Saturday, August 24, 2013

Life and some Change: Part 1

Money, for me, is always tight. I am entering a phase of my life where it will be the tightest it ever has been. 

A photo from Pygmalion
A screenshot from Marley
Producing two shows this summer was not cheap. Thanks to the many generous donations that were given to my company, we were able to make shows for wonderful audiences and provide opportunities for our actors. We did not, however, raise enough money to completely cover everything so ended up paying for a good portion of these shows out of my own pocket which means money is really tight for me right now. In addition to that, I had my one year review with the food stamps program and they told me, ironically, I make too much money so I am no longer qualified to receive food stamps. This means, for the first time ever in my life, I have to start buying my own food. I know that might sound immature but it is true. I must say that the food stamps program has been a huge success for me. It helped me transition and carried me through a time in my life where I didn't have a job, and now I do. I am going to have to be better at saving and spending, and it won’t be easy, but I know I can do it.

Because all this is on my mind right now, I am starting a three part series about money with my blog; specifically how money effects my life in NYC. Part one will feature a short story I wrote about my first weeks here, part two will feature tips and tricks I have found to getting free stuff in NYC, and part three is a surprise, so keep checking back. And, without further ado: Part 1: 


It’s no secret that New York is an expensive place to live with its insanely high rent, expensive food, and costly utilities/transportation fees. That’s not to say that you shouldn't live here. I think everyone should try living here because it will teach you things about yourself that you can’t learn anywhere else. Things I can’t even begin to explain. Just moment of deep realization really... Like riding home on the subway at 2 in the morning and seeing young kids wide awake and riding with you leaving you wondering if you missed out on something in your childhood, or seeing a young gangster hold the door for an elderly woman, or seeing people of multiples faiths and religions all eating in the same one dollar pizza shop, and being happy, or sitting in Bryant park surrounded by tall tress and even taller buildings and knowing there are 1 million people near you and each on of them are worried about something...

New York will change you.

It wasn't a particularly pleasant day weather wise, with dark clouds treating to unlace their stores of water on unsuspecting victims. I got on the 7 Train at Times Square to ride to my home in Sunnyside, Queens. I had only been in New York for a few weeks at this point, so while the honeymoon period was still in full swing I was still worried about money. I hadn't yet received food assistance and I wasnt sure how I was going to afford to pay for food and rent.

The 7 train is my second favorite train, next to the 1 train of course, because it is one of the last “Above-ground” trains and it cuts right through the heart of Queens. Instead of riding deep below the earth, with nothing but streaming dark walls to view while looking out of ironic windows, you are welcomed with some amazing views of Queens: from the twisting ride around the graffiti training grounds of 5-pointz, to the humble homes in Long Island City. It’s a magnificent view.

As the train started its typical ascent from below the East River to the high-above of Queens, I heard the sound of rain pelting against the train car. It was an intense rain with buckets falling every second. I dreaded getting off and walking the 5 blocks it took me to get home because I knew I would end up drenched and with soaking wet socks. Nothing is worse than soaking wet socks. When the train pulled into the covered station, I quickly darted across the street to the nearest CVS. I figured, I had been hear a month, its high time I purchase an umbrella.

See, rain is interesting here. Back where I am from in Iowa you can get in your car in the garage and drive to work or school, all while its raining, and never get wet thanks to large swaths of covered space. New York City offers no such protection, so an umbrella here is like a sword to a samurai. A deep, symbiotic bond that, when treated with respect and care, offers protection from the harsh falling waters. Your umbrella is your shield and word against the falling water ninjas that threaten to ruin your day.

As I was standing looking at the umbrella selection I was suddenly hit with that anxiousness only money problems can bring. I did not have much money or a steady job to bring it in. So I had to decide. Spend 8 dollars on a cheaper umbrella, or 12 dollars on a little bit nicer one, or deal with it and be able to eat. I know getting worried over 12 or 8 dollars seems a bit silly, but when you have no income and 700 dollars in rent due soon, it matters. 

I decided to bit the bullet and by the 12 dollar one figuring it would last longer. I walked home from that CVS happy and dry footed, though still a bit worried about spending 12 dollars.

The umbrella lasted a whole week before it broke. I was utterly depressed after it happened. 12 dollars wasted that I could have spent on food, plus I’m also out of an umbrella. But see New York has a way of making things work out...

I was eating at my favorite lunch place one day when it started raining. I was instantly embittered by the fact that when I finished I would have to walk back out in the rain and wind up with wet socks. The restaurant I was in was also connected to a hotel, so I decided I would cut through the hotel to save some time from being in the rain. As I neared my way to the exit a kind doorman opened the door for me and asked, “Sir, do you need an umbrella?” I stopped, looked at him for a sec, and said “Yeah, actually. Mine broke.” So he went to a side little room off from the entrance and came out with a glorious round handled black umbrella and handed it to me. “Thanks...” I said, stunned by his generosity. “Don’t worry about it. Have a great day.” And off I went with a big smile and dry socks. 

New York is amazing because it will test you and push you to your breaking point, and then surprise you again with incredible generosity when you expect it least, and need it most.

Until Next Time.

I will not lend thee a penny.

Why then the world's mine oyster,
Which I with sword will open.

Not a penny.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Wow. It’s truly hard for me to believe that it has been a year. I have lived in New York City for an entire year. That’s 365 days. Or 52 weeks. Or 12 months. Or 1 year. (see what I did there?) It’s both a long time, and no time at all.

My last few posts have been incredibly angsty and I have complained a lot, so I’m going to take the time to recount everything I am thankful for that has happened to me in this past year because, while New York can be a stressful place, and it tests me like no other, it’s also my favorite place in the world and I never plan on leaving. So, here are some awesome things that I am so thankful for, in  order of appearance:

  •  Moving to New York with an apartment in Sunnyside and Internship at the LARK Play  Development Center waiting for me.
  • The highly efficient subway system. (I’m not gonna say anything about the buses cause I promised to keep this positive)
  • Finding paid Stage Management work at J-City Theatre in my first month here.
  • Having many experienced New Yorkers help me in my first weeks here ( Eugenia, Nicole, James, Rita, Tim, Mike, and Anna)
  • My assistant stage management job with The Flea I got with the help from Cammie, a cast member from my first show in Jersey City, and her friend Liz who works at the Flea.
  • The privilege of working with the amazing cast and crew of Restoration Comedy at The Flea for two and a half months (and getting paid for it too)
  • One Dollar Pizza.
  • Hurricane Sandy forcing me to buy a bike, and subsequently riding my bike all over Manhattan and discovering some amazing views of the city. 
  • Thanksgiving with Liz, who got me my job at the Flea, and her then girlfriend and now ENGAGED fiancĂ© Michelle (CONGRATS BTW) and their families.
  • Becoming good friends with the other interns at The Lark, and drinking lots of wine while reading a play we all wrote together.
  • Living in Chinatown.
  • Dad, Mom, Michael, and Kristin come and visit me for Christmas.
  • Many friends come and visit me over the course of my first year (Alison, Luke, Alison again, Kristen, Allison (a different one), Joe and Jill, Carrie, and John.
  • Getting a full-time job with Health and Benefits and not having to worry about money as much.
  • Assistant Directing an Off-Off Broadway Play at Theatre for the New City.
  • Directing an Original Play at the Venus Theatre Festival.
  • Finding an AMAZING apartment in Washington Heights that is just my size.
  • Directing an Original play with the Rhapsody Collective.
  • Starting a Production Company.
  • Writing a Musical with Adam O’Dell.
  • Producing Pygmalion and Marley with my brothers.
  • Michael come live with me for the summer.
  • Directing two plays in the course of 3 months and working with tons of amazing actors
  • Making it an entire year working on 8 different shows while holding down a job, and having it only cost me some time, money, and a few stitches in my hand.
It’s been one hell of a ride, to say the least and I couldn't have done it without the support of all my friends and family back home in Iowa sending me good thoughts every day. I wonder what awesome things New York has in store for me as I enter Year Two?

You may or may not have noticed, but I've made a couple of changes to my blog 2.0. With this most recent update on the right side of the screen are beautiful little icons with links to all my social pages: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Vine, and flickr. If you want to see what I’m doing when I’m not blogging about it, that’s a good way to keep track. And at the bottom of every post is a little social bar thing. So you can like the post on Facebook right within the blog itself! HOW CONVENIENT.

I promise I’ll keep blogging if you promise to keep reading and that especially goes out to my dedicated readers in Iowa, Germany, and South Korea. Oh and to the spammers in Latvia, cut it out. Until Next Time!

If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Reliving Marley: Show Weekend Memoirs

This week has been insane and life changing from start to finish, and I’m going to try and reconstruct it for all you awesome readers out there. I warn you, it’s a long one. So grab a nice drink and sit down in the cool breeze as I regal you with the craziness that is my life.

For those of you who don’t know: This weekend I premiered my very first original work, which I wrote and directed. I worked with amazing cast members: Ally Katselianos, Amina Camille, Fred Fleury, and Allyson Wilson. Amazing Stage Manager: Sarah Lahue. Mic the Boy Wonder on the Piano and Adam O’Dell, Marley’s Composer, who also flew in to help out with Show Week.

To enhance the dramaticness of my story, I suggest having the link to the law and order sound on standby.

To begin with, I needed a gun. Not just any gun: a realistic looking, non-firing, prop gun for Marley. Luckily I have amazing friends. I had been searching all around New York City, and even got desperate enough to look around New Jersey, for some sort of mock firearm. Believe it or not, guns of any type, real or fake, are hard to find in New York City. I reached out to my Technical Director friend Liz Blessing, who had graciously lent me things in the past (and also invited me over to her house for thanksgiving dinner), to see if she had a spare prop gun she was able to lend me for my show.

She replied almost instantly and came to my rescue saying she had just the gun for me. So I took the train down to her theatre and picked up the gun. It was as I was leaving, with the gun in my bag, that I thought: “Hmm… I hope the NYPD doesn't randomly search my bag, because I have a gun that looks very real…” I was so nervous I almost took a taxi to get home, but considering I was in SoHo that would have cost about $40... and I didn't have $40.

 "My heart stopped when I saw the cops get out of the train..."

So I timidly got on the subway. As I waited and rode, trying to act calm and casual, not a single cop got on the train. Life just bustled along at its own pace. But sure enough the last damn stop before mine, cops got on my train car. Instantly my nerves went on high alert and my palms started sweating. It was as if I was actually committing a crime of some sort. I tried my best to act calm as they cops lazily sauntered through the train. The train finally pulled into my station and I calmly, but quickly got up and out of the train. My heart stopped when I saw the cops get out of the train and come towards me. They made eye contact with me but just walked on by into the next train car. I must have been holding my breath because when I finally breathed out I felt like I was gasping for air, but then i just laughed and walked on up out of the train station and back to my apartment. Mission Complete.

Thursday was opening night. It was also our first day of Tech. We had 5 hours to tech before we opened. It was crazy, but we managed to pull it off.

We went to load in and were locked out of the theatre. I'm not sure if there was a mis-communication on our part or on the part of the festival’s artistic director and founder, Franco, part but our team ended up not being able to get into the theatre space until 45 min after the start time we thought we had. This gave my stage manager a headache because, since we only had 5 hours to tech, she had everything planned down to the minute, and we lost 45 of them.

Once we got into the space we worked hard at getting it ready. Now we had a game-plan as to what we wanted and where we wanted it, but Franco was made it hard on us by voicing his opinion and trying to force upon us his ideas for what we should do. This slowed us down and stressed all of us out.

Eventually we got set up, and we proceeded to do a run through. The run went so smoothly because my actors, stage manager, and piano player were perfect, professional, and on their game. We solved lots of questions, re-blocked a few entrances and exits, and fixed last minute problems. Because everyone was so talented we managed to finish with about a half hour to spare, which was good because dealing with Franco had been getting on everyone’s nerves. We took an hour to rest and then opened the show.  

To sum up the night: The show was fantastic.  The audience was blown away. The cast was psyched.

Because of the rules Franco had for us, we have to set up/strike our set before/after each performance. And this was a lot of work. As we were tearing down Franco told me, in front of the cast and crew, that he wanted to talk to me in private about the show and that everyone else should leave. This made the situation awkward for many reasons. So instead of asking my friends, whom I intended to hang out with, to leave. I had Franco take me to a side room to talk.

What he proceeded to tell me was one of the weirdest, most frustrating and unexpected feedback talks I had ever had. He told me straight up that my directing was bad and showed signs of immaturity. He told me that the music was phenomenal. He told me that my blocking was messy. He told me that Mic was phenomenal. He told me that while my writing was good, it wasn't great. He then proceeded to insult every one of my actors to my face. I don’t want to recount what he said about them because I have a policy about not posting uninformed bullshit on my blog. He then said that my play has a real potential to go on to the finals if I were just to change some things he wanted to change. HE wanted me to put it on stage, He wanted me to come in an hour early before the show on Saturday and design lights, and he said that it wouldn't effect my actors because its basically the same. (spoiler alert: Not the same)

"I was so shocked by what he said and how invalid his opinions were..."

He then dangled the competition prize money in front of my eyes. He said he thought if I changed my play and my direction to what he wanted, I would surly go to the finals and have a good shot at winning the prize money. Now me being me, I thought to myself “Fuck you, I’m not changing shit.” And just stared on politely. But it made me wonder how many others plays he changed by dangling the money in front of people because, as a broke artist who spent a lot of his own money on the show, the prize is damn tempting. But I didn't change a thing.

I was so shocked by what he said and how invalid his opinions were that I wasn't sure what to say. Couple that with my inability to be confrontational and I just basically stood there and took it.

It will probably the moments in my life I regret the most.  I wish I could have spoken my mind and said what I wanted to say. There are lots of things I wish I could have told him, but the fact is I didn't say a thing and I let my cast and crew down by not defending them....

Yes you read right, we didn't have a show on Friday. Because of Franco’s scheduling we did a show on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. It was awkward, but we dealt with it.

Saturday at 4 o’clock the cast, crew, and myself all met at a recording studio in midtown to record the show. I set us up an appointment with a professional so that we could have a CD of this production. We all ventured into one of the coolest recording studios I had ever been in: The Sweet Spot on 46th street between 9th and 10th. Mike was the owner and operator and he was one of the chilliest most professional guys, and I highly highly recommend him.

" the end we had some really good takes and Mike was blown away by the talent..."

We spent the next three hours in his studio singing songs, making jokes, getting stressed making mistakes, and recording our songs. Everyone was getting tired, but by the end we had some really good takes and Mike was blown away by the talent of our 4 singers, composer, and piano player repeatedly saying " You all are amazing. Wow.". The only thing I did that impressed him was get all that talent in the same room together. Ha.

After the recording session we headed straight up to the theatre to do our second show. I, personally, was not looking forward to seeing Franco at all because of how Thursday went, but I knew there was a show to do so I tried to be professional. When I got there Franco had some ideas for me. I was not having him so I just brushed him off.

The cast was tired because of the recording session, but you would never know it from the performances they gave, They had all improved from that last performance and put on a hell of a show.

The audiences loved it, and we went back to my apartment with the cast and we celebrated another successful show.

Sunday-day was great. I slept in, rested up, and walked around the neighborhood with the parents. It was a great day to just relax. Mom bought some turtles, which was really random, but whatever. I took a nap, Mic made us dinner. It was great.

Mic and I head over to the theatre after dinner and we arrived to find we are locked out…. One normal show, that’s all I wanted… just one…

We peek our heads in the window and discover that there are people on stage. Performing. Franco evidently booked his festival so full that there was a show right before ours. Had we been told this at, say, ANY TIME it would have been fine. But finding out the night of when we are planning to set up our stage is a tad bit annoying.

So we wait for their show to get done, and while we wait or stage manager Sarah and composer Adam arrive, and both become equally upset as we do. At this point all three of us were so over Franco that in honesty it barley fazes us.

"I didn't really feel anything at first, but as soon as I freed my hand from the light blood started gushing everywhere."

As soon as the show before us ends, we go in and start setting up for ours. Everything is going swimmingly, we are moving at a good speed, getting lots done. All well and good. Then I go to move a ground row lighting unit that is on a wheel cart thing. I go to push it and the entire lighting unit falls of the cart. Evidently it hadn’t been secured to anything, LIKE IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN FROM THE START. As it fell my hand got caught in it. I didn’t really feel anything at first, but as soon as I freed my hand from the light blood started gushing everywhere. At this point I am yelling profanities but I remain calm and walk to the bathroom, dripping all the way. I run the cuts under some water and try to apply pressure to the wound but the blood just keeps coming. I hurt myself badly and I could tell the bleeding wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. As I was trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding and see the show at the same time Sarah, the stage manager, looks me dead in the eyes and says “ Joey, I got this. You go to the hospital and get your hand fixed.” I stood there, blood dripping from my hand, and realized, yeah… In only the best of ways, I am not needed.

I left and hailed a cab, cause its cheaper than an ambulance, and went to the hospital. After waiting in the receiving room for 15 min I was seen by the nurse. They took my info and sent me to a back room. I am glossing over a lot of the story because the majority of the time I spent in the ER was just sitting, waiting, and bleeding.

I got to an examination room and a nurse named Mike came and got rid of the paper towels I had been using as bandages, that were completely soaked through with blood, and puts on some real bandages. After Mike leaves, the coolest ER doctor I have ever met, and I’ve obviously met a lot, walks in. His names is Lucius, and after we talk for awhile, he tells me he is from Haiti and moved here in the 80’s and has been practicing medicine in New York City for longer than I’ve been alive. He sticks my fingers with a numbing thing, and the needle hurts like hell because he sticks it right into the muscle tissue in the tips of my fingers. He says: “Its ok, feel free to yell.” And I do. Sorry grandma but my mouth was not pure at that moment. Then afterwards I look at my hand and notice I can’t feel a thing and comment “Doc, they look swollen.” And all he says “Of course, it’s because I stuck a needle in you.” And then laughs, I don’t know why but I found this really weird.

Anyways, Lucius and I talk. He tells me about the interesting people he has met, like the guy who, after getting stabbed, refused anesthetic or the 70+stitches he needed to get. Then I tell him my story: that a show I wrote was being performed right now and I was missing it by sitting in the ER. He tells me he loves theatre and that I need to get back as soon as possible. So he stitches up my fingers and tells nurse Mike to hurry up with the tetanus shot and then sends me on my way. As I am gathering up my stuff and looking over the paperwork on “How to care for your Laceration” he looks me dead in the eye and says: “ Get back to your show and enjoy it.” I shake his hand awkwardly with my left and scurry out the door into a cab.

As I was riding back to the show, hoping to get to see a few minuets of the final performance, Lucius words swept over me and suddenly I was overwhelmed with just how much has happened in so short a time. From first putting pen to paper in writing this show, to asking Adam to write the music for it, to flying Mic out here, to hiring Sarah, to casting, to rehearsing, to tech, to closing night. It all overwhelmed me and I nearly broke down and cried in the cab with how awesome the summer had been.

"...after all the stuff that happened in this fucking weekend, nothing more could happen right? WRONG."

Just as my emotional flashback journey was reaching its crescendo, the cab pulls up to the theatre, so I have to cut short the sequence and pay the cabbie. You think the journey is at its end right? That finally, after all the stuff that happened in this fucking weekend, nothing more could happen right? WRONG. As I walk up the path to the theatre, smile beaming, ready to catch the last few minutes of the show, I look up at the theatre door and there is a, and I'm not lying, goddamn SKUNK in front of the door. Like a black and white striped, Pepe-le-Pu, goddamn skunk sniffin its little nose around in front of the theatre. I freeze. I have no idea what the hell to do or how to get through the doors because... Its a skunk. In New York City. My only thought was “yes, me getting sprayed by a skunk is the perfect way to end this weekend.” But I think, “Fuck it. I want to see my goddamn show one last time and listen to those beautiful voices sing Adam's beautiful songs. So I walk straight up to the theatre and look right at the skunk who at this point has frozen and started staring me down. We stare for a solid 25 seconds, and then he slowly walks away. I watch him for a few seconds, and then go into the theatre to hear the beautiful sounds of the finale. I made it.

So that was my weekend. Crazy, stressful, painful, weird, and also life changing. I wrote a musical, produced it, and directed it. I don’t think I want to ever have to do all three at the same time again. But I really enjoy writing and directing, its the producing that takes it out of me. And believe it or not, today is the last day of my first year since being in New York. I’m going to get much more nostalgic in my next post, but I’ve officially been here for an entire year. Weird, right? Anyways, thanks for reading this epic post. Stay tuned for some exciting things coming round the bend! Until Next Time!

"Never, never, never give up."