatre. Also I’m from New Jersey so I’d been seeing shows on Broadway, or at Paper Mill. It’s a commuter town so that’s what I was used to. I was interested and I was comfortable on stage. I was more nervous in rehearsals than I was in the performances.

AF: Isn’t that funny? I feel like that’s the sure sign you’re destined to be on the stage.

JO: With the exception of the school matinees… those were hard shows. We’d always preview our shows at like third period… So I’m playing the Dentist in Little Shop and I’m thinking, “I’m going to lose some friends…”

AF: Oh no! You probably gained some!

JO: You’re right…I probably did. Thank God.

AF: I think it’s more nerve-racking to perform in front of your peers.

JO: A million percent. I’m way more nervous in my acting classes than in auditions… I applied to a ton of schools that I thought were pretty good and thought “If I get into any schools that are good, great but if not…I just won’t go to school for theatre.” So I tried doing a Music Industry class at Drexel University which was the biggest nightmare of my life. I wore a puka shell necklace, bright blue collared shirt, had my white K-Swiss sneakers on, and cargo shorts and everybody shows up and is rocking out. And I thought, “Oh wow the Music Industry is way different than I expected.” This is all pre Ed Sheeran.

AF: You had to go through that to know you wanted to do Musical Theatre!

JO: It’s not like I had a wealth of knowledge about Musical Theatre… like I tried to die in the monologue I did for a college audition. That’s how little I knew…

AF: That’s amazing.

JO: So I auditioned for five schools…I also was an idiot. When I went to do my tour of Ithaca in July I thought, “This is so gorgeous. This is great. I wonder what it’s like in Winter…” and the tour guide starts laughing and says, “That’s so funny you asked because last year it snowed on graduation…” And I decided right then and there that I would not be going there. I don’t like the cold! I also had been lucky enough to go to school with the same kids K-12 and so I knew I wanted to go to a big school but not too big… I wanted that feeling of familiarity. I didn’t even apply for some of the top schools because they’re all cold! I knew I would end up in NYC. I got into four out of five the schools I applied to and Elon was the only school I hadn’t toured. I took my own tour I guess. I went for a run and it was seventy degrees and beautiful and the flowers were in bloom and it just felt right. It’s a very homey environment. It IS a botanical garden. The day of my audition I was practicing in one of their practice rooms, playing the piano, and the guy Greg Maheu!

AF: I know him!

JO: Yes- Elon’s very own Jude Law! He’s like, “Dude- you’re up!” I’m like, “WHAT!” He’s like, “They’re running ahead of schedule!” Instead of being online I’m practicing and he was helping run the auditions so he came up to find me! So I jump on stage… and somebody had told me once to keep them wanting more so I sing, “Steal with Style” from Robber Bridegroom and I do the “B” section and I end it on the note going into the final section… and then I sang “Elaborate Lives” from Aida and same thing on the end moment right before the build…then “Thank you so much my name is Jeff Ostermueller.” And then they ask for my monologue and I did “The Zoo Story” and I fell to the ground and they’re like “Do it again and don’t die…” And they LET ME IN.

AF: You know what… it’s because you left them wanting more.

JO: So I go to Elon had the time of my life… then I did a couple jobs up until the holiday season. I did Pump Boys and Dinettes because I played the piano. I did a show called Married Life in Ft. Myers. Then I moved back home to New Jersey and commuted to the city every day and tried to save money. I couldn’t go back home during the day and had to bring a bag lunch. I read lots of books, saw a lot of friends… it was a grind for sure. I was starting to get to the point where I was like, “What do I do?” Then I was in callbacks for a couple things and then eventually booked the second nonunion national tour of Spring Awakening. One girl turned eighteen during rehearsals! It could not have been a better experience. Everyone with the exception of the real adults were between the ages of 18 and 24. We were in our own little world. It was nine months. I was up for a bunch of roles… and I kind of knew I was going to be a swing. It was between me and my college friend and Derek Klena- who was eighteen at the time. Honestly the final callback was the worst audition of my life. I had done this frog hop, leg workout with a friend of mine, so my legs were like twitching… and shaking. I’m singing “Left Behind” for all these people and literally my legs are going, I was sweating, and was wearing this shirt that said, “Real Men Date Dancers.” I’m wearing orange Nikes and jeans and I felt like such a loser because I was shaking and so nervous. They had me do the “tree nymf” scene and I asked to do it on the ground because I thought that would be better…

AF: The trend I’m sensing is that you just go for it and make strong, bold choices and these things work in your favor. Unless the team was like, “We feel bad for him… he’s twitching.” I love Spring Awakening. I feel like that would be an incredible show to tour with.

JO: It could not have been better. The coolest thing was going to place where we wondered how the show would be embraced. Alabama, Salt Lake, a lot of colleges… by the way college towns always have Insomnia cookies which is the BEST.

AF: How often did you go on?

JO: A LOT!

AF: Being a Swing requires such a specific skill-set. How did you eventually get to New York?

JO: I got back from tour and moved to the city. I loved it. I worked… I auditioned like crazy. I had the tour money, which I spent very quickly. I did a lot of little theatre gigs around the city…for no money obviously… a lot of workshops, a lot of shorts… There’s actually a very funny one on YouTube called, “Slash.” My friend Chris Staskill who I went to Elon with, had recently graduated from the NYU Writing program and he and his friend wrote a ten-minute musical about a drinking contest. You have to do five things and everybody in the audience drinks along. He wrote a Slash Fiction sketch, which is basically when you take two characters in different stories and you write them into one gay love story. I rapped in it called “No Homo.” We asked to be last and so people were so drunk by the time it was our turn. I walked out onto the stage and everybody started laughing and we were like, “Oh this is going to be great…” I do a lot of new works at NYU, actually, thanks to Chris.

AF: I love watching shows grow from the ground up. Tell me about some of the films you’ve created!

JO: Our roommate had a camera and had worked on television and he wanted to be a DP and had all the software and he was just looking for odd jobs. We did a short and then he wanted to do a feature. It’s cool we just got into it and submitted it to a ton of film festivals and it just got accepted into the St. Tropez film festival!

AF: I guess you’re going to France!

JO: Haha, we’ll see.

AF: Making your own art is the way to do it these days.

JO: It’s true. I spend a lot of time in class. I know my peers and teachers aren’t going to let me get away with anything. I’m doing a scene from Angels in America and so I’m reading up on Mormonism, I’m reading up on the gay colony, AIDS, and that research and curiosity sustains me for a month. I get so hyped about a scene in a class. This month- my friend Casey’s in Book of Mormon– we were playing Ping Pong and my adrenaline’s pumping and I start talking about Mormonism… it’s like all I could think about.

AF: That helps in your growth as an actor. It’s so informative.

JO: Then when I go to perform it, I’m living it rather than pretending!

AF: What has been one of your highest moments and what has been one of your lowest?

JO: One of my highs was when I hadn’t been called back for anything in a while and then out of nowhere, Actors Access, calls me in for After Glow Off Broadway. I remember reading the breakdown and thought, “Oh I’m not right for this at all…” but I went in. I go to the callbacks and was in there for so long and I’m making them laugh…and I don’t know if this character is a comedian but I was enjoying myself! I was off-book for the audition and felt solid.

AF: I would love to sit through some auditions.

JO: It’s so amazing to me how many people come in and don’t know what they want. It feels so good when a director is like, “We loved you but you’re just not what we’re looking for.” That means more to me than they know.

AF: It’s so nice to have that validation.

JO: I don’t think directors ever actually want you to give them what they want. I think they want to be surprised. Obviously you still need a plan and need to connect with your reader but that element of surprise is appealing. So my low would have to be asking my parents for money when I was twenty-seven. I was working at a bar…and it just happens. I spent a ton of money on classes.

AF: It’s so expensive to be an actor! That’s a common thing that happens! It’s humbling. So my last question is what are your words of wisdom?

JO: I’m not a quote person… it’s different every day. I think the thing that has stayed with me the most is the more you enjoy doing it for yourself the more others will enjoy it too. So number one should always be, are you having the most amount of fun possible? You know what’s not fun? Giving up performance… That’s rigid. We don’t do that in real life…so why are you doing that in performance? Chase the fun. Don’t you hate when you’re in the holding room and people are so serious?

AF: It can be a miserable energy.

JO: Your business is to entertain. If you can’t entertain yourself… you’re in the wrong headspace. It’s so important to focus on what you want. If you never give yourself time to ask, What do I want to pursuit? What do I want to cut out?- you’re not going to grow.

AF: It can be exhausting to always enjoy it too, though. I don’t always love it. But it’s important to take in all those emotions.

JO: I like talking about the arts and reflecting on what’s important.

AF: It’s so important to have those people building you up and to remember there’s no timeline. It’s easy to see people on Broadway or in film who are the same age and think, “Ugh, I should be doing that…” But if we were in that place we wouldn’t be here, growing in the ways we need.

JO: I think curiosity is the sexiest trait in the entire world. We’re explorers as actors. Stay curious! I do coachings. Come work with me!

AF: Cheers.

Jeff Leibow: Give Back

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Jeff Leibow started The NF Hope Concert in 2011 (whose 9-year-old daughter suffers from Neurofibromatosis), and over the years has raised over more than $600,000 for Neurofibromatosis research and advocacy. 100% of the proceeds go to Neurofibromatosis Network (NF Network). Last year alone, the events raised over $150,000. This year, he has brought together a group of bright talents to join forces for something bigger than themselves. The cast will feature Jeremy Stolle (Phantom of the Opera), Quinn VanAntwerp (The Play That Goes Wrong), husband and wife duo, Keith & Laura Nicole Harrison, (Emojiland, the much anticipated new show which Time Out LA has called “Hilarious”), Peter Saide (Desperate Measures), Ava Della Pietra (School of Rock), NYC Downtown performer, Migguel Anggelo, and many others. Jeff took some time to answer some questions about the event.

Drink of Choice: Pour over


 

AF: I always have to ask… how do you drink your coffee?

JL: I love a really good pour over. Lately, I’ve also gotten into bulletproof coffee.

AF: What’s your backstory?/How did you come to New York?

JL: When I was in college at UC Davis, a friend of mine dared me to audition for a production of the musical, A Chorus Line. I landed a part and fell in love with theater. A few years later, I landed my first professional job and set my sights on New York. I moved from California to New York in 1995. Circumstances eventually led me back to the west coast, and I tried putting the acting bug away. That didn’t last long, and eventually I landed a leading role in Jersey Boys. Even though I’m not living in New York, I’m glad at least the NF Hope Concert is finding a home in my favorite city in the world.

AF: What prompted you to start the NF Hope Concert?

JL: When my daughter, Emma, was a couple months old, her pediatrician notice some new birthmarks. A month later, she noticed more and told us they might not be birthmarks, but rather a symptom of a rare neurological disorder called Neurofibromatosis. The same day, my wife and I pulled the ultimate rookie maneuver and Googled it. A few hours of crying and absolute fear later, we started looking up support organizations. I made a call that day to Neurofibromatosis Network and ended up spending two hours on the phone with the Executive Director, Kim Bischoff. It was during that conversation Kim asked me if I could think of something I could do to get involved, and I said, “Sure.” That was when the NF Hope Concert was born.

AF: How would you define Neurofibromatosis in your own words? 

JL: I usually give the standard written answer to this…NF is a neurological disorder characterized by tumor that can grow on any nerve in the body at any time…blah, blah, blah. If I’m being totally real, my definition of NF is: hell, absolute fear caused by not knowing what this insidious thing will mean for my daughter. It’s one thing getting used to the fact that your kid will fall and get bruised. It is something totally different to look at your kid and talk about brain tumors and tumors that may become an incurable cancer.

AF: That takes a lot of strength. What is your favorite part about doing the NF Hope Concert?

JL: Feeling like I have something I can DO for Emma. Standing on that stage actively helping her and a whole community of people, when there is very little else I can do. The fact that I can do what I love as a means to that end only makes it better.

AF: What can people expect from this concert?

JL: People can expect to entertained. They should expect to be educated as well. They can expect to be inspired. And when it all over, I hope they will be left feeling connected to a cause they didn’t know existed until they decided to come to a concert one Sunday night in Manhattan.

AF: How/where can people donate?

JL: The easiest way for people to contribute to the concert is by visiting our auction site: https://nfhopenyc18.auction-bid.org/ There they can contribute (via the “Donate Now” link), register for the silent auction and even purchase their tickets.

AF: What are your words of wisdom?

JL: Find a cause you are passionate about, and give back. There is nothing more fulfilling than witnessing what happens when you change someone’s life for the better.


 

Details for the NF HOPE CONCERT:

WHEN: Sunday May 20th at 7:30 pm

WHERE: SubCulture. 45 Bleeker Street

TICKETS/Press Release:

 http://www.twoshepsthatpass.com/NFHopePressRelease2018NYC.pdf

Maggie McDowell: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

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Maggie and I met at Belmont University when she was a Senior and I was Freshman! I have always looked up to her and was thrilled when she agreed to chat over coffee. She brought her perfect baby, Thomas to share in the cool vibes at Up Heights. This is one of the most underrated cafes uptown! It was cozy and cool with a grafitti wall, painted library bookshelf, and options of gelato, specialized coffee drinks, or pastries. Over baby cuddles and iced coffee we talk how Maggie got her Equity card, path to her Broadway debut, why she’s a true believer in open calls, and what it’s like now balancing a baby and a side-business! 

Drink of choice: Iced Coffee


AF: We have Maggie AND Thomas on the blog!

MM: Thomas just woke up for the interview!

AF: We are both drinking iced coffees… but Maggie- what is your usual drink of choice?

MM: Iced coffee, girl. With a baby you need caffeine quickly and it takes too long to drink coffee for me. I guess I’m just a wimp but I need it to be a lot cooler…or else… I just can’t.

AF: Also holding a baby on you…

MM: Yes, if you’re drinking over them, you don’t want to have to worry about spilling scalding hot coffee! Iced coffee is my go-to. Even in the dead of winter… it’s fast and it’s good. You need a lot of caffeine when you have a baby!

AF: I’m glad you can drink it now!

MM: Oh yes. Me too.

AF: So I always ask… what is your back-story? I mean…I know…but other people don’t!

MM: I grew up in CT in the Hartford area and I grew up singing in choir and doing the church musicals. My mom is from Georgia and my dad’s from Seattle so Connecticut was kind of like a random place for us. So, because of that I wanted to get out New England for college especially since I knew I wanted to end up in New York City. I wanted to give myself a chance to explore another part of the country. My sister went to Vanderbilt so I had heard about Belmont in Nashville. I studied Musical Theatre with Annabelle there! Yeah- I loved their program, I loved that city… it was the best of both worlds. I loved that we had a full college experience with a campus and all that but we were also in a city. When I moved to New York I felt like I’d had the full college experience whereas if I’d gone to college in the city I think I may have been distracted…. being pulled in all sorts of different directions… so it was a really great fit for me! And then I moved to New York after graduation and I’ve been here ever since!

AF: And now she has a perfect baby!

MM: I do! I met my husband in college. He was not a Musical Theatre major… he was in Music Business.

AF: But always fully supportive of it. He’s like a Musical Theatre nerd on the inside!

MM: His sister did theatre in high school so I think that prepped him for being around crazy theatre people. I remember one the first times we hung out was at a Musical Theatre party that I threw for our friend, Andrea, and I think what I was so impressed by was how comfortable he was in that crowd. I didn’t have to babysit him and I thought he was just so independent! He’s always so comfortable at cast parties and opening nights even though he’s not in the biz! He did some internships in the city with Jimmy Fallon, moved to New York, and has been working with the same ad agency as a music supervisor ever since, so he’s killin’ it!

AF: I didn’t realize that!

MM: He really holds down the fort.

AF: And we’re neighbors! So what did your first couple of years look like in the city? What was that path like for you?

MM: I moved here when I was Non-Eq…

AF: And how was that?

MM: I don’t think I even really knew what was happening. I just knew you get up really early in the morning and sit outside in the cold… and I did that. I woke up early and I pounded the pavement. My first year in the city I booked two shows at Equity houses as a Non-Equity performer. One was Legally Blonde at Fireside Playhouse and I booked Doralee in Nine to Five at Theatre by the Sea. Those were amazing and led me to a couple more Equity contracts and I got my card doing the role of Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun. That director introduced me to my agents. So when I got back from that contract it was the summertime so I just went to a ton of EPA’s to figure out what that was like. It was exciting to finally get seen and be able to build on relationships with casting directors. Even though must calls were required it was great to get in that room… It was a good time to get in the groove and see what it was like to have my card! The end of that summer I went to an EPA for a show I’d never heard of. And I read on the ‘in the room’ page that Seth Rudetsky was the accompanist. I sang a song that I pulled out of nowhere…. It was “Baracuda by Heart” I had this random book of music from college that of sheet music that I had printed on random occasions and I knew I needed a song from the 1970’s so I flipped through only looking at the bottom of every page at the copywright dates and saw 1979. Stephen plunked it out on his guitar and then the first time I sang it was in the audition… I just remember after I sang Seth said ‘nice belt!’ And I literally looked down to see if I was wearing a belt…

AF: Haha- does he remember that?

MM: Haha probably not! But anyways… I got cast in an Off-Broadway production of Disaster! I was cast in the ensemble. During the end of the run they bumped me up to the role of Marianne, which was such a blast.

AF: And how long was that run?

MM: We ran November to April… it was amazing. Then I did some regional theatre that summer and kept on hitting the EPA’s, getting some appointments…but I’ve always believed in the open calls. That’s how I was first seen for Kinky Boots.

AF: You are a walking testament that EPA’s matter. I think a lot of people believe nobody is really there looking…

MM: You just never know! I’ve gone to a ton of required calls but to me it’s about building the relationships, getting in front of people, obviously going to things you’re right for… but I feel when those opportunities did come about… it was because I’d done the leg work. I’d auditioned for Kinky Boots a lot but tried not to give up hope so I decided it wasn’t a matter of if but a matter of when. I went in for another project that this casting director was casting… and I got a callback for that and then over the weekend a role opened up in Kinky Boots on tour… and because I’d been in callbacks for that so much in the past… the direct offer for a role came on a Monday after auditioning for something else! I guess I was fresh in their minds and things just worked out. And then Disaster! came back around and I got to make my Broadway debut in a show that I just LOVED. It’s totally my sense of humor. It’s so silly and has amazing music… and so yeah… that’s been my path! New York has been good to me so far. I feel like it’s just a matter of putting yourself out there.

AF: So how does the city feel now with a baby, navigating auditions… where do you see yourself in ten years?

MM: So- obviously the baby’s still really young but I have started going to some auditions! A friend of ours is helping out in the mornings, and I’m going to some EPA’s and ECC’s but it doesn’t feel much different than after being gone on tour or something. Except you have to pay for childcare-ha! There are some new faces in casting since before I was pregnant and so, I feel like it’s helpful for me to go in and meet these people and build these relationships so when I get submitted they know who I am.

AF: We’re so distracted by Thomas right now. He’s so happy and so good!

MM: He’s so amazingly fat.

AF: He’s the most adorable little fatty blob!

MM: I just stare at him all day… he’s just the sweetest.

AF: You made a beautiful, perfect, luscious baby. So as you were saying… you’re working on reestablishing yourself…getting back in the room…

MM: It gives me a chance to revisit my book, and reminds me what I do… in the audition room… and by putting that into practice so when I do get appointments I won’t go in super “cold.” It’s the way that I’ve booked work in the past… and it does take a little bit of extra effort… but I’m already up early in the morning with Thomas! What’s great is when I’m downtown auditioning I’ll book practice rooms and there’s something really therapeutic about singing above lullaby volume. It’s like….”oh this is what I do.” You’re either too busy pounding the pavement, walking the dog, making sure the baby is fed that you forget, “I’m a performer and I sing and I need this.” That practice time is like my own therapy session. I have no idea what will be next but I feel like since Stephen and I moved to the city we’ve kind of been making it up as we go…

AF: And I have to commend you both! We’re all trying to figure it out but you guys set such a good example of partnership, putting each other and your family first, and it’s really encouraging to see how you’re making it work in such a healthy way!

MM: Thank you! We talk a lot about being a team first and foremost… none of what we do is easy and living in the city is not easy. All of my success is thanks to him. I can’t tell you how many times when I first moved here, my alarm would go off at 5:30 am and I wouldn’t want to go and he held me accountable. It’s important to him because it’s important to me. He’s been a constant encouragement and cheerleader to keep me accountable to keep trying. I’ve had plenty of rejection and it’s easy to want to give up when you’re down to the final two and don’t book… but at the end of the day because we have each other none of that all seems too bad.

AF: You help each other maintain the healthy perspective.

MM: Yes… and I feel because there’s so much rejection and because everything’s so unpredictable… you have to have a life outside of performing! It doesn’t have to be being married with a baby… that ended up being my path. But it could be investing in important friendships, or having a side business, or teaching, or a hobby that fulfills you…something that fuels you other than performing because what we do is so unpredictable and there’s so much rejection involved that if that’s your end all be all… that’s going to be pretty hard to stay positive. You need other things in your life that bring you joy and that you can focus on! Also on the flipside, that way when you get in the room you’re also bringing in those varied life experiences…. you are a well rounded human! One of my first auditions back was portraying a woman in labor and it was like ‘wow I’ve got so much sense memory for this!’ Living life outside of the bubble of performing keeps me sane.

 AF: So now tell us how you got started with Rodan and Fields!

MM: It’s been so great! It came to me as our family was growing and I was exploring ways I could work from home. My ‘survival job’ while I’m auditioning was always working in childcare/babysitting…and now I’m a full time babysitter aka MOM! If I ever do spend time away from him I didn’t want to spend it bartending or in retail, I want it to be at auditions or booking my next job. So, a girlfriend of mine who’s in Nashville, has a toddler, and is running her business from home, and I just loved the flexibility. I also just wanted to treat myself as a new mom with amazing skincare products that work. So, when I found out I could have both… it was a no brainer. Since its virtual with no inventory, I can do it from wherever so, its been a great side hustle. Performance jobs are unpredictable and so, ya gotta pay for diapers somehow!

AF: That’s so great. I need that Lash-Boost!

MM: Well I have a girlfriend who doesn’t even wear fake lashes in her Broadway show because her lashes are so long from the serum. It’s good to feel confident in your skin whether you’re a performer or not. So I’m wearing a lot of hats these days! Mom, Actress and new business owner!

AF: So what would you say your words of wisdom would be to someone who’s an aspiring artist, mom… what are words that resonate a lot with you lately?

MM: Well something that mom has always told me is, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I’ve always loved that. She’s always told me if you don’t put yourself out there, you won’t know if it’s for you or not. If you don’t ‘venture’ you’ll never ‘gain’ anything. There have been a lot of things I didn’t think I was right for and I ended up booking because it’s just not up to us!

 AF: What role??

 MM: I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t know much about the classic Annie Oakley… and somebody else saw that for me. I almost said no to the audition because I didn’t see it for myself. And in terms of having a family… there’s never the “right” timing for that, especially as a performer, but we ventured and took the leap and it ended up being the perfect timing. I had no idea what the insane joy this would bring to us. We’ve gained so much. At the end of the day, having a family was really important to us and the rest of the performing stuff will fall into place. I didn’t know what that was going to look like and I still don’t know what it will happen. I just know I didn’t want to wait until my career was in the “perfect spot” cause I don’t think you’ll ever know.

 AF: Thomas, any last words?

MM: Haha- he agrees, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

AF: You are doing it. You are paving the way!

MM: It’s a juggling act! But he always comes first and we continue to just make it up as we go! I knew that I always wanted to be a performer but I also always wanted to be a mom. If something is important to you and you work hard it will always work out. We can’t wait to see what comes next!