Meet these local grads who are pursuing unique careers in the Big Apple.
Lake Mary High School graduate Alison (James) Maddox earns her living these days by envisioning the ideal city. And Alison says her life in Manhattan is about as ideal as she could hope for.
“New York was the only place I considered moving to,” says Alison. “Anything cool that happens, happens in New York.”
The 28-year-old Yale graduate lives in Washington Heights, a once-troubled neighborhood now popular with young professionals.
Alison works for Alphabet, Inc., Google’s parent company, as part of an investment team that seeks to improve city life throughout the nation. That project, called Sidewalk Labs, analyzes how people get around in dense urban areas to develop more efficient transit options, traffic flow, and parking.
In a nutshell, Alison says, “it’s about making a city more livable.”
When she’s not shaping the urban future, Alison is also a musician and burgeoning singer-songwriter. Her musical roots run deep. She grew up playing classical music, taking piano lessons at age five.
“I stuck with it,” she says. “I like working hard on things, and music found a place in my soul.”
Using her maiden name, performs live in clubs and other intimate concert venues, usually with backing musicians. Allison recently wrote and performed a song which played over the end credits of An Interview with God, a movie that ran in theaters nationwide in late August.
Alison’s older brother, Taylor James, is another Lake Mary High grad who made his way up north. But while Alison might have to cope with crowded restaurants and dodging taxis, a typical challenge for Taylor is corralling some wayward pigs.
Taylor, 31, gave up corporate life in the retail clothing industry to become an organic farmer in Bedminster, New Jersey, about an hour’s drive from New York City.
“You wouldn’t think you were in New Jersey,” Taylor says. “It’s gorgeous out here. You’ve got rolling hills and horse farms. It’s cool to be so close [to New York] and still be able to do farming.”
In addition to livestock, Taylor’s farm grows some 40 main crops including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, kale, okra, sweet potatoes, and zucchini – all without the use of pesticides and other chemicals. Much of the food is sold directly to customers.
Taylor jokes that while visitors from the big city are initially charmed by his farm’s rural vibe, they probably start missing that New York energy fairly quickly.
His sister would not argue – both siblings, it seems, have found their element.
“It’s a cliché, but things really are open all night here,” Alison says of Manhattan. “There’s always something to do, someone to talk to.” When she comes back to visit Central Florida, the contrast is acute. “Something closes at 5:00 p.m., and it’s like, what do we do now?”
Trading in Glamour
Growing up in Lake Mary, Alexis Calderone always had a taste for the finer things in life – especially when it came to clothes. Now a New Yorker, Alexis has a job that surrounds her with some of the finest things money can buy. Think $32,000 for a Hermès Kelly handbag.
Alexis, 28, is associate luxury manager for The RealReal, a luxury consignment firm that finds buyers for expensive castoffs from some of the nation’s leading celebrities and fashion designers. A resident of Manhattan’s SoHo district, Alexis travels throughout the city helping the well-to-do clean out their closets. She meets people she has admired her entire life, a pretty heady experience.
“Most of them are incredibly gracious and humble,” Alexis says. “They’re asking me, ‘Do you think I should keep this dress?’”
The consignment operation means buyers can end up with tremendous bargains, status symbols they could never dream of purchasing at MSRP. A Prada dress that cost thousands of dollars new might be had for a mere hundred bucks, Alexis says.
The RealReal also deals in art and jewelry. And Alexis says being surrounded by so much glamour can be mind-bending.
“At any time, I’m wandering around the city with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stuff... I’m hoping my Uber driver doesn’t know what I have,” she jokes.
Alexis, a Lake Mary High and UCF graduate, originally planned a life in the political arena. But her experience as an aide and campaign consultant in the Florida House of Representatives soured her to that increasingly divisive industry.
Alexis now considers herself a New Yorker for life. She cannot imagine being in a city where you can’t get whatever kind of food you’re craving at midnight.
“I’m constantly energized – I love it so much,” she says. “Once you’ve lived here, it’s tough to live anywhere else.”
Stories with a Punch
" I make stories.”
That is how Blayze Teicher succinctly sums up her New York directing career. But not just any stories. The 27-year-old Brooklyn resident earned her B.A. in creative writing and theater from Florida State University after graduation from Lake Mary High School. Blayze gravitates toward tales of identity, sexual and otherwise. And she can be unabashedly political.
“If you’re not affecting the world, you’re not doing it right,” Blayze says. “In my circles, it’s looked down on if you don’t take a stand.”
Blayze began performing on stage at Heathrow Elementary School. By her senior year at Lake Mary High, she played the lead in the musical comedy Nunsense and directed a production of Annie.
She cannot remember a time when she did not have her sights set on the Big Apple.
“It’s the theater capital of the United States, and arguably the world,” Blayze says. “New York was always the pinnacle.”
Despite her acting experience, directing developed into Blayze’s primary passion. She loves the challenge, she explains, of transforming the printed work of a script to the three-dimensional stage.
In the super-competitive New York market, Blayze has begun to make her mark. At the Fresh Fruits Awards, she won the best full-length director award for The Diplomats, a play about three friends from different backgrounds whose relationships are tested by issues of racial, cultural, and political identification.
The writer of the play, Nelson Diaz-Marcano, described Blayze in one interview as “a goddess of direction.”
Blayze’s Jewish roots and an affinity for magical realism led her to another project this year, a play called Summer Night, With Unicorn, which she describes as “a mystical romp through the Chicago night.”
“Everything I work on is part of who I am,” Blayze says.
The expense of living in New York means that Blayze must rely on such odd jobs as bartending to get by. But it’s a price she is happy to pay.
“It’s crazy,” Blayze says of New York. “It’s big, and beautiful, and so cool.”
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