Acting Reflections: Humble & Kind
This month marks a special anniversary for me. It's the fifth anniversary of my very first show outside of college. Granted, it was with a community theatre organization, but nonetheless, it was an important month for me back in 2016. I got to perform in over a dozen shows with this group within four weekends, and it was absolutely splendid. Some of my favorite memories outside of the performances include lounging outside on the lawn outside of the venue with the cast on a beautiful summer day, being treated to British treats and delicacies before, during, and after the show (Walker's Shortbread and Scotch eggs are quite delicious!), and all of the laughter and stories we shared with each other. It was truly a remarkable experience, and I've made some wonderful friends and acquaintances I keep in touch with on a semi-regular basis. And it's a memory I treasure to this day. These past five years flew by, and I'm grateful for all of the lessons that were imparted to me from others and the things I've discovered on my feet. Most recently, I've started listening to a fantastic podcast called Actors Aesthetic, hosted by Broadway actress Maggie Bera. She interviews artists currently performing on Broadway/national tours/regional theatre as swings, understudies, replacements, and even some lead roles. Each episode has a series of questions Maggie asks her guests: where did you grow up? When did you get into the performing arts, especially theatre? What was your college experience like? What was the transition from college to "the real world" like? Do you remember your first audition for a Broadway show/national tour/cruise show? And the last question is always an important one for the listeners to pay attention to: what is the piece of advice you would give to aspiring artists pursuing a career in musical theatre/performing arts? Apart from embracing your truest self, never giving up, and not listening to the naysayers, this one piece of advice is one that was repeated the most in over 90% of the episodes. And it's one of the hardest things an actor can do. It's best said in two simple words: BE KIND. Why is it so hard for some actors to be kind to others, especially those in the industry who could be beneficial to your career and your life? Why do some performers feel that a diva personality is the best way to go as opposed to being considerate and understanding of others? Why do some projects and shows bring out the absolute worst in the creative types, personality wise? I have some ideas and observations about why being kind is such a difficult thing to grasp, as well as some experiences where this quality is especially important in this career, no matter how many years you have under your belt as an actor, director, or any profession in the performing arts.
Each show and project I've worked on these five years provided me an opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive in this crazy roller coaster of a ride that is my acting career. But more importantly, it's a chance to meet new people - AKA network - and form relationships that could prove beneficial to my increasing knowledge and experiences that come my way. As an actor, you meet quite an assortment of characters, er, individuals in your lifetime, and each person comes from a unique walk of life that you can relate to, learn from, or be surprised by. One thing I pride myself in as both an actor and a human being is my way of observing others from a distance, mostly with my earbuds in and music or podcasts playing. The same could be said during the rehearsals and the performances. It's amazing how people can be during auditions, when you meet them in the first read through, during rehearsals, and the performances. Many times it's a good thing, but there are a few occasions where someone's true colors can show in the worst possible ways. The best example of this happened when I was cast in a little known show that took place in the highlands of Scotland. Perhaps you've heard of it. Does Brigadoon ring a bell? And I'm sad to say, I never want to have anything to do with this show or any of its productions - past, present, or future - ever again. But it's what happened during the final weekend of the show's run that showed me the biggest lesson that I carry with me to this day. I was going into year two of my career as an actress, and I saw a posting about auditions for Brigadoon. I knew this sounded like a fun show, and I was trying to branch out from ensemble/extra roles in my career, so I initially auditioned Meg Brockie. I went in, sang my song, and I even did a little bit of dancing for the production team. I wasn't called back for Meg, but I ended up getting cast in the ensemble. I was disappointed, but I also knew that an experience being in the ensemble of a musical theatre production would be a great learning opportunity. The cast was a variety of ages, ranging from high school to senior citizens, which was quite a treat for me. Hearing all sorts of stories from people who are older or younger than I am gives me a chance to listen, understand, and ask about each person's life and journey. That in itself also provided me the chance to learn and respect each individual's path through life. It turned out that this incredible cast helped me get through what was quite probably my toughest show yet. Around the same time I was doing Brigadoon, I was in the one-act play festival with another local theatre in the area doing a play called Members Only. I was Io, who in this case, was transformed into a cow. (Long story short, Io was being pursued by Zeus repeatedly and she turned him down so many times that poor Io was turned into a cow. Definitely not the Disney's Hercules Zeus you remember!) The play dealt with a serious topic - sexual assault - and while I enjoyed working on this play with such an incredible group of talented human beings, there were problems with the script that I didn't realize until afterwards many of us didn't agree with. To make matters worse, on our opening night, we reached the end of the play, and then someone from the audience shouted "This is bull****!" Needless to say, the cast, crew, and audience was shocked by this outburst. Our director was very upset, and each of us were checked on by others throughout the night to make sure we were okay. Let me tell you, I was terrified and heartbroken, but my heart went out to everyone else who worked hard on this play. The next day, there was a board meeting discussing whether the show was still able to go on, and us cast members and the director gave our consent to go on with the final two performances that weekend. We went on that Saturday evening without any trouble, but Sunday afternoon was a different story. Somehow, that person who shouted from the audience that opening night had returned for the final show, and one cast member was scared to go on and perform again after that terrifying experience from Friday night. With heavy hearts, we made the sad decision not to perform one last time, and I was crushed to say the least. The last performance meant a lot to me because my family was there, and I alway look forward to performing for them. To not be able showcase my talents for some of my biggest fans and rocks of my life was a tough pill to swallow. Of course, I don't blame that cast member for not wanting to perform, nor do I blame anyone else for not wanting to perform that day either. We went through a lot together, and I'm proud of the hard work we've put into this play, even if it was EXTREMELY problematic. I guess in this instance I was only thinking of myself and being very selfish, and I was wrong for feeling this way. Thankfully, I have such a strong support system of artists and creative types who knew exactly how I felt, and I was comforted by them that day. Having to struggle with the aftermath of this troubling play and balance rehearsals for Brigadoon was a challenge, and like many theatre communities, word got around very fast about what happened with Members Only. But we were all showered with support, patience, and understanding as things wound down. That was a huge blessing, in my humble opinion. After finishing Members Only, I was able to put all my focus into Brigadoon, and this show was no easy feat. For one thing, and this is important for people to understand, I'm NOT a dancer. I'm a mover. I can do the steps, with lots of practice and repetitions, but I'm not sure if I'll ever be classified as a true dancer. Sure, I did ballroom dancing and tap dancing in college, but I never kept it up due to the finances and lack of classes available in my area before I moved to Maryland. And I was scared, no, petrified, to do the choreography for this show. I let the choreographer know in an emotional email that I was trying my hardest to keep up, and she was very understanding and patient with me. I found out years later that the choreography should've been the least of my worries. Before I get into the second reason why Brigadoon was my toughest show for me, let me ask you this: Have you ever dealt with difficult individuals in a show, whether they are an actor or a director? What was that experience like? Probably like hell, most likely. How did you get through it? I guess one day at a time, which is more than likely the only way to manage your sanity. The reason I ask these questions is because yours truly had to deal with difficult individuals in Brigadoon, unfortunately. When I first told my cast and director at Members Only about the director for Brigadoon, they gave me a warning: she's a tough person to work with. I, of course, didn't believe that, but later regretted not heeding their advice. The biggest example of how tough she was came in the form of a response to an email I sent to her in regards to the rehearsal process. I admitted to her that I was struggling with the choreography and doing my absolute hardest to get it as close to perfect as possible, and that I am a sensitive person and don't take criticism being said to me in a certain way very well (especially where PTSD is concerned). The response I received from the director was unexpected. The one line in that message that was difficult to forget was this one: "if you're that sensitive, you shouldn't be in this business." Ouch. At the time I received this email, I was going to my new job to sign some papers for the verification process, and that put things in a sour mood. I ended up doing the unthinkable: I groveled at her feet, asked for her forgiveness, and continued on with the show, stuffing down my sensitivity as if it was a bad quality to have in this career path I've chosen. And the show went on without any more problems. Or did it? Rather than continue to list the reasons Brigadoon was such a problematic show for me in a depressing way, I thought I could do something a little bit creative. Do you know what I appreciate being in a show or project? I appreciate each of us, lead or supporting, ensemble or crew member, helping out with the set changes and quick costume changes. I appreciate feedback given to the cast from the director in a way that is compassionate and patient. I appreciate working on sections of the show for several weeks at a time before we put it all together prior to tech week, without tiring ourselves constantly running it from beginning to end, and allowing ourselves grace and compassion as we prepare to perform before an audience. I appreciate each person being recognized for their hard work and commitment to a show, no matter how big or how small a role is. But do you know what I appreciate most of all? I appreciate holding hands with our cast during curtain calls at the end of each show because we ALL did it together, and we're proud of the work we've put into this. We've become a family, and this family holds a special place in my heart. Sadly, I didn't get any of that from Brigadoon. And that was due to some difficult people I've worked with. To make matters worse, my friends didn't have the same enthused reaction to my performance like they normally would, and on top of that, when my mom and my aunt & uncle came to see me, my aunt & uncle left after the first act. As I came out to see my mom and give her a hug, she told me "you did the best that you could." In my mind, I felt like I failed as a performer. There's nothing worse than feeling like you've let your biggest fans, the rocks in your life, down after such a tough time with a beloved show like Brigadoon. Yeah, it was a pretty rough show to do. But I want you to notice the title for this week's blog. It's not about the bad experience I've had with Brigadoon, but rather, it's an important lesson I've learned from this experience that I take with me each time I work on a new show or project. And it's all to do with the title of a Tim McGraw song I enjoy listening to time and time again. Perhaps you've heard of it?
During the final weekend of Brigadoon, I've had every intention of sharing all of the details of my rough time with this show on Facebook, including mentioning how horrible the director was to all of us, and I was close to hitting the post button. But I was stopped by one of my cast members and my mom. They both felt that it wasn't right for me to do so, no matter how frustrated I was with the rehearsal process and the performances. And I knew deep down in my heart that they were right. It's not like me to sound petty or selfish, or even calling out others I don't like. I wasn't in high school anymore. Instead, I ended up sharing this post with my friends, neighbors, and acquaintances on Facebook prior to the final performance: This show was my toughest yet, but you know how I got through it?
My incredible cast.
We’ve been on quite the roller coaster ride together, and it’s been an honor and privilege to work with each and every one of you. To those of you who gave me rides to and from the bus stop/station/rehearsals, I cannot thank you enough. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without you. We put on quite a show, and it showed in the dedication and talent we all shared and collaborated with each other.
Thank you for being a part of my family... Huchi! I'm amazed at how I was able to post this with such gratitude and humility that day, but looking back, it was probably the best thing to do after such a tough time with Brigadoon. I'll let you in on a little secret: No matter where you are in the world, the performing arts community, especially theatre, is VERY tight knit, and many times we bump into those we know from auditions and shows quite frequently. And if someone posts something on social media badmouthing someone they've worked with, with good or bad intentions, chances are it will reach that person's or organization's ears. Many times, it may not end well in your favor. You might be seen as a difficult individual the next time you audition for that specific organization or person, or if that individual lets their friends or company know about what you've said and they automatically form a not-so-good opinion about you based on what you posted online. Or you might not even get cast in the next show after what you've said or shared online. It's definitely something to think about the next time you post or openly talk smack about someone you've worked with because what goes around comes around. I know what you're thinking. "But Nessa, you've had such a horrible time with Brigadoon! Shouldn't people know what happened with the production and how you and the cast were treated?" Yes, I believe that people should know about what happened. But posting about it on social media and badmouthing others isn't the best way to do this. So many things can go wrong if you post your negative experience on sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or other media outlets. The best way to do this is through submitting feedback via email or through a feedback form to the organization or company you've worked with so that the board members can see what you have to say without them being caught off guard by a negative post on social media. It gives them a chance to talk about the project recently completed in a way that's constructive, safe, supportive, and loving in order to decide what's next in terms of hiring the right people as well as taking the time to acknowledge and read the comments from the performers and backstage crew members who worked on the show. And that's exactly what I, and the rest of us, did after Brigadoon was over. All of us were emailed a form to fill out and submit our feedback to the board members of the organization, and let them know about what happened and how satisfied or dissatisfied we were with the rehearsal process and the performances. And we didn't have to post on social media. At all. (Now, mind you, I may be talking about this experience on my blog, but I'm choosing to omit the names of the director and the organization out of respect, and these people know who they are. I realize I'm taking a great risk talking about a tough show openly, even without actual names, but if it means not being able to work with this organization or the individual ever again because of my honesty, that's a price I'm willing to pay.) It was from that Facebook post and the years after Brigadoon where I learned an important lesson about being an actress. It's also the one thing that's so hard for some people to be. And that's BE KIND. I would also to like add BE HUMBLE & KIND. (That's one thing I try to be in my blogs, which is kind, as well as sincere and transparent. If you've read my blogs you will see how I try to have all three equally present in my writings, but sometimes one is more prominent than the others.) But why is it so hard to be humble and kind, especially where the performing arts are considered? Well, several thoughts came to my mind as I was brainstorming this week's blog, and here's what I've come up with. For one thing, people believe in their own press, whether that's the critics, their fans, past directors and producers they've worked with, and even their friends and family. And if they believe that they're the absolute best and only deserve nothing but the best, no matter how insignificant it is, let's just say that they get too big for their britches. You might know them as "divas." Another possible reason why it's so hard for those in the performing arts to be humble and kind is due to their upbringing. Maybe they were taught at a young age that they can do whatever they want, and that includes pushing others around (aka bullying), asserting their intelligence, even if it is a bad idea ("I'm right, you're wrong"), treating those on the lower end of the totem pole with cruelty, and just being plain spoiled and selfish. I personally blame that on parents not teaching their children the importance of kindness and humility. Or it could be a combination of both of those things, and even more. But either way, it's not fun meeting an individual who thinks they can mistreat others of lesser importance in terms of roles in the show or on the production team. That's not how it's supposed to work in any career field you pursue. Yours truly ran into a few of them in the past five years, and as much I as want to say I hope I never work with a diva ever again, as soon as the words leave my mouth, I will end up working with one and proceed to curse God for putting me in such an uncomfortable position. One thing I've noticed about this particular diva was when I shared my gifts with the cast and crew on the day of the last show, she never opened her card or even said "thank you" to me, and that broke my heart because I put in so much time and effort to make these closing show gifts special for everyone I've had the pleasure of working with for the past few months. I guess that's another reason divas exist in this world. Along with a lack of humility and kindness, there's also no ounce of gratitude within their bones. And that can make the rehearsal and performances a pain for the rest of us. I guess there's a sense of ENTITLEMENT going on in their minds and hearts. And it's definitely confusing when the divas and difficult directors and more are still working, in spite of the criticism from those who've worked with them. Something needs to change. But that's for another blog. (It's a thrill doing these blogs for you, but like my previous posts, these are just my observations and experiences. You are welcome to disagree with me on anything I've typed, but I won't tolerate any hate speech or disrespectful comments of any kind. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything. It's that simple. If you're unable to do this and post derogatory comments, I will block you.) It's been a conundrum for me lately trying to figure out how all of the difficult directors and divas and more performing arts professionals are able to work in spite of their character and attitude. Even if they are exactly right for their respective roles, shouldn't their overall attitude and how they treat others in the audition room or from past rehearsals and performances ring alarm bells for those putting the projects together? Yes, the right people are the ones who fit the overall vision of their show, but I believe that a person's character can make a huge difference in how successful a theatrical performance, film, TV show, or anything in the media will be. Especially if it's working with such a diverse group of individuals who come from all walks of life. You can tell if a project is a home run by how everyone works together and everything blends in perfect harmony. If there's discord running rampant by at least one person who insists on having every little detail be made to their specifications as well as treats others like crap because they believe it's all about them and no one else, the entire show suffers. I believe a person's character can make just as much of a difference for everyone associated with the show or project. Yes, talent matters and creativity is essential, but if an individual doesn't treat others with kindness and respect or has a bad attitude, everything else falls apart.
Here's an important thing to remember for all of you out there in the performing arts: It doesn't take one person to determine the success of a show or project. It takes MANY people to bring all of the components together to make the performances memorable for everyone, and that includes actors, directors, producers, playwrights, dramaturge, costume designers, hair & makeup artists, stage managers, light technicians, sound designers and artists, carpenters, painters, front of house staff, administrative office workers, and so much more. It's never been about one person. It will never be about YOU. Let that sink in for a moment. It's heartbreaking that this type of behavior still exists, and not enough is done to teach the divas or difficult individuals to leave their egos at the door or even bar them from working with that specific organization again. Or even throughout the entire performing arts community. At the end of the day, what's more important: the financial success of a show resting on the most talented individual even if their behavior is disrespectful to the point of barbarism, or the collaboration with talented beings from all walks of life who can offer their gifts and talents with a strong character, particularly where kindness and humility are concerned? I hope it's the latter. I personally make a habit to be kind and humble every chance I get in this profession and in life in general. For starters, after each audition, I make a habit to say "thank you" to the casting team or those who were there that day, both in person and in a professional email. Taking the time to show your appreciation for being able to play for the opportunity to work with them on the project or show does wonders for the creative team. If you end up not being cast in a show, it's okay to be disappointed, but badmouthing the director or casting team on social media is NOT the way to go. It could get you barred from working with these people or the organization due to your behavior. If you are cast and they specifically ask you not to post or share anything about the show on social media until they've reached out to every single person who's auditioned for a role, you are expected to follow that simple request. Feelings can be hurt when someone who auditioned finds out they're not cast on social media before the official casting announcement is made. Think of it this way: how would you feel if you found out that you didn't get cast in a project from someone else prior to the official announcement? Pretty crummy, I'll bet. If you do this, there's a chance you could lose your role in that show. And I know you don't want that to happen. Once I'm cast, I take the time to get to know each individual through listening to them share their journey to becoming an artist, understanding their needs, and showing them your support for their needs and well being each chance I get. Even if it means not boasting or pushing others around, being a good human being can make all the difference. During rehearsals, especially leading up to tech week, I make sure I pay attention to what the tech team and stage manager wants to ensure our safety during the runs and performances. If I have a question or a problem, I make sure I wait for an appropriate time to ask them and let them know of my needs instead of interrupting them or being harsh. Furthermore, if they are working on making sure that my presence on stage or on camera is as close to perfection as possible, I allow myself patience and grace to let them do their jobs and express gratitude for them taking the time and consideration to help make the show or project a success. By the time the run is over, I make sure that everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, knows how much they've meant to me during this whole process through gifts (I won't tell you what those gifts are, but let's just say it takes a lot of imagination to put them all together!) and letting them know that their hard work and passion has made a difference in my life. It doesn't take much to be kind to others. It doesn't take much to be humble and acknowledge your carer path would not have been possible without the people who helped you along the way. So why is it that way for some people? I may never know. It's not our job to control what others think and believe. As Reddington from The Blacklist says: "I can only lead you to the truth. I can't make you believe it." Those people who simply choose to be full of themselves and not be humble and kind need to be led to the truth - it's never about them. It's about EVERYBODY making a difference in putting a show, no matter how big or small their roles are. We can't force them to believe in that truth, even though we are tempted to do so. They have to be the ones willing to do so, and by doing this, hopefully have their minds and hearts transformed for good. I wish I could say it's easy to avoid the divas, the difficult directors, or others who feel entitled without an ounce of gratitude or humility in their hearts. But I would be lying to you. You will meet these people in your lifetime, even outside of the performing arts. My best piece of advice to you is this: ALWAYS stay humble and kind. ALWAYS. Don't change who you are because of that one individual who doesn't give a damn about your needs or how much you appreciate them because of what they were taught or how they believed in their own press. We need more kindness and humility in this world. There's too many critics, or even divas, going around as it is. Remember, a show or project doesn't rest on one person's shoulders. It's a TEAM effort. Take the time to be kind to everyone you meet on your projects, and be humble enough to know that while you are talented, it truly does take a village to make all of your wildest dreams come true. Never forget the people who helped you get to where you are today, especially where your character is concerned. And take the time to help those coming up behind you, too. Finally, I will leave you with one more important quote to think about: "Talent will get you in the door, but CHARACTER will keep you in the room." At the end of the day, which is more important to you the next time you audition or do a show: your talent or your character? I sincerely hope it's the latter.