how do you measure a year in the life?

I am very, very lucky to not only have a job that I love, but a job that allows me to have some SUPER cool opportunities. I truly don’t take for granted the things I’ve been able to do and experience and the “perks” that come from being in this industry, from interviews to meet & greets to parties to anything in between. But sometimes, there are things that happen that rank higher than the rest for specific reasons, and not even because they’re the culmination of professional lofty goals (you know, like the “dream big” goals I have of one day interviewing my favorite A-listers and Avengers. Or sitting in Scarlett Johansson’s trailer. One day.)

Last Friday, I spent the day covering the first ever BroadwayCon with my co-worker. Our main assignments were to cover the Hamilton panel (which was amazing) and the 20th anniversary Rent panel, which included about half of the original cast members as well as the original choreographer, Jon Larson’s sister, and some of the original creative team. About halfway through the Rent panel, I received an email from the PR person I was working with saying they had a request that someone at our company wanted to interview the cast, and they could definitely make it happen, and were we interested?

Full disclosure: this moment almost didn’t happen. I had been out all day writing and reporting, and these cons, even when you’re not working them, take a lot out of you. So when you’re actually working, and putting all that excitement and mental energy towards making sure that you’re not screwing up hastily written quotes while being under pressure and taking pictures and live-tweeting…it’s a lot. By the time I got the email, at 8:30 at night, I had been around and working since early morning. And honestly, my brain was already in the mindset of craving relaxation, so all I wanted to do was go home and sit on Tumblr and de-stress — not stay around until 10pm for what might be five minutes of face time. (To be fair, this was also when I thought I was coming back the next day, which didn’t end up happening because of the blizzard.) I know it sounds superficial and first world problem-ish, but it’s the nature of a job that seems so perfect on the outside. For every awesome magazine cover story and video and set visit that someone sees, there’s tons and tons of personal time that goes into putting it out there, especially when you’re trying to balance all your other job responsibilities and things like transcribing, writing, researching. And since all of it is time sensitive, and it’s very easy to get caught up and just feel like you want a break, and lose sight of what’s considered “cool” and what’s considered overextending yourself. So you understand why I was a little “eh” despite the situation.

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The actual panel, which was amazingly touching and reflective.

I am so, so glad I decided to go for it.

Let’s back up a second, because I need to at least attempt to accurately describe what Rent means to me, the effect it had on me, the influence it had on me, the path of my life that it helped shape. Beyond my 100+ show count over 6-7 years (yes, my anal retentive self kept spreadsheets of all the casts that I saw and the dates, so I do know how many times I’ve seen it), Rent provided me with most of my best friends, some of whom I’ve now known for over 10 years (and who I’ve attended or been in weddings of, and gone to babies’ first birthdays of.) It was because of Rent I visited New York in the first place, falling in love with the city after I realized I could travel on my own freshman year of college without telling my parents. I was always afraid to be more independent — I acted out in quieter ways — and Rent helped me become independent and self-sufficient at the right time. Rent gave me an opening on my resume, thanks to the cast member I befriended who became a close friend, who in turn let me start a website for her that included self-teaching my brain HTML. While most people discovered their early twenties through college parties and by doing things that really, really shouldn’t be disclosed here, I discovered that all of that stuff through traveling to NYC once or twice a month, by going to birthday parties and gigs of cast members where, hey, no one cared that you were underage! (Or, uh, that you were being given drugs afterwards.) Going to see Rent, then going out with the friends I had made through that show to bars that no longer exist, and sometimes making bad decisions but ultimately living and having fun.

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An early photo from 2002, before the walls got entirely filled with graffiti and it became all scaffolding.

That green theatre, on that block that was dumpy and barely built up before it became the glitzy stretch of 41st Street it is today, became my home in so many ways. The lottery boys became some of my good friends who I would see outside of the show; more importantly, they were guys that beyond their tough Bronx exterior would have been there to take care of me if I ever needed help. The house staff became familiar and, sure, you can sneak in during the second act to see a swing’s Maureen, we won’t tell. There was a reason why, when I lucked out enough to attend the final Broadway performance with literally every friend I had made over the years, I cried my eyes out — because I wasn’t just losing a show that had helped me find myself. I was losing a second home. (Literally. That theatre would never be the same.)

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Somewhere, my signature is in there…

 

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Final performance bows in 2008. Let’s not talk about my tears.

So, given all that, you can imagine how surreal it felt when I arrived at the autograph room where I was to be conducting my interview, where I was then was brought to the front row of chairs and instructed to essentially sit in front of an entire panel of people who were responsible for being a part something that changed my life. I was then told I had at least ten minutes to talk to them. Just me, and only me. I’m kind of glad I was too overtired and exhausted to really let myself realize what this opportunity was, because if I had prepared for it more, I probably would’ve psyched myself out completely.

To say that those ten minutes were some of the most insane moments of my life would be an understatement. I thought it would be more overwhelming, but it was one of the easiest interview experiences ever. And when I was listening to the recording so I could transcribe it for my story, I was taken aback at how genuine each response was, how emotionally charged each story was, how amazingly grateful these people felt about their experience. It seems silly sometimes, to say that a show or a musical or an actor changed your life. But when you see things like this, from the other side of the spectrum, you realize that you’re not alone (ha — see what I did there?) You see that sometimes, people who create the art that means so much to you are just as grateful and blown away by what it’s brought them in life, the same way that you are. I think I babbled (correction: I know I babbled) about what it meant for me to sit in front of all of them and talk to them about this, but every word of it was true. I wouldn’t be here today in my profession, let alone in New York, if it wasn’t for Rent.

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It was 11pm at night and I’m in my Hamilton shirt. Oh, and my boots had broken. And I don’t care – life goal accomplished. (Can you tell by my face?)

It’s funny to me sometimes that most of the perks I’ve gotten through this job are things I never would have thought I’d get, given the industry. I’ve had more opportunities in theatre than in any other medium that I cover — I went to an opening night AND an afterparty, I covered the Tony Awards, I interviewed decently well known theatre people. All the thing that Young!Me would’ve absolutely DREAMED of doing one day, but it wasn’t anything I ever expected to do, not in the same way I would hope, “well, maybe I’ll go on a TV/movie set visit, maybe I’ll interview [insert actor’s name here], maybe I’ll go a screening or a premiere.” Maybe that’s the point — maybe if you just take life as it comes at you and try not to expect everything, you get handed your dreams in the most surreal way.

If someone had told 18-year-old Andrea, who at that time was sitting in a college dorm room with her roommate watching bootleg video tapes of Rent performances from 1996 and 1997, that, “hey, maybe in another 15 years or so, you’re going to have a chance to meet these people who you’re currently wishing you had a chance to see,” she would have laughed. A lot. But life comes full circle in the most insane ways, and sometimes you just have to take a step back and think about where you are, and where you started. And forget regret.

yay, hamlet!

Yesterday, I was in “the room where it happened.”

I originally had plans to see Star Wars Thursday night with my friends (along with Friday, let’s be real, but if I was going to avoid spoilers, Thursday was the day to go. Even though I work in a job where it’s impossible to not be spoiled for big things.) Hamilton is probably the one thing in the world I would give up my Star Wars plans for, so when a good friend who was visiting New York for the week texted me and said she had an extra ticket, I have never responded so fast in my life.

I wish I could accurately describe all the emotions I felt over those 2+ hours, because Hamilton was a defining theatre experience.

That feels like a strange thing for me to say. Even though I didn’t get to a real show until I was 18, when I moved away to college and visited New York by myself for the first time, Broadway has been a part of my life for ages. And because of that, I’ve been to a lot of shows over the years, and have had a LOT of intense, insane, enlightening theatre moments. I mean, hell, I went to the last and final show of Rent on Broadway — a show that changed my life, that I saw over one hundred times and made lifelong friends through, a show that meant the world to me and helped me grow into an actual person. I’ve seen amazing plays and emotional performances that have left me gutted and thinking for days. The very last closing performance of Pirate Queen was a magical afternoon that I’ll never forget. Phantom of the Opera was the show that I first became obsessed with, the show that got me into Broadway in the first place, and when I finally saw it live, I cried from the balcony. Alan Cummings in Cabaret was something everyone should experience once in their life. I could go on and on and on.

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I know people (including a friend of the friend I went with) who didn’t want to listen to the music before they saw the show. I’m not one of those people, but even though I knew every note, every lyric, and everything that would happen, I didn’t actually KNOW the show. I didn’t know the staging, I didn’t listen to it thinking “this lines up with this,” etc. Seeing this show live was 100 times more powerful, and it was nothing like listening to the soundtrack, but in a good way. Certain songs like “The Room Where It Happened” and “Wait For It” and “What’d I Miss?” Those should only be experienced live. You think “Quiet Uptown” and “That Would Be Enough” are bad when you hear them on your iPod? Seeing it in front of your eyes is so much more of a gut punch. There’s a magic to live theatre being, well, live theatre. There’s an energy and the intensity that the audience is fed from the stage that you just can’t get anywhere else. That’s partially why I fell head over heels into Rent the first time I saw it live, after listening to it and watching bootlegs incessantly: no matter how much you hear something, seeing it is different. And Hamilton is probably the only other show aside from Rent (for me) that’s proof of something being that much more astounding on stage. Because you SEE things, like the choreography of “Yorktown”, and the staging of “A Winter’s Ball/Helpless/Satisfied.” Things like Jefferson’s LITERAL mic drop during the rap battle, Burr’s face when he realizes Alex chose to endorse Jefferson, Eliza’s emotion during “Burnt”, ANYTHING that Groff did with King George, from facial expressions to small over-the-top movements. You HEAR things, like Eliza’s scream when her son is shot, and the gasp at the end when she realizes, yes, she’s told Alex’s story and become the narrative.

My friends would constantly make cheeky jokes about A.Ham being the idiot who can’t shut up, and I got it, but after seeing Lin perform? Oh yeah, I GOT it. I had always loved Daveed Diggs and Jefferson (how can you not?) but I fell in love a thousand times more. Same with Leslie Odom Jr., who deserves every Tony Award. I always cry during certain songs, but I felt for Eliza and Angelica and freaking George Washington (god bless Chris Jackson) in a way I didn’t expect. I sat in rapt attention for the entire 2+ hours, completely blown away by everything I was seeing.

I would see this show a thousand times, if I could. It’s the type of show I’d never get sick of, because I would always find one thing that would affect me, or something different to notice. Hamilton is so far beyond simply being one of the best Broadway musicals in a long time. It’s an experience that everyone should have the opportunity to be a part of at some point in their lives, no matter what cast they see or how long it takes them to see it.

And I’m so glad I could be a part of that experience.

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