Heya – thanks to the Santa Cruz Farmer’s Market for being a great audience – looking forward to doing some more and will let you know when that’ll be. You can check me out with The Modeens this Saturday for 2nd Saturdays Downtown on July 9th @ 9:30pm – which is also my birthday (so I can feel free to guilt folks into coming)! There’ll also be Michael P’s newest project, The Imperial Bluebloods and 4th Street String Band. It might rain on you, but you’re a desert denizen and yer okay with that! Also, I just finished my pre-production demos for the new album – woo hoo! Man, that took a lot longer than I thought, but I did learn a hell of a lot, too. Okay, enough chit-chat, now I’m gonna bore you with a long rambling story of how a starry-eyed actress became happily seduced by rock n’ roll:
It wasn’t until my taxi drive to the hotel that I knew I was going to do anything necessary to move here. It was my first trip to New York City. The Big Apple – the land of milk and honey for most aspiring theater actors. And that’s what I was in 1998 – as well as divorced, working part-time as a technical writer and getting by in my little apartment in Jacksonville, FL. I had been heavily performing in the excellent local community theaters and my dreams were starting to itch uncomfortably.
It had taken me a while to get into the scene – I had been dabbling with theater since high school – the odd skit or spear-carrier role. Then in college the bug hit HARD. Looking back, I still didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I loved it. I took whatever role was offered, devoured my acting classes. I even dug the technical theater courses – set building, lighting, you name it. It wasn’t even my major (that was English) but it was a whole new world, with these very different, OUT LOUD people. I actually started learning how to act like a normal human being via acting. All through my life, I had been locked up tightly in my own head – Rapunzel in her brainy tower. And it was theater that literally taught me how to bring what was in my head out into my body and through to another human’s consciousness.
All very heady stuff. But it was still a slow burn. I was an old pro at performing folk music on stage with my guitar – so it took a while to figure out this new path. I did some small roles in the only professional theater in town (Alhambra Dinner Theater – fun, but not quite Shakespeare), moved to Miami after college and did some cool theater there – but totally fell on my face in the real world and came crawling back home. Then I got cast in shows at the wonderful Theater Jacksonville and started to hit my stride. Between Shakespeare and monologue classes with Michael Emerson (yes, Ben Linus from Lost) and doing parts in amazing plays and musicals like Dancing at Lughnasa, Taming of the Shrew and Cabaret (Sally Bowles, hell yeah), the local scene was amazingly supportive with talented actors and directors you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the earthy culture of Jacksonville. I ran the gamut from musicals to farce to classical and back again and loved it ALL. People were even starting to recognize me on the street (well, at least two or three times) and I was dreaming of a bigger pond. I wanted to take it further, much further.
So I finally saved up for a trip to Mecca, ie, New York, to see what all the fuss was about. I’d never traveled by myself before, but some friends of mine were staying in the City and my great-uncle lived there so I wasn’t totally on my own. And it was like coming home. The architecture, the density of so many different experiences and sensations displayed on each block – the sheer history just blew me away. I loved walking at a fast clip down the sidewalk – the overwhelming choices of what to do in any given hour! Hailing my first cab was a totally tourist thrill, but I was hooked. And then I went to the West Village and just knew I had to spend a lot more time here. Maybe it’s because it’s the setting of so many movie scenes and the images are tattooed on my subconscious, but I just felt like I knew this place, even though it was so different from the spread-out sameness of my hometown (at least in my thinking at the time – age has given me a deeper appreciation of Jacksonville now, but I digress).
So now that I knew I had to live there, how was I gonna get it done? I was almost 30 with no savings and no contacts. It occurred to me this might be a tricky endeavor – but I just knew in my heart of hearts that I was meant to live there no matter what. It’s times like these when my slight autism is a real advantage – I just got tunnel vision and looked at my life and circumstances like a math problem. Okay, I need money for plane fare and initial lodgings, an Equity card (the theater actor’s union, and the biggest piece of advice for aspiring actors is to get one *before* moving to New York – though looking back, I would disagree), and that starry-eyed gumption that’s fueled many a trip to Gotham.
So I raised money by cutting way back on my expenses and moving in with my parents for some time – which netted me about $2,000. The Equity card would have been impossible except that I’d already started the process years before and was only a few weeks away from qualifying. So I focused on getting cast in the Alhambra production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown – and got the role of Peppermint Patty. Don’t remember much about the production (and if anybody has photos of me, that’s some sheer blackmail material – I looked GOOFY) but it did get me my card. I read and read anything I could find about NY (these were early Internet days so the pickins were slim). And then I set an arbitrary date – August 21, 1998 – about six months from my first trip. I gave everything away, or stowed it at my parents’ house (where, ahem, much still sits) got a huge suitcase and made the flight. Boom.
Moving by myself was strange – but there was always this bright light inside of me that just kept me moving forward. I stayed at a sweet European hostel close to the Village and even though I shared a bathroom, it was the perfect introduction to the most walkable city in the country. I walked and walked and walked and started to get to know my new home. An ex-boyfriend had referred a friend of his who would let me stay on his couch for a while if I needed it. Knowing the ex, it was pretty brave to trust his recommendation, but his friend turned out to be a perfect gentleman. Of course the neighborhood took a little getting used to – right smack in the center of the Garment District – an area between Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen that at the time was riddled with gloom, junkies and occasional knifings. The building was a squalid tenement with whiteflies coming out of the drain and the constant barrage of loud salsa radio from the bodega below.
But it gave me close proximity to the Theater District! And Central Park and the village. I was still walk-walk-walking – darting here, there and everywhere. My roommate was a longtime local actor, so I got hooked up with HB Studio for some acting classes. That in itself was worth the price of admission – hanging out in the cobblestoned area of the West Village, learning from people who had lived and worked there for decades – doing scenes with other acting hopefuls who were all making it happen in such divergent ways.
Then I did get a job. And it was a great job – working for DoubleClick as a technical writer. And then I was thrown right into the center of the dotcom heyday in Silicon Alley as it was called (y’all, this just happened 12 years ago but still feels like ancient history!) Anyway, DoubleClick was not what I had in mind when I moved. But the money was GREAT and well, I had a job in NYC! I still took acting classes and now I could afford to go to all these theater shows. And that was truly delicious. My days consisted of working among a beehive of other dotcommers with overblown office parties – Beer Fridays and the sounds of air hockey in the background. My nights were full of Broadway, Off-Broadway, fringe festival, and the occasional audition.
Oh man, auditions in New York are hellish. When you’re in a small pond, it’s so much easier to get people to notice you. But when you are going to theater auditions in the frickin theater capital of the world, you don’t have any edges or advantages unless you of course actually know somebody. It’s a long slog – and I have to fess up that I did NOT enjoy it. You are surrounded by hundreds of nervous, sometimes bitchy people who at least have been auditioning longer than you and can smell your newbie fear. And then the somber-faced folks on the other side of the table impassively watch your best attempt to convey stellar acting in 60 seconds and then shove you through the exit door. On top of that, I just didn’t fit in. Musicals weren’t very interested in my kind of singing, and I wasn’t willing to change my style to copy whatever was the mode at the time. Monologues are a very flawed way to showcase someone’s acting talents (since you’re usually never just acting by yourself when you get a gig) and I was never very comfortable with them. But if I had persevered, if I had started the slow climb – with little horizontal leaps from chorus to interesting small parts to maybe a more significant role – who knows what would have happened? Well, it doesn’t matter now – it all became moot when I did the Doubleclick talent show with my old guitar and some original songs I hadn’t performed in ages. It was a lark, but a coworker heard me, was impressed and wanted to help me record a demo.
The demo didn’t do much, but I was introduced to a completely different world – studios, rehearsal spaces, jamming late into the night. And *this* was a world I started to really feel at home in. I had been a bit more glammed up my first few years in New York – but this was a scruffier scene and I liked it. Growing up, I’d only performed music by myself – just a girl and her guitar. With this crew, I started learning about the collaborative power of a band of fellow musicians, the essence of rock ‘n roll. After playing acoustic guitar almost all of my life, I started dabbling in electric guitar, working with a band, and meeting interesting, amazingly talented, simpatico people. I was back in jeans and more importantly, doing GIGS. Instead of endlessly trying to get into a situation where I could possibly be on stage for a little bit, I could book a show in the Village on a regular basis! Doing my own songs! This kind of creative control was addictive and led me down the path of recording my own albums instead of waiting around for some magic label to fall from the sky. And I’ve never looked back.
‘Til now (a little). The sad thing about changing paths was that I haven’t done any acting since and rarely go out to see plays or musicals anymore. Maybe a part of me feels like I must pledge my loyalty to one Master or the other (oh, these silly sticky thoughts that make no sense when I type them out loud!) So one of my long-term goals is incorporating acting back into my life. Of course with a full-time job and all these other music projects, I have no idea when.
I’m so grateful to New York for giving me back my music, my self, and my man (Jamie and I met at Manitoba’s in the East Village). Still, I look back now and can’t believe the leap of faith I took with very little money, no job prospects, no friends. I’m not saying it’s always the way to go or that anyone else should do that necessarily. But for me it worked out and turned into an amazing part of my life that led to more experiences than I ever imagined. It was a revelation – and a lesson: when you find your own bright light, you have to follow it where it wants to take you – but you never quite know where you’ll actually go.
Whew, I think that’s enough wordage for today. If you stuck it out this far, bless yer soul and thanks!