My first "performance" was at Yosemite National Park. My sister and I were around nine and 10 years old. We decided to entertain ourselves with the night's campground gathering.
The park ranger announced to the crowd, "Whoever traveled the farthest will get a part in tonight's skit!"
I immediately shot up my hand and excitedly shared, "I'm from Antarctica."
We're from Southern California.
The role required that I fall to the ground like a tree that suddenly died. When it was my turn I flailed my arms wildly and bellowed video game-like sound effects as if I had been brutally killed. The entire audience laughed.
I was hooked: the thrill, the laughter, the freedom of expression. Acting had me completely -- for about 10 years.
In my 20s, I was knee-deep in the craft. Besides classes in college, I trained for years at the best acting studios in L.A. -- Playhouse West and Larry Moss Studio. I had acting roles in independent films, local theater plays, and even had my first authored play land Off-Broadway. One of my biggest mainstream achievements was a guest star role on the hit show, LOST. My restaurant manager -- big surprise, I was a waitress -- recorded the episode and played it on the café TV screens on my first day back at work. A visiting Midwestern woman shrieked, "You're famous! Can I have your autograph?" Somewhere in-between clearing her table and signing her napkin I could taste my episode of E! True Hollywood Story.
My friends on the other hand had more stable careers -- ad executive, teacher, lawyer, etc., etc. And they were starting families of their own. But I wasn't concerned. I had the kind of satisfaction that comes with pursuing your dream. I believed that it was just a matter of time before I would get my big break.
Then something happened when I turned 30. I suddenly felt like time was running out. It is no secret that Hollywood spits out women over 35. When I didn't get a callback, I took the rejection as more personal than ever. Sure, not getting a part was typical, but in the past I would have just blown it off and looked to the next opportunity. Hollywood's obsession with youth was getting to me.
At traffic lights, I'd look in the mirror and smile, then stop smiling, and then smile again to see if I could make out crow's feet. The people in the cars next to me must have thought I was crazy (or had major mood swings). At night, microscopic lines on my face received a thorough examination as if I was an archeologist at an excavation. I didn't like what I was focusing on, but I couldn't stop.
Beyond the superficial, my bank account was pathetic. I remember a homeless man on 3rd Street in Santa Monica asking me for money, to which I replied flatly, "I'm overdrawn a hundred dollars in my bank account." He responded, "Wow, you are worse off than me."
As an actor, you never know when that big opportunity could happen, but when is it enough? It's easy to say just one more audition, just one more pilot season, just one more... I was tired of putting my heart and soul on the line.
After a lot of restless nights (and a few overdraft fees), I decided it was time to move on.
A legendary acting teacher, Sanford Meisner, defined acting as "living truthfully under imaginary circumstances." An actor's job is to dig deep inside himself/herself to find their truth, in order to bring reality to the character. I have learned so much through the roles I have played and found new layers of empathy and understanding within myself.
Throughout my acting career, I have lived many lives. As an alcoholic mother, I discovered that I also have my own defense mechanism to avoid pain and negative feelings. We all do. And as someone who loves and cherishes children deeply, I had to investigate how awful my emotional life and the addiction would have to be in order for me to not be completely present for a child -- and the shame that would come along with it. This was very painful to even imagine. When playing the role of a woman dying of leukemia, I explored my own mortality and learned how people cope with knowing they will die too soon. As an unassuming bag lady, I learned about hoarders and the need to control. As a self-righteous, gossip-loving Southern woman, I uncovered within me my own insecurities. On a lighter note, I also learned a Southern accent and enjoyed playing around with it at restaurants and parties. These roles, as well as a multitude of others, gave me the opportunity to judge less and learn more.
As an actor you are getting to the core of what it is to be human: to connect, to be vulnerable, and the courage to explore all the layers of who we are. Through acting I could take off my proverbial jacket and show my inner vulnerability and be completely in the moment. It was extremely freeing.
Three years or so have gone by since my last acting role. I'm thinking of taking a late night class at the L.A. improv company, The Groundlings, or auditioning for a play to fulfill the part of me that craves raw expression. I paint. I take pictures. I write stories. I pretend I can sing opera.
Someone once told me, "Once you are an artist, you are always an artist." And I completely agree. I try to bring in my everyday life the creative exploration, magical wonder, and depth I learned through acting into the world in some meaningful way, shape, or form.
Some days it is just about connecting with another person -- really listening to them, looking into their eyes, and seeing their essence.
And I have the knowledge that I pursued my dream. I'll never be the old lady wondering, "What if?"