When I was little, around 5 years old, I came up to New York City for the first time from Asheville, North Carolina, with my family. We were visiting my godfather, who worked at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Times Square. Lucky for us, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade route passed by his job, and I was granted a special seat right by the window overlooking all the action. I still remember the feeling of my little nose pressed up against the glass when the giant Snoopy floated by, and thinking "this city is magic."
Seventeen years later, I had been acting throughout college, and called up my godfather. I told him I wanted a change from the small town life. I decided to come to NYC, the home of one of my favorite childhood memories, to pursue a career in the theater. I couch-surfed with my godfather for two weeks and before I knew it, I had my first gig in the little-known, longest-running show in New York City history, an off-off-Broadway play, Line, which has been going for about 42 years.
I also have a theater troupe in Riverside Park on the Upper West Side, which performs free Shakespeare for anyone who cares to stop and listen. At the same time, I'm working as a bag checker for some of the most iconic Broadway Theaters!
On any given night of the week, you might find me at the Palace Theater greeting little girls in ballet slippers who've come to see An American In Paris, or smiling at long-time theatergoers who've come to see the first Broadway revival of CATS at the Neil Simon and make new memories. Alternately, on some nights, I'm welcoming first time Broadway attendees at The Minskoff Theater, home to The Lion King.
Tonight, I'm checking bags at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, for visitors here to see Waitress. The most beautiful moment I've witnessed in my role here was when one night, audience members were welcomed to fill out cards and share their thoughts on the show. A woman came forward who shared that she had suffered domestic abuse in a relationship, and that the show had inspired her to seek help.
I think that's amazing, how a Broadway show can deal with a dark topic, in a lighthearted manner, while serving pies, and make a serious difference in the world.
My advice for travelers to NYC is this: Enjoy the feeling of awe that comes over you at first, like when I was little and the parade floats were bobbing by, but also treat it like a small town. Make a small group of friends and set incremental goals towards your dreams. Oh, and try bag-checking on Broadway, you'll meet some truly unique, wonderful people!