Old Friends in NYC

•1 June 2011 • Leave a Comment

One of the most difficult parts of living so far away from South Dakota is the inevitable dissolution of friendships. Granted, this is all part of being an adult and moving on from college, but it’s even harder when I’m in a completely different part of the country. Despite this, living in New York has also allowed me to strengthen and maintain friendships in another way.

As a frequent travel destination for enterprising youths and family getaways, New York has attracted old chums and forgotten acquaintances from my past. My home has served as a halfway house for all sorts of visitors from across the country and world. With three roommates’ friends coming and going, we seem to have a guest at least once a month, if not more often. Frequently, these guests overlap and awkward introductions slowly give way to new friendships and great conversations.

Michelle, a friend from the days of high school mission trips, recently visited on her way to a summer job in The Hamptons. We had the pleasure of rekindling our friendship the previous summer when she came through NYC on the same journey. This year, when she got to the city, I was knee-deep in my busiest week of the year, but we were able to find time to share in our experiences over the past year and catch up with each other’s lives. One night, after a long day of adventuring, Michelle returned home and in talking about the day, the conversation eventually gave way to reminiscing about when we first met. We were completely different people back then—sharing in experiences that shaped us into the adults we are today, but our journeys took us in different ways. Her interest in coffee and visual arts took her in a journey that bounced all over the country, and those experiences continued to change her just as my adventure out East affected me. Despite the time that elapsed between our youthful friendship and now, our connection is still alive and familiar. What amazes me further, is that our reconnection likely wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t moved out to New York.

By living in this city, I’ve been able to host a number of old friends from college, high school and even further back. After each visit, I’m left feeling refreshed and enlightened knowing that my friends are enjoying rich and entertaining lives. Now, as I near two years of living in NYC, I’m beginning to realize how much larger my world has become. It’s hard to imagine that once my entire world was just a small neighborhood next to a field in the heartland, and now it’s become an expansive network of relationships spread across the country. With more South Dakotans planning adventures out to the Big Apple, that network is only going to grow, and I’m excited at the possibility of even more visitors coming to experience the adventures of this great city.

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Family

•20 April 2011 • Leave a Comment

As social animals we all have the joy and the curse of having a family. Now there are two types of families as far as I’m concerned: your inherited family and the one you choose. Both groups of people come with their intrinsic positives and negatives, but you rely on them nonetheless.

Living so far away from my relatives means that my chosen family plays a large role in my life. I have the family of roommates that, thankfully, blends into my family of friends. Astonishingly, I even have a South Dakota family in NYC, and we come together for dinners whenever possible. We go to shows and movies, work on productions and, more often than not, just sit around enjoying one another’s company. The best part of this familial bond is the lack of pretense and expectation. Pajamas and sweatpants are acceptable attire and every topic is up for discussion. Game nights are a major highlight as the excitement of Uno can lead to some deadly and dangerous alliances with catastrophic combinations of Draw Twos and Draw Fours.

But our family does more than just play together. Though a statistical impossibility, there is a actually a diverse group of South Dakotan theatre professionals working as stage, company and theatre managers, actors, set and costume designers, etc. While we come together personally, our professional relationships have also proven to be a unifying force. I’ve frequently collaborated with my fellow Midwesterners on a variety of productions. This, in turn, leads to meeting and working with other  companies who soon learn what happens when you meet one South Dakotan. When busy load-ins and strikes require multiple hands on deck, it’s easy to turn to the people you trust working with. Thus, Resonance EnsembleEPIC Theatre Ensemble, and The League of Professional Theatre Women have all employed the help of many South Dakotans on multiple shows. Through these relationships we’ve been able to expand our collective and individual working networks to include even more companies.

This collaboration has lent to an even more extensive and diverse family that every theatre person knows. As with any industry, those working together typically share common characteristics and interests. In theatre this is almost comically apparent; droves of liberal, free-spirited, booze-hounds with image issues work together every day–and those are just the actors! No matter the role one plays in a theatre company, each person has the shared ambition to create a piece of art that impacts others. This common interest forms a bond amongst the individuals that doesn’t happen in other professions. Despite our various personal backgrounds, the commonality of creativity forces us to work and interact for the greater benefit of the production. Like any family, there are disagreements and challenges, but our shared interest in the whole keeps us together. We celebrate the successes and and overcome difficulties like any family, and there are plenty of gay uncles for everyone!

Besides great entertainment, companionship and professional development, my families provide an invaluable support system. Though it sounds odd, it’s easy to feel alone in a city of millions when you only know a few. Combine that with the ebb and flow of homesickness, and depression can easily slip in. It’s those times when I rely on my families for comfort and advice. It’s those relationships that have taken me on my journey this far. These people with all their shenanigans and tomfoolery are my brothers in arms. We struggle to achieve a goal that we each set out on: to make a living doing theatre in NYC. Though we’re not as rugged as the pioneers who traversed the Oregon Trail (in real life), my companions and I are riding the wagon together on this Big City Adventure.

A Morning

•22 March 2011 • Leave a Comment

I snooze the alarm clock on my BlackBerry one more time knowing that I’ve just sacrificed five more minutes of shower time. With the comfort of knowing I took care of that yesterday, I go back to sleep for the precious few minutes I can. The claxon call of my alarm blares again, signaling me it really is time to get up.

After wasting a few more minutes trolling the net for the latest news I bound downstairs, grind up some coffee and start the pot then go back upstairs to get ready. I evaluate the need to shave on a day-to-day basis, but despite today’s self-imposed delays I hurriedly scrape the stubble away and rinse off my face as the coffee maker downstairs gurgles and sputters, marking the end of the brew cycle.

As I quickly enjoy my morning elixir, I evaluate my wardrobe options. Though my preferred style is a well-worn t-shirt and a trusty pair of jeans, work requires a certain level of class, so I opt for gray skinny pants, a black button-up and a red tie. At this point I usually realize I should have left five minutes ago, so I throw my things in bag and slam the rest of my coffee before finally heading out the door.

My usual morning path takes me past two laundromats and our bodega where I wave to Frank–the owner of Magic Laundry Service. I promise (and desperately need) to drop in soon and continue past the Irish potato famine cemetery before I reach 21st Street. Turning and walking towards Astoria Boulevard I look for an approaching bus. I see a Q100 and thank the MTA gods as I reach the bus stop and wait for the bus to pull up. With a second stroke of luck I manage to nab a seat and casually observe the passengers around me.

The bus ride is quick as we move past automotive repair shops, local diners and some warehouses, arriving at the 21st Street-Queensbridge station. This is one of the more “interesting” parts of the neighborhood. With the projects directly adjacent to the subway entrance, there are loads of entertaining people on the street corner every morning. Sometimes it’s just a lone daily newspaper salesman, but often there are loads of folding tables selling old paperback books and used magazines. On the other side of 21st Street lies a fried chicken joint and a “99c or more” store, both of which are frequent sites across NYC.

Descending into the subway station, I hear the rushing displacement of air and screech of metal on metal as the train approaches. I quickly swipe my MetroCard, clank through the turnstile and take the escalator steps two at time before squeezing between the closing doors of the subway car. Though the passengers around me are not pleased about my forced entry into cramped quarters, the angry people who didn’t get in are nothing but blurred faces as the train speeds into the darkness.

Following 20 minutes of rocking side to side the subway finally reaches 47th-50th Street, Rockefeller Center. I walk down the platform to the exit stairs and swerve through the flowing mass of people trying to reach various trains. As I come up the stairs, the sun shines down 47th Street casting severe shadows on the walls of a manmade cavern. Walking down the street toward Times Square, gasoline, roasted almonds and heavily perfumed ladies assault my nose. Approaching the threshold of 47th Street and 7th Avenue sounds of roaring traffic and thousands of conversations swirl into a conflux of noise and disorder. Maneuvering with grace, I slip among tourists and street vendors making my way past the TKTS booth, across Broadway and to the relative quiet of West 47th Street.

Again, realizing my delays, I power-walk past bankers, lawyers and interns making my way past the cigarette smoke of loading dock workers taking a break. With barely enough time to swing into Starbucks, I patiently wait for my drink while chatting with the baristas. Efficiency is key here, so the conversations are short, and my drink is ready before more than two minutes go by. I buzz into the stage door of The Friedman, laugh at the sassy greeting of Eleanor, the security guard, and open the door to the box office. With the morning commute behind me, I turn and face the window to welcome whatever encounters the city has in store for me today.

Keeping it Fresh

•10 February 2011 • Leave a Comment

In this age of changing social mores and emerging technology every person and business is in a constant state of renewal and reinvention. Corporations are rebranding in an effort to fit the present economic climate and PR teams across the business sector work tirelessly to bring their companies’ identities and mission statements in line with current trends.

So basically, the best way to get out of the mid-winter blues is reinvention, but what are the best methods of achieving this on a personal level? Overcoming the wind and exceedingly disgusting amounts of snow is difficult in itself, but Punxsutawney Phil has called for Old Man Winter’s exit—it’s just a matter of time. With the change of season a transition comes more naturally.

An easy way to reinvent oneself is as simple as getting a new haircut. Sure it might be a little impractical to cut my hair short in winter, but it can’t be as bad as starving myself in order to model during Fashion Week. Other simple methods are finding a few new (or rediscovered) clothes or finding somewhere new. Though these work for quick and easy improvements, the trick is encouraging more permanent and positive changes.

With the recent upset in the Astrological Signs, perhaps attention is best shifted to the Chinese Zodiac where the year has recently shifted to that of the rabbit. As my sign tells me, I’m prone to “…to seek new adventures,” so it’s only natural that I look for something different. Thankfully my return to work at MTC has brought a new show, and thus new people walk right into my life… or at least up to my window.

Perhaps one walk we should all be doing is the Egyptian. Never before in our generation have we seen an insurrection like that being demonstrated in Egypt. As the protest strengthens and President Hosni Mubarak foolishly refuses to leave the country, international support begins to favor the people of Egypt. But could the people of the United States ever unite in such strength?

Demonstrations continue frequently in Washington, D.C. and across the country, but nothing that rivals the call for democracy heard in Egypt. Our nation’s history remembers people who have called for change and marched down streets demanding action. The pulse of change thrums though the country now, but our complacency keeps us operating as zombies in a haze of news feeds and monotony.

Hopefully that spirit of revolt can break the fog and the Year of the Rabbit will be one of self-discovery and adventure. Now that the weather finally begins to warm, I can feel a new pace coming, and I’m excited for it, because before I know it that quarter-century celebration and the end of the world will be at my doorstep, and then I’ll really have something to worry about.

Coming home

•18 January 2011 • Leave a Comment

This entry originally appeare on The Post (www.thepostsd.com) on January 18, 2011.

My trip back to the Midwest was anything but dull as it raged from Minneapolis down through Brookings and into Sioux Falls where I spent the days watching Dexter with my mom and the nights having drinks with friends from far and near. After only a few days back on the streets of my childhood, old habits and familiar routines came back to mind. Most of the familiar sights went unchanged, but subtle differences between memory and reality cropped up the more I explored my former stomping grounds. Newly developed neighborhoods and streets appeared in former corn fields and O’Gorman’s new theater dominated the view as I drove over the hill on Kiwanis Avenue.

But more than just physical changes dotted the landscape of my youth. In my mind, Sioux Falls remained perpetually as it did when last I left, but time passed the same as it did in New York. Though moving at a somewhat different pace, Sioux Falls was changing and adapting to economic stresses and the 21st-century dynamic just like NYC. The smoking ban was among the most noticeable differences – especially walking through Jim’s Tap for the first time. Despite the overall triumph that resulted in that outcome, the election of the least-educated member of Congress broke my heart as much as my spirit. Despite my attempts at neutrality, I can’t help but bang my head against a wall when trying to contemplate how such a thing could possibly happen. Regardless of my disappointment, I accepted my position and only spoke of it when in safe company, which wasn’t entirely hard to find.

Despite the changes in the political realm, the people of Sioux Falls remained mostly unchanged. Aside from age’s subtle effects and the fading tans of summer, most of my friends appeared the same as always. For the most part, my conversations with old chums went as they always had. After a quick synopsis of the past year’s events by each party, discussions usually steered to familiar topics from back when. One theme that resonated amongst us all was the rate at which we all seemed to be spreading out from home base. Some friends would go unseen simply because they had no family drawing them back to the familiar haunts. The time I had amongst old friends passed quickly and after a few hours it was farewell until . . . whenever. That uncertainty of a future encounter is definitely the hardest part of saying goodbye to anyone. It’s hard to say who will be able to come back the next Christmas, or if that time will even overlap with others.

In addition to the pleasant encounters I shared with many people, there were a few “less-than-desirable” moments. I forgot what it was like to be a bleeding-heart liberal in a red state, but I was quickly reminded of it when listening to the idle discussions at the Hy-Vee checkout stand. One difficult realization came when I was chatting with some former classmates. As we bantered about New Year’s Eve plans and conversation shifted to what each of us was doing with our lives, a similar theme developed. Every person there was either engaged, married or expecting a child – in any order or combination of the three. I have the feeling my eyes gave me away as I thought in disbelief about how my priorities differed from these old school friends I once knew so well.

But, just as Sioux Falls and its inhabitants have evolved, so have I. These past 16 months in New York have changed and shaped me into a new person with a different perspective than the one I left behind. As the future unfolds and I continue to cement myself in NYC, the person I was will continue to transform and grow, but at my core I will always be a South Dakotan. The strength, resolve and determination instilled in me by the Midwest will continue to propel and motivate me as I conquer New York and make my way here. Though my home may be in a new place, I can’t forget where my journey started and the place that will always be home.

It was my second day working on Broadway…

•9 November 2010 • Leave a Comment

This entry originally appeared on The Post (www.thepostsd.com) on November 9, 2010.

. . . and all I can think about is how I’m going to leak out a toot in this tiny box office without anyone knowing. I wait and try to shift into a more comfortable position, but the pressure continues to build. At last my fellow treasurer leaves the office, and flatulant freedom is mine. Out of concern for the microphones I politely eke out my little fart. Relief. I relax a bit, sit down and then a wall of sulfur rushes me. Tears form in my eyes as I scramble for the hand sanitizer in hope that the ethyl alcohol’s powerful fragrance will mask the musk that threatens to give me away. With my coworker bound to return at any minute, I frantically unwrap two sticks of spearmint Orbit, toss them into my mouth and furiously chew to release the freshly scented counterattack against the foul odor looming in the box office. As the smell begins to dissipate keys jangle outside the office door, and I know I’m doomed. With a gust of air, the door swings open and wind rushes under the box office window as the peppermint/fart/hand sanitizer scented air rushes into the lobby past an old lady and out into the street. As the old biddy sniffs around in confusion, my panic subsides. The other box office person takes his seat and asks, “What’s that smell?” I point out the window at the elderly lady, and understanding hits my companion’s face, as I greet the woman at the window with a smile and a wink.

One year later

•6 October 2010 • Leave a Comment

This entry originally appeared on The Post (www.thepostsd.com) on October 6, 2010.

Sunday, September 19th officially marked the end of my first year in New York City. I’m amazed at how quickly the past twelve months have passed, but looking back on the year helps put everything in perspective.

Last year I was frantically packing my life into boxes and making the last few coffee and lunch appointments with friends. Since the latter was my priority, I was left with a few hours on the morning of my departure to throw as much stuff as I could into three suitcases, two backpacks and a laptop bag. With the last of my larger possessions and furniture bequeathed to friends and family, I crammed some haphazardly packed boxes and a laundry basket of prompt books and scripts into a storage unit where they’ve successfully collected dust for the past year.

Amazingly enough, I haven’t even lived in my own home for a year yet. When I arrived a year ago, I was unpleasantly surprised to find my future home in shambles. With gaping holes in the walls and floor, no amenities (toilets, sinks, etc.) and a bit of graffiti. After a week at a friend’s and a month in a cramped studio apartment I began to acquire new furniture and make a home for myself. My room is still pretty minimalist with just an end table, couch, coffee table and a small storage closet. Thankfully, I still have my 360 and a recently-traded-for Wii to keep me entertained on the days when I don’t want to venture out in the city. Despite my lack of material possessions,  I enjoy this “streamlined” life I hadn’t previously enjoyed.

Instead of focusing my energies on acquiring new possessions, the past year has been filled with seeing and participating in theatre. Before I moved to the NYC, I had previously seen six Broadway shows and two Broadway tours. After a year of living here, I’ve had the honor of seeing many more shows due to various perks and friends. In just 12 months that list has grown to include 22 shows with a 23rd coming in a couple of weeks. Each show was a unique experience that not only provided great entertainment, but also the chance to see great actors of our time in a more intimate setting. Some of the actors, like Patrick Stewart or Christopher Walken, were beyond belief on stage, but also very much like I had expected them to be. Regardless, it was a remarkable honor to see such venerated actors on the stage.

While it seems that I’ve spent a lot of time seeing theatre, I’ve also had the pleasure of working with a number of talented individuals on my own productions. From a musical about fat kids to a staging of Euripides’ earliest work I’ve enjoyed a full range of work this year as a stage manager. Each show brought its own unique challenges, but with every new show I had the opportunity to meet and work with some remarkable actors, directors and producers. Conversely, there were also plenty of hiccups along the way, but I was still afforded the opportunity to grow and learn through each difficulty. Some of the venues where the shows were performed had great amenities and were well-equipped for the needs of the show, while others leaked steam from the radiator or required the use of space heaters and winter coats. Regardless of the conditions, theatre happened and audiences came, the show closed, and life moved on.

So how does this year measure up? When I prepared for this journey last year, my major goals were to make out to NYC in one piece and survive enough to stay for a least a year. Now that my year is up, I have to say that I managed to do pretty well. I went through the hurdles of interning and landed a steady job and have begun to integrate into the professional theatre world. For my first year out of college, I have managed to accomplish a lot with a little. With another year of uncertainty ahead I look forward to these coming twelve months with anticipation. I’ve got a whole new season of Broadway shows to see and another year’s worth of shows to work on, and I’m starting it off by cracking open a copy of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I.