Josh Bardier: The Man Behind Actoria
By Ilija Sekulovski
In 2011, Josh found himself living in Astoria – in Queens, where he swore he’d never live. Now? You couldn’t pay him to leave.
“I fell in love with the neighborhood. Everyone does, it’s unavoidable. Honest to God, once you move to Astoria, you never want to leave.”
Josh spent his time living and breathing the theatre world of New York City: the best place in the world for theatre. He’s performed in everything from Off Broadway, to regional theatre, from Westside Story to A Chorus Line, and lots of Neil Simon comedies.
“I’m a performing artist – it’s the best umbrella term. I’m an actor, a dancer, a singer, a director, and now a host! I’ve worked in casting offices; I’ve been a company manager.
I’m living my life’s goal, which is to live and breathe theatre. Besides the occasional wanting to be a cleaning lady or train conductor, this has always been it for me! There’s a famous Moss Hart quote, and it talks about the sickness of desperately wanting to be in the theatre, and how it starts young – I’ve always believed in that.”
The theatre world isn’t always easy, and Josh found himself waiting tables and being a server to make ends meet. A chance occasion brought him to The Astor Room, where he worked as a server in between auditions.
“I was a server there, and I got a part, so I was going to leave for a few months. Hal [The President of Kaufman Astoria Studios who is now the owner of The Astor Room restaurant] told me I’d have a job when I came back, which I did! I wanted something different, though. I wanted to bring something new to The Astor Room.”
He did just that – and created Actoria.
Actoria is a weekly cabaret set at the Astor Room – a “speak easy cabaret,” as it’s been described. It’s this sort of magical night each week that transports you to Broadway. You’re surrounded by singers and dancers that belt out songs and show tunes like it’s the only thing that matters – and to many of them, it is. They have this passion that resonates through the walls of The Astor Room, and it’s easy to get lose in the three hour show.
“The rules are simple,” Josh says, “Drink, drink, drink.” And drink they do! And sing. And dance. And have as about much fun as you can expect from a room full of people doing exactly what they’re passionate about.
“As a performer, you rarely get the opportunity to perform a full song. At auditions, you’re lucky if you get 30 seconds. What The Astor Room has given us is something every performer dreams about: a space, a stage, somewhere to showcase your art, freely and openly.”
Actoria is a place that reminds performers why they love what they do, and a place for audience members to experience a show that is completely different each and every week, and yet seamless and exciting.
“The show is for people dining at The Astor Room, but it’s also a place where actors, and friends, and music lovers are able to come and spend the night in Astoria. There’s never a cover, never a minimum. We think of it like an open door: The Astor Room is opening their doors for anyway to come enjoy the show.”
The weekly show has become a home for many.
“The thing with actors is, each has their own little circle of friends. At Actoria, we manage to bring together these tiny little circles, and combine them into something so much larger – into a community.”
That’s no doubt owed in part to Josh’s ability to not only light up a room, but to make people comfortable. Each week he mills between tables, stopping to chat with each and every audience member, or simply making everyone in the room belly laugh with his larger than life personality. By now, he’s come to know some of the regulars, and tells us about them fondly.
“There’s this one mother and daughter who come every week. The mother used to be a performer in the 70’s, and she comes by and reminisces, and enjoys all the songs she remembers singing. They never miss a night.”
Another one of his unique audience members? A paramedic team that helped a passed out Josh on New Year’s Eve.
“It was hilarious! We never miss a Wednesday, and this year, New Year’s Eve was on a Wednesday, so we were in full swing. At some point during the night, I just dropped. Completely passed out! So the paramedics came, and I told them, “There is NO way I’m leaving! Somehow, though, in my inebriated state, I gave them an Actoria card – and the next week, they came back!”
The show must go on at Actoria, and a little fainting, or bad weather, or any excuse, won’t stop it. Josh has created Actoria as something to be loved and enjoyed, a place that reminds performers why they moved here in the first place: why they live to sing and dance and act.
“It’s really gained its rhythm and footing. We solidified a team, which is myself, and three other Astoria residents: David Bryant Johnson, Amanda Blair, and our resident pianist Alexander Rovang. Once the four of us came together and really figured out what kind of show we wanted, everything fell into place.”
A theatre loving boy from Massachusetts has managed to absolutely transform this little corner of Astoria. Josh isn’t bringing back the arts – they’ve always had a home in the Kaufman Arts District, where the Astor Room is located – but he’s created one night a week where they’re highlighted; where they’re forced to shine. It’s unlike nearly anything happening in Astoria each week, and it’s something not to be missed.
“It’s a mix. It’s not just for actors. It’s for anyone who’s had a long day. Anyone who wants to relax. Anyone who wants to join the circle.”