Good People, Cool Things
Good People, Cool Things

Episode 98 · 4 months ago

98: Wigs, Broadway Shows, and Hidden Gems with Amy Neswald

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

For years, Amy Neswald worked as a wigmaster on the Broadway production of Jersey Boys, as well as several other players. She was among the last people the actors would see before they stepped on the stage, and she has so many cool stories from her time in that world. 

Part of that experience led to the creation of I Know You Love Me, Too, a collection of linked stories that’s already won the New American Fiction Prize despite being released less than two months ago. And because Amy likes to keep herself busy, she’s also a screenwriter and teaches creative writing at the University of Maine in Farmington.

Good people cool things as a podcast feature and conversations with entrepreneurs, writers, musicians and other creatives. Get inspired by their stories to do your own cool thing. And here's your host, Joey held. Hello and welcome to good people, cool things. I don't know what that intro was, but we've got a great episode. Today's guess is Amy Neswald, who's debut collection of links stories just came out. It's called I know you love me to edit's absolutely delightful. It's already been awarded the new American Fiction Prize and amy worked for years as a whig master on Broadway productions, most notably Jersey Boys. I'm a big Frankie Valle in for seasons fan, so we're talking a little bit about them and and kind of the best songs and performances from the show. We're also talking about some of the worst shows that amy has worked on, as well as her new book, what life is like after living in New York City for years and years now living in Maine. A lot more of a rule environment, but Maine is gorgeous. I haven't been there in a hot minute, but I just remember being like man fallen Maine sign. It just seems like one of the best places in the world. So we're chatting all about that good stuff. I mean has lots of cool stories from her career. And Hey, if you're ever like hey, it's too late to do something, we're going to dispel that myth to unless, of course, it's to be an Olympic athlete it and you're older than like twenty seven, because yeah, sorry, that's probably not it's right, not gonna happen. I'm sorry. You like to get in touch with the show, you can reach out Joey at good people, cool thingscom or facebook, twitter, instagram at GPCT podcast. You can also support the show by had an over to a good people, cool thingscom shop or checking out a copy of my book kind but kind of weird short stories on life's relationships. We've got two short stories authors on here. I means that's double the reading for you. But first let's hop into the conversation with amy. For people who don't know who you are, can you tell us your elevator pitch, but can you also let us know the type of elevator that we're writing on? I'm writing on a speeding bullet. No, actually, probably one of those really slow moving New York City Government district in one thousand nine hundred and ninety four elevators that stopped at every floor, like kind of in between the floors. So I guess my elevator pitch for me is that I am now a professor of create a writing in Farmington Maine, but I spent fifteen years of my professional life as a wig master for Broadway shows before I had like a massive life change and career change. During that time I was writing screenplays and I decided that I wanted to write fictions. So I took myself to Grad School,...

...spent two years of my life just writing and gave that to myself and somehow talk to these people, these very nice people at University of Farmington Maine, and Farmington into giving me a job. So that's so I went from New York City to really small town USA. Love it. Love it. And for your whig master, one of the shows you worked on with Jersey Boys. Yes, what is your favorite four season song? Oh, well, is my favorite four season so I kind of loved there was a Mashup of Sherry and walk like a man that they did in the middle of the show, which maybe are not my favorite songs, but it was my favorite part of the show, so it's hard for me to take get apart. Or and then the you're just too good to be true. Can't take my eyes off of you, my favorite part of the show too. So I love that song. Love it. Yeah, I remember hearing something that. I can't remember who it was, but it was something like big name Radio Dj basically told Frankie Valley like no, that songs not good, like that's not going to be a hit. It's too like, it's too slow, it's too, too sappy for radio. And then that's I don't know on the charts if it's their biggest it, but it's I would say that's probably one of, if not their most identifiable or Fraggie valley at least his most identifiable song, which is Great. Yeah, and that was actually written by Bob Crewe, the producer, and it was a love Spung for his lover, his gay lover. So in the midst of somewhat repressed America, one of the top songs in the world, you know, was a gay love Song, which I think is really beautiful to yeah, that's awesome. I didn't know that. That's cool. Yeah, and I'm just curious too, because I mean I think my theater career ended in blue. Was Eighth Grade, when I was a props master for our eighth grade play, and I just the only thing I remember about this was I had to put up a like a giant piece of tapestry in between sets and I had to use a little like poll with it, just like hanging on the edge of a hook and track and and it was I could not, I can never get it when we were practicing and during the show. Thankfully, the main character, like the lead character, helped me do it, like in the Darky like help Ma Finagle it, and I was forever grateful for him. But my my career kind of ended with that. So how did you how did you get interested in wigs in the first place and then turn that into a decade and a half long career? Well, let's see, I I was trying to be an actor. I fell in love with acting in college and I was went to new well, I went to California and then I went to New...

York to be an actor and subsequently was a really good bartender for most of my career in a cocktail waitress and one day I was on a road trip, driving up state with my ex husband, then my husband to sconnect key to visit his family and I got my hair cut and I was speaking to the woman there. She seems just different, you know. So I asked her how she got into hair and she said that she was an artist and that this was one of the best jobs for an artist to have because you could wear what you wanted to work and kind of made your own hours to make a lot of money and you didn't use your brain up, so you had a lot of room for creativity and pursuits. So when we got back to New York, I applied to, or signed up for for beauty school and that was that. I threw out my head shots. I realize I really just didn't like acting and I've been trying for so long to convince myself that I did. And so while I was at hair school, I kind of fell in love with I made like these crazy hair douse with my my mannequin heads, like beehives with flower pots inside of them and birds, and got really interested in hair as a sculptural medium. And then obviously realize that no one would ever let me do with their hair when I was imagining. So I thought I should make way biggs and I bought a little book that taught me kind how to ventilate wigs and mustaches, but it was really pretty big. One day I was leaving my building and my neighbor had a wig block, which is one of those canvas wighead things, and so I asked him what he did and he told me he'd made hats for Broadway shows. So I asked him if he knew any wig makers, because I thought I should probably do that instead of cut hair, because who knows what I'm going to do with that, and it turned out that he had an associate who was a wig maker who was just starting his business. So I started going in once a week and making wigs and teaching myself how to make wigs and waiting for the phone to ring. And then one day it rang and it was for a show called elephant man. Was Billy crude up and Cap Burton. So we he designed the show, I built the show and then when we got there it was only supposed to be one wig person, but but they needed to because of the complexity of the show on where changes were taking place. So I ended up never leaving and working that show and just falling in love more with running Broadway and working in theater than building, actually building the wigs. So yeah, it just kind of tumbled down from there and I kept getting nicer jobs and I don't know, I'm a theater person for...

...sure. One of the questions I always like to ask anyone that's in sort any sort of kind of creative or live performance field is about their worst show, because I think in the moment those are horrific, but afterwards they make for great story. So do you have a worst show memory? Yeah, I have a few pretty worst shows that worked, but the thing is like they were really bad shows but in the end they're really close to my heart because there were some good stuff in them. There was one show that I worked on called good vibrations and it was so bad that for a year and a half after it closed, whenever reviewers were reviewing bad Broadway shows they compared it vibrations. But and it was. It was just sort of tragic. It was the book of Brian Wilson and the beach boys, but it was this like kind of crammed in like really rough story about a girl with a really cool car who's like driving across the country with these three guys and they're going to go surfing right. It was like it was pretty skinny, and then all the girls had to wear like bikinis and they were running around like in the middle of winter. They had to do the macy's Day parade and Jamas and bathing suits. It was pretty tragic. But you know, if you look at those that cast, they're doing so well. You have people that are like on dancing with the stars and people who are on TV and people who are directing TV. So just a wonderful group. But it was pretty it was a pretty tragic show. Really Fun though, once we did it. We performed during a snowstorm and like thirty people showed up. We still had to do this show in like a one hundred seet theater. So yeah, so that was one of them. Well, now I'm kind of curious to hear some of the other ones that you would lose, I don't get sued. And I also did a show called women on the verge of a nervous breakdown, which was based on the emult of our film and it's since played, not with me working on it. So I think they might have worked out some of the KINKS, but it was it was a little bit of a beautiful disaster as well. There are a lot of mechanical issues and that show that we were told wouldn't be issues, and yet they broke down every show and it was there was not enough cast, so when someone was sick there's only one understudy to cover like twelve rolls or something. So like it was like this incredible dwindling cast of characters. There was a big dance number and that at one point there was only one dancers able to dance...

...because everyone was out sick or injured. So that was quite something. I don't know, like I can't think of any other like things that I would classically call bad, but but those were two pretty, pretty excellent. Well, it's not. It's not all bad what you've what you've had it it's a, you know, a lot of a lot of good moments in there as well, and you've channeled at least some of those into your upcoming book, which, I believe just dropped. What's my math like? Earlier this week? Right? Yeah, yeah, two days ago. Congratulations. That's yeah, stick, I know you love me too. Is the title of it? What can people expect? I know you love me too. Is a story about two sisters. They have a linear age gap of about eight years and the same father, different mothers. Their father died when the younger one was twelve and the older one was twenty, so they have really different experiences and memories with the father as well and they have a tense relationship with each other. The oldest Ingrid, is an artist to searching for her medium through through the book and she finds it a little later in life when she's forty seven. She's fine success and is very nervous about what that's means to is to her because she's so used to failure right as a way of life. And the other sister, Kate, on the outside seems to have like a really perfect life. She's a obstruct chicks nurse, you know, in the maternity award. She has a beautiful husbands, she has a son, she is a nice house in Brooklyn. But she she's she's not at all, not as all as it seems. She's really suffering to it's just that no one sees it and no one allows her that space because they all think she's perfect. So this this book is a collection of link short stories is that follow the sisters and their relationship through a number of years. Sometimes they're the story is there in the front of the stories and sometimes their characters just sort of in the background. So it's really it's about sisterhood and it's about relationships. It's about voice and finding a voice as an artist and the fear I think a lot of us have of never really living up to our true potential. But we know we can do versus how we're behaving in the world. So so yeah, that's that's kind of the skinny of it. I'd like it and you you would mentioned how you took two years, I of just writing. Did this book kind of gets started then, or was that totally totally divert yeah, I know. It actually started as is my MFA. It was my thesis and and bit by bit I originally just wrote one...

...story and then I read all of Kittridge and I was like, Oh, I wonder if I could write another story, and so it just kind of happened very organically that I started this collection and then towards the end when I started rewriting it, I got more and more direct as to like what, what kind of story do I need right now? So, yeah, but it started. Started in Grad School, for sure, those two years. And do your students that you're currently teaching now, do they all get copies as a little takeaway? If they buy them? That's what they're like stories of like professors making kids buy their books to like, you know, for class. Like M I'M NOT gonna make my anyone to read this. Yeah, I remember that. I had a couple professors where they like, you can buy my book. Is Basically I think it was a way for them to not teach because just like everything I'm going to tell you is in that book. Anyway. I was like this is like a hundred forty dollars and I'm broke college student. I don't want to want to get I'll end it to my students. If they want to read, they don't need to buy it. As you know, there's so much besides the actual writing of the book that goes into it. There's marketing, there's the book design, which, having also published a book this year, there's so much that goes into it that, like, you don't see from the outside. So can I think the cover, especially in your book, is super engaging and it's a very eyecatching cover that would make someone stop in a bookstore or stop while they're scrolling through online. What was that process like? Was that something that you knew from the beginning, or like I want something like this, or how did that? Of all, it's amazing. I the publisher, hired the artist, whose name is Alban Fisher, and it started with the publisher, David Bowen, asking me to just list all the images in the book and quotes that I thought were relevant, and so I spent like a couple of days just going line by line through the book and trying to find the most Prussian images and I sent it off to him and then, months and months and months later, I he sent back three covers and said which one do you like? And then I like had to decide and showed it every all of them to everyone I knew and finally went with my gut, which was that cover, that that exists, and then, you know, it was pretty easy. I just said, can you move this and can you do this, and you know, they like just really slight changes and what uh? Now we have this book with a beautiful cover. I mean they did such a good job. I am like, I can't even believe it. Yeah, it's always and impressive, as someone with no, no artistic talent really at all, just to see what people can do, especially, yeah,...

...if you like, just based off some lines and imagery that you gave them. To see that come to lie is just so it's so cool. Yeah, a lot of authors have, I you know, the the old saying is like the best way to market a first book is to start writing the second one. And for me I'm like, wait a minute, writing a book is hard. Let's enjoy this one a little bad. So do you do you have plans for a SEC where? I'm guessing, based off of your reaction here, that you're kind of like, I am going to enjoy this first on a little bit now. Actually, have been working on a second one for a really long time. I you know, I always think every time I start a book, I think it's just I'm going to write it in a year, like I'm totally just going to write it in a year and like three years later your life, like on the current draft. But I've been working on another, another novel, so I'm on, actually am on the third draft of that. It's friend to get it like to a point where I can show it to people. Can we get a scoop of what it's about? Yeah, it's about at its centers this Guy Clay, who is he writes instructions and his life ambition really is to move to directions. You know, he's he's not terribly ambitious. He I have a lot of dead followers in my stuff. But but his father died when he was really young and there's a when he was eight. But he gets a call kind of out of the blue the day he gets fired from his job, or let go, from his father's brothers uncle's who are now in their s that says that his grandmother, who he hasn't seen since his father died, is dying and asked for him. So he he goes from Seattle to New York to see his dying grandmother at the best of these two uncles he doesn't know, and it turns out, he finds out really early on, that it wasn't him she's been asking for but his dead father and the uncle's are hoping when he steps into the room that sh'll mistake him for his father. So that's sort of the premise of of the book and it really becomes about him. Well, and we follow the uncle's too, but it becomes about him cleaning out her apartment and and getting to know his father through just sort of being in his father's shoes for for the time that he's there. If that sounds I mean it sounds happy but also also very interesting. So we're looking looking forward to it. When the third draft, we're going to say within the next year, maybe we'll be yeah, I'm hoping. I'm and as it's a little like I'm trying to keep it a little light and funny to write, it's because it's all about like the grandmother. She's so mean that they're afraid she's not going to die. She's like a hospice...

...and she's been there, you know, and so so both both of his uncles have lived their lives sort of taking care of her and have sacrificed their own because of it. And so they're also both looking at this precipice of freedom and have really different reactions to like what that's going to be for them. So hopefully it's it's just sort of a feels like a cracking open and like a free freeing story of sorts. Have you had to maybe not in the sense of a parent dying. But have you had to look through some of your old childhood things and maybe make the decision of whether they get to get to remain in the house or you have to throw them at yeah, I do. I've moved so often and I lived in New York for so long, so you don't have a lot of stuff. But yeah, every once in a while something comes along and they're like why am I still holding it? Like what still have this? What's the most unusual thing that you've come across? I don't know. I have this toy phone that used to be I think used to be my sister's, with this plastic phone and like has like operating operator like things and buttons on it, but it's all just like very, very low tech like strings and this little like receiver that you can pick up. So that's this one thing I seem to not be able to get rid of that I still have and I find it every once in a while. I don't know what else, though. Yeah, yeah, I think it's always interesting that like the things we're like, I probably don't need this ever, but I y you can't get get rid of it. Yeah, because I'm thinking now of like things in my closet right my parents are coming down for Christmas. I'm sure they will bring some more items that they want to get rid of them in the house and like what do you have? What's your strangest thing? I should have been prepared with this, since I asked you the same think I'll go with I had a robot growing up, those called too Xcel, that you could put tapes into, and it was kind of a mix of like some would just be, you know, here's like fun facts about a certain person or whatever, or certain topic, and then some were kind of choose your own adventure areas. And there's one I'm going to I'm going to spoil it for anyone that's got to excel and hasn't listened to this type. But it was like a tails from the crypt type of thing, and you were a kid and you made essentially you made a deal with the devil, but it wasn't like you didn't know with the Devil at the beginning and he gives you all these wishes and if you make, I think it was seven wishes, if you make all seven, then you lose because the devil now owns your soul, which is look pretty...

...deep for a kids, kids type of thing. But you could outsmart him if you never make the last wish. You get like several chances at the end. It's like, okay, this is going to be my last wish, or it's like no, you want to hold off, and then finally, if you do it, he's like like the kid is like I've figured out who you are, like I'm not making this last wish, and then you get you get your life back. But to excel, I thought was very advanced as a kid because you you just push buttons to like, you know, advance the story, and my parents brought him back down to excel is in the house. I have not used yet since they've done that. So I hope they are not listening to this or at least skip over this part so that they don't know that he's not been used. But he's sitting there waiting for you. So have got a lot of the tapes. I think I have the tales of the crypt one, but I clearly know the winning the winning route through that. But sometimes it's nice to make the kid, you know, have eternal damnation. Sometimes too, I could be so traumatic. Yeah, I know who's playing my with a toy and no, I'm like going to hell. I know all because I told my sister to do play in traffic or something. That's another thing of that. I was just like there's a lot of a lot of questionable things that there, but still a good time. Another question I always like to ask as a question that you wish you were asked more frequently, and yours was what are the benefits of being a late bloomer? I'll say a story fashion, but when I went to Grad school I was middle aged and there were so many people who were like fresh out of college or just, you know, a couple years out of college, and I was so I felt at the beginning like I had wasted all this time, like what had I done? So I made myself write a list of what I would have missed in my life if I had had gone five years earlier, and so I did that, and then I made a list of what if I had gone ten years earlier, and I went down the line and I realized I would have missed so much, so much. I've had such a full life and a really like beautiful, weird existence that that that I had gone at their right exact time and so so one of the biggest lessons I've learned as a late bloomer is, like it sounds pad to say it's never too late, because sometimes it is too late. Like I'm never going to be president and I'm definitely not going to be Olympiad. But what would your what would your competition be if you were? I was probably swimming, though I have fantasies about Jim Gymnastics, but I'm afraid to go upside down. So probably, yeah, that would not end. But yeah, so, but there's always like there's always an opportunity to begin something new and and see where it goes and see how fascinating...

...it can be. And you know, I guess some as as one gets older, like you realize that no one really cares what you do so long as you don't, you know, kill kittens or or people. Right. So, so being always at willing to begin is one of the things I learned as a late bloomer, as opposed to know, before I went to Grad School, I would still like try new things, but I was very insecure about starting right because I was older and like I just it felt like silly and it wasn't. I changed my life midstream because of it. So those are some of the benefits of allowing yourself to be a late bloomer and just just take a chance. You know, I have a friend, my friend Rick Corrado, he told me once, I think when I was thinking about going to Grad School. He said jump, and then I said, don't jump in front of a train. Jump Right, like you watch a little bit where you jump. But you know, and I believe like people have the capacity to do this, like we always think that we have all these obstacles, and we do. You know, kids or you're really tied into where you live or you know your your consumes by your ub but that doesn't mean you can't start something new. It just means you need to know what what the limitations, how much you can commit yourself at the beginning to it. You know, cool, all right. Well, amy, you're almost off the hook, but we always like to wrap up with a top three. HMM, and for you, this is also something I like to sources about. You can be the expert auto, but your top three things that working in theater has taught you about telling stories? Yeah, so, number one, the most fascinating people in the building at a theater, especially back in the day when I first started, were the stage doorman, because they saw everything. They saw who came in, who came out. They had seen all the Macha nations of all the shows that I ever been in that theater. And not only that, they were really fascinating people who had had long career since usually in theater, prior to being stage doorman. And they were so quiet and grumpy and scary and and you know it and you just not want to, you know, bother them at first, and then as they slowly warmed up to you, they would just tell you these incredible, incredible stories about the theater, the theater history. So so I guess one of my things that I learned from working in theater is that stillness is...

...not dull. Great Stillness means that there's this rich story beneath it and that in storytelling we can have both in imply this this step. Well, we tell very simple stories. So that's one one lesson. Another thing I learned working in theater it was how to tell a story really quickly when you needed to, because sometimes we had thirty two quick changes and he just for whatever reason, because you were like telling stories to people or because you know something came up or or you had a thought. You know from an earlier conversation. You need to learn how to tell a story and thirty seconds or less. And so so I really credit working in theater and having to to really get the story out backstage helped me a lot. And then the last thing that comes to mind I didn't actually do. When I wrote that question. I was like I had those two in mind, and then I'm no, I'm like, oh no, I forgot the last. But we sometimes during the holidays, would have like these long slogs of weeks where you had two shows back to back to back just because they're a chosen a week and days off and stuff like that, and I remember that being backstagee. The actor. Everyone would get tired, but the actors are the ones that are like on stage, like dancing their hearts out. And now I, you know, for these extended periods of time, and so I started doing weird things, like I wear my hair and pigtails. I do all these quick changes for them, like really silly quick changes, to to get them laughing right as they like came back and I think I learned too that even like in the kind of the hardest most intense moments people want to laugh. Right. People tell jokes that funerals, and it's not because they're insensitive, it's it's to break the tension. So our characters do that too. And and so that's that's what I also realize about storytelling from working on Broadway. Go for the laughs always, even in a tragedy, look for the look for the light. Fantastic and I wholeheartedly agree. I think that's one of the best ways to get through any kind of tragic situation. Well, Amy, thank you so much for taking the time to hop on the podcast. You said it was your first podcast, but no one would have known. Flawless, flawless work. If people want to learn more about you, where can they find you? I have a website, a meaning as waldcom, so pretty easy to find. I have an I am DBPA, I am DB page...

...too, if you want to see any of my little films or anything. Is it accurate? I've heard I am DB occasionally. It's not. It's not as bad as wikipedia sometimes, but I occasionally have some missteps. Yeah, there's some missteps and they're not listening. A film they have like I haven't liked put it in correctly. So so it's not, like completely accurate, but check it out. Still better than my page, which I don't believe exists, although, mad I don't know. Oh, I don't know. You Mighty. Yeah, yeah, you never know. Well, Amy, thank you again for for taking the time to chat. This is great. Well, thank you so much for having me. It was really fun. Absolutely we got to end up with a Corny joke, as we always do. I even made it themed for this episode. Did you hear about the big Broadway show about puns? Turns out it's a play on words. Get after today, people, let's work. Good people cool things is produced in Austin, Texas. If you were a fan of this episode, go ahead and hit that follow button. That helps more people here at the show. You can send me a message Joey at good people, cool thingscom. Thank you to all of the guests who have been on good people cool things. Check out all the old episodes via good people, cool thingscom. As always, thank you for listening and have a wonderful day.

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