JJ Niemann tells (and shows!) how social media helped heal one actor’s loneliness.
By JJ Niemann
What does a Broadway actor do when there is no Broadway? What does someone who spent the past 10 years of their life pursuing theater do when there is no theater? That’s the crossroads I came to in March 2020, when I was faced with way more free time than I ever wanted and had to ask myself: “Who am I really?” No, like, really. Without my job, without my industry, without distractions. What else do I love doing?
When I went back to my childhood home in North Carolina for a few weeks in March 2020 (which, of course, turned into a year), I rediscovered all my old wigs I’d used when making YouTube videos for fun back in my middle school and high school years.
I had just downloaded TikTok and *tentatively* decided to start putting myself out there with a couple of videos to see what would happen. I was terrified — and specifically scared to put videos out there with my actual voice.
Cut to nearly two years later, and I have almost a million followers on the platform, and my videos have reached over 250 million people.
I’d always been a creative person who loved making videos — but I stifled that part of myself for years out of fear of the internet, fear of cyberbullies, and fear of being made fun of.
But I’m so glad I didn’t let those negative thoughts or those petty little voices prevent me from pursuing content creation — something that now is not only a huge passion of mine, but is also lucrative and allows me to do some pretty cool things. I never thought something I started on a whim could turn into something so game-changing for my life.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my videos were kind of healing to a lot of people during the pandemic. Hundreds of people have come up to me in the past few months and thanked me for making them, specifically when we were in a time when shows were being canceled left and right, people around the world were unable to sit in an audience to experience the catharsis of live theater, and performers (whether seasoned Broadway vets or theater kids looking forward to their school musical) were unable to do what they loved.
The video series that put me on the map
Not only was I creating content that fulfilled my need for creativity, but I was also comforting other performers who felt a huge void in their life and needed to be reminded of the joy of theater.
All of my videos are inspired by my experiences, both onstage and off, as an actor living in New York City.
My videos definitely aim for a relatable humor, and the ones that do the best online are always ones where people feel very “seen” and ones that align with their own experiences. The video series that really put me on the map as a creator was “Broadway actors when our mics are on/off.”
Finding universal fun in specificity
Those videos are what I am most known for — reenacting quick changes, funny onstage moments, mishaps, and behind-the-scenes tea. I realized that the idea of “Broadway” seems so far-off and untouchable for many people, so a lot of my younger audience members appreciated me shedding some light on what Broadway is truly like –—yes it’s a workplace, but we’re all a bunch of goofballs and grown-up “theater kids.” One of the coolest and funniest parts of making these types of videos featuring various Broadway shows has been the actors from those casts DMing me saying, “How did you know we did exactly that backstage/onstage?!” It’s hilarious, and just goes to show that there’s universality in specificity.
And I think that’s a testament to how my theater (and dance) related content hits so well with the right audiences — we’ve all truly experienced so much of the same things, and from across the world we’re able to bond over our mutual love (and frustrations) with the universality of it all.
JJ Niemann is an NYC based actor, teacher, and choreographer. Some of his recent theater credits include Footloose at The Rev Theatre Co., and The Book of Mormon on Broadway.