A little backstory: I have been working on a book for a hot second. It's a non-fiction guide to navigating and sustaining a creative life. It uses anecdotes from my life as an actress in New York and weaves philosophy with practicality. People have said it's the kind of book they'd keep in their bag and pick up when they needed a jolt of inspiration. Those are the basics. The thing is written, but now I'm in a whole new part of my creative process: the words are down and I have to decide if I believe them.
For me, writing is all about the act of communion between me and the reader. In my wildest dreams, every chapter is a conversation. Every sentence is a give and take. So when I get through spilling my guts to my
imaginary friend potential reader, I really only know what edits to make when the material is live and being consumed. The performative side of me I'll never shake. I'm always more compelling when the spotlight burns the hottest.
So with that part of my process in mind, I'm going to share a tiny bit of my book with you. Once it's out there, I'll have a more discerning eye when looking at it. If you have constructive feedback, I'd love it. If you want to share it with friends, I'd love that too. If this helps you identify the nuances of your own creative process, all the better. Thank you for letting me expand my own creative process to include you, my friends.
Here's a piece from the introduction of the book:
The first time I stepped onto a bus and shipped myself off to an acting gig, I was 22 and with my dad.
I had just graduated from college. I was living at home in Pennsylvania so I picked a few days to go into the city and audition while I stayed over at my boyfriend's house in New Jersey. That first week in New York, I booked something.
I had strapped on my purple leotard and black tights (this was before those handful of years we would only wear tan fishnets and lululemon to auditions) and put my full face on - red lip, heavy mascara, pink cheeks. I knew how to be the chorus girl, the understudy, the lead, the featured dancer, whatever you wanted from me, I was ready to go. You could tell by the scent of cheap hairspray and consuming desperation.
I walked into an audition for Kiss Me, Kate that would be performed at a theatre in Arizona. As nervous as I was (Did I look fat? Could they tell I had no idea what I was doing? Should I have maybe fluffed up my resume a little bit?) when the choreographer began breaking down the sequence, I felt like I had come home. As I danced - the weight changes, the isolations, the style - it all made sense in my body. It felt good. I felt powerful. I started fantasizing about the relationship we would form. This choreographer would be the Bennett to my McKechnie and I would rise to stardom via regional theatre in Arizona (humility and common sense were not a part of this fantasy, I was Broadway bound after all).
The minute the dancing was over I went back to my state of panic. The make up and the movement barely covered up the looming question in the back of my head that wasn't just about show business but life in general: Will I make it?
The creative team thanked us for coming and said they'd be in touch. As I walked out of the studio, finally letting my perfect posture relax into tired shoulders and over-stretched hamstrings, the choreographer walked out and said, "Do you have another resume? I might have a spot open in my chorus and we start rehearsals Monday in upstate New York. Could you be there?" I nodded yes. My eyes widened. My breath stopped. He smiled and said, "I'm gonna put you to work." And with a wink he took my resume and walked away.
A few hours later I got a call from the producer of the show upstate. In four days I needed to be on a bus to Albany. We'd rehearse for four weeks and run for four weeks. They couldn't pay me much but travel and housing were included. Was I in?
I had been expecting at least a year of struggling to even get seen at auditions, so the fact that this first gig came so suddenly shocked me into confusion. I said yes.
All I had heard my whole life was that being an actor would be impossible and soul-crushing, but here I was making connections at non-equity dance calls and signing contracts in my first week of scaling the concrete jungle. Maybe this was the universe telling me I would “make it” one day. Maybe this was the affirmation that would carry me through the early morning auditions and streaks of getting cut and superficial jealousies of my friends that I had heard would be just a matter of time. Maybe all of those fears I had circling my post-graduate head were made up. Maybe this would be easy after all.
I packed up my rehearsal clothes, my LaDucas, and an opening night dress. I heard you needed things like this as a professional actress. My dad rearranged his schedule so he could help me make my 8am bus to Albany that Monday. When he dropped me off at the Allentown bus station, he looked me in the eyes, and with a proud papa smile said, “Go get ‘em kid.” I walked onto the bus. I was on my own for the first time in 22 years. My eyes welled up with tears and I had two thoughts:
- Public transportation makes for the most dramatic scenes.
- This is the moment of commitment.
Up until that first gig, acting was theoretical. Making art was theoretical. I was now off to upstate New York to be in the ensemble of Thoroughly Modern Millie. I was going to be paid $250 a week to dance in my favorite musical. I didn’t know if I was actually any good. I didn’t know if I’d make friends. I didn’t know if this was going to be my first and last gig. But maybe for all the theory I had studied and all the anxieties I had coddled and all the childhood fantasies I had nurtured, living this life would actually be okay. Maybe it'd be more than okay and fill me with the tools I needed to actually change the world. Or at least be a part of it in a substantial way. I had no idea what the next decade was going to bring, I had no idea this moment of commitment wasn't a one time rite of passage for a green show business baby like me, but one I'd have to meet over and over. Or that I'd have to consistently face my doubts and fears and fantasies again and again and again. I had no idea what I was beginning, but for that brief and beautiful moment, I was present enough to give my dad a hug, let his words fill me with courage, and acknowledge that I was about to start something huge.