Thoughts. Musings. Philosophies. Regrets. Other.
I've been onstage most of my life in one capacity or the other. And a lot of what I did when I was younger was more traditional theatre- plays or musicals. Like most actors I've heard all the most well-known quotes about acting- "All the world's a stage", "Acting is not a state of being...but a state of appearing to be", etc, etc. And, more specifically, I've heard and oft repeated (especially when I'm directing) the quotes about having a small role in a show: "Don't love YOURSELF in the art but the ART in YOURSELF", "There are no small parts, only small actors", etc. And sometimes when I said them I even meant them!
But, if I'm being completely honest, oftentimes during rehearsal I would sit in the wings giving the side eye to the actress rehearsing the role I wanted, and I'd be thinking about how much better I could have done it if I hadn't been given Servant Girl #1.
Get at me, casting directors!
When I was given a smaller role, I never really learned to fall in love with it like the theatre gods wanted me to. Now granted, most of this is because I was young, and young people are very self-involved and self-absorbed and sometimes even terrible. But some of it I don't have any excuse for- I was a little diva. When given a small role I played nice but deep inside I always wanted the lead role even if I wasn't right for it (which was almost all the time considering I was an alto and kinda goofy). I, like most young adult actors, didn't quite understand my "type" yet, and still thought of myself as a perfect Disney princess leading lady. I didn't care if the leading lady role was boring or out of my vocal range or called for someone petite (I lost a role in college because although I had an "amazing audition" my "hips were too big" and I'M OVER IT BUT I STILL DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT, OKAY?)
When it came to which role I wanted, all I cared about was- did it have the most lines? If yes- then I wanted it. Period. And if I didn't get the leading lady role I was always disappointed. I actually always admired people who really did seem to love their small role; those who could love the art in themselves rather then themselves in the art, as the quote says. I was always more of a Jenna from 30 Rock type.
Jump forward to now. I've been doing primarily improv, sketch comedy, and comedy songwriting for the past 10 years. I've done commercials and short films- all comedy. I've settled comfortably into it. And I feel confident about my abilities (with the exception of the occasional existential crisis every improviser has now again where they wonder what they're doing with their lives and consider quitting comedy, amirite, guys? *sobs*). Over the last 10 years I've matured; I've learned to critique a bad show and then get over it; I've learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses onstage. And, throughout these years I've learned to love the fact that I'm not an ingenue- I'm a character actress. And I typically do these characters in improv and sketch comedy. That is where I fit the best.
And after making peace with my abilities and finding my realm, I decided to throw myself into personal crises again: I've dipped my toe into professional musical theatre. I wanted to explore professional musical theatre in Dallas. And I wanted to do it at Theatre 3. An audition, a phone call, and a lot of paperwork later and here I am- a week into rehearsals for A Little Night Music at Theatre 3. And let me tell you what I've learned.
I have a teeny weeny role. Malla, the leading lady's servant. And then another bit part. In essence I'm playing the roles I was to play- a servant and "Lady 2." But, what was so surprising to me is that for the first time in my life I love my small role. And that's partly because the talent in this show is off the charts. I'm in awe of these people. They're funny, which is cool but hey I know a LOT of funny people, right? But they also sing like actual angels. Oh and did I mention that they're also incredible dramatic actors AND they're all beautiful? It's crazy. I've never felt as wholly inadequate as I did the night of the first read/sing thru of the script. I'm an idiot comedian. These people are professionals. It was culture shock.
And that's to say several things. First, the insecurity I described above is a 100% positive thing. A wallop to your ego can be good every once in a while. Especially for me. I've always had a healthy ego. I still feel very confident about my abilities. But, it's nice to be reminded every once in a while that a) There are a lot of talented people in the universe who are better than you and b) You can know a lot and still have a lot to learn.
The last time this happened to me was shortly after I moved to Chicago. I had been doing improv for about 6 years when I moved there to continue my training. I was confident in my abilities. I auditioned for the Improv Conservatory at Second City and I got in; I felt very validated and was riding a high.
But, as I got farther into the program I began to realize that there were so many funny and talented women out there. More than I could understand. And I let it get to me. For the first time in my life I realized that there thousands of women who were funny...and even thin and beautiful...and I was just one of thousands of girls who was voted "Class Clown" of her tiny high school that nobody's heard of. And the Conservatory wasn't always easy. This was real training and real critique. They were giving me some hard truths. And some teachers are great at providing great training in a way that doesn't destroy your soul. But I had one teacher for three separate terms who it almost seemed like made it his personal goal to get women quit his class. I feel comfortable saying he was a bad teacher who shouldn't be teaching at one of the most renowned improv training centers in the world, and I will go a step further and say that he specifically picked on the women. After one scene he mocked me saying "Oooooooh I'm a giiiiiiirl and I don't know what to do in the scene so I'll just do what all the boooooooys are doing." I took the critique. Then I cried in the bathroom after comedy class...like ya do.
Shortly after I graduated from the Conservatory, I got asked to an invite-only audition for a Second City Touring Company cruise. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the process, being on a SC cruise or Touring Company is one of the paths that can lead to the e.t.c. or Second City mainstage cast. So, being on a cruise is something you definitely WANTED to do. The audition I was invited to was only for females. And I went into that audition and was surrounded by some of the most talented women I'd seen in the city. Some of them I've worked with since, and some of them who have gone on to TV and touring companies and whatnot. It was intimidating.
And...I bombed that audition. I bombed real hard. Between spending the past year learning about all of the talented women in the universe and one teacher at the Conservatory who squashed me like a bug, I just wasn't ready to rise to the occasion. I wasn't ready to be surrounded by talented people and feel like I deserved to be alongside them. I've always auditioned at exactly my confidence level- if I am feeling like I'm a bad improviser I will BE a bad improviser. If I'm feeling like a fierce warrior woman I will be fantastic onstage. So I've learned over the years to trick myself into thinking I'm a bad a** improviser in order to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mainly I listen to Survivor by Destiny's Child on repeat. I highly recommend this technique to anyone who wants to feel confident before a show or audition.
I wish I could go back in time to my 20s (when I was 20 lbs lighter and childless) and give myself the resilience I have in my 30s. I would have gone into that audition, acted like an idiot for 20 minutes, and walked away knowing I did the best I could.
It's been 8 years since my failed Second City cruise audition, so don't worry- I'm totally good. My Husband and I actually discussed it afterwards and we realized I wouldn't have even taken the job on the cruise because I loved my job at the time and we wanted to start a family soon.
And now I'm here, back in Dallas, like we planned. And I'm proud of my career and proud of my comedy training. And I'm now that I've had these years to mature and let my training marinate, I can look at this new experience at Theatre 3 for what it is- a new adventure that instead of bruising my ego can really inspire and enlighten me. These actors (and the entire crew- the MD, the Director, AD, Stage Manager, etc) are more talented than me at some things. And there might be some things that I'm better at then they are (though I'll probably have to dig a little deep to find them). And it feels so good to have a small role and really love it...and to really feel grateful to even be allowed in the room. You can learn a lot from insanely talented people if you can push aside your ego for a minute and remember that you are always a student. So I can't stress this enough to creative people- get out of your comfort zone! Surround yourself with the most talented people in the room and then learn from them instead of letting them terrify you. It's what I'm trying to do.
Anyway, this was all just a really long plug for A Little Night Music at Theatre 3 running June 12-July 2. Please come see it. You'll be blown away by the talent in this city. And also I'm in it.