Poeta, Pintora, y Loca (Poet, Painter, & Madwoman)
“Sometimes nostalgia is best appreciated when you recognize and accept your place in the present…”
Recently, on the night of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, I quit acting.
I won’t bore you with the details about why I decided to pursue acting in the first place. Just know that, for everyone who does, it is a different experience – but they always explain it the same way. Something has drawn them to it. They describe it as a feeling, an emotion, a desire, a gravitational pull toward the craft of acting. Something they can’t quite stop chasing no matter how difficult the path, how many times they stumble or fall on their face, no matter how far in the distance it appears.
For me, the journey began 18 years ago, yet I decided I would bow out just as actress, Uzo Aduba, gave her winning speech for her outstanding performance in the Netflix TV Series, Orange Is The New Black.
It was all very timely and dramatic. As I turned on the shredder, ready to hack up my headshots and scripts that I was struggling to memorize, she urged actors at home “to continue, to keep trying, keep plugging, keep working….”
It might have been that I was jealous, that I wanted to be a part of it so badly, that I was tired of the rejection, or simply that I’d had it with the signature “I’m an Actor” speeches at the opening of the show because, in reality, they just made me question whether I really was…
For an actor, there is no greater place than Hollywood…where anyone could be star and for the most part everyone has been at least for the cringeworthy 15 minutes of fame. “You see that ear there? That’s my ear! I’m a big movie star! Don’t you know this movie made millions at the box office?”
Hollywood is beautiful in a melancholy kind of way. The weather is perfect and the fact that you’re walking amongst the remnants of old Hollywood glitz and glamour does not escape you. Driving is an isolating daily task that makes you feel as though the sea of cars along the freeway may one day swallow you up. Bright lights usually signal some V.I.P. party only those who know someone, who knows somebody else that’s famous, are invited to. It is a place where secret societies exist and even though you think you may know the password that can get you into a lavish event at The Roosevelt, it doesn’t mean they won’t change the venue the moment they see you pull up to the valet.
In Hollywood you are somebody one minute and nobody the next. You’re a face until everyone gets tired of looking at you. But when you are in the moment – Oh, what a moment it is! You walk the star-lined streets of Hollywood, the quirky street performers jumping out at you, the ghost of legends past whispering in your ear – and the possibilities suddenly become endless. Los Angeles has its own distinct energy and dreams. Your guard is never down. You are always “on.” Your best face forward, shoulders back, head high, you walk and secretly hope that someone who is anyone is watching.
While in Los Angeles, I went on a tour of the Dolby Theatre (former Kodak Theatre), where the Academy Awards are hosted. It is quaint, but regal. A mystery how anyone can fit in those seats. We had the opportunity to stand on the stage. We listened as the guide explained who sat where during the past year’s award ceremony. Some people on the tour appeared bored, others genuinely interested but for different reasons. “So the lighting display…how does it work?”
Are you kidding me! Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman once stood on this very step and you’re concerned with the workings of a flashlight!
My experience there culminated with a deep moment of introspection during a brief glance, through glass, at what they call the “Winner’s Walk.” The guide peeled back the curtain and explained that only winners of the coveted gold Oscar statuette are permitted to grace the carpet that so gently lays across the walkway. The length of the hall allows just enough time for the award recipient to have a private moment of reflection as large photos of former winners hang and peer behind their back.
I imagine standing there with all sound muted…I look down at the Oscar in my hand. It feels heavy. My hands are sweaty. Tears have been streaming down my face since I left the stage and all I want to do is scream with excitement. These shoes are killing my feet and I’m starving – but I don’t care – because I’ve won. I step toward the door at the end of the hall that will lead me to a press room for post-Oscar interviews. The door opens and I’m suddenly blinded by the flashing lights of cameras and the deafening voices calling out my name. “How does it feel to win an Oscar?”
And with that, the guide drops the curtain, announces the tour is over, and we are escorted out of the theatre. The door locks behind us with a thud, as if to say…you don’t belong.
That moment, as childish, or imaginative, or wishful as it may have been, made a lasting impression on me.
As a hopeless nostalgic and hapless dreamer life is a constant debate of reality versus fantasy. Compile that with calculations of all the time, money, and sacrifice it takes to pursue your dreams and you’ll have an equation that is sure to make your head spin – My monotonous day job multiplied by family obligations, divided by hobbies, plus personal tasks (like the gym!) and minus my sanity…
After realizing that the cost of building a first-of-its-kind park like Disneyland on a 160 acre lot would be very expensive, and that he could never convince the financiers that it was a reasonable investment, Walt Disney declared, “Dreams offer too little collateral.”
It’s very difficult to give up solid, concrete, visible things for fluid, fickle, and opaque dreams that could vanish before they even have the opportunity to fully materialize.
Far away from Hollywood, I dwell in the land of New York City. Outside, flash the bright lights of Broadway and the hustle and bustle of people rushing to get somewhere – anywhere – provide the city with an energy that all of the world longs to tap into. The Hudson River, in all its brown and murky glory, fuels the city from underneath. The city’s bridges seemingly crown its boroughs. I’m here, in the midst of it all, in a place where everyday, hundreds hop off a bus with stars in their eyes and the promise that dreams do come true.
As I leap across subway platforms rushing to auditions, memorizing lines and talking to myself like a madwoman on the train…I think about every time I have to explain to someone that I am an actor. Their response is always the same: Oooh! Have I seen you in anything? What movies have you been in? You do it for real or like a hobby?”
How do I explain that while I’m going to auditions (for more roles than I actually book), taking on one-line roles (sometimes one-word roles!), signing up for classes, and networking at events…How can I still say, during all the in-between, that… I’m an Actor.
An aspiring actor…but one none-the-less.
I recently went to a screening of the film, The Stockroom, in which we learn that urban legend has it that if you spend 10 years in the stockroom, you’ll never leave. This is the premise of the film that follows Joseph Rodriguez, a stockroom clerk, as he hopes for a promotion before his 10 year mark. When the promotion fails to come through, a bewildered Joseph can’t seem to wrap his head around the reality of it all. “It’s not about the promotion. It’s about getting out of the stockroom. It’s about branching out. It’s what’s fair!”
For Joseph, it really wasn’t about the promotion at all. He just wanted a change. He didn’t want to feel stuck. He didn’t need the extra anxieties of everyday life while he pursued his real dream – to become a stand-up comic. During a Q & A with Actor/Filmmaker, Victor Cruz, he stressed the message of his film is to “Follow your dreams. Do what you want to do. Love yourself enough to say you can do this…and you will.”
In college I studied Theatre Arts until my mother convinced me to change my major so that one day I could have a job with a retirement savings plan, health benefits, flexible work hours, a company vehicle, paid holidays and vacations. I did so – and am grateful – but have lived with a looming “what if” my entire life. This has been my “Stockroom.”
So I tell my mother that I want to wake up every morning, go for walk, be inspired, write, act, paint, and travel. At home, I ramble on and on like this…about things I want to do, dreams I have, wishes I want to make, hopes I want to see realized. I shout that all I want in the world is to…create and tell stories.
She looks at me like a diminutive bratty child and shakes her head. “You’re crazy, you know that? That’s not real life. You’re living a fantasy, lost in some kind of nostalgia.”
Why is it we can always only dream? Why can’t we also do?
It seems a bit cruel, but writer and poet, Oscar Wilde, described it best when he said a dreamer is someone “who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
Whenever I think about the “what ifs” that exist, I think about a mouse…and I smile. Born in 1928, the mouse is ever recognizable in his red shorts, large yellow shoes, and white gloves. This mouse inspired one man to do more than just dream. Walt Disney was so steadfast in his belief that “If you can dream it, you can do it,” that what began with a vision became more imaginative and elaborate, until several decades later, his dreams became reality.
I did quit acting on the night of the SAG Awards…but within 5 minutes of quitting, I received a message from a filmmaker interested in casting me in his next project. I later got called in by a Casting Director to audition for a commercial. I received a script in the mail for a play which might soon go into production. And this past week, I signed with a manager.
“Do it again. Play it again. Sing it again. Read it again. Write it again. Sketch it again. Rehearse it again. Run it again. Try it again. Because AGAIN is practice, and practice is improvement, and improvement only leads to perfection,” insists author Richelle E. Goodrich.
Far from perfect, but ever so near to chasing down my dreams and that nostalgic feeling of having all my stars line up…I guess I’m at it again.
I share the good news with my mother, along with the fact that I’ll be needing new headshots, and I tell her about my theory of creative gravitational pull. She laughs and shakes her head…“Poeta, pintora, y loca, tu eres.” – Poet, painter, and madwoman, you are.
I am all those things – and more.
I’m an Actor.