A Cowboy Interrupted

Announcer: I think I hear him coming now, put your hands together for AJ SILVER!
Sadie: So AJ’s name isn’t really AJ and he’s actually kind of a big deal in some niche circles.
Angelo: how was the trip?

Sadie: Oh, it was nice. I’d actually never been…

Angelo: to. My name is Angelo Iodice. I was born and raised in the Bronx to a family of Italian immigrants. Um, of course they were not excited about the idea of me becoming a professional rodeo performer. My grandparents didn’t come to America for me to ride horses

Sadie: through a quirky twist of fate, Angelo had a long and successful career as a Western performer.
Is that hay in the back?

Angelo: I have straw bales. That’s for the set. So they’re a little bit bigger. So, Hay is…

Sadie: he started out trick riding in rodeos, and since hanging up the saddle has become known for trick roping, whip cracking and performing this really cool Argentinian folk dance called Malambo.

Angelo: Uh, trick roping is really what I’m known for today. Trick roping was invented by the Cowboys of Mexico. It’s a very difficult, delicate skill. Now, most people think that there are gimmicks to the rope. It’s just a rope. So, um, you know, there are no gimmicks. It’s just hours and hours of practice.

Sadie: but after a long career of performing all over the world, things changed. His mother developed dementia and she needed more help around the house. And Angelo was starting to feel his age too. He traveled less and less and eventually realized that something had to give.

Angelo: I think almost all performers, right? When we get to a certain age. We know our bodies just can’t do what’s necessary.And also it’s a young person’s world, you know, people, you know, like to hire young, good looking people. Uh, that’s not to say that older mature people aren’t good looking, but, uh, but it’s something that we consider. Um, so time will tell.

Sadie: He’s going through this transition in his life and career making big changes.
And it’s all a little bittersweet, you know, and Angelo takes those feelings and he does what artists do. He uses it
Angelo: I received a grant. I applied for a grant from the Bindlestiff family circus. It was called the 1st of May award. And it’s basically a grant for people who are trying to create their own full length show.
And I feel it’s a rite of passage for performers to do that, especially in New York City. So I thought I was going to create a Western variety show,

Sadie: but this whole thing turned into something much more personal.

Angelo: And as I was creating the show, there was always this fear in my mind that I wouldn’t have enough time to do 45 minutes.And then as I’m creating it, I have two hours of material. And I decided that the show was actually my story.

Sadie: His first solo show, A Cowboy From The Bronx is a memoir, a retrospect of his life and career and people were interested. He did a couple of bare bones test runs at a local theater and they sold out.
Eventually Angelo was approached by the City University of New York’s theater tech program. They wanted to host his show for a week. Students would build sets for him, help him out with professional lighting and sound design and everything was set to go in March of 2020.
Angelo: Like the few weeks leading up to it.
You know, first we heard these rumors. We heard these rumors of this virus and I was thinking, oh my gosh, how is this going to affect the show, is the show still going to go on? And they were like, yeah, the show is still going to go on. You know, we’re just going to spread the audience out. And in my mind, I was like, I just don’t, I don’t think it’s going to happen.
And then sure enough, uh, you know, New York City and the rest of the world closed down, so the show was canceled. Everyone’s lives were put on hold.

Sadie: The debut of his one man show was shut down before it even started, which is weirdly appropriate because as Angelo tells it, disappointment is kind of this theme in his life from as far back as child,

Angelo: When the rodeo came to Madison square garden, naturally we all went to go see it.
My brother took me and at this rodeo, they had an exhibition of trick riders

from behind the gate These beautiful horses burst into the arena at a full Gallop, the horses galloping without any commands from the riders who were performing dangerous, impossible acrobatic stunts hanging upside down when they’re heads dragging in the dirt.
And I saw this and my mind was blown, I was 11 years old, and I realized right then and there, this is what I had to do with my life. I just knew it. And I actually remember sitting through the rest of the rodeo, almost crying because I didn’t, I knew I had to do this, but I didn’t think I would ever be able to

Sadie: See, Angelo is someone who pursues his dreams, kind of against all odds at times. He just finds a way and astonishingly, life brings him together with two people that can help make it happen.

Angelo: So when I went back to the barn and I was trying to imitate these tricks and there was a horseshoer at the stable. His name was Nick Panzella. He was a professional rodeo cowboy known for his superhuman strength.
“Hey, you trying to trick ride kid?
You’re going about it all wrong. You’re going to hurt yourself!”.

Sadie: It turned out that Angelo didn’t need to go out west to learn trick riding and roping because Nick’s wife, Helen was a trick rider and teacher from right there in the Bronx.

Angelo: She was a beautiful athletic, tall athletic woman. Um, and she was an amazing trick rider.
And she was known for doing tricks that typically only men did. And she, she immediately saw that I was bit by the bug and she was like, oh my gosh, someone has to help this kid.

They always joke that when they first met me, I was the short on coordinated, floppy her kid. And when I tried to trick ripe, all they saw was hair and legs flying in every direction.

Sadie: But during the shutdown, Angelo was not so sure that he could find a way to make this new dream happen.

Angelo: I thought, okay, it’ll be next year. We’ll do it. And then next year came and nothing has changed. And then I just, I wasn’t sure if they wanted to go in a new direction. Um, I really. I didn’t know. I didn’t know whether their department, you know, would change because everyone was hurting financially because of COVID

Sadie: And he wasn’t the only one, the entire arts industry was devastated by the economic shutdown, SMU data arts, estimated that the unemployment rate for artists was up to double the national average during the pandemic. Angelo’s director, Karen Gersh has been with the show from the beginning. She’s also a visual and performance artists.

Karen: We were almost at the starting gate. We were, we were days away from coming down when we were told, oh, there’s a little bug that’s going around, you know, as it just kind of rolled out and became, uh, a really clearly something unimaginable for this country.
We had no choice, but to everything closed down. So they were, it was not like you were being singled out. It was, the world came to a stop, a crashing stop.

Sadie: It was a stop that left a lot of things up in the air and left Angelo a lot of time to worry about the future.

Angelo: And that was tough. And, you know, I would say, especially.
Especially, you know, I’m getting older. So I sort of get in my mind, I’m like, I’m going to perform for another five years, but then my mom’s dementia made me realize, well, maybe this is it. Like maybe, you know, I’m going to be taking care of my mom, the rest of her life. And that might mean my. Opportunities of performing around the world and traveling are gone because, you know, when I stopped taking care of my mom, maybe I’m going to be too old to perform.
So the past two years have been tough. You know, there’s been a lot going through my mind, not only all of the closures because of the pandemic, but also my personal life of, um, where am I going to after this? And will I have the opportunities I had in the past

Sadie: then in January, after nearly two years, Angelo got a call from CUNY.

Angelo: They said, “Hey, listen, we made this promise to you that we were going to produce your show and we still want to produce it”

Sadie: Angelo and Karen and the rest of the crew went to work, preparing and rehearsing for the show.

CUNY Student: Karen Angelo question. Once we are done with the heartbeat…

Angelo: To be honest, during the two years, you know, you would think that I would have been working on the show, but the truth is, like during that time it was just like, just felt like limbo.
And I just really, I mean, I feel like most people, we just were lost a little bit,

Sadie: but they definitely got back into the groove. And even though I’m not at all an expert in the cowboy arts. Angelo’s skills didn’t seem like they needed much work at all.

Angelo: Does that sound like a rhythm? Yeah.

Sadie: Karen, the directors are running around in her socks. Angelo asked her if she needs anything. She just says glass of Cabernet.
But Karen says that even though his tricks are great, they aren’t what makes this production special

Karen: the show is there’s the skill, but really it’s about the emotional and the story, the story he’s telling, that’s the impact.
It’s such a beautiful story and all the elements, you know, to go from humor, to poignancy, tears to laughter. Um, that makes a good show I think.

Sadie: in the end they ran for performance. It was a success, but in a post COVID world, the way we measure that success has kind of changed.

Angelo: Unfortunately, uh COVID is still here.
You know, uh, even though mandates in New York city are being lifted, but CUNY, that theater is, is on the CUNY campus. And in order for students, faculty, or any guests to be on CUNY property, they still have to get this clearance. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Even

Sadie: though Angelo was happy that he finally got to perform his show.
COVID restrictions meant that he wouldn’t be performing for a packed house. Live theater has really struggled to get attendance up since the pandemic, but Angelo wanted his life story to be about more than selling tickets.

Angelo: I’m excited to be on stage and doing it again, not only my skills, but also I’m telling my story and I hope it influences people and I hope it will inspire them to follow their dreams.
Someone described my show as a love letter to the Bronx, and they said, when you come to my show, you will never look at the Bronx the same way.

Angelo Iodice (646)2809048
Karen Gersch (203)-216-5002