Following his passion for acting and music, MHS ‘09 alumnus Joel Libed moved to New York City to pursue his dreams on Broadway. Now, five years after moving to New York, Libed travels the world, performing in off-Broadway musicals in off-Broadway shows, cruise ship shows, theme parks and tribute acts.
“Joel has a great quality about him that not a lot of people have, he loves to explore and try new things and it completely helps him in this industry. Joel actually started pretty late in the game to become a performer, he found something new that he loved though and fought hard for it. He moved to New York at a young age and made a name for himself. He is always working on his craft, going to auditions, trying new things when on contract, always trying to better himself for this business,” said one of Libed’s previous colleagues Steven Yerardi.
Though Libed has always had a passion for music, he didn’t discover his passion for musical theater until late in his high school career. “I actually got my start at Mililani High. I was in band and one day decided to audition for the Tri-School (now CTAA) spring musical “Cinderella“ when I was a junior. I ended up loving it and did one more show at MHS,” said Libed.
Though he still had a passion for music, Libed was more intrigued by theatre than he was band. “Theatre requires acting, singing, dancing and much more. I felt it used my talents more,” said Libed.
After starting theatre in high school, Libed was hooked on the rush of performing. “Performing uses your entire body, mind, and spirit. There’s no explanation to say what it feels like to go into ‘performance mode.’ Whatever is going on in the world or my life, I’m able to escape and be somewhere else. It’s honestly magical,” said Libed.
Libed does his best to put all of his love and joy for theater into his performances. “Every time I see Joel perform, I am fully entertained because I can feel all of his passion and emotion that he puts into each performance. The Joel you see on stage is the Joel you get in real life. You can tell when someone feels uncomfortable or nervous on stage, but that’s never Joel. He exudes confidence and joy every time he performs,” said best friend and fellow ‘09 alumna Ashley Akamine.
After graduating from MHS, Libed attended Leeward Community College for two semesters but felt unsatisfied with the direction he was going in life. “I wanted to redirect my life, and I did,” said Libed. “My parents were supportive, but also very confused. They loved seeing me in community theater, but when I announced that I was moving to NYC the whole ‘back up plan talk’ ensued. My dad told me I needed to save $10,000. They didn’t know the business very well, but that didn’t stop them from being concerned parents. So, I bought the ticket to NY and told them I would be leaving in nine months.”
Though he had initially been worried about moving, Libed began to pick up on all the job options he could find. “When I moved to New York, my goal was Broadway. But when I got there I realized there was so much I can do: national tours, cruise ships, off Broadway, theme parks,TV, film—the opportunities are endless,” said Libed.
Libed had to learn how to adapt quickly as he transitioned from performing in amateur shows to professional shows. “Professional shows move quickly. Typically, I would learn a show in one to two weeks and had to be fully memorized before rehearsals started. My first job would dock pay for any time I missed a line, was late to a call and if I ever forgot a lyric. It was scary,” said Libed.
Despite the many risks that Libed faced when he moved to New York, Libed continued to pursue his love for the theatre. “It was 1,000 percent worth every risk. The amount I have grown over the past five years as a person speaks for itself. I moved away from home 5,000 miles to NYC, with no degree, no job and no clear understanding of where my life is going to go. Reflecting on the last five years, I’ve fully supported myself, learned to make decisions, and learned how to adapt in rough situations, lived on my own, and I feel unstoppable,” said Libed.
Living in New York, Libed had to learn how to fend for himself — how to be completely independent and how to find work. “Finding work is probably the hardest part of my industry. I cannot tell you how many auditions I got rejected from, how many times I had to wake up at 5 a.m. to be the first on the audition sign up, how many times I messed up singing an audition song at 9 a.m., how many times I got cut because I couldn’t dance as well as the other dancers. I am my only coach. No one is gonna make me get up day after day and put myself out there,” said Libed.
Most of the shows that Libed performs in are revue shows aboard cruise ships where they combine music with dance and sketches. “I performed a variety shows on a cruise ship. Mainstage theatre shows were 45 minute revue shows that we performed twice a night.
The shows I did on Royal Caribbean was a Broadway revue show and a ‘50s to ‘70s revue show. We also had a Broadway cabaret we performed at the end of the cruise in the lounge with a piano,” said Libed.
Doing contracts with cruise ships gives Libed the chance to perform in front of people from across the world and travel for free. “When I’m not performing on the ship, I’m usually enjoying the different ports we are in. I’ve traveled to 48 countries in the last two years and it’s been incredible,” said Libed.
Libed hopes to make it on Broadway and overcome the challenges of finding work in his industry as he continues to travel for shows for as long as it makes him happy.