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Sorry no photos to upload…we only had tintypes back then

October 24, 2011

This one goes out to all the ladies out there, who are more familiar with Oil of Olay than Clearasil…and the guys who own an ear-hair trimmer. My advice for you: if you can’t stop thinking about it, you have to do it: no matter what your age.

That’s what took me to the Academy Drama School’s audition at the ripe old age of 28.  (yes, I know, 28 is still pretty young, but it’s not a traditional time to embark on a rigorous acting training and early lean years of an acting career.)   Here’s my story:

Like a lot of you, I loved performing as a little kid.  My sister, a master organizer even at age 13, produced and directed the neighborhood shows. But these weren’t half-assed, put-together-on-a-rainy-afternoon affairs. She did FULL productions, with weeks of rehearsals, though often of dreadfully inappropriate scripts for her cast of 5 pre-teen girls.   I’m not sure how much truth I could bring to my portrayal of Oscar Madison. But hey, I developed range!

But then came high school…… and what I respectfully call “the sparkly girls.”  I played trombone in the marching band and was a good student.  But get into the school play? Forget it. That was sparkly girl territory….you know, the girls who had perfectly shellacked hair, knew how to expertly apply blue eyeshadow since 4th grade, had a full wardrobe from The Limited, and were confident and cool.….but I wasn’t confident nor cool, so I didn’t act, and I was sad, because I loved it. But I had no confidence to try. Sparkly girls had it all. I had a trombone slide oil stain on my shirt. So I ran away to Brazil to go to school there, came back speaking Portuguese better than I spoke English and immediately left my hometown, with my still un-sparkly trombone.

At college I studied a distinctly non-sparkly subject: International Economics. But there was this thing called “THE ARTS REQUIREMENT.”  I seized on it taking acting classes, jazz classes even a little dance. After all, I wasn’t trying to compete with the sparkly girls I was just “fulfilling my arts requirement.” Those were the classes I loved more than anything.  And according to my teachers, I was actually a pretty good actor (despite my ineptitude at applying eyeshadow!) But I wouldn’t even dream of auditioning for a college play. That was still for sparkly girls, in my mind.  While I continued to oil the trombone slide….

After college, I worked as a swimming instructor and joined the local community theatre, doing anything I could: lights, tickets and even sometimes acting!  The problem is, that old trombone oil stain kept reappearing. If I auditioned and didn’t get the part, I immediately assumed it was because I was too: fat and/or ugly.  I was clueless, still unconfident, but at least I was auditioning…and starting to notice something:  not all the players were quite so sparkly.

Then one day, my grandmother made a strange suggestion: “Why don’t you go out to the studios in Hollywood,” she asked.  “You’re pretty and smart enough, and you’ve got the legs for it!”  (bless her, she imagined I could just show up at the studios with my legs and get put in a movie with Cary Grant) (Actually, she really wanted me to star with Jack Palance, because he was a Ukrainian too, and “not afraid to admit it” according to her.)

But I balked at this suggestion (probably for the best) and so she said, “well, then why don’t you become a news anchor. You’re as pretty as those girls!”  (LOVE that my grandmother knew that local TV news has little to do with actual journalism….) But something struck a chord…journalism, I thought, it’s storytelling, it’s showbiz, it’s exciting, it’s meeting new people… a lot like theatre. So I dedicated myself to that over the next 6 years, studying journalism at NYU and getting a job with arguably, the world’s most respected news outlet: the BBC. With them, I traveled around the world, even reporting from East Timor, in Portuguese, during the war. It was exciting times, and I respected my work very much….BUT STILL, I kept thinking about those days acting in my sister’s plays, acting in college classes, acting in community theatre… and I just couldn’t shake it, no matter how fulfilling my work was at the BBC.

And I just couldn’t take it anymore.

By now, I was living in London, with a very supportive partner, who didn’t argue when I mentioned one day, “hey, uh…. I’ve decided to audition for drama school. If I get in, I’ll work only part-time and go to school.”

I couldn’t believe what I was doing, applying to drama schools in London… I was 28 and still not cool and I couldn’t dance! But I had to do it, I had to try.  So I did, and I was accepted to a great program, and not a single one of my classmates were intimidatingly sparkly. In fact, many of them in this post-graduate program, were just like me: people who loved acting, but just took a little bit more time to have the confidence to try.    Most had worked in other industries, like my classmate, Brigid, who had been a biochemist in Australia, or Abby, who was a 38-year-old admin assistant with a recently donated new kidney….These were people who had lived life, but couldn’t stop being drawn to “tread the boards.” And so we trained and then began our acting careers. I was then 30-years-old.

Guess what was my first professional job after graduation:

A musical, that needed an actor who played the trombone.

Glad I knew how to oil that slide!

My second job:  an actor who spoke fluent Portuguese.

Turns out, I never needed to be sparkly. I just needed to be me.

cue The New Seekers (it’s a band from the olden days, kids)

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. The Reflective Artist permalink
    October 24, 2011 8:45 am

    I love this post, and I love your life! I can’t believe you worked for the BBC–that is so awesome!

    I think we can all relate to a “lack of sparkle” at some point. Even though I did theatre in high school and held my own, I *always* had acne, a bad haircut, a questionable wardrobe (LOTS of over-sized Broadway musical t-shirts), and large breasts that made me feel awkward and over weight (which I wasn’t). I spent a lot of time feeling imperfect and ugly. But we all pay our dues. I look back now, and wouldn’t trade a day of my apparent “ineptness.” I think it forced me to develop a personality. Plus I lucked out, and it seems I had a very symmetrical face all along.

    Stories like these–not getting into “the business” until one is a bit past the legal drinking age–are so great, and I think they really speak to how much you (the subject of said story) are invested in this art and in yourself, in pursuing what you want to do. Because you’ve tried other things, and what it comes down to is: yes, you really do want to do this, damn it.

    I also think it’s beautiful that you cite the things in your life you thought would have nothing to do with your art which have ultimately contributed to it and gotten you work. It’s easy to put on blinders as artists and forget that the world we exist in and are surrounded by actually affects what people want to see, will see, and what we can offer them. I am so excited for you, and I want to know how things work out as you go along. Hooray!

    • October 31, 2011 3:27 pm

      Thank you! It’s definitely all a journey….
      And reading all your replies, it reminds me that this business is one of the warmest, most caring and human industries in the world…. it’s not as cut-throat as people believe..

  2. October 24, 2011 9:27 am

    This post made me cry.

    It’s so beautiful because none of us feel sparkly enough, and we all yearn for proof that we are enough, and here you’ve been brave enough to go out there and find it and then share it with us.

    Thank you for sharing 🙂

  3. California Triple-Threat permalink
    October 24, 2011 2:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing. What a wonderful story.

    • October 31, 2011 3:30 pm

      Thank you!

      BTW, I was explaining to a 12-year-old girl recently what a “triple-threat” performer is. And she said, “I think I’m a triple threat too, because I’m smart, I’m pretty and I get along well with people.” Well said! 🙂

  4. October 24, 2011 8:49 pm

    I have always thought the stage needed to open up its trap doors and swallow all the “sparkly” people. We need more ugly ducklings – no, not even ugly ducklings. HUMAN BEINGS. This is what I’m interested in!

    It’s amazing that a person’s draw to the stage never gives up. The universe just knows. And every part of you – your Portuguese, your trombone, your grandmother, your time with the BBC – all of it makes up you, the artist.

    This is a beautiful post. I’m so glad you’re here in this industry with us.

    • October 31, 2011 3:31 pm

      Thank you! yes, it’s good to remember as performers that we are supposed to be representing real life, and so it’s good to live some of it too! I know all of us on this blog forum do live a lot in the real world and it can only help our art!

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