How did you start dancing?
I started dancing because of my older sister. It was very much like Mike from A Chorus Line. You should know that when I was younger, I was unhealthily obsessed with her. She’s still my best friend, but she was my idol when I was growing up—to the point where I would wear a blanket over my head with a hair tie because she wore a ponytail, so I would wear a ponytail... Anything she did I had to do. She played soccer, and I played soccer. She did theatre, and I did theatre. She danced, so I had to dance. I’d be in the back corner literally doing all the steps with her and her classmates. My mom noticed it and thought to put me in some kind of dance training. I started when I was 7.
Was that out of jealousy? [laughs]
It was out of admiration! Complete admiration for her. She’s just the coolest person. Always has been a big support system for me. So when I was younger, I wanted to do anything and everything to be like her.
What does she do now?
She’s a pharmacist. Very different path than I took [laughs].
How did you grow as a dancer from there?
It was a roundabout path to get here. I grew up as a competition dancer and did theatre in school. In high school, I focused a lot more on dancing than theatre. I realized how much I needed dance in my life in high school as a crutch and as a way to express myself. My senior year of high school I got back into community theatre. A bunch of my friends were auditioning for a local production of Hairspray, and they forced me to go. I got cast as one of “The Nicest Kids in Town”, and it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. I got the bug that summer. And then that fall, I started college at NYU, and I still had no aspiration to be a professional dancer. I knew I wanted to do something around entertainment, but I didn’t know where it was.
When I was at NYU, I got a call from my high school theatre director—I did theatre the last two years of high school with him. He asked me to choreograph their upcoming production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. When I was little, I was the kind of kid to be in my basement for hours upon hours choreographing and re-directing shows. When I was 8, I completely re-blocked and choreographed “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” from The King and I because I didn’t like the way my choreographer did it back then. I was 8 and had this whole vision with props and everything.
It was just so clear back then that I should do something artistic when I grew up, especially on the other side of the table. When I got that call from my director, everything clicked. I realized that I put that dream—I spent years and years down in my basement doing that—on hold and forgot about it. And then everything made sense once I got that job. I started realizing that maybe I can do this as a profession and get paid for it. It was my first paycheck from any theatre-related job.
Once that was over, I got bored, so I started auditioning for random shows that were coming up. I figured why not give it a go. So the first audition I went to was the West Side Story National Tour. I was petrified and still not set on doing it as a living. I was still only doing community theater back home. Once I got over the anxiety of the audition and figured out that I could actually handle myself in that kind of situation, I realized I could stick it out.
When did you audition for West Side?
That audition was at the end of my freshmen year. I didn’t get it. It was a first of many auditions I didn’t get. But I used auditioning as training. I didn’t go to a conservatory for school, despite that being the popular belief when I was at NYU because I was so involved in all the theatre stuff. I actually went to the Gallatin school, which is for individualized study. Instead of declaring a traditional major, you create your own using all the different courses and areas of study that NYU has to offer. So I mainly focused on entertainment and theatre, more so on the production side. I was able to do acting training and voice training through different programs there, and I used auditioning as a litmus test for where I was. I remember after I had gotten through the West Side Story audition, the next 10 auditions I never got asked to sing. But once I settled into it a little more and got comfortable dancing in front of creative teams, they called me back to sing, and I soon realized I need more than just “16 Going On 17” in my binder. I needed an actual rep of songs and a book. I also learned very quickly I needed to take voice lessons. Gradually getting to each step in the audition process helped me realize where I was in my training and acted as a good ruler or test for what I needed to work on.
Instead of learning from a theatre program, you learned your way through auditions.
Totally. I spent two and a half years of solid auditioning. I got some callbacks, but I actually stopped when I started to get work. I told myself to stop and finish school first; it was important for me to finish. I loved what I was doing at school, and I didn’t feel like I was done with it.
However, I did go through a period where I felt like I wanted to leave school because some of my best friends booked work and left for some really exciting jobs. And granted, I was auditioning for fun and auditioning for experience, but when you’re young, you still have that mindset of “they’re doing it, so I should be doing it.” But I realized that wasn’t my path. I gained solace in that my junior year of college. I realized it’s okay to finish it out, and I’m happy I finished.
What happened after?
I immediately started working, which was nice. I finished class on a Tuesday night—took the last course of my senior year, handed in my last paper, moved out of my apartment that same night, and Wednesday morning I drove up to the Finger Lakes to start West Side Story. Luckily I’ve been working ever since, and it hasn’t stopped.
What are you up to now?
Right now, I am between jobs, which is good because I am figuring out what I like to do other than being in a job. My career is so important to me and I love it so much, but you throw your all into it, so I’m trying to figure out what else I like so that on the days that get really hard, I have something else. But right now, I don’t know what that “else” is or if I am ever going to find it. I like that I enjoy doing both performance work and choreography. When audition days are really tough, I get to go to a studio with my friends and create something and use that side of my brain. As much as the two are linked, they are separate for me. But yeah, right now it’s about figuring out what I like doing.
What are your aspirations?
I definitely want to continue performing, hopefully on Broadway eventually. I want to base myself in New York and be a part of the community here. I wouldn’t be surprised if I stopped performing within the next four to five years, though because I do want to move to the other side of the table, and start directing and choreographing professionally. I’ve been lucky to have had that experience a couple times. It’s been a thrill. It’s as much a dream come true as performing is for me. There’s something about creating that I really love.
How was working for A Bronx Tale?
It was crazy. It was the most fun and the hardest professional experience I’ve had to date. I was a swing for it. Swinging is no game—it’s the biggest challenge I’ve ever had but also the most rewarding. I actually never went on during the show. I was told from people who had swung before that the payoff is when you get to go on, so as much as it stunk that I didn’t get to go on, the experience was so great that I was so content and still got so much out of it.
Our creative team was insane for that show. Being a swing, we were next to them so much. We had our own table during the rehearsal process and tech that was right next to theirs. So to hear someone like Jerry Zaks or Sergio Trujillo, who have made such strides in their career and have such a mark on theater and the community, figure out a problem and talk about it and to be able to hear how they deal with situations was a master class for me. And it was fascinating to try to get into their brain as a swing—because you have to see the whole picture. You’re not focusing on yourself and your one track. You’re focusing on the entire show and how you can fit into that show. Also, A Bronx Tale was really music heavy. I covered a Doo-Wop group, so everything was in four part harmony, and I had to learn all the harmonies for the entire show. I never had to do that before, and it was crazy, but it taught me a lot about musicality and theory.
It really was a two and a half month master class on every side of the business. Everyone, cast and creative, led by example. During the entire process, everyone in that room was always at 110%, whether it was from 10am to 6pm or the entire tech day. To see that work ethic was really exemplary for me. To see the creative team work together was a gift, especially this early on in my career. It was a dream.
I didn’t realize you only graduated last year.
Yeah, it was very recent. I’ve been one of the youngest, if not the youngest, in every cast so far. Almost all of them.
What’s it like to often be the youngest one in the cast?
People sometimes don’t realize I am this young, but people have taken me under their wing a little bit, which has been really nice. In A Bronx Tale and a bunch of other projects, people have set really good examples for me and have offered me tips. For example, one of the girls I did a Christmas gig with, Sara Andreas, had swung Catch Me If You Can on Broadway and a bunch of other shows. She offered me advice right before I started the job—just little things here and there to help, but she was very candid with me about the position. To have gracious people like that, whose careers I hope to emulate and who have been really successful, has been the best thing about being the young one in the cast. I’ve been lucky enough to be around seasoned professionals.
Probably dates back to high school. I went to an all boys catholic school in Staten Island, and that’s not the easiest place to be a male dancer. But those were really formative years for me because I got picked on, but those were the years when I realized how much I loved dance and how necessary it is for me, for my brain, and for my heart.
Freshman and sophomore year I was really self conscious about it. Anyone would bring it up and that heat came over me—I got so self conscious and wanted to crawl out of my skin a little bit. But junior and senior year, everyone knew. If people said stuff, I didn’t care anymore, and people started respecting me for it.
It’s been cool to see people reach out since I’ve started doing it professionally and have gotten to do some things that people have taken notice of—not that it’s any kind of validation. I didn’t look for the validation or need it. But it’s funny because you stick to your guns a little bit, and people respect you. It’s something I learned through those years. It also taught me how I can never give it up, which I am really thankful for.
As much as it sucked at the time, I am really happy that I went through that stuff. I mean, kids can be mean. My mom asked if I was sure I wanted to continue dancing in high school. I said, “Yeah, I am in.” Granted, at times it got harder and harder, and I considered quitting. That’s actually why I initially didn’t do theatre at school. I didn’t want to give people another reason to pick on me. When the director learned that I danced, he was like, “What’s up with you? Why are you not in my show? You need to come audition for my show. You have to.”
I am so happy because I met so many friends there that I am still close to. It was a very gradual progression to get back into it and realize I am going to do it professionally, but those years really taught me about passion—what it means to have a passion and own it. The lack of confidence I might have had gave me somewhere to go and to build it up and figure out who I really was. To own who you are at 16 is so hard. It’s hard at any age, let alone a 16 year old having to defend himself and what he loves to do. But it teaches you a lot.
Advice from your experience?
Brett Smock, who runs the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival, told me something that I think is so smart. Basically, “Don’t rip out opportunities from in front of yourself because you think your life has to go a certain way.” Personally, I am someone who likes to plan—not micromanage, but I like to write my biography and story before it happens. I am the kind of person who gets a callback email, and I immediately plan out my next year [laughs]. That’s the part of the excitement of this industry, but if something surprises you and comes your way, you should be open to it rather than saying “XYZ should’ve happened first, so I am not going to do that.” You can’t hold yourself back just because you think your story is suppose to go a certain way.
One of them is my first experience as a director and a choreographer. It was the culmination of my college life and the life long dream I spoke about earlier. I directed and choreographed Catch Me If You Can at NYU. We started with minimal funds. We had no idea how the hell we were going to pull it off. It was stressful, I probably got an ulcer and lost a little hair because of it [laughs]. But I am so thankful that I had the creative team I did, because by the time we got to casting and in the room, I settled into it, and I said, “Now we can have fun.”
That whole experience—collaborating with a really good group of people with positive energy—that’s what every single person who worked on it brought. I’ve had other experiences like that. West Side Story at Finger Lakes was exactly like that. Everyone just wanted to be there at all times. There was no ego in the room. You just brought yourself and what you love to do, and it was all about the work. Catch Me If You Can was all about the work. Everyone wanted to make it the best show possible. I’ve never had a reaction to a show like I did watching my own work on stage, especially in such a big way. We did it in a 860 seat theatre downtown. It was the most visceral reaction I’ve ever had watching a show. I’ve never felt something pay off as much as that did.
Is there any last thing you want to share with the world?
Be nice to people, not just in theater but in any profession and in any area of life. We are all here, auditioning in New York, because we have some level of talent. You are in the room because you want to be and because at some point, someone has said or you have said to yourself that you can do it. So what else sets you apart then? And I’m not talking about being nice to people to get a job. You shouldn’t be nice to people for any kind of ramification other than putting it out to the universe to foster something more positive.
It’s easy to be negative and easy to complain. It’s easy to find what’s wrong with the situation. But it’s so much easier just to be nice to people. It changes the room. It changes the show. It changes everything when you put out a positive energy. It’s not like we’re in film where we can watch the movie we created. We’re not working towards that. We’re working towards the intangible experience of theatre. What do we take from it? We take the relationships with people and the experiences that we’ve had. If you’re not adding something positive to that, then there’s no use in you being here. There’s no use in going to work everyday if you’re not loving it and putting in something positive for yourself and those around you.