Though I’m not originally from the area, I’ve made Broome County my hometown since I permanently moved here over 15 years ago.
Before becoming the Founder and Artistic Director of KNOW Theatre, I was an engineer who lived in Scranton, commuting to Binghamton each day to subcontract for IBM. Even back then, I knew there was something special about Broome. I fell in love with it and it took theatre to bring me back here for good. My first foray into the entertainment world started back when I used to do stand-up and voice impressions on a bar circuit in Scranton. When I moved to Binghamton the first time, I often found myself working on my stand-up routines in lieu of office work.
Around this time, my friends were encouraging me to go to these local ‘Open Mic’ nights and I also enrolled in a 9-credit acting and improvisation course at BCC. After that course, I took the follow-up course as well and gradually made my way back into school and the entertainment world while working, which eventually led to an audition to break down that last wall and act in front of strangers. The next thing I knew, I was cast in a show. That was back in 1988 and it hasn’t stopped since. You’ve got to be careful about what you ask the universe for though. Back then, I told myself if I ever left the Johnson City engineering firm I was at, I wasn’t going back and would wholeheartedly enter the entertainment industry.
Shortly after that, the first Gulf War happened, leading our firm to downsize so I had to leave. I got what I asked for and made the final leap into acting. My life certainly changed at that point, but I knew what I wanted to do. I left the area numerous times in search of bigger acting opportunities. I first moved to the Hamptons for 4 years as an initial litmus test to see if I could walk into a room full of strangers and get cast in a show. I got some major parts out there and found I had some kind of footing in the theatrical world, while learning to wait on tables to support myself.
Once those years were up, I moved back to Binghamton for a year before leaving to live and work in Manhattan for 5 years. I felt ready to jump into the big acting pool. I was pretty set financially with a wonderful restaurant job and enjoyed a modicum of success in those years, getting cast in a showcase show with my then-roommate. I even got an agent after my first show there.
For a while, my life gravitated between my agent trying to get me into television and film roles, while I chased down live performances – where my heart truly lies. For 3 years, I was going up to New England festivals to act every summer too, which was nice. Then 9/11 happened, acting as a final clarification as to why Broome is where I am now. Living there during that tragic event really made me stop and ask myself, “What am I doing? What do I really want?”
I knew I had to decide whether to stay in the city or come back here. Broome County had really gotten under my skin in the years I lived here – in the best way – so I came back, for good, in 2002. Before we officially opened the theatre, I gathered my little acting troupe and told them I wanted to take the theatre, unofficially established at the time, and make it into a real company. I wanted to get it incorporated, find our own space and make a difference in this area, which is exactly what we’ve done since.
KNOW Theatre has been in its Carroll Street space for 12 years now. This fall will be our 13th season, starting in September and ending in June. We have 4 main stage shows and 2 playwrights’ festivals – one in November, based around artwork, and another in May, where we bring up and produce plays from the Kennedy Center Region.
Over the years, our theatre has achieved renown in various ways and I’ve also been fortunate enough to be honored for my commitment to the industry. In 2009, I won the Heart of the Arts Award. I’ve also received the Kennedy Center Gold Medallion, which is a national award for my service to the continuing education of theatre in Region 1 of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.
It took a lot of patience and persistence to get there though. My professional experience building the theatre here has taught me a lot about myself, but mostly to be patient and trust our audience, as they’re learning to trust us and our productions. This has only happened with time. We’ve built the audience here each year through trust. Our audience comes because they know we’re taking a journey, together, which has helped me realize the importance of what I do for this community.
Theater is incredibly important. It’s been around for 3,000 years – that’s not an accident. It helps us tell stories and reveal things in ourselves through the trickery of watching someone else do something similar to our own circumstances on a stage, allowing us to more easily deal with it. Through our plays, we’re in the business of changing people’s lives.
I have no desire to be anywhere else because I do what I love every day, in a place that needs what I do. I have the biggest living room in Broome County that can seat 75 people. The more things have unfolded, the more I’ve realized that this is where I’m supposed to be.
If you look around, this small region has a cultural base that’s beyond some areas twice its size, including opera, philharmonic orchestra, a thriving visual art community and live music scene. From our theatre, to the Cider Mill in Endicott, to the Chenango River Theater in Greene, you can’t long for anything here if you’re looking for entertainment, to be challenged or made to think.
I try to bring everybody I’m exposed to back here. I invite anybody that will listen to me to come here, direct here, or give seminars here because it’s a magical space – and a magical area. I live right across the street from KNOW Theatre – my literal sphere is relatively small – but I wouldn’t trade my life now for anything. I’ve had a great experience of a more affluent and powerful job, but this is a good life to me – to be able to do what I want every day and affect the community I live in, while creating worlds theatrical shows live in that change people’s lives.
I don’t know how you beat that.
KNOW Theatre is part of why #Broomeisgood.