You know what the song New York, New York says: If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. And that sentiment is what motivates tens of thousands of people to pick up and move to New York City each year.
The potential of great risk, great reward is too tempting to pass up. We talked to four Bulldogs who’ve moved to NYC in the past decade or so—and are most certainly making it.
A Matter of Time
Joe Ziemer ’05 worked at Nuvo, Indianapolis’ alternative newspaper, and Clowes Memorial Hall for about a year after graduation. But by 2007, he was off to New York, where he’s been ever since.
“I knew it was inevitable,” he says. “It was just a matter of when.”
Ziemer had spent time in New York with his family growing up, and while at Butler he and classmate Steve Dumas ’05 did internships there rather than study abroad.
“We both took the view that if we were going to do a semester away, we wanted to do it in a place where we thought there was a likelihood that we would move to,” Ziemer says.
To get hired in New York, Ziemer borrowed a friend’s New York mailing address so he would look like a local applicant. He landed his first job with TriplePoint, a boutique communications firm, where he wound up running the New York office for the San Francisco-based company.
After five and a half years, he moved to Betterment, an automated investment service. At the time, it was a small, unknown startup with 10 employees managing $50 million. Six years later, Betterment has 240 employees and manages $15 billion in investments.
Ziemer is Vice President.
“It was definitely a career risk to take the plunge to a small startup, but it’s gone incredibly well,” Ziemer says.
So has the move to New York. After nine years in Manhattan, he moved to Brooklyn and also bought a small house upstate with his wife and two dogs to be able to “recapture a little bit of fresh air and nature when needed.”
He’s found New York to be “incredibly welcoming.”
“Almost nobody is from here, which makes it a really attractive place to move,” he says. “They’re accepting of different cultures and ideologies.”
An Overnight Success—14 Years in the Making
On August 2, 2018, after 10 years in New York, Katie Hannigan ’08 got the kind of break that can catapult a standup comic’s career: She performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
The result, she says, has been “a nice little bump” that included getting a Home Depot commercial and increasing her road bookings.
“It definitely is a huge career milestone for me,” she says. “This is something I’ve been working toward for years and years and years.”
Hannigan has been working toward her goal for at least 14 years, if you go back to her first year at Butler. After graduating from Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, where she was fascinated by experimental theater, Hannigan came to Butler as a Theatre major and immediately found herself cast in Top Girls, a play by unconventional writer Caryl Churchill. Everyone in the cast was older, and “I felt quite distinguished and honored to be able to do that show.”
In that production, she worked with director Constance Macy for the first time. They teamed up again two years later on The Underpants, and she credits Macy, an Indianapolis actress and director who works frequently with Butler Theatre, with helping her develop a critical eye for comedic timing.
At Butler, Hannigan also worked at the Holcomb Observatory for two years, which “helped me develop my interests outside of performing, which is so important to be able to draw on.” (She’s now hosting a podcast called Apodcalypse about ends-of-days scenarios in pop culture and religious legend.)
Hannigan moved to New York a week after graduating from Butler. She moved in with her former Butler roommate Leah Nanako Winkler ’06—who has also gone on to great success as the 2018 winner of the prestigious Yale Drama Series Prize—and they worked together in experimental theater.
“I felt that if I went to New York,” she says, “I would find exactly what I was interested in focusing on for a long period of time.”
But that took some time. Two years later, Hannigan started in comedy. She spent four years going to open-mic nights five to 10 times a week to hone her act. A couple of years in, she also took a job at a comedy club so she could get more stage time, and she began to hit the road to work at clubs and comedy festivals around the country. She also started posting jokes regularly on Twitter—and still does @katiehannigan.
She had other gigs, too, including preschool teacher (“the kids were teaching me … that I hate kids,” she says in her act) and New York City tour guide. She developed such an extensive knowledge of New York City that she’s appeared in episodes of The Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum as an expert.
And even as her comedy schedule filled, she continued to act. During summer 2018, she shot two TV pilots, including one about city yuppies who decide they’re going to live off the land but find they’re woefully unprepared.
In the near term, she appreciates that standup comedy is the skill that’s bringing her the most attention.
“The weekend after I performed (for Colbert), it was quite a shock to my system to have accomplished that kind of goal,” she says. “I was feeling kind of overwhelmed as far as what do I do next. The Late Show is something that will help my career as a comedian, but I do have some big things ahead that I’m looking forward to.”
A Pretty Cool Place to Work
Radley Haddad ’13 didn’t have a favorite baseball team growing up, but he sure has one now—the New York Yankees.
Since 2017, the former Butler Baseball player has been the bullpen catcher for the Yankees, and at the end of the 2018 season he signed a contract for another two years. (Also in 2018, he married Arielle Hemrick ’14, who’s now a dentist in Brooklyn.)
“Being in New York has been a great experience so far,” he says. “Getting to be in Yankee Stadium every day is a pretty cool place to go to work.”
Haddad grew up in Carmel, Indiana, and transferred to Butler after two years at Western Carolina University for a chance to get more playing time. Then-Coach Steve Farley—“a really good molder of men”—helped Haddad get into a good summer league where he could play every day until he was eligible to play for Butler. And in 2012 and 2013, he started 93 games for the Bulldogs.
Haddad wasn’t selected in the Major League Baseball draft, but a week later the Yankees signed him to a free-agent contract. He played four years in the minor leagues, getting as high as the Double-A Trenton Thunder. During spring training in 2017, the Yankees gave him a choice: Go back to the minor leagues again or come to work as a bullpen catcher.
Haddad was 26 at the time. The choice turned out to be easy.
“It was tough to walk away from the game as a player, but the transition was easy.”
His qualifications for the job were basic: “I have the skills to catch guys who throw hard and I’m a generally pleasant person to be around. Those are probably the two job requirements that I filled.”
His first season—being part of a team playing in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series—“was just surreal.” Nine months earlier, he was “a grinding minor leaguer,” and here he was, warming up starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia.
“The path that your life can take in a short time is pretty remarkable,” he says.
Haddad still enjoys catching—“I get to see what Aroldis Chapman throws and all these guys who are probably future Hall of Famers”—and he also does some coaching, game planning, and analytics.
His plan is to “just continue to mold into the best version of myself and help the team win in any way possible, whether that’s as a bullpen catcher or coaching assistant or in baseball operations. Just continue to make the people around me better is my goal.”
Reading the Signs
In his bio, Butler Theatre alumnus Aaron Simms ’98 describes himself as “a New Yorker from Cincinnati.”
He’s been in New York since 2003, after detours that took him from Butler to Wisconsin (Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Wisconsin Shakespeare Festival), Ohio (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Human Race Theatre Company), and West Virginia (Theatre West Virginia).
“That’s what you do,” Simms says. “You gig. You go where the work is. That’s the job of a professional actor.”
That mindset motivated him to pursue his craft in New York with just enough money for two months of living expenses and the phone number of someone he knew in theater.
Simms called while he was getting off the plane, and his acquaintance said that his theater company was having auditions that day. Simms went to the audition and booked his first job in NYC.
“That was kind of a sign that I should be here,” he says. “It’s strange for an artist, but the signs point you in the right direction. That was a strange and wonderful occurrence.”
That job led to others—“Work breeds work,” Simms says—and as his craft evolved, he began producing and general-managing shows.
He’s still doing that as General Manager of the York Theatre Company, which produces and develops new musicals and old gems from the past in Midtown Manhattan, and as founder and Executive Producer of Inwood Art Works in Upper Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood. Simms says Inwood lacked galleries, theaters, cinemas, and other creative spaces, so he decided to create a cultural arts hub through programming showcasing artists who live in the neighborhood.
Simms, who earned his Master of Fine Arts in Theater Management and Producing from Columbia University in 2015, says his career is an outgrowth of what he learned at Butler.
“You have to create your own path,” he says, “which is something the chair of our department, Dan Warrick, instilled in us. That’s something I’ve carried with me from Butler.”