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.
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!