How did you start dancing?
I originally started dancing because my soccer coach suggested it to my mother when I was 6 or 7. I started taking performing arts class once a week at a ballet studio. I really enjoyed doing puppetry, acting, singing at the time. After about a year of that, my teacher recommended that I start taking more dance classes at the ballet studio, so I switched over and just focused on ballet, modern, and jazz. Then I started doing summer programs every summer. When I was in 7th grade, my mom asked me if I wanted to go to high school for dance, and at the time, I wanted anything that would’ve gotten me out of Athens [laughs]. So I went to a performing arts high school in Boston and then moved to New York to do theatre.
So your soccer coach suggested you should dance?
Yeah, that memory is a little hazy for me—but I guess from what I understand of the story is that I really enjoyed playing soccer, and the coach wanted me to take dance classes to help me improve in soccer. Both of my parents are academics who are very arts-oriented. My father was a musician, and my mother was a supporter of the arts. So they liked the idea of it. Slowly but surely, my mom made the executive decision that I was going to be a dancer and not a soccer player [laughs].
What was it like going to high school in Boston?
It was a lot of fun. That’s where I fell in love with big cities. I really liked Boston a lot. It was very different from what I had experienced in the South. I traveled around a little bit going to summer programs—so I had been away from home—but I really loved it. High school was still high school, so it was terrible [laughs]—but at the same time, it was a really great time in my life to focus on my art. My mom didn’t really think I’d do really well academically in a public school setting. I had been pulled out of public school to attend a Montessori school, so she really wanted me to go and pursue dance. I loved that. School was hard, but I really liked being able to focus most of my day on dancing. I remember setting up our block schedule so that I’d only have academic classes in the early morning, take a really long lunch break, and instead of having academic classes in the afternoon, I’d reserve that time to be in the studio about an hour before arts class would start and warm up before class. I really liked it. It still came with the emotional baggage of high school, but it was really a place for me to flourish a little bit as an artist.
The school really tried to push everyone to go to college, because they wanted everyone to have something to fall back on. But I had spent 4 years in a conservatory setting, and I wanted to go into a professional ballet company, so I didn’t really audition for colleges. I mostly focused on auditioning for companies, but I wasn’t getting kept at any of them. They were clearly keeping tall, male dancers. At that time, I decided that if my height was going to play such a pivotal role on whether or not I actually got into a company, I needed to make a career change. So I moved to New York, and I’ve been living here since then.
When did you first move to New York?
September 2009. It took me about a year before I booked my first show. I was pretty timid about going to auditions. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Now I feel much more educated on what to expect from auditions. It’s my everyday thing now.
What did you have to do to survive until you booked your first show?
I was just working. I moved to New York with about $2,000—the money I had saved up working at Hollister and delivering pizza while I was home—and that was gone in about a month. I was very lucky to come to New York with a job. I was with Abercrombie as a “model”— basically a floor salesperson. I had already been working for them in high school, and then when I moved to New York, I started working at Abercrombie at South Seaport. In about two months, one of the night managers saw that I was kind of OCD and was really good at folding clothes, so the manager asked me to switch over to working nights. I would get a pay bump, and that sounded nice to me at the time. I was working nights usually starting at 9pm or 10pm until anywhere between 1am and and 5am. I thought that it would really open up time for me to audition during the day, which it did, but unfortunately I ended up sleeping most of the time through the day. It’s really hard to get home at 3:30 in the morning and then try to go to a 9am call. I did that for about a year.
I booked my first job, and I went away on a non-eq Music Man tour. I came back, and I only worked nights for about two more weeks until I had another job. That was the end of working night shifts for me. I did that time in my life, and I’ve moved on since then. I think my sleep pattern has been trying to recover ever since [laughs].
At the time, I didn’t really think about it. I had never done musical theatre before. I didn’t know how often you actually got to work. My goal was just to get to New York City, and I accomplished that. My next one was getting a job. After a few years, I looked back, and I was like, “Wow, I was in New York from September 2009 to December 2010 without a performing gig. I have been very lucky that I haven’t gone that long without booking another job since then. If I were to go another year without booking a job, that’s when I would really start to feel the stress on my career goals. I am just really happy if I am working. Obviously, in between shows is really hard, because trying to scrape by in New York is rough.
When I went away, my ballet teacher—my other mother—told my mom to not do anything with my room because I’d be moving back home. My mother didn’t think that was going to happen. I am very happy to find out that my mom had enough confidence in me to know that once I was here, I didn’t have any plans of ever going back home. This is where I want to live. I’ll do pretty much anything to stay here. There were certainly moments I could have gone home. There were definitely times that I thought about it. When rent is due and I don’t know how I am going to pay it, there were times I thought about moving back home. But I try not to think about stuff like that. I am happy where I am. I am just waiting for a big break to make living here easier. I know it will pay off eventually.
You’ve recently gotten your equity card. What was that process like?
I’ve been working as a non-equity member slowly accumulating my points. You have to earn 50 points at a point a week. I felt like I had done my time working a non-eq circuit. It wasn’t that I was against it, but I wanted more for my work. I wanted to work at bigger theatres. So I basically only started going to equity auditions just because that’s what I wanted to do. I was ready to join and wanted to put in my 50 weeks so that I could get the card. It wasn’t like I was fresh out of school and got a big equity contract with a regional theatre—I’ve done many shows. I have a resume built up, and I think I was ready to take the step and still get work.
When I got back to New York, I was coming back with a big audition calendar already set up, and I was wanting to audition as an equity member. I went to audition for Hamilton the next day. Right as I was walking in, they closed the non-eq list. I went to Equity to see if I could get my card. If they had gotten my last contract, I could just pay the fee and get my temporary card. But they hadn’t gotten that, so I went back to Queens to get my contract, came back, and got my temporary card.
And then I went upstairs and auditioned for something else. I got cut [laughs]. But it felt really good to go upstairs and know that I had reached a goal where I don’t have to wait and hope that I get seen. As a guy in our industry, we’re almost always going to be seen as non-eq members. So it was never really an issue, but it meant that I had to basically take the whole day off to plan around it. Even if the audition is at 10, I might not get seen until noon or later. And then if I get a callback to stay and sing, now as an equity member, I can sign up in advance and know that I am going to be seen no matter what if I show up with my card—unless they close the audition. Now I can plan my day a little better. I can still go to work after. I don’t have to take the whole day off anymore.
It seems like you’ve been continuously reaching goals that you’ve set.
Yeah, that’s always nice. Thank you for reminding me of that [laughs]. Today was my 5th audition since I got back last Monday. Getting turned down today was hard on my ego. It was something that everyone told me I was right for. So then to be cut is—you can’t help it but take it personally. Obviously, I don’t hold it against anyone in the room, but it’s one of those things. I hold myself to a standard, and when I am told that I am not good enough, it really kinda hurts me. At first it’s very depressing to come home and put my bag down and think about what I am going to do with my day. I try to take that and fuel that into my next audition. Right now, money’s really tight, and I am freaking out about it, but it’s hardly the first time this has happened. At least 4-5 times a year I freak out about how I am going to pay for everything. I always seem to figure it out.
What keeps you going?
Love for art. When it comes to a survival job, I have to go where the money is. With theatre, it’s different. Obviously, I would love to be making more, but as long as I am working, I am pretty happy. I like dancing. I like performing. That’s when I feel most fulfilled and the high that I am chasing. So I think that’s what keeps me going. I want to be creative. I want to someday work on a new show and make my own art. It’s all the times that I am on stage and I am like, I can’t believe that people pay me to do this. That’s what keeps me going. Getting to do something that continuously blows me away as a job.
Number one advice?
Work harder. Whenever I look back at my younger self, I always notice so many opportunities that just passed me by because I was riding on only natural talent as a dancer to get the job, go to school, or get the part that I wanted. I’d like to think that I am a hard worker now, but I am constantly reassessing it and realizing that there’s always room for improvement. I think if there’s something I could’ve told my 19 or 20 year old self when I moved here, it would’ve been, “You can work harder.”
My first few years spent in New York were basically my college years, and I think I was indulging in being alone for the first time and being in control of my own life. If I had the knowledge that I have today of what a professional career takes, I would have approached my life and work a lot differently. I was very lucky to be a part of a Broadway-bound show. And at the time, I didn’t ever think about the professional relationships with the creative team and the people that worked at the theatre. If I could go back, I would have acted completely differently. I was just young, immature, and stupid. I think I made a bad impression, and it’s something I have regretted ever since then. I think I could’ve done a lot better. It has taken me years to really realize that, so now I try to approach every job with more professionalism. I still like to keep it fun—because I have always been a class clown, but I make sure that I show up to work on time and that I am not a distraction in the room while people are rehearsing.
That one show is something that I always look back to. I really enjoyed the show. It was an amazing experience. If I hadn’t made a fool of myself as a professional, I could maybe be ahead of where I am today. It was my second musical I had ever been in. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea how to prepare for it. In the whole rehearsal, tech, and run of the show, I made a bad impression of myself, and I just carried that with me into the room when I auditioned for the Broadway cast. At the time, I was really upset that I didn’t get it, but ever since then, I looked back and thought, “What could I have expected?” I didn’t know this at the time, but I was really stupid.
It’s a tough lesson, but you’ve learned from it and have improved from that.
Is there any last thing you want to share with the world?
I think being an artist can be one of the most rewarding careers in the world. But at the same time it can be very depressing. Especially in performing arts, we’re always striving for the yes, but you are going to get a lot more no’s than yes’s. But to be making art is extremely rewarding. It’s such a weird, abstract thing. We’re not working at a desk; we’re not building a tangible thing; but that doesn’t make us any less useful to society. People need entertainment, and we provide that. It still blows me away that people pay me to do this.