UCF alumnus lands off-Broadway gig in NYC

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John Gavin is watching his dream come to life six nights a week in The City That Never Sleeps.

Gavin graduated from UCF in 2015 with a bachelor’s in music education.

He now stars in “STOMP,” an off-Broadway show in New York City.

“My first show was a thrill,” Gavin said. “I remember my heart racing for the entire length of the show about an hour and 45 minutes.”

The main component that distinguishes Broadway from off-Broadway is theater size, according to Playbill, a monthly magazine for theatergoers. Off-Broadway shows generally have 99 to 499 seats; theaters that seat more than that are considered Broadway, according to the same source.

“STOMP” is a show that blends dance, music and theatrical performance together, according to the show’s website. The cast uses matchboxes, brooms, garbage cans and more to fill the stage with energizing beats.

Gavin said he felt energized and focused rather than nervous during his first show.

“Once the stage lights came up, it almost didn’t feel real, like a vivid dream almost,” he said.

Gavin signing autographs after a show.

Gavin said he was freelancing in New York for a while, which included playing for small orchestras and entertainment drumlines. Then he auditioned for “STOMP” and began his contract in October.

Gavin said he learned from the experience and owes a lot of that to UCF.

“I’ve learned to balance performing regularly and integrate it into daily life,” he said. “Most of all I think I’ve learned to be patient, trust my love of music and be humble.”

Gavin said he started playing music late in the game compared to his peers, but his passion for music grew over time through performance and concentrated study.

“It was countless micro-moments that kept reminding me of this fire inside,” Gavin said. “Now I’m reminded of it every day, and it is still pushing me forward.”

He applied for UCF’s music program twice and was rejected both times, he said.

“It was hard in a lot of different ways, but I kept pushing through and it took me a while to finish but I did,” Gavin said.

Abe Melloh, Gavin’s college roommate and friend since high school, was with Gavin when he bought his first drum kit and started getting into music, he said.

Melloh, a UCF alumnus, recalled how Gavin would routinely spend entire days locked in a music studio while at UCF.

“There was definitely a moment where he started taking it a lot more seriously,” Melloh said, adding that he barely saw Gavin when they were roommates because he was always out practicing.

 

Gavin plays drums in high school.

Melloh wasn’t the only one that noticed Gavin’s dedication.

“Even though his peers were at times ahead of his development, it never got in the way of his own work and development (at least it never appeared that way),” Thad Anderson, assistant professor of music at UCF, said in an email. “John has a great attitude. Where most students would have walked away from their dreams, John pursued head on.”

Gavin is graduating this May with a master’s degree in music and instrumental performance from New York University.

Before landing the gig in New York, Gavin worked as a percussionist at Universal Studios, Disney World and a theme park in Pennsylvania. He was also a substitute teacher in Orange County, he said.

“The older I get the more I realize that music is this force in my life that I really love,” Gavin said. “I was happy making music at a tiny little theme park in Pennsylvania, but I’m also happy here in New York City.”

Melloh and Gavin played in a band unofficially called “J. Gav and the Heavyweights” in high school. But Gavin performed with a different band when given the chance to play with Streetlight Manifesto in a special orchestral concert in New York City.

“[It was] basically the classic story of ‘I knew a guy,’ ” Gavin said.

One of Gavin’s friends was working with the band and knew he was a huge fan, Gavin said.

“For our group of buddies we were like ‘Dude this is a big moment,’ ” Melloh said. “It’s one of those high school dreams.”

Gavin and Melloh watch Streetlight Manifesto perform at Warped Tour in 2009.

Gavin said he dreams of being a part of the Blue Man Group, performing on Broadway, and working on a cruise ship before becoming a music teacher.

He said anyone wanting to pursue a dream needs find their passion and not be afraid, quoting a line from the book “War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

“If you ask yourself that question,” Gavin said, “then you might know what you should be spending your time doing.”