I am going to be a STAR! That is my plan!
Said by every performer, ever.
Said by me when my parents asked what I wanted to be. I had no back up plan because I wasn't going to need one. I was going to succeed!!
Oh, Show Business.
No matter if we "make it" and we are a star, at some point in our career, we all feel the same sense of not being enough, questioning our talent, and deep down just wanting to be accepted. Struggling or full blown stars……we are all the same aren't we? Our careers go through massive highs and lows, feast and famine, that would make anyone else's head spin. Show business brings heartache, and many of us allow that heartache to rob us of our every day happiness and forget the joy that comes from doing what we do.
So how can we be a happy, fulfilled, confident, blissful? Deep down, its a choice, really. But here's some tips I found in my career that help me. I hope they will help you too.
Love Acting. It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised by how many actors focus on the negative and allow the indifference of the business to validate that self-deprecating voice in their heads. "If you didn't get the callback you must suck." No, you must focus on the art and love it. You do this by engaging in the joy of acting on a regular basis in classes, in scripts you write and shoot, and in the work you do on stage. If the extent of your acting is in an audition room a couple times a week for 10 minutes at a time at best, you're not choosing to fall in love with it. Love it for it's own sake.
Get a Life. You need a day job. Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Denzel Washington, and Meryl Streep all have day jobs. Yes, I said have. Whether it's child advocacy, Politics, parenthood, music, or women's issues, they all have passions that extend beyond show business. Sometimes their day job is acting! The point is they all have full lives that keep them engaged in their communities in ways that are fulfilling. If auditioning and occasional acting on set is all you do, you probably have a more narrow view of the world than an artist should. You're limiting yourself and your art. So, get out there. Get a job. Volunteer. Make time for friends and family. Travel. Experience. Your art is bigger than the business, and it requires fuel or else it gets stale. Living a full life is your power source.
Care for you instrument. You must eat well, sleep well, and – during at least one workout a week – engage in exercise that isn’t driven by vanity but by the desire to connect your mind and your body. This business is stressful. It requires constant self-care. If you're putting things into your body that deplete your physical and emotional energy, the artistic expression that comes out of your body will reflect that depletion. You won't be able to do the work you need to consistently do. This goes for spiritual engagement as well. You have to be feeding your soul – whatever that means for you. In a town where business is our master, we have to find ways to nurture our spirits and find something bigger than the industry and ourselves. You can only find joy and engage in deeply connected work if your heart, body, and spirit are tuned.
Let go of the drama. The drama is on the page and in the work, but not in your life. There'll certainly be struggles, disappointments, and big feelings. But don't turn that into drama. Live simply. Don't create chaos. That's wasted energy spent in avoidance. Deal with what's right in front of you: the work. Everything else is in the way of the thrill of your artistic exploration.
Comparison is death. You're not Jennifer Lawrence. You’re not Daniel Day Lewis. You're not Octavia Spencer. But they're also not you. Comparing your career to another actor's career is not the work of an artist. You are a unique actor with a unique set of experiences so your path will be unique. Likewise, comparing your bank account to that of the kid you grew up with who went to law school, undermines your unique journey and prevents your experiences from being expressed through your art. You are like no one and no one is like you.
Find your gratitude. Appreciate what you have; it's a lot. Every morning and evening, in the shower, in traffic, at the post office, etc. – Identify three things for which you're grateful. Let that become a practice. It keeps you out of the muck that actors can wallow in. "She didn't bring me in on that part I'm perfect for." "That other actor got the part." "I'm too old, too fat, too insignificant, too, too, too…" Gratitude leaves no room for the negative voices that don't have your best interests in mind. Even when those voices pop up in the waiting room as you're about to walk into the room. Be especially grateful then!
Be gentle and kind to yourself and to everyone around you. Nobody deserves to be beaten up. Begin with yourself. Forgive yourself for anything you think you did wrong. Treat yourself as you would a new lover. Go out of your way to be generous. Be compassionate. Be mindful – to the casting director, the other actors who always book your parts. Be kind. It will create space for happiness.
Meditate It is not a religion. It is an exercise in stillness. By training in meditation, we create an inner space and clarity that enables us to control our mind regardless of the external circumstances. If our mind is peaceful, we will be free from worries and mental discomfort, and so we will experience true happiness. If we train in meditation, our mind will gradually become more and more peaceful, and we will experience a purer and purer form of happiness. Eventually, we will be able to stay happy all the time, even in the most difficult circumstances.
The Tony Awards are coming….or as I call it "Prom night for the Theater World". ;)
This time of year reminds me of the time the cast of 42nd St Revival performed on the Tony's in 2001. How exciting it was to run down the isle in our tap shoes and dance on stage at Radio City Music Hall!
We were all living the dream!
Being on Broadway is truly amazing, but we know there is no real guarantee our show will run. A closing notice can go up on Tuesday that says you are out of a job on Sunday afternoon.
Crushing. Yeah, I've been there.
Not only does that kind of news suck for anyone....it also means you don't have that fat paycheck coming in anymore. We always have to be prepared for this to happen.
This is where I hope I can help. With some advice on what I wish I did while I was on Broadway.
For those of you who aren't actors, let me school you a little on what we call "survival jobs". "Survival jobs" are what actors call the jobs we get in between performing gigs that fuel our bank accounts long enough for us to survive. Some people are fortunate enough to never have to work one of these jobs, but those of us who do have been through a myriad of them.
Me personally? I have done almost everything. Coat checked at The Rainbow Room, Hostessed at The St Regis, Catered in Hollywood, I have even done singing birthday grams as Marilyn Monroe. Nothing that made me a lot of money or money that made me feel like I was thriving. Sometimes we take some performing gigs we hate just because it's money...right? Imagine if we didn't have to do that. Imagine if we could pick and choose and build a career because we had a steady flow of money coming in.
I'm not talking about having a Sugar Daddy.
What if we could be our own Sugar Daddy.
Yeah....lets get into that idea!
So a few years back I was racking my brain to figure out what I could do to GET PAID. Start my own line of tap shoes, make jewelry? Uh.....not really interested in having a jewelry factory in my apartment and designing tap shoes is a thought but I don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to start that kind of a business.
Early on, I realized that Film & TV actors get paid residually (get paid for work they already filmed) and I realized THIS is what I want! So, I luckily started to do some TV and Film work and got some nice money and even residuals coming in. I still do every so often. I get paid for the movie The Princess Diaries II, Law & Order SVU, The Good Wife, Person Of Interest, etc. This is awesome, and I wish I had more work like this. But as we all know, those jobs aren't in our control to book.
So where does this leave me? Needing more residual checks and still having to work survival jobs
I am also a Mom. I love my babies and spending time with them is precious to me. Most every mother feels this pull. I want to be active in the world, contribute financially and otherwise, but also spend quality time with my babies.
It's all about balance. No one wants to be burning the candle at both ends working day and night.
So...with all this adding up. I know I wanted a "survival job" that pays me residually, leverage my time so I am not away from my baby boys, allows me flexibility to audition when I need to, gives me purpose and is social, I can do from anywhere (since I may be working in NYC or LA) and makes me good money.
Doesn't exist right? That's what I thought. But it does. Read on my friends.
The Survival Job is Network Marketing
I know what you just said. "OK, thanks Mer! See ya! Not for me. Scam. Pyramid Scheme. Nope."
Please don't stop reading because that is everyone's first reaction. Working a Network Marketing job is where I feel actors and performers don't understand how this is the only job they could do and do very well during gigs and in between gigs that will make them residual income.
Trust me. Some of you know me. I am a stickler for looking at things with a fine tooth comb.
Network Marketing is a real job and can make you real money on a steady basis.
I was hesitant to begin anything because I said, I'm not going to sell some product and be known as the "Avon Lady". Then I thought, fine then I'll just be known as the broke and cranky hostess, the bartender, the catering and struggling poor actress who never has any money. Cause yeah…that's appealing. Or worse yet, my children never see's me because I'm always working outside of the home and I turn around and they are all grown up….and I missed it.
I am so not the "salesy type". I hate being "salesy" and frankly being sold to. But...when a network marketing job was presented to me I went through all these thoughts and had all these reasons why I shouldn't do it.
Pride. Ego. Fear it was b*llsh*t, etc.
But I then looked at my acting life. I have had so much success and have been so lucky. Yes, I could be famous & rich with a great TV gig or star on Broadway again. But in the meantime, I'm a working actor, like a lot of us, who's always in fear of not having a paycheck and I hate that.
Bottom line? I hate the feeling of being poor and powerless more than my pride or ego about doing a network marketing gig.
The longer I'm in the entertainment business (over 20 years now) the more I want security for me and my family. And being "salesy"? Please! I'm doing it all day every day with my acting business! I'm selling myself. Which I feel is a lot harder than selling an external product. And I'm always, for years, investing a sh*t ton of money in head shots, resumes, buying new audition outfits, make up, hair, getting a website set up, travel to NYC or LA, and paying an agent 10% of my income. The list goes on and on.
And I haven't even got to the part that makes the most sense.
Are you ready!?
As a performer, it is part of our job to look and feel good. Let me say that again. It is part of your job to look and feel good. So…we pay other companies to take care of our health & wellness needs when we buy their make-up, skin care, vitamins, detox, etc.
So connect this. Your survival job can be investing in yourself and simply telling people what you are doing. Your business is where you invest in your health, beauty and wellness. You invest back in yourself. Not MAC, not GNC, not Clinique or Lancome, or whomever the f*ck you pay a lot of money to.
You buy from your own virtual online store.
This is my store - check it out. I love shopping here.
So....let's get on with explaining it shall we?
I know this is long but STICK WITH ME.
This is solid advice!
Let's get past the stereotype and learn something. Network Marketing is just a form of marketing to your "network". Or people you know. That's it. (Example: Your Facebook Friends, your Instagram Followers are in your Network). Working this job is just like recommending a good restaurant you love to a friend or two. You practically do it every day anyway. Do you get paid for that by the company? No.
Within Network Marketing, there are many companies out there to choose from, and I encourage you to research them. Clue: You must love what you are recommending and should use it yourself. No one wants a recommendation from someone who doesn't even use the product themselves.
The company I chose has the product and philosophy that I fell in love with. The company is called ARBONNE (named after a town in Switzerland). It's a certified vegan, botanically based, environmentally conscious health & wellness company that has the best skin care products I have ever used. Plain and simple. I won't sell something I don't love and like I said, you shouldn't either. So find something you love first and foremost. And it should be consumable (repeat sales) and something that has a market need. Most everyone wants to feel and look good, has skin, hair, and a stomach (we hope).
There are many true and real Network Marketing jobs out there and product. The Direct Sales Association is where you should look to make sure they are legit.
But I digress....so how does this tie in with Broadway Actors?
Here's how. I love my theater community. I have always wanted to find a way for all of us to support each other financially as we do emotionally. Money = Power & Freedom.
I started selling Arbonne backstage in-between shows to my cast of "White Christmas" on Broadway. I didn't use the traditionally used MAC Make-up on Broadway, because it tore up my skin and bank account. So I started using Arbonne Make Up for the stage to see if it would hold up...and guess what, it did! The cast started asking me what I used on my skin, what make up colors, also protein shakes was I drinking (in-between shows I drank them and even during to keep me fueled for my dance numbers)...people asked me what it was, and I just told them. They said "I want that!" and I just helped them order.
That was as "salesy" as I got.
For November & December I got a checks in the mail from Arbonne for up to $600, my residuals from my sales to my cast members. I wish I had a copies of those check stubs to post for you. So you can see that it is real money, real commission, and a real job.
So this is my advice to performers out there. Do something like Arbonne while you are in your show and have money to invest in it. Its not a huge investment, less than what you invest in your acting business. Put the money you make in a savings account for when you don't have a job. Build up your client list and every time they order from you, collect that residual check.
I'm not the only Broadway person doing Network Marketing. Many awesome and highly respected Broadway performer friends are doing a Network Marketing as side gigs too. Talk to them, support them, buy from them instead of the large corporations who are taking over the world.
So my Broadway friends....as you are watching the Tony's or performing on them....just think about your Plan B, whatever it may be. Because Arbonne is something I WISH I began doing while I was on Broadway. So take my advice, and start a business tonight.
f you want to join my bad ass girl boss team, check out www.meredithbrayley.arbonne.com and email me any questions.
That's some solid advice from this Broadway Baby to you.
Happy Tony Season!!!
Take away the location, the millions of dollars, the media attention and elitist status that comes with it.....and Broadway is just a word. What I mean by this is, incredible Broadway calliber artistry is everywhere. And Broadway is not the only place you can see incredible artists, designers, and award worthy creativity. Sorry to burst your bubble. It just isn't.
Broadway is simply a location in New York City. Its also an incredible community full of lovely talented artists that is considered the pinnacle of the theatre community around the globe. But, know this, great theatre exists everywhere. And what brought me to write this is I am sick of incredibly talented and hard working theatrical artists feeling less than because they haven't climbed and conquered the mountain called Broadway. I'm also quite tired of those who have been on Broadway acting like they are better than those who haven't, but that's another entry all together.
Listen, I love Broadway. I am one of the lucky ones who, at a very young age, had the privilege of performing and starring on Broadway many times. But, I also love artists, performers and designers. I love creative souls. And this expression, without having the stamp of approval that is a Broadway credit, doesn't diminish an artists brilliance. I feel the need to talk about this because it is such a wound in so many theatre artists....not having been on Broadway. Or having been on Broadway, but only for a moment, and feeling the rest of their lives like they will never measure up to that Broadway show ever again. And this is simply not true.
Listen, Broadway is incredible. But having been on Broadway, does it make me better than another performer who hasn't? Absolutely not. But this business seems to think so. The notion that someone who has a Broadway credit surpasses someone who doesn't, is ludicrous. Because I have seen some incredibly talented performers who blow me out of the water, but they have never booked a Broadway show. Why? Who knows? Maybe they never went to New York City or wanted to? Its a rough city to live in. Maybe they tried and after a few years wanted a better quality of life? We all know that getting to Broadway is a mixture of many things. The right show, the right role, knowing the right people, getting an audition, being the right age, voice type, dance type, etc. The list goes on and on. But I tell you, there is SO much talent all over this world that will never see a Broadway stage and will never win a Tony Award. And they are still very viable, brilliant, talented, and incredible artists.
And that is truly the way the entertainment industry works.
But Broadway is still a goal that may not ever be attained by some, and this is the most frustrating part of being a theatre performer. Not attaining it and feeling less than because you don't have the B word on your resume is heartbreaking. And lord knows, the business is hard enough as it is. The struggle to find a great theatre job is real, but also there is a struggle to be taken seriously if you don't have that Broadway credit. You are always climbing the mountain. Especially when the years begin to creep on by. People look at you and think. What's wrong with you? Why haven't you been on Broadway yet? Or why aren't you back on Broadway?
Nothing is wrong with you. Nothing, my friends.
I am not more talented than the next performer. I am not knocking my talent, the countless hours and dedication to my craft that I have done, I am just saying, there are SO many out there who have done the same as me. And they haven't made it to Broadway. They don't have a Tony Award (neither do I).
But we are all worthy. We are all SO worthy.
I booked my first Broadway show in the ensemble of the musical On The Town (Revival). But before we went into rehearsals the choreographer was replaced. I was told that they needed more ethnicity in the show and so I (and a few others) were also replaced before we even began rehearsal. This wasn't about my ability or talent, or work. I simply wasn't the right ethnicity. Do you see where I'm getting with this?
My second and third Broadway shows I booked were a new musical called Footloose and a new musical called The Jazz Singer. Neither were actually on Broadway yet but they had plans to be. I had done the workshop of The Jazz Singer and decided, based on my taste in shows and tap dance ability, to choose to be the understudy to Ruby Keeler in The Jazz Singer instead of the understudy to Ariel in the musical Footloose. Did I choose wrong? Some would say yes because as you may guess, The Jazz Singer never made it to Broadway and Footloose did. Could I have predicted that? Nope. I was 22 years old and I didn't know which potential Broadway show to choose. So, I went with my gut and my love of jazz and tap dancing and picked the show that felt good to my soul. Side note: I still believe I picked right....because a few years later that choreographer of The Jazz Singer, Mr. Randy Skinner, ended up casting me as Peggy Sawyer in 42nd ST which lead a long 20 year work relationship which included my Broadway musical debut, many regional productions and onto originating a starring role on Broadway in the musical White Christmas.
The fourth Broadway show I booked was a Comedia Del Arte play, and this was the show I actually made my Broadway debut in. For this musical girl, I never thought in my wildest dreams, my Broadway debut would've been a play, but it was. It was directed by the incredible Julie Taymor, with music by Elliot Goldenthal, and included a cast of tremendous actors (some of whom are still my friends today). It was called The Green Bird. It debuted at The Cort Theatre in the year 2000 and I cried as I stepped onto that stage for the first time. It was magical. But the show wasn't loved by critics, and we closed in just 7 weeks.
I detailed all of this journey to show you the craziness that can happen in order to not only get a Broadway show, but be in one. Imagine if my Broadway journey ended with The Green Bird and I was only on Broadway for 7 weeks? And i didn't even mention the countless Broadway auditions I have done and didn't book. It is am exhausting mountain to climb.
All in all, I have been a part of the most amazing productions that never made it anywhere near Broadway, nor planned to. I have been a part of transformative shows with exquisitely stellar performers who, within a phrase of song, could bring you to tears. And they have never been on Broadway, nor planned to be. These artists are Broadway caliber, they are humans who should grace the stage with their talent, their designs should be seen, there transformative artistry should be on Broadway....but it just isn't.
Listen, I hold Broadway in the highest regard. I always have. But when I moved into the Broadway community, many of my beliefs burst. There are a lot of factors that go into a show getting birthed, a performer getting a shot at auditioning and maybe a celebrity wanting to take the role you wish you could audition for, politics and money. It's a crazy and awesome puzzlement how Broadway show's even get made.
But whether or not you make it to Broadway doesn't define you as an artist.
I will leave you with this, I am in the Appalachian Mountains, working in a small yet awesome theatre, performing a role in a show with some of the most wonderful artists I have had the pleasure of sharing the stage with. And we are all doing transformative work, loving our craft and perfecting it every performance as we take the audience away on a journey. Add millions of dollars, the geographical location, and media attention...and its Broadway because let me tell ya....these artists are giving Broadway caliber performances. And that's the truth that I'm trying to convey. That stellar artistry, no matter where you happen to be, is truly the pinnacle of what live theatre is all about.
Keep on keeping on my friends.
I am not going to sugar coat this because you love people who are honest, authentic and direct. I know you need to hear this.
I know what you have been through in this life. Every detailed bit of it. I know the tremendous pain and broken dreams you hide behind that beautiful smile. I know you believe in so much for others and used to believe in yourself and yet you have given up on yourself, your career and any hope that you will live to the potential as an artist that you feel you have inside. Just stop right there my girl. Stop.
You have so much to do, my love, so very much.
Your heart has been broken so many times personally and professionally. You have put your unending loyalty and faith in so many people. You recklessly believed in those people who said they would "be there for you always". You trusted them with every fiber of your being. You let go and let your heart be your guide and you have been crushed without remorse. Abandon without explanation. Forced into bankruptcy and divorce, felt like a failure, not picked for hundreds of career altering projects, cheated on multiple times, ghosted out of friendships and then laughed at when you expressed your pain.
Listen, douchbag's exist everywhere and they always will.
Have you learned your lesson? Stop giving them any bit of you. Trust your instincts always. Give no chances to those who hurt you the first time. You knew those people in the past were always out for themselves. You knew once they had nothing else to take from you they would leave you. You knew it from the moment you met them. Remember this lesson and believe in your instincts. Your instincts know best and they set the boundaries, not your giving heart. Unabashedly and completely. Never with an apology. Be authentically you and only give time and energy to those who are in alignment with that.
I am begging you, sweet and open hearted Merie, to mend yourself completely. Forget the terrible people of this world who have hurt you personally and professionally. Put everything you can into the love, honesty, passion and hope in your life you have now and always.
You are a bright shining light in this world. You are so full of love. You have so much to give! Remember those who have always believed in you, who delight when you tell them your dreams, who give you a boost of exhilarated positivity every time you see them! The true hearted, talented, unconditional lovely souls who are in your life personally and professionally.
Those are the only people who get your energy and attention. You don't have to explain yourself to those who find themselves on the opposite side of your heart. They know what they did. And if they don't, its not for you to teach them.
You have voiced your pain, we heard it loud and clear, and most importantly, you have no one to save from the douchebags of the world. Everyone has their own lessons to learn in this life. You learned yours.
Let it all go.
You are healthy, whole, complete, authentic, talented, immensley loved and cherished and not at all done with your flourishing career. You have SO many huge things to do in this world!!!
Begin now my love!! CARPE DIEM!!
I got you girl. Count on me.
You bad ass, girl boss! Go get 'em!
From the time I began in the entertainment industry I asked questions. I asked if people could help me. I asked if I could get an audition. I asked how I could work harder, be ready, I just asked how I could........you fill in the blank.
I asked a lot of questions of a lot of people. And for me, the worst thing they could say was no. And let me tell you, I got a lot of no's, but I also got a lot of valuable information, some great mentoring, loving suggestions, incredible advice, and many many yes's.
Here's an example:
One of the first auditions I "crashed" was for the role of Ginger Rogers in the workshop of a new Broadway musical called GINGER. In the entertainment business, I was a total nobody. No real credits, but lots of tenacity and training. I knew I couldn't get an audition for the lead role so.....I just asked and asked and asked until I found out where the auditions were being held. Then, I called the casting office and I was told not to come. Casting was just doing their job. I didn't have an appointment and it was agent appointments only.
But still, my little ambitious heart couldn't stay away. I knew the auditions were coming up and I just had to ask one more time....by just showing up.
So I arrived at the casting office where the auditions were being held. I was dressed like Ginger Rogers would be, I had my audition book of sheet music, I had my tap shoes and my character shoes. I had snacks and water in case I was waiting a long time.....let's just say I was ready and smiling.
They let me in, surprisingly, and I just sat outside the audition room with a ton of other girls. Everyone was auditioning, and one by one, people passed me by to go into the room, but... I just sat there. Waiting. I don't know why I wasn't kicked out after awhile? Every time the casting director opened the door to the room where the creative team was sitting, she saw me, and made a puzzled face, but closed the door.
I wasn't hiding. I was sitting tall, smiling and waiting patiently. I just wanted my chance.
After 3 hours of sitting there, you would think I would've left right? But no....I was still waiting. My presence there was me asking to be seen. I never bothered anyone. I didn't ask again to be seen. In a gentle, yet tenacious way. They knew I wasn't going home until I was seen for the show.
Then something miraculous happened. The door opened and the creative team walked out for their lunch break....and that's when I saw everyone for the first time, and they saw me. One by one they walked out. I smiled and said "Hello" to each of them. They smiled, said hello, and walked by for their break. Someone must've wondered why I hadn't been seen or asked who I was because suddenly as the break ended, and the creative team walked back into the room and I was asked to audition!! I was asked to come in the room!! I couldn't believe it!
I auditioned, I felt amazingly grateful.....and the funniest thing happened.
I booked the role of Ginger!
If I hadn't asked by sitting there for hours, I wouldn't have auditioned and won that role. That decision to sit outside that waiting room began a very important partnership in my career with choreographer Randy Skinner, his assistant Kelli Barclay and The Ginger Rogers Society. The chain of events that unfolded after that workshop led me (I believe) to being Peggy Sawyer in 42nd ST on Broadway, Judy Haynes in the World Premiere and Broadway show White Christmas, starring in numerous other productions with Mr Skinner at City Center and the world premiere of the musical An American in Paris. All productions and experiences that have shaped me professionally and personally. Knowing Randy Skinner and being able to dance his incredible steps has pushed me as a dancer and artist more than any other choreographer that I have had the privilege of working with.
If I hadn't been there that day, who knows? Maybe that chain of events would've been a whole lot different.
I found out later that it was the head of the Ginger Rogers Society who saw me sitting there that got me the audition. He said I took his breath away, he thought he was looking at a young Ginger Rogers. He just had to see me sing and dance. These are his words, not me tooting my own horn. ;) I am eternally grateful to that man for giving me that chance to audition, and when luck met opportunity I was ready. I was so very ready to be Ginger Rogers.
What happened to the Broadway show GINGER? Sadly, that was one of the many Broadway shows that never made it to fruition, but the moral of that story is....just ask. Ask with your presence, gently nudge and try everything you can. Yes, I crashed the audition, and that might not be possible nowadays. But I wasn't forceful. I was respectful.
Always be respectful when asking, but don't be fearful of asking.
If you are an artist, and you want to "make it big" you have to live in either New York City or Los Angeles full time. This isn't relevant for celebrities, but for those of us in "the trenches", its still the 2 cities we have to choose from.
Yes, this is changing, very very slowly with self taping and many production companies filming TV series and films in other cities like Atlanta.....but still, Los Angeles and New York are the cities you have to choose from if you are serious about the entertainment industry.
I lived in New York City from the time I was 18 years old. When I was about 6 months pregnant with my first child, my husband and I were visiting Los Angeles and had brunch with the awesome actress Julie Bowen. Julie and I became friends when we worked together on ABC's BOSTON LEGAL.
She is quite honestly one of my career idols. Authentic and awesome, and my advice guru. I was rambling on trying to figure out if I should move from New York (where I had worked on Broadway but work was slow) or if I should move to LA (where I had worked a lot in TV and Film) and to try to expand my TV and Film resume? My mouth dropped open when she all of a sudden said,
"Fuck the business, where do you want to LIVE!"
My husband Dustin and I both laughed out loud in a shocked chuckle. But this blunt reply was exactly what I needed to hear. She went on to explain herself, but that reply had so much honesty to it that I constantly refer back to it when I'm thinking about my life, not the business, but my LIFE.
Honestly, Julie has 3 kids of her own, she could see I was about to have a child, I was tired of the "hustle" and I wanted to just settle down into a house with a yard and raise my kids in my home state of California. Now, Julie has had many hit series under her belt (including the one she's currently on Modern Family) so she could've not related to what I was rambling on about, just sat there, listened and nodded and from her perspective said "Los Angeles is great! Move here". But no, she looked me straight in the face and with this exuberance of energy said
"You've decided your whole adult life where to live based on the entertainment industry so, I say fuck the business! Don't think about that. Think about where you want to live! Be happy! Then the work will come. Focus on where you want to raise your family and let the business be secondary for once."
She was right. In my entire adult life I had never thought that way. I have always lived where it was best for the entertainment industry. I moved across country at the age of 18 to NYC because I wanted to "make it", I traveled to and from Los Angeles for 8 years to audition for Pilot Season, I rarely took vacations anywhere. Now I love the energy of both of these cities, but in my latest 30's and about to be a mother.....that energy shifted and I realized....
Everything in my life revolved around the business.
I always knew when I had kids that I didn't want to settle down on NYC. Nothing against people that do, I just never wanted to raise my child in a large and harsh city, unless I had the money to do so. I think in the trenches of that city, you grow up so fast. I just wanted my kids to have a simple suburban childhood with a house and backyard with a swing set. Not have Central Park as their backyard and have to navigate the subway to school. Of course NYC is very different if you have money, lots of money, but I don't and for those of us who don't....raising children can be rough.
After that brunch with Julie, my husband and I went back to NYC and I gave birth to our beautiful son. We weren't sure what we were going to do, but we stayed for 3 months and finally.....the harshness of the city got to both of us. The straw that broke the camels back was waiting 30 minutes in the hot stuffy station for the subway to come with my screaming newborn in my arms. It broke my heart. Then finally we got on the subway and a couple shady people tried to touch my baby.
I had it!
I wanted a "normal" life with my child. I use the word normal loosely, and again in no way mean to offend those who do live and thrive in New York City. I just knew in my gut that I wanted to be able to securely lock my child into their car seat and drive with air conditioning and have some control over my transportation. Go home to a spacious place with a backyard and a swing set. I just think after 20 years, the NYC subway system just finally pissed me off one last time.
But the point is.....your gut is your compass.
You need to constantly check in with yourself. Check in and see if you are truly happy and thriving? I'm not saying Los Angeles is the answer to New York City. Maybe for you its doing awesome regional theatre in a small town? This is up to you and to what your compass is telling you.
And just because you don't live in New York City or Los Angeles.....know that you are still an artist. You are still awesomely talented. You are still thriving. Sometimes, you have find when its right for you to say to yourself "Fuck the Business" and find out where you want to LIVE...in the most authentic and loving way.
There are some artists who are truly creators. They have a vision for what they want to do and they are what you call pioneers in this industry.
I am not a Pioneer
I have never had a desire to create my own content. I have created some (songwriting, arguably this blog, etc) but most of it is layered with self doubt or I just did it because someone said I should. Anytime I have ever tried to create my own content, the heart of it was to simply to get work. Or get attention to then hopefully get work. I could honestly say I am writing this blog as a creative outlet, but I could stop it at any moment, and happily. I do not want to create my own content, web series, YouTube Channel, segments or write scripts for myself. I just don't.
I would love to be a Muse.
Sounds old fashioned, I know. But, news flash, I am old fashioned. This is just what I have always envisioned for myself. I want to be guided, written for, cast, created for. I seriously have very little desire to create something from scratch. I will give my input, if asked, but I want someone to bring an already fleshed out ideas to me and say "What do you think?"
Does it sound lazy? When all these people are creating their own content all the time? No, I'm not lazy. I'm respectful. I know there are artists out there who are meant to create. Who have vision. Who are incredible writers, choreographers, directors, designers, composers. I would be insulting them if I tried to step into their roles. That's how I view it. I do not want their job, nor am I good at their job.
And for me, to create would be a job. It would be work. I would not be in a "creative flow" or get a "high". I honestly feel like I would be tortured. Now maybe if I was collaborating with a certain artist, that may be different, but I have never created with anyone who has made me feel that way, yet. So there is hope I could evolve.
I was asked to choreograph a show once, I accepted it to challenge myself and then I immediately felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to back out. I have never had a desire to create dances. Yes, I have been dancing since I was 2, I love dancing more than anything, but choreograph? Not interested at all. Not every dancer wants to choreograph. It's a simple fact. And I am one of those dancers. But to have an artist create something on me, use me, teach or create steps using me as their muse? Heaven! I will be in the studio with you all day long! But don't ask me to come up with something on my own. Sure, I might have a stoke of genius, but it would be rare.
I'm sure you get the point by now.
This is why I believe I would've thrived in The Golden Age of Hollywood. The infamous studio system would've been awesome! Everything was done for you. I know, it is so very sexist of me to say, but I want someone to put me on contract, dye my hair, give me a persona and even a fake name. I would've loved that! Mold me into a movie star. Tell me what to do and where to go. Let me just sing, dance and act. That was always my dream.
But.....I don't live in that time. I live in an era where I am prompted to create my own content. So I will try, but don't judge me. I'm not meant for this era. It's something I have been told my whole life.
Until I can travel back in time, I will continue to carve out my artistry in this media heavy world.
The first order of business as an actress or an artist of any kind is to dream.
With all that is happening in this world it seems silly and almost pointless to be anything but grateful for the life I have.
So let's get that out of the way right off the bat. I am. tremendously and incredibly grateful.
But I also feel empty, desperate, and afraid.
For the past few years I have not been able to do what I love, and make a real living. I have been living on hope that things will turn around, but as of late, I am walking a very thin line of belief that the best of my career is all behind me and all my chances have already been given.
Negative thoughts, I know. But for some, that's what 20 years in the entertainment industry, can do to your spirit. You believe that all the work, sacrifices, networking and incredible passion for what you do will somehow level off “the hustle” when you hit a certain level in your career. I always thought when you have a few big credits on your resume that it will get a little easier. But the truth is, the rise and fall are unpredictable. And no matter your work ethic, reputation, or talent....you can always be back at square one. That may not be true for all, but it is for me.
In November, I was so lucky that a role in a play literally fell into my lap. This doesn't happen to me, ever. A writer here in LA asked a casting director in New York who he thought should play the lead role in her new play about Marilyn Monroe. She asked his honest recommendation. And this amazing casting director said,
"The only person who should play this role is Meredith Patterson"
My jaw dropped when I heard this. As an actress, you dream of people thinking of you in that light and recommending you in that way.
This writer thankfully took the casting directors advice, and I was asked sight unseen to portray Marilyn in this presentation of the play here in Hollywood. It was an amazing experience to play her; fulfilling with such incredible waves of emotion. And I was just sitting at a table and acting with some of the best in the business. The writer was so pleased, she then asked me to portray Marilyn at a presentation in New York for Broadway Producers & Investors.
I accepted of course, and the incredible high of creativity continued.
Those of us who do theatre, film or anything creative know that it "takes a village" to get any project off the ground. And the hustle for investors can take years. But I felt alive again. For a few weeks of performing this role, I felt reinvigorated and passionate. Now, I don’t know if I will ever play this role again, or if it will ever be done on stage, but this gift of playing Marilyn came at just the right time.
I know that performing is what I am meant to do. I have always known that. My earliest memory is watching the movie "Singin' In The Rain" at 5 years old and wanting to jump inside the screen and dance with Gene Kelly and be Debbie Reynolds. Ask anyone who knows me and they will say I have always wanted to perform.....but sometimes it takes a gift like this to remind me of that.
So with all these emotions and thoughts flooding my spirit, I decided to reach out to some influential people I know in the industry and over the past few months, share a video of the presentation of this play. The response has been incredible, heart-warming, and very emotional for me.
Most recently, my mentor in theatre, my teacher, my friend and an incredible performer herself watched this presentation and wrote me. She has known me since I was a child, and of everyone (besides my mother, father and husband) her opinion of my work means the most.
She wrote this:
“I just watched your performance. You are truly amazing my dear. Honestly, I was brought to tears several times. I am SO very proud of you as an actress. I was told you were sensational, but honestly I was blown away. And you know I wouldn’t say this unless I truly believed it. I do hope that some good folks will see this and that it will lead somewhere. What a waste of your awesome gifts - not to have you starring in something - all the time. Don’t give up Mer. You are gorgeous - and incredibly gifted. Please do try to get everyone you can think of to watch this presentation. I know you are trying to do that. I love you too - and my heart aches that you are having such a difficult time with your career. I know your wonderful family means the world to you - but I also understand the gnawing frustration about your career. However, NEVER GIVE UP!!!!!!! You have all of the gifts in the world!!”
It brings tears to my eyes to read this letter again. I share this with you all, not to flatter myself or to brag in any way, but more to let you see the struggle is real for everyone. And sometimes gifts come along when you least expect it. Everyone loses faith. People in this industry can think your awesome, and you still can't get work or even representation. But I tell myself as I am telling you.....hold on to your passions. Do whatever you can to hold on.
I think we all need to expose the raw vulnerably of what this business can do to you. It can be incredibly rough to be rejected so much. I am sharing this all with you because sometimes, just around the corner, someone is cheering you on and sending a gift your way....that you didn't even expect.
I have many irons in the fire right now, looking for work and representation, because its in my nature not to truly give up, to be tenacious and resourceful. But, I am also at a loss. I am hoping I will find my way back to being a performer full time, but maybe this presentation is my swan song? I don't think it is, but who knows?
I keep on keeping on. Trying every day to make a dent. It's what we do as performers when our life blood is entertainment. We rack our brains, hour upon hour, to see how we can make a living doing what we love. How can we still create, take care of our families, and thrive.
Being scared, desperate, and vulnerable is something I, and so many others, are taught to hide from the world. We are told to "fake it until you make it". We are taught to be fabulous all the time and not to show any weakness or fear.
We don’t ever want anyone to know we are struggling. Everyone is fabulous on Facebook right? But my friends, this business is scary sometimes. You can be successful and suddenly everyone's best friend one minute, and unemployed and no one will take your calls the next.
The truth is, I am scared but I know I'm not alone. I have that tremendous casting director in New York to thank, this playwright for blindly believing him and hiring me, and SO many others who have been my champion throughout my career of highs and lows.
So many other good, talented, awesome artists are also struggling. And this is ok. We are all one, we will come out of it and thrive. Art is made from struggle. Keep up the hustle and know we are all in this together.
For me, as long as this passion for performing is still blazing inside me, I just can't give up. My spirit won't let me.
In October of this year, I will have officially been an active member of Actors Equity Association (AEA) for 20 years. This is definitely an accomplishment as an actress, and I am very proud of myself and the work I have done over the past 2 decades.
But for all the acceptance and jobs I have been privileged to do, I don't know if people realize that there was twice as much rejection.
I remember the day that I joined AEA. It was the first day of rehearsals for the show "A Christmas Carol" at Madison Square Garden. I was so unbelievably excited that I was going to performing with Broadway artists! Doing 15 shows a week with the best of the best, and dancing the steps of the Tony Award Winning Choreographer Susan Stroman!
I thought I had made it!
I had been in New York City for 4 years. I graduated 2 years prior from AMDA College & Conservatory of The Arts. I was truly starving trying to make a living as a performer. I was barely making enough money to live. I was lucky enough to find some work performing in regional shows, touring the country on bus and truck tours that played one nighters in cities you've never heard of (Orange, Texas anyone?). I had always done what needed to be done....I scrubbed the floors bathrooms at Steps Dance Studio in exchange for unlimited dance classes, I scraped together money for headshots and watched my feet swell inside my penny loafers working as a Coat Check Girl at The Rainbow Room.
But, I had a goal. I wanted to be a dancer on Broadway and my first step towards that was getting a production contract with the professional stage union and this job at Madison Square Garden was the beginning of amazing things!
I felt like within those 4 years of massive struggle, I had definitly paid some of my dues. I slept on floors, lived out of a suitcase for months at a time, ate nothing but Top Ramen & Popcorn, and saved my money for new audition outfits and stage make up. I rarely partied and wasn't invested in dating or being anyone's girlfriend.
I was laser focused, 21 yrs old, poor and exhausted.
But with one sudden audition and awesome decision, I had made it!! I was a professional stage actress. A confirmed triple threat by theatre legends Susan Stroman, Mike Ockrent and Paul Gemingani who had taken notice and cast me.
This was the beginning of the end of the struggle! I was elated and I wasn't going to be "pounding the pavement" as much anymore.
And that was true....to a point.
But the thing that people don't know about this world of entertainment is no matter how high up you get in this industry, that escalation always has a downward side. My belief that after the hard work, I would always be given the opportunities to perform & create was pure naivety. Why did I think I as so special? But it wasn't that, I just always believed that if you were tenacious, ambitious, a good person, worked very hard, based your life off of being on the good side of karma, was authentic and passionate....that the world would open up to you and allow you to forge a career of your dreams! That's how its supposed to work right?
The realization that this isn't how life works is probably the biggest disappointment of my adult life.
Performing is all I have ever wanted to do.
I think its rough when you know at 5 years old that you want to sing, dance and act for a living and no one around you truly knows how to help you. I mean I gave myself The Shingles when I was 14 years old because I was so ambitious and stressed out. I was dancing with 2 dance studios, a dance competition group, doing a theatre show at night and trying to be a good high school student all at the same time. And I refused to be sick for anything. I had more drive and motivation than my poor parents knew what to do with.
I didn't have hardly any outlet or connection into the entertainment industry growing up in Pleasant Hill, CA. So, by the time I was 16 years old, I was so tired of trying to maneuver myself into the right path to become a professional that I seriously thought about running away from home, not graduating high school, and just moving to New York City with a suitcase!
How very "Peggy Sawyer" of me.
But I didn't run away, I graduated high school and got a scholarship to AMDA in NYC, moved there at 18 and my plan to be on Broadway was underway.
And here's some good news, I did it! I performed on Broadway many times over. I worked hard and became an official Broadway Dancer, but I also got the rare opportunity to star in a musical on Broadway. Now, I wouldn't call myself a Broadway Star, because frankly no one (barely the Broadway people) have ever heard of me. I don't have a Tony Award or even a Tony Nomination. But, I can say, I did what I set out to do in NYC.
I danced and starred on Broadway.
But my career did not, in any way, turn out the way I had hoped. That might be strange to hear, but I always envisioned Broadway as just the beginning. My career would evolve from there. Now, in 2017, after so much rejection and brick walls....I feel this sting of sadness and fear that its about time to turn in my AEA membership and hang up my shoes.....because as much as I want to believe again. I feel the reality is that my best days performing in the entertainment industry are behind me.
Sometimes this choice to leave the industry isn't anything you want for yourself. Let me be clear. I do not want this. But....regardless of what you want, the choice is made for you. I feel the choice has been made for me and I'm holding on by my fingernails. But the hard truth is no more opportunity = finding other means to make a living = not being an artist anymore.
Lately, no matter how I have tried to resurrect my incredibly stalled career, I am met with rejection. I know rejection can be viewed as re-direction....but this doesn't feel like it's redirecting me the best way for my spirit.
I always imagined a career mixing the mediums of Broadway and Hollywood; Starring on Broadway and getting whisked off to Hollywood. Then working in Television and Film and then returning to my roots and doing a fabulous Broadway show, then returning to my TV show or Film, and onward. Owning a house in Southern California and an Apartment in New York. Raising my two children while continuing to work on exciting fulfilling projects. Also being able to finally develop the philanthropist in me by having a foundation that helps and mentors up and coming artists, offering annual scholarships and master classes.
And this is just the beginning of my ideas. I want to eventually direct, maybe choreograph, produce great work and mentor anyone who needs it. My ideas are infinite, my passion has always been intact and fiery. But now, I am spending the majority of my time trying to find my footing and survive instead of thrive in this business.
My personal life has not been so lucky at times. I hit rock bottom at 35 yrs old. After years of being a victim of narcissistic abuse from my ex husband, I was ready to gain my strength back and began going to therapy. As I changed in therapy, so did all my relationships. A few friendships revealed themselves as toxic. My marriage did too. And to add insult to injury, all the financial risk I had taken on myself (going back and forth to Los Angeles from NYC for Pilot Season, car rentals, flights for auditions, etc.) had caught up with me. I was being thrown into a Bankruptcy filing I didn't want or believe in, and then suddenly, after 7 years of marriage, my ex-husband revealed he didn't want kids with me after all. He moved out, never fought for me, declared his ecstatic freedom from me and vanished, never to be heard from again.
I felt abandoned, ugly, tired, unwanted, and old.
I was also jobless and scared. One of these things in a years time is enough to send someone over the edge...but I was hit with a grand slam of bad news. I believed my dreams of ever being a mother were dashed, I was up nights crying and suffering from depression, and then getting a divorce.
It was a certain kind of hell. But deep down within me, my positive nature kept telling myself that things would turn around. All would be well. And that I deserved a better life, better friends, and definitely a better man.
Looking back at all that happened to me, I am surprised I didn't become a drug addict or drink myself to death. How is the heck did I get to such a low and unraveled place? I would love to say all of this was someone else's fault but the truth is, I made the choices. I allowed it all to happen. I chose and stayed with the wrong partner. I surrounded myself with "takers" and toxic people. I also took huge chances on myself and my career financially, doing everything my representation advised me to do. All the things I should've done when your striving to make a mark in this business.
The ceiling just never cracked open for me.
I did everything in my power to move forward in my career. I know that for sure. The only thing I wouldn't do was compromise myself as a person and a woman. I wouldn't "sleaze" my way to the top. You know exactly what I'm referring to. I pride myself in working for everything I got in this industry. No one handed me a thing.
I don't know....with all of this played out so plainly.....maybe I have said too much? Maybe I need to say this because, if you were to look at my resume, pictures and just the aesthetics of who I am as an artist and a woman you would think "She's got it all together!" You would only see what I want you to see, one dimension of my life. A woman who is a fierce perfectionist who wants to show herself in the light of success and happiness. But the truth is, I'm sick of faking it until I make it. And it is no big revelation that I am just like everyone else in this world. I have been incredibly successful at times and I have struggled tremendously. We all have had ups and downs. But I have decided, despite of all the crap, I will let nothing keep me down; in life or the entertainment industry.
This blog is one giant confessional. And with these confessions, maybe I am allowing others to be authentic and open in their lives as well? Maybe not? It is just what my heart is telling me to do. And I'm following it.
Following my heart and my intuition has always served me well. Its only when I didn't listen to it, that I got in trouble and off track.
My intuition led me down a path of personal joy in 2011 when I met my now husband. As scared as I was to allow him in, I took a deep breath and jumped in with both feet. I fell deeply and passionately in love with him very fast. I believe it is because he is my soul mate. He is the most open, trusting, honest, loving man I have ever known. I have finally learned what marriage is meant to be. Now I am a mother of two beautiful babies, a cherished wife, and every day I find a new path that allows me to be creative, authentic and positive. I only wish my husband was with me when I was thriving in my career. I was creatively happier, and who knows, maybe his love and support would've helped my confidence as an artist. I know he would've influenced me positively. But, we can't change the past, as much as we would like to. We have to forge ahead.
And that's what I'm doing. Creating a new path for myself with new opportunities.
If you are going through something difficult, please know that it is temporary. You are not your circumstances. You can move through the pain, abuse and rejection and find your way to truth, authenticity and love.
If I can survive all I have, then anyone can.
Keep believing and dream huge, my friends.