Little Town Blues Long Since Melted

Panelists dole out advice to city’s aspiring divas on how to make it really, really big

Nearly every New York City waitress is an actress just waiting to be discovered; every Barney’s sales clerk is a talented young cabaret singer anticipating his big break.

The odds of making it in the Big Apple are indeed rough. Yet every year a new crop of hope-filled talents find their way to Gotham, intent on hitting it big time.

Why?

Because for every blown audition and ignored demo tape there is that rare aspiring star who came to the city and realized a dream.

So, in the midst of the torrential downpour of March 21, a panel of successful New York artists, singers, photographers, publishers and performers gathered at the Angel Orensanz Foundation for “New York Dream Makers: People Who Came to New York and Achieved Their Dreams.”

The two-part panel, organized by Richard Nahem as part of an artistic lecture series, brought together artists Jennifer Bartlett, Irish-born designer Clodagh, photographers Todd Eberle and Mary Ellen Mark, gallery owner Andrea Rosen, Paper magazine founders Kim Hastreiter and David Hershkovits, writer Frank DeCaro and singers Liz Callaway, Ann Hampton Callaway and John “Lypsinka” Epperson.

New York Times columnist Bob Morris and NY1 News anchor Roma Torre moderated the panels.

At first glance, the event seemed to be standard fare for Nahem’s events—a well-rounded mix of recognizable talents gathered in a surprisingly swank but equally edgy venue, doling out sound advice for a paying crowd. The proceeds of the March 28 event benefited Free Arts NYC, a non-profit group that promotes the arts for ailing children.

Panelists dished over how they ended up in the big city, with the Callaway sisters noting that they “could rewrite the musical ‘Wonderful Town’ after their first year in New York City,” and “sit-down comedian” DeCaro, who described an abiding fascination with Andy Warhol, calling New York, “this fantastic party, the Island of Misfits Toys.”

DeCaro, who grew up in Little Falls, New Jersey, “18 miles and a world away” from New York City, called himself “flamboyantly gay from a very young age.” Remembering having been teased and bullied as a child, DeCaro said, “Walking across the cafeteria was terrifying to me. Walking across 42nd Street at 2 a.m. was not a bit scary.”

DeCaro echoed the comments of other panelists when he said that it takes a certain amount of self-delusion to succeed in New York, to believe you are fabulous enough to make it.

“New York is for two types—dreamers and rich people,” said Ann Hampton Callaway. “If you are not one of those two, there is probably no place for you here.” Across the board, panelists credited lucky connections for their success, and the city’s artistic diversity in helping to find a community of like-minded people.

The panel’s relevance was epitomized for two gay men, Brian Schetzsle and Nick Turner, who approached DeCaro during a break and announce their intention to become New York’s next gay power couple. Though slightly tongue-in-cheek, their announcement was delivered with complete sincerity. Schetzsle, a 21-year-old Fashion Institute of Technology student from Colorado, and Turner, a 23-year-old Nebraskan working for Fairchild Publications, met several months ago at a fashion show and said they immediately bonded.

They attended the panel for inspiration and advice on how to become gay powerbrokers.

“We came to hear about people who moved here and succeeded at what they wanted to do,” said Schetzsle. “I wanted to get inspiration and ideas and see that it’s good to follow your dreams. I moved to New York to work in fashion design. But a lot of people want to do that. It’s really competitive. I’ll have to work really hard at it.”

The notion of capturing some luck resonated with Turner, who said, “people need to have a willingness to be lucky, and I think that’s one of the things I’ve learned living here, too.”

“The best part was seeing that you can succeed at doing whatever you want here as long as you work hard enough at it,” said Schetzsle.

DeCaro, eager to share some sage advice with aspiring young gay professionals, told the pair, “They never tell you this in school, but you really can make a living by just being you. I always tell young people, ‘Try to be more you with every passing year,’” adding, “Hell, I’ve raised self-absorption to an art form.”

The young men went away from the panel apparently convinced that the advice had been worth their trudge through a downpour.

“I’m glad we came because we got to see that it pays to take the risk,” said Turner. “It makes me feel even better about leaving Nebraska.”

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