The North Bend Eagle



Morse Bluff men follow show biz aspirations to NYC, LA

by Nathan Arneal
Published 12/25/19

During one of those late night dorm conversations college freshman tend to have, Joie Bauer’s next door neighbor – an acting major – talked him into trying out for a play at the University of South Dakota, The Taming of the Shrew.

Bauer, a journalism major at the time, landed a non-speaking background part, but it opened his eyes.

“I remember being on stage and thinking, this is where I want to be,” he said.

Seven years after Bauer’s 2002 graduation from North Bend Central, Danny Ahl followed Bauer’s footsteps on another stage, walking across the stage in the NBC gym to accept his high school diploma.

Ahl would head to Lincoln for college, where he eventually settled into a broadcasting major at UNL.
While still in school, an internship at a Lincoln radio station eventually turned into a paying gig and a chance to co-host a sports talk show.

“That’s really what first sparked the idea, ‘Man, I can do entertainment for a career,” Ahl said. “Or at least try.’”

Ahl and Bauer, whose families live within a few of miles of each other southwest of Morse Bluff, got off to similar starts as journalism majors in Midwest universities not too far from home. Soon, each realized they were going to have to leave the comfort zone of their family and friends to purse their dreams.

Bauer wanted to take his shot at Broadway. Ahl fantasized about someday hosting his own late night talk show like Carson or Letterman. Their similar beginnings and dreams led them in opposite directions as they traded the peace and quiet of rural Morse Bluff for the hustle, bustle, glitz and glam of the city: Bauer to New York and Ahl to Los Angeles.

There they continue to chase their dreams, even as those dreams evolve and sometimes clash with the reality of a business that regularly chews dreamers up and spits them out.

On an early fall day this past September, Joie Bauer sat at a table on the edge of Bryant Park in Manhattan, which backs up to the New York Public Library and its famous sentinel marble lions.

Joie BauerJoie Bauer, a 2002 NBC graduate, sits in New York City’s Bryant Park. Bauer lives in Brooklyn while balancing an acting career with jobs that pay.

More than a thousand miles from his Nebraska roots, Bauer has embraced the chaos and the diversity of New York City, his home for 12 years now and likely the rest of his life.

“When people ask me if I love (New York) and do I miss Nebraska, I think I love both equally for different reasons,” he said. “I love going back home and having the quiet and nature and air that’s a little more breathable. The pace is slower, but there’s still the vibrancy of life in different ways.

“I miss that, but at the same time, when I’m home for too long I miss this,” he said with a wave toward the crowded park and a teeming 40th Street beyond, “because this is home now as much as that is also home.”

Not long after that first experience in The Taming of the Shew on the college stage, he switched his major from journalism to theater. In 2006, a semester before graduation, he participated in a summer artist residence program in Ithica, New York, his first professional acting experience.

During that summer, he took a week-long trip into New York City. The seed was planted.

After graduating from USD in December 2006, he stayed in Vermillion for a year, working in the admissions office and acting in community and university theater shows. The plan was to raise money for a move to New York, but he still needed a push to get him out of his comfort zone.

“In talking to my parents, my mom was like, ‘You probably need to go. You need to get out of South Dakota and go to New York,’” Bauer said. “So I bought a one-way ticket. I didn’t even have a place to stay when I bought the ticket.”

A month before he left, a friend in New York told him a roommate was leaving for six months and offered to sublease the apartment to Bauer. He now had a place to stay.

He got a job at a market research company to pay the bills and found his first audition on for a small independent production of Man of La Mancha.

“It’s interesting how this tiny little community you cut your teeth with, and seeing who goes where,” Bauer said. “It’s your first family in New York.”

His foot was in the door.

Danny Ahl’s interest was also piqued when he went to see a friend in Los Angeles during college.

“I was lured by cool California,” he said.

He graduated from UNL in 2013 with his broadcasting degree. By this time he had been working in radio for three years and now that he had graduated, the radio station offered him a full-time position.
It was tempting. But he wanted to see what else was out there.

Danny AhlDanny Ahl, a 2009 NBC graduate, works the crowd during a stand-up performance in Los Angeles. After his day job of producing TV shows, he tries to get in one or two open mics a night.

“Yeah, I wanted to be on TV, be in front of the camera,” Ahl said, “but I had no clue how to do that without being a news broadcaster like I had learned at the University of Nebraska.”

He was convinced the answer would be found in L.A. So in November 2014, he packed up his beat-up 2004 Buick and headed west with no particular plan or job in hand.

“I was trying for whatever I could get to make this dream of living out here and not having to move back quickly and feel like a failure,” Ahl said.

He got an assist from another North Bend graduate, Nathan Hansen, who had recently moved out to L.A. with an interest in making and producing movies.

Ahl lived out of his car, slept on Hansen’s couch and followed Hansen to work. He was allowed to shadow Hansen as a production assistant on a European SciFi Channel movie called “Stormageddon.”

“I had to work 14-hour days for this terrible movie for free,” Ahl said, “but I was just so grateful to meet some people. ‘Wow, this guy’s an assistant director. This guy’s a gaffer. I don’t know what that is, but it’s cool.’ I was just learning.”

A production assistant is the lowest rung on the ladder and does whatever he’s told. On one hot film set, Ahl was tasked with assembling a bunch of box fans to keep the extras cool. When the day was done, Ahl was told to take the box fans apart and return them to the store to save money on the low-budget project.

But that first PA job, following Hansen around for free, led to Ahl making an impression on someone, and that someone offered him a paid PA spot on another project.

After a few months, Ahl had enough money to stop couch surfing and rent a room in an apartment.

His foot was in the door.

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