A casual inner monologue on a Thursday:
Jackie. You are bald now. You look different now. You are different now. Therefore, you should begin to accept who you've become today.
Market this woman you see now.
Guys, I'm an actor. A full-blown singing-dancing-acting-New York living-broke ass-musical theatre actor seeking a job on Broadway. Actors are vain, I admit it. We market our talents, voices, and very, very, very much our looks.
Six months ago, I was finishing up a musical in North Carolina when all of my hair started falling out due to Alopecia. By September, I was completely bald. Honestly, prior to being diagnosed, I didn't even know what the hell Alopecia was. So few people know what it is. Every inch of my identity began to peel away from who I was. My femininity felt like it was slowly fading, my confidence wilting, and my future as an actor was unknown. With your image being a humongous part of your career, I began to feel helpless.
This is me exactly 10 months ago:
I never dyed my hair, took great care of it, and it became somewhat of a comfort that I had a healthy head of thick Vietnamese hair.
After I was diagnosed, I wrote a blog that described the very beginning of my journey. The ups and the terrible downs, my biggest fears and insecurities.
When I posted the blog, the renowned Backstage Company reached out to me and offered services to help me along my obstacles. If you are any actor, you know of Backstage.com. It is a mecca for actors! It's where we obtain all audition information, find classes and remains a major tool for us. The fact that Backstage reached out to me was tremendous. I fangirl'd REAL hard.
Tom Lapke, who is the director of education and events, came across my blog and reached out to me. What he offered next to me would change my life! Backstage would offer me classes with casting directors, free admission to the biggest Networking parties in New York City, and the big kahuna: FREE HEADSHOTS.
Like.. what in the world, right?! WHAT IS MY LIFE. How could I not drop dead from the shock and utter gracious hearts of others; strangers, even!
This is the adorable Tom Lapke.
Every actor in New York must go through the quintessential photoshoot to capture their essence in an image: our headshot. This is our calling card! Our really pretty and really expensive business card that gets thrown away 70% of the time.
Some actors love these photoshoots and others hate them. I usually love them. Besides spending my life savings on them, I get really excited to market myself and to feel like I'm super cool getting my pictures taken professionally. However, as I began auditioning as a bald woman again, I felt that a few casting directors seemed a little confused about me bringing in an old image of me with my long hair versus seeing me in person with a bald head.
A few weeks ago, I went to the gym and ran on the treadmill. By my second mile, I started having a nervous breakdown in the middle of my gym in Astoria.
Why am I going through Alopecia?
What is the overall lesson I'm being given?
Should I retake my pictures?
Why the hell am I going to take pictures of me bald?
Am I really bald and is this actually a real life situation?
Fast forward to yesterday. After lots of journaling, meetings with my agent and amazing advice from professionals from the industry, even to my hesitation, it became time for a new chapter. Time to take some new headshots, goddamnit!
The luminous Lauren Toub was my photographer. (Check out her amazing work here.)
To describe the experience is almost impossible. It was one of the best days of my life. Because I knew I needed some support, my hunky boyfriend and best friend accompanied me and were even included in my shoot. It was the best gift I had ever been given, hands-down! Not only did I not have the stress of financially not being able to afford new headshots, but I felt compassion and support from all sorts of networks. I felt loved. I felt strong. I felt like a super hero.
Check out some of my shots!
My photographer, Lauren. Thank you for your generosity and for being the sweetest peach in the world! Her photography is unreal and her heart is undeniably huge.
Tom Lapke with Backstage: thank YOU for ultimately reaching out and helping a lost actor find her way again. Your gift was one that I could never repay and will cherish for the rest of my life.
As for me, I am still figuring things out. As I approach more auditions, dance classes and even a walk down 8th avenue, I am gaining more perspective about this switch in gears. What shows will accept this "new me"? When will I accept this "new me"? I don't know quite yet. This path is not easy but there are people out there who will lift you up in ways that you couldn't imagine. And that gives me hope.