Between auditioning for shows, attending callbacks, networking, working on small projects, and memorizing lines for self-tapes, you must have some time for classes with working professionals with a fountain of industry knowledge. And for the past few months, I've learned a lot of industry information. Some of it was extremely helpful to my career... But there was some knowledge I had to acquire the hard way. And I ended up getting hurt in the process. If you recall my previous blog post on the current affairs of Broadway, I shared an article that featured actress Karen Olivo who left Broadway when she recalled how the overall industry was silent on the #metoo movement and the courageous actions of her fellow performers and creatives speaking out on the atrocities of the industry and its treatment of performers and hardworking crew members. Not only that, Karen talked about how the industry went back to work as usual when Broadway was set to reopen, and that meant having rehearsals for only six weeks and not checking in with the mental and emotional well-being of the performers and crew members. She had enough, as you can see, and left. It's an eye-opener. But in the past few years, many people have spoken up against the theatre industry and its cruel treatment of performers and crew members. You have stories of black performers being told that their hair feels like pubic hair or how much of a problem it will be styling it for their hair and makeup team. Or there are stories of actors accused of sexual assault and harassment in the community, yet they're still working. Or even stories of how performers were forced to go on with the show even though they were puking their guts out backstage and were physically and emotionally exhausted. (Tony winner Laura Benanti is a perfect example of this, as she suffered from severe morning sickness and was expected to continue performing in She Loves Me.) How is it that after nearly two years of being shut down due to a global pandemic, an entire theatre industry still hasn't learned much about treating people as people and learning when enough is enough? Or even seeing that the old patterns are just as harmful now as they were decades ago? Well... The phrase "the show must go on" is as vital as ever, and shows have gone on, even in dirty, sneaky ways. And those who speak out against the unfair and cruel treatment of others are often silenced in the worst possible ways. It can be in the form of manipulation:
Or verbal abuse/emotional abuse/shaming/guilt-tripping:
Or, and this is the easiest and most effective way, money. "You'll never work again!" "Nobody believes you, and it's your word against theirs." "You are a bad influence!" "You are worthless!" "You will never make it in this industry." It's so easy to get caught up in the fear, manipulation, and shame of what those in power tell you after you make what's considered a fatal mistake in their eyes, and you'll do anything to make it right. Even if it's paying them money to get on their good side again. It can happen to anyone... Even me. Oh, wait. It did happen to me. Four weeks ago, to be exact. You better sit down for this one.
I've been taking virtual classes with an NYC-based organization, and its courses are designed to help the working actor work on their craft and skills alongside working industry professionals like casting directors, talent agents, screenwriters, and more. I figured I could use all the help I could get to get a leg up on the industry and move ahead. The courses were fantastic! I learned so much from reputable casting directors and writers about being kind to everyone, how to format your resume, craft a professional email signature, and work with what you have when doing self-tapes. I got a lot out of these courses, sometimes lasting 3-4 weeks. Things turned ugly three weeks ago in the form of a phone call from the head of the organization. Being an actor during inflation is no easy feat; as you can imagine, things have been tough financially lately. I could make it by, just barely, and used installments to pay off the courses. I had an outstanding balance due for one session that was wrapping up that Wednesday three weeks ago, and I was planning on making that payment when I had the funds. As expected, the organization head called me in his chipper voice and notified me of this balance needing to be paid before the last session. I told him that I had planned on making payments after the course was over since I needed to make sure we had enough to pay for the rent and have groceries to last us until the next payday. He was disappointed and insisted that I had to follow the rules and make the payment before the final session. I told him I would let him know by the end of the day or Tuesday after the holiday what could be done and let it go. After much discussion with my mom, we both decided that he would have his payment in full the following Tuesday after the session since we needed to take care of the rent and ensure it was paid. I sent him an email explaining the situation, letting it go. But I couldn't get the feeling that things would go from bad to worse in minutes. And unfortunately, I was right. As I was walking back from putting the clothes in the dryer, I received an email from the head of the organization himself, which told me that I was kicked out of the course due to my inability to make the payment on time before the final session. I got scared, and once I got back inside the apartment, I promptly called and told him I was sorry things didn't work out. What happened next was frightening and traumatizing. He began to verbally abuse me, saying things like, "You ruined everything for everyone else," "You dug yourself into a grave," "Your reputation is ruined," and "This makes us look bad," and it brought me to tears. Despite trying to tell him that we needed to make sure we had the rent paid and my work hours at my day job were reduced, he continued to berate me and verbally and emotionally abuse me to the point where I started crying and falling apart. I told him I would call him back within 10 minutes, and he would have the balance to take from my debit card. And my mom then transferred the amount and then some to my account, and I could call him back and confirm the amount was in my account, and he could take out the amount. He thanked me and said he would see me in class that Wednesday, with his usual chipper self on the other side of the line. After that phone call, I was left shaken, terrified for my life, and ashamed. My mom said she didn't like him hurting me and saying those harmful things. I didn't either, but what could I do? I ended up sobbing in her arms after that exchange. And then, I shared what happened with several friends in the theatre and church community groups. They were just as shocked and angry as I was. "Don't take classes with that organization ever again. Nobody should treat you like that!" Believe me, after the final two sessions - one on that Wednesday and the following Monday - I had no intention of taking classes or having anything to do with that organization again. After the final session on Wednesday, I spent the following Tuesday doing things I had to do: I unsubscribed from his email list. I emailed and thanked him for his services and asked him to remove my debit card information and home address from his system. And then, I proceeded to block his email address. I blocked all of his social media pages on Instagram and Facebook. And I left a two-star review on Google. And I left a two-star review on his Facebook page. And I left a one-star review on Better Business Bureau. And wouldn't you know it? He tried reaching out to me after seeing that review from me. He asked if there was anything he could do to make it right. Seriously? He could give me my money back, but that will never happen. But he could admit that his behavior is an unacceptable and poor way of doing business and then go away and never return. Sadly, that may never happen, either. Not all the free classes in the world will have me crawling back to use his services. He is never getting a single cent from me ever again. And he's never going to take advantage of me again, not if I have anything to say about it. I know the first question all of you are asking right now: "Are you okay?" Honestly? No, I'm not. That experience wasn't a good way to go into Memorial Day weekend. Especially when you must attend your friends' wedding, very fragile and needy, and trying hard not to fall apart. Especially when you must keep it together at part-time jobs and in working theaters, no less! Especially when you receive two back-to-back reactions from two projects you got called back for, and you're not sure what's next in your acting career when you don't have anything lined up. Especially when you feel like you're a failure when you don't even have consistent work, and you have to process all of these feelings at a painstakingly slow pace, slower than ever before. Especially when you can't offer anything positive to your friends and you keep breaking down in tears, your cries out to God often result in silence, more tears, outrage, and even more tears. I also know what many of you are saying right now: "You didn't have to endure his verbal abuse; you could've just hung up and not returned to his classes." I could've done that, but I didn't. And do you want to know why? Because I was emotionally, mentally, and physically abused by my father and sister for many years, including verbal abuse with twinges of manipulation and shaming laced in for good measure to keep me in my place. I believed in all the words they were saying to me, and I had to be the one to fix this, or everything will fall apart, and it was all because of me. And that's precisely what happened with my phone call. I was in fight-or-flight mode and powerless to do anything to stop it because I was that little girl getting beaten up with words and shame. He not only verbally abused and shamed me into getting what he wanted, but he also manipulated me and made me believe that I was a terrible person and my career would not go on because of my inability to keep promises and pay in full and that I ruined everything for everyone else. That's what makes it so sad about emotional, mental, and verbal abuse. You are forced to believe in the absolute worst version of yourself by what others say about you and what you did or didn't do. Nothing you can do to change that unless you give them exactly what they want, whether that's money, power, or even you being silent and pretending that this has never happened. Nobody like him should be in business if that's how they treat potential clients or even upstanding industry members. No one should be allowed to be in business if they verbally, emotionally, physically, mentally, or even sexually abuse anyone to get what they want, even with manipulation and shaming tactics laced in. But you want to know what's sad about this? They still are in business because this industry needs the money after two years in a pandemic, and things like principles, good character, standing up for the victims, and making a concentrated effort to change things is only an afterthought. And the only way they can stay in business is to keep young whippersnappers and rabble-rousers like me silent by paying me with money or offering me everything I could ever want in my life and career so that they can maintain power and the status quo. How many times do I have to say this: The old ways of doing business and maintaining this industry no longer work, and more and more people are getting hurt because of your inability to see the issues and methods from within. Letting people get away with disrespectful and offensive behavior for the sake of keeping the industry going or even "the show must go on" needs to stop, and it needs to stop NOW. No one like Scott Rudin, Kevin Spacey, and more toxic individuals should be in business after taking advantage of hardworking, dedicated, and curious individuals like me and using manipulation, scare tactics, and shame to get precisely what they want. Not now, not ever again. Why is it so hard for you to see artists and creatives as people with feelings, dignity, and lives negatively impacted by your cruelty and silence? Even your resistance and unwillingness to change for a better tomorrow? Is it because you have no one else to turn to who can provide the money and resources you need to keep your business afloat? Is it because that individual is perfect for the role, and they're the only ones who can make the show a success? Is it because you think it's so easy to keep those who speak up silent with money through manipulation, shaming, and guilt-tripping tactics so you can maintain your power? For the love of God, please stop this. You don't know how many people you're hurting because of your greed and reluctance to look at the issues in front of your own eyes, and the people who want to thrive and grow in this industry are leaving because you're not holding these fiends accountable and making substantial changes that help and benefit everyone, not just your wallets. I'm tired of being silent and letting fear have power over me. I'm taking my power, voice, and dignity back. I don't know how many people are reading this blog or any of my previous posts consistently, but you can bet that I'll be shouting from the rooftops the things that need to be said and heard by everyone. It may not always be the most remarkable thing to say, but I can guarantee it will be transparent, vulnerable, sincere, and kind. This is one of those blog posts where kindness has been thrown out the window. (This blog post is weighty as it dealt with a traumatic experience and emotional and verbal abuse. I encourage anyone reading this dealing with domestic violence or abuse to seek professional help. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, or if you are dealing with thoughts of suicide, please do not hesitate to contact the suicide hotline at 988. While this does deal with personal experiences, these are my observations and reflections, and I welcome any discussion about this and other blog posts. If anyone posts harmful or disrespectful language, I will block you.)
I seem to be a magnet for learning things the hard way, especially after what happened three weeks ago. But if there's something to be said about my penchant for learning things the hard way, it says that after such a negative experience, I will never do it again. I share my stories to let others know that going down the path I went down isn't the best way to go about things, and there are safer, wiser ways to get to where you want to get in life. Especially after what happened with the head of that NYC-based organization. For one thing, I won't do anything with virtual classes for a while. I think I've learned all I can for the time being. But more importantly, I'm paying attention to the reviews of organizations that offer classes and ensuring I consider the five-star and one-star reviews and weigh them equally. And even going as far as asking people their honest opinions about these organizations before signing up. And even more importantly, I'm using my voice again to speak out against things like this. I may not have all the answers or professional experiences, but I have a big heart and quiet strength that can go for miles, even when I want to quit. I don't know where you are in life, whether you're riding on an incredible high of good fortune or at your lowest point, but I want you to know this: I'll fight for you if you want me to. I want this industry to thrive after the pandemic, but I also want to raise my voice for those afraid of risking it all. I'm not going to be silenced ever again. Do your worst, you pompous, overbearing, and inconsiderate behemoths. There's a war coming your way in the form of artists and creatives saying enough is enough. Things need to change, and your reign of power is over. And guess what? I WILL FIGHT. A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water. ~Eleanor Roosevelt