Our job as actresses and performers is to take care of our "product". And what is our product?
Our bodies, our minds and souls.
So many of us do not take care of ourselves. Especially when we are young. We think we are invincible.
When I was 14 years old, I got shingles. Shingles is described as a disease characterized by a painful, blistering skin rash that affects one side of the body, typically the face or torso coming from the same virus as chickenpox. Thankfully my case was on my torso and out of plain sight. Shingles is what people 50 years and older get so why did I have it at 14 years old?
I had just started high school (and hated it); I lived for going to the dance studio after school for 4 hours a day, 6 days a week. I was also performing in a musical at night at the local theatre. Not to mention I was doing my homework and trying to get some sleep too. One of the reasons you can get shingles is stress. So that absolutely made sense to my mother who brought me in to the doctor.
The doctor said "You are too young to have shingles. I can't believe I'm saying this to a 14 year old, but you need to lessen your stress level." Yeah, yeah. I didn't listen. I put a band aid patch on the blisters and went and did my shows anyway. Because my Mom truly could not stop me. That's just who I am to the core.
This was my first of many issues with health and being a performer. The one that truly launched my search for holistic health and body/mind/soul balance was during my time starring on Broadway as Peggy Sawyer.
I was contracted as the starring role for 1 year. I had been in the show as the understudy for the lead 3 months prior to taking over the role. My chorus track was harder than Peggy's track. I just loved every minute of performing in this show, but I knew this kind of "burning the candle at both ends" pace wasn't sustainable long term.
First, I couldn't keep the weight on. I couldn't have a full stomach 2 hours before the show because of the heavy dancing, so, I was eating in my dressing room at intermission. Apples with peanut butter and a banana became my intermission food, still is. When I got home, I was eating half a pizza every night, giving myself hot Epson Salt Baths, and trying to go to sleep before 2 am. I was exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time. I was living my dream, playing my dream role, and trying to balance it all as best I could.
However, I wasn't taking very good care of myself and my mental health either. I had surrounded myself and was living with a boyfriend who was extremely jealous of my career and toxic. Friends would curb any minor complaint I happened to mention and "joke" with me that I can't handle starring on Broadway. I was also picked apart every week by the shows director.
I was never his choice for the role so when I took over, he was on a mission to fix everything he saw wrong with me. He would give me numerous notes on every show, tiny little things that had nothing to do with the direction of my character. He would comment to me about my appearance, picking apart every detail. I remember a few notes specifically "The shade of your lipstick isn't reading bright enough." and "In this particular scene, you need to bevel more, the ankles should touch together and yours don't" and my favorite, "If you can't land the end of 'Go Into Your Dance' exactly on the 0 of center, maybe we will have to change the steps so they are easier for you?" The cast and crew around me saw this treatment and would privately assure me I was doing a tremendous job. And other cast members, who were also being picked apart by this director, told me to just breathe and go out and do my show.
But I didn't know how to compartmentalize this treatment at the age of 25. He would say my wig was off, the lines on the back of my stockings needed to be straighter, everything from the make up contour on my face not being dark enough, to the tonality of my voice being too high when I spoke. It was constant. He also didn't think I was a good enough singer for the role. He gave me deconstructive notes about that, further putting me inside my head.
To a mentally stronger individual, his comments wouldn't have meant anything, but it began to bring me to tears before every show. It took a friend and fellow cast mate, who's dressing room was across the hallway, to help me mentally through this period. She may or may not know how much her little talks helped me. And to a two-time Tony Award nominated actress and friend, Mary Testa, I am forever grateful.
Mentally I had to navigate murky waters in that show, but also physically. The worst came when suddenly a few months into the run of the show, I had terrible numbness happening in my 3rd and 4th toes, on both my feet when I was dancing. I didn't understand what was happening because I never had a problem with my feet or with my shoes. The podiatrist said I had what is called Morton's Neuroma, a condition where the nerve between your toes is being compressed (often by a high heel or a shoe that's not wide enough). If the shoe or problem isn't fixed, the nerve rubs together and creates a kind of callus. Common for women who wear high heels a lot and have high arches. I have extremely high arches and have always tap danced in heels, so it's a perfect breeding ground.
So what do I do? My doctor suggested I get the neuroma's shot with cortisone once a month, which I did. I then had to be out of the show for a whole week. It was a terrible battle with the producers because I was sent letters every month about how the show was "severely altered when I was absent". I had fabulously talented understudies and tremendous swings, so I highly doubted that the show was altered that much, but the pressure was on nevertheless.
Finding a solution was critical. My health and the health of my feet and dance career was at stake.
The podiatrist finally told me upon examination of my show shoes, that the shoes were not properly made and were not evenly distributing my weight. Therefore every time I tap danced, or put any pressure on my feet, the base of the shoe would wiggle.
Solution found! I asked for my shoes to be replaced. The producers refused, as each pair of my Peggy shoes cost $450.
I was at a loss. Either I get shot with cortisone every month for the rest of my time in the show, or I was told I should have surgery. The doctor told me how the procedure would go down and I never got past the "cutting my feet open and cutting my nerves." He also told me I would forever lose feeling in my toes.
I'm a dancer! I need to feel my feet and toes! This is just a horrible solution.
My final attempt at curing myself and my feet was my saving grace and the reason I believe so wholeheartedly in a holistic approach to health.
I called my chiropractor, Dr Steven Margolin's, office Longevity Health and got an initial appointment with the acupuncturist on staff named Noah Rubenstein. And everything changed.
In just 16 consecutive weekly sessions, he cured my neuroma's without surgery or any invasive methods. We did traditional acupuncture, with thin needles up and down my legs. But then Noah put on the needles, what I like to call "jumper cables", of electrical stimulation. And I could feel my muscles flexing along with the electrical current. I just relaxed into it after a few sessions, truly magically, it helped me cure my neuromas.
What I learned from that experience set me on a course of finding the root of the problem or health issue and always exploring alternative methods alongside the western medicine's diagnosis. The mental journey of navigating toxic people within my life and work also took center stage. I no longer allow that kind of energy into my being as an actress or a woman.
I learned so much going through that period of my life. Let's just say, from then on, I made sure I got in my contract that I get to pick who makes my tap shoes. And that's how my friendship with Phil LaDuca began.
But that's a whole new blog altogether.
Until next time....
These are confessions of my life as an actress working on Broadway, TV and Film for 20 years