When parents decide to send their children to St. Joseph’s Catholic School, one of the draws is the sense of family present at SJCS. Truly amazing is how that sense of family sticks with alumni long after the cap and gown have been worn.
Such is the case for Laura Gragtmans, SJCS class of 2005. The familial feeling was not more evident than in April when Laura, a singer living in NYC, opened for the band Kopecky at the Maudlin Cultural Center. SJCS Alumni Board President GP McLeer runs the center and hired Laura and her band for the gig. “He found out that we were releasing an album,” Laura says.
Not only was GP a part of the “reunion” but so were SJCS alums Matt Polowczuk (sound), Rob Valerio (sound), Sally Cade Holmes (producer), Brelyn Holmes (art work) and Mairin McLeer (production). “All of us did plays together at SJCS,’ Laura said.
The debut album is the big news for Laura. It’s titled Hug the Lonely Cactus. Written over the span of five years, the album features songs “from the time stamps during that period my life,” Laura said. “They span from moving to NYC, to relationships … losing loved ones, wrestling with unhealthy loved ones, professional disappointment, professional uncertainty … all those things that happen between 25 and 30.”
Laura chose the album title because it “comes from the idea that something fruitful can in fact grow out of a seemingly dry and barren landscape.” So the cactus can become “food, water, shade home and protection for so many of the lives around it.”
It was the SJCS theatre program that helped Laura begin her artistic journey.
“I loved doing all the plays at St. Joe’s,” Laura says. “Patching together the stage and the lights and costumes really shaped my idea of theatre as a communal effort.”
There were many hands that made the “theatre soup.” “We always had way too many people in the casts, but that made it even more of a party. …. I guess St. Joe’s nurtured my artistic spirit in that I didn’t feel like anyone was trying to crush my enthusiasm.”
After graduating from the University of Evansville in 2009 and earning a master’s in fine arts at Yale in 2012, Laura’s trekked to NYC to begin her music career. She reconnected with Sally Cade Holmes (SJCS Class of 2006) who had also attended Evansville (located next to the Ohio River in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area). When they found each other in NYC, Sally had transitioned her career to theatre production. “I was able to snatch her up amidst her many projects and we formed the rest of the team from there,” Laura said. “She remains at the heart of the project and is one of my closest friends.”
Laura says she loves living in NYC, but it is not for the faint-hearted artist saying it is “incredibly expensive and incredibly competitive … so getting work is a real challenge, but the over-saturation (of talent) leads to one of the fantastic things about New York, which is that you’re always challenged and pushed to stay sharp.”
Her advice to anyone hoping to pursue an artistic career: “You have to love it. Everyone says that but it’s really true,” Laura said. She showed just how much she practices what she preaches to the the SJCS community by performing at Jubilate Knight for the Arts in late April. It radiated through her music as she sang.
“It’s an important distinction to realize that being unhappy and being uncomfortable are two very different things’ Laura said. “It’s important to realize that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, being an artist lasts your whole life if you want it to.
“… I think it’s important to follow your nose and seek your vocation; there are a thousand roads to Mecca.”
Laura’s album can be found on iTunes or at her website www.lauragragtmans.com.