“Hi friends! My name is JJ Niemann, and I’m so excited to be sharing with the Fit for Broadway community! I’m currently a Swing in the Broadway cast of The Book of Mormon and loving every minute of it. I’m a newbie to New York City, having just graduated this past spring of 2017 from Elon University’s Music Theatre program. I came up to New York the day after graduation for callbacks for “Mormon,” and immediately was thrown into rehearsals the next day – which was crazy and surreal. It’s taken some time for me to adjust to the fast-paced, non-stop life in New York coming from a small, coastal city in North Carolina (especially the freezing cold winter – NO BUENO!) but I finally am feeling at home here in NYC. My recent professional credits include “Damn Yankees,” “Shrek,” “Aida,” and “South Pacific” at Pittsburgh CLO, “Hairspray” at The MUNY, and “Peter Pan” at Artpark. My favorite roles I played at Elon include Frankie Epps in “Parade,” Drew Boley in “Rock of Ages,” Mr. Mistofelees in “CATS,” and Laurie Lawrence in “Little Women.” My favorite past-times and hobbies include exercising, running, writing original music, playing guitar and ukulele, choreographing, reading, and cooking. I’ve learned a whole lot of lessons since moving to New York, and I continue to learn more about myself and the world around me every week. I hope that sharing my experiences can help anyone pursuing a career in the arts, as well as anyone who is transitioning and adjusting to life in New York.
My BE WAY CAPSULE //
The first thing that comes to mind when I think “what keeps me grounded?” are the friendships in my life. I am a very social person, and quality human connections are super important to me. The hardest part about moving to New York and being thrown into this show was figuring out how to ground myself while being in unfamiliar territory physically, socially, and professionally. It was a lot of change at once, and I had some very hard days despite the amazing circumstances that had me move to New York so quickly. It was sometimes lonely and strange being here without my classmates and best friends from Elon that had truly been my rocks for four years. Thankfully, I had a few close friends here that I could confide in, made some great new friends, and had an awesome support system at the theatre. My cast mates have been full of helpful advice that has helped my transition to this city so much. And before I knew it, all of my best friends from school were moving up here too! Recently I’ve had many moments when I have to stop and thank God for putting wonderful people in my life. I’m incredibly thankful for the support system I have – they keep me sane, happy, healthy, and grounded. They also inspire me to always continue creating and building on myself to be a better person. It’s important to find these kinds of authentic, deep friendships that will benefit your life, your art, and your happiness.
2. Health Consciousness (Food & Fitness)
The saying “fitness is a journey, not a destination” may be corny, but it rings true to me and my relationship with fitness and health. In my life so far, I’ve been at some extremes – complete obsession with fitness vs. complete lack of a drive to pursue fitness. I rarely cooked while I was at school, thanks to my meal plan (which I miss every day!), but I exercised consistently. When I moved to New York in May, I was busy learning the show and also was eager to socialize and meet friends for meals out and drinks all the time. For months, I kept using the excuse of being “busy” as a way to get out of eating healthy and exercising regularly. Because I wasn’t cooking my own food, I felt like I lacked any control over my health and eating habits. This continued until October, when I finally stopped and realized that I had really lost the physique I had while at school. It also was affecting my stamina in “Mormon.” Those 8-show weeks are NO JOKE, and I was finding myself having a harder time getting through the shows without being totally exhausted. I decided that it was time for me to start really cooking for myself, meal-planning, and exercising every day so that I could be happier and healthier in my life and at my workplace. However, I am approaching it differently than when I did health crazes and diets in the past – those were impossible for me to sustain 100% of the time after completing the diets. I’m allowing myself to have a healthier relationship with food, while still being able to enjoy treats in moderation. And I’m learning that I actually LOVE cooking! It’s important to also find on-the-go places (mine are Dig Inn, Roast, Just Salad) where I can grab food while I am on the run, but can still follow my health guidelines. I’ve also started doing at-home workouts through websites like Beachbody on Demand, so that I can squeeze in quick workouts on days when I’m really busy and can’t make it to the gym. I’m really proud of the progress I’ve made in the past few months, and I feel great being able to get the right nutrients I need and being able do my job to the best of my physical ability.
JJ is wearing the “#FitforBroadway” tank by Fit for Broadway Apparel
3. Sleep and Rest
I didn’t realize how important this was to my health and my career until I moved to New York and actually started to get the amount of sleep I am supposed to. While at school, I was constantly confused why my voice was tired, and I blamed things like over-use or things I ate/drank. However, I’ve recently found that getting 8 hours of sleep every night leaves my voice feeling awesome and rejuvenated the next day, which is super important especially for our five-show weekends. I can definitely tell the difference in my voice now when I don’t get enough sleep. I also used to go non-stop at school, doing a million different things and never giving myself time to recharge my body and my voice. I’ve learned that I need to give myself time during the week to take some me-time and rest my voice in order to be able to do my job to the best of my vocal ability. For any of you future performers reading this – do NOT underestimate the power of sleep and rest for your body and your voice. It takes discipline, but is essential to performing at the best of your ability.
This is also something I neglected until the past sixth months. I’ve found that reflection time for me – whether it be journaling, writing music, or praying and practicing your faith – is essential for my happiness. I know a lot of actors and performers are similar to me in the sense that we always are looking to the next thing, or for the next exciting project, or for our careers to make moves. This can be good as a professional mindset, but can be a serious thief of joy in your personal life. It’s so easy to compare yourself to others in life and in our careers, and it’s harder to live with gratitude in the moment. I’ve started reflecting more, practicing gratitude, and reminding myself to be thankful for everything I am given and experiencing. This has really helped me to live more “in the moment” and enjoying every second, and I’ve found myself over the past few months finally feeling content. Our careers and successes are never going to be what defines us or makes us truly happy – we have to make the decision for ourselves to be grateful and content.
5. Planning and Training
I am super big on using a planner, making lists, and setting goals. I think that this helps my overall sanity to know what needs to be done, and where I can strive to go and who I can strive to be. I also believe in the mindset of “the work is never done” when it comes to our training. Even though I use my performance skills in “Mormon” every week, I’ve found that I need to continue expanding my skills outside of the show as well. As a dancer, I’ve found that I need to stretch every day not only for the show, but to keep up my dance abilities that I don’t use in the show as well. Going to dance classes at places like Broadway Dance Center and Steps has helped me keep up with my ballet, jazz, and tap skills so that I’m ready for wherever life takes me next. I also warm up vocally every day, regardless of whether or not I am performing that day. It’s important for me to also keep up with my vocal therapy exercises to make sure that I am producing healthy sounds and keeping away from straining my voice. As a Swing, there can be weeks that go by where you won’t be performing, so that means that you have to be self-disciplined to keep yourself in top shape vocally and physically to step in to the show whenever you’re needed.”
— JJ Niemann answers FFB, ‘What’s Creating You?’
Photos by Jane Jourdan