Before reading Underneath This’s interview with Josh, please read some more about him and his work:
Josh Rivedal moved from New Jersey to New York City at the age of 21 to tackle the world of fame, fortune, and the Broadway stage…in what he thought would be a stepping stone to Hollywood and a star on the walk of fame. Eight years later and through a series of remarkable life events, a bad economy, and mixture of collegiate and self-education; Josh reinvented himself as an international public speaker, author, playwright, theatre producer, educator, business consultant, and entrepreneur.
Josh wrote and developed the play, The Gospel According to Josh for the commercial stage and launched a second version accompanied by youth suicide prevention advocacy and education which is currently touring the United States and Canada. He has been published in Personal Branding Magazine as a co-author with Vikram Rajan on an article entitled The Art of Entrepreneurship vs. The Entrepreneurship of Art. He also writes for the blog The Arts Entrepreneur and The BLOGospel According to Josh . As an actor, favorite roles include Richard Loeb in Stephen Dolginoff’s Thrill Me, the voice of Hippo in Scholastic’s Rabbit and Hippo In Three Short Tales, and the narrator of Julianne Moore’s Freckleface Strawberry and the Dodgeball Bully.
Josh is the founder and President of Artful Coaching Resources—a business coaching and social media and content marketing consulting firm for arts professionals and small business owners.
He currently serves of the board of directors for the New York City chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and as an advisory board member for Elijah’s Journey: A Jewish Response to Suicide Prevention.
Please describe your path to becoming an artist and educator.
My desire to work professionally as an artist came first. I’ve been singing since six years old, and television practically raised me. Initially, music and acting were used as an escape from an undesirable childhood and poor self-esteem. When I started to work professionally in music and theater at the age of 19, I enjoyed the creative process behind what I was doing. Playwriting soon followed because I wanted to be more in control of the finality of the creative process. Being an educator came much later, but it was a natural progression. Teaching and engaging with the student is an art in itself. I use theater to educate on suicide prevention, mental wellness, bullying, and black history. I also educate arts professionals on how to manage their careers as a business. The way I educate is a perfect amalgamation of my interests: sociology, writing, performing, teaching, social responsibility, business, and marketing.
What has it been like performing such personal and emotionally vulnerable experiences in the “Gospel According to Josh?”
It’s been one of the best experiences of my life. The show and everything surrounding it has given me so much. I wrote the piece over a six month period, in 2009-10, only a few months after my father’s suicide. It helped transform me as performer, writer, and person. I think you might be asking if it’s been difficult to perform on a consistent basis, a show that includes my father’s death. This is a question that I get a lot. I would say, in general, the piece is difficult to perform because it’s me on stage for more than sixty minutes, I’m playing 30 characters, and the mood of the play ranges from poignant to comedic to perseverant.
How have audiences (family and friends included) reacted to your performance?
Have there been any surprises (in any direction)? The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Family was difficult to perform for because the story is so personal. They have different opinions than I do on the subject matter and if we were all playwrights, we’d each have a different play. However, they were very supportive of my work. The press reviews have also been favorable. Surprises? My old self may have been surprised that so many people have come out of the woodwork to help me get the word out about the show and spread its message. But in my current mindset, I believe that I’ve manifested the goodwill and support from others by working hard at my art, but more so being someone who actively works to help others without keeping score. It’s a delicate karmic balance that I don’t wish to interrupt or jinx by calling too much attention to it.
How has it been working on the book version of the” Gospel According to Josh?”
Put simply, it’s been the bomb. The book is being published in September 2013 and at that point I’ll have been working on the project for twenty months. I’ve grown so much as a writer while putting this piece together. Four of the book’s first five chapters are similar to the play but the final fifteen chapters go further and expound deeper. I’ve read so much fiction, other memoirs, and a bit of non-fiction as well which has helped me develop my unique style. There are a few things done in this book (i.e. using the fragments of one’s mind and conscience as a set of three comedic and mercurial voices on the page) that I’ve never seen done before. I’ve also come to a resolution on some of the personal matters discussed throughout. I’m a better person because of this book, and I think people who read it will feel the same way (and will find it entertaining as well).
In what ways do your different identities affect your work?
These days, I always want to have an idea of what will sell. If one creates art in a forest and no one is around to see/hear it, is it truly art? If I create something—whether I’m writing or producing a play, musical, or book—I want to know if a sizable amount of people will enjoy it. I’m a professional and I need to make some sort of living at my craft. Otherwise, it’s a hobby, and there is definitely a place in the world for that, but not right now for me. I also try to incorporate some sort of message or overarching societal issue as a theme to anything I write (even if it’s on a small scale). And I try to include a philanthropic or charitable angle when I’m producing a piece of work. It’s always a good idea to align with an exceptional cause.
I commend you for becoming involved in youth suicide prevention. How do you balance humor with more serious messages in this context?
You can’t be flippant about the actual causes and effects of suicide. The humor involved in the work I do generally involves self-deprecation (unrelated to suicide) and waxing philosophic on themes that have permeated my life that other people can relate to. Using humor this way is a carrot of sorts to string along the casual social activist and those who wouldn’t otherwise be involved in suicide prevention. Another point—everyone deals with grief in different ways: desolation, isolation, and even comedy. I, personally try to diffuse difficult situations in my life with humor. That’s my process.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Work harder than you think you’re able to achieve what you want. Surround yourself with people who are smarter and more talented than you. Be willing to make certain sacrifices to ensure your success. Be open to constructive criticism without taking offense. Know what success looks like to you. Have clear-cut goals and set deadlines. You may not always meet your deadlines but setting timelines will help you achieve more than you would have otherwise. Learn something about how to market yourself and your work. Be persistent. Be willing to pivot, i.e., if you’re not achieving the level of success you desire, use the skill set you’ve acquired as an artist to find equally challenging and creative employment. Be trustworthy. Follow through on your word always. If you make a mistake, apologize and rectify it. Think about long-term relationships over shortcuts. Be on time. Ask others how you can help them and do it often. Network in and outside of the arts. Be a voracious learner. Read often. Take breaks—Rome wasn’t built in a day.
On what other writing projects are you working?
I’m currently working on writing the book (script), additional lyrics, and some music on a new farcical Spanish language musical Rescatando la Navidad, playing Miami, Florida and Austin, Texas for a five week tour during Christmas 2013. I’m also co-writing a play with music tentatively titled Following the Drinking Gourd which will make its premiere in January 2014. I’m also ghost writing on a few smaller projects!