I met Alec Baldwin in 2003 in the Hamptons. I was starring in a show called The Boy Friend at The Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor and he and his daughter came to see a matinee.
It was a small theater and I could basically see the entire audience from the stage. He was one of many celebrities that had come to see the show. The production was high on people's list of "what to see" that summer. Why? Because it was the great Dame Julie Andrews directorial debut! I was in the hot seat because I was playing the role that Ms. Andrews had played when she made her Broadway debut in 1950.
So needless say, there was a lot of pressure on me to be glorious in the role.
I felt the collective arms folded/"show me" when people came to see the show, and celebrities just made it more nerve racking. But I just took a deep breath and did what I always do, my best and hoped no one criticized me too harshly for what I lacked. I was not Julie Andrews, and frankly no one is. So when I knew a celebrity was in the audience I just tried to fuzz out all the faces, forget and do my best.
The matinee performance ended and I quickly got dressed and entered the lobby. That day I was wearing my "patch pants" (some silly bell bottom jeans that I had sewed my patch collection onto). Suddenly I heard a little voice of a girl say "My Mommy was in that movie!" I turned around and this girl was crouched down pointing at a patch on my pants. The patch she was pointing to was a Batman Logo. Then, I looked at the little girls face and I saw a faint glimpse of the "Mommy" she was talking about.....Kim Basinger.
Batman, Kim Basinger....Vickie Vale!
Boy, I remember as a child wanting to BE Vickie Vale. Then I realized who was pointing to my patch pants, the daughter of two huge movie stars! I remained calm and squatted down to her level and said "Your Mommy was in that movie? Batman? Cool!"
And then I hear a deep and rough voice say
"Ireland. Sweetheart. Leave Ms. Patterson alone"
And there he was, Alec Baldwin walking towards me, parenting his young daughter.
"Hello, Mr Baldwin" I said shyly
"Oh no, please call me Alec." He said very casually "Nice to meet you"
It was surreal and awesome. He was a pure gentleman. He complimented me on my performance, shook my hand, told me I would do great things, and said he hoped to see me again. I was just dumbfounded. I had met movie stars before, but not in such a casual setting and never with anyone calling me Ms. Patterson. Throwing any respect and equality my way?
He was a class act.
I honestly thought I would never see him again. Then month's later, through mutual entertainment business friends, Alec Baldwin asked me out to lunch. Nothing romantic, he said he just wanted to get to know me. Now, I was hesitant, I was newly married at the time, and honestly, I knew Alec Baldwin was single. But my husband at the time didn't seem to care if I went out with one of the sexiest movie stars on the planet.
So you know what? I said I would. It was just lunch and why did it have to be romantic? Alec saw me in a show, had a production company, had connections, and maybe he did want to ask me about my career and help me out?
Naive? Maybe. But I said yes.
I met him at his apartment on Central Park West. He had just returned from a trip and was running late. It was the summer and I remember he was sweating a lot when I met him. It was just us. No entorouge, no assistant.
We casually walked down the side street, talking and looking for a place to eat. No one really stopped us on the street to ask him for a picture or an autograph. This was his neighborhood so he was suggesting places. I casually said, whatever is good around here, is good for me. It felt very casual and comfortable. Nothing romantic or strange. I do remember he asked me how old I was. If you know me, I never feel I need to lie, so I just told him I was 29. I remember he laughed at my candid answer. He also sighed deeply. "Oh! To be 29 again!" And he started telling me about his life at 29. And not his movie star life, his life.
It was fascinating because just like anything. We were getting to know each other.
He suggested a place that looked closed, but he walked in anyway. Immediately a waiter was preparing to set a table and he stopped upon seeing who was in his restaurant.
"You guys open yet?" he said
"Oh no Mr Baldwin, but give me a minute and we can set something up for you if you'd like?"
This guy was scrambling. I've never seen anyone just jump to do whatever he wanted. Alec was gracious and said "No, no its ok. Don't worry about it. I love this place. We will come back another time".
I honestly found Alec fascinating, I didn't know him well, but I mean I found his celebrity fascinating. I have always admired him as an actor, but at this point I hadn't been in public with a celebrity and seen the impact it has on people. Maybe it was his knowing fame and the way he walked into a place knowing he would be recognized. It wasn't in a cocky way, but in a way of knowing that he has significance in this world, he has made an impact, people pay attention to him. He was a movie star. I only knew a miniscule of a fraction of that impact, having starred on Broadway. But being around him, I can see why people are intoxicated by fame and money. It makes you important in the eyes of others.
And honestly, we all want to be seen, to be important. And at that moment, I was important to Mr Alec Baldwin. Enough for him to ask me to lunch, alone and ask me about myself.
Looking back on that day, I don't imagine Alec Baldwin really remembers it. It was so many years ago. I mean, it probably wasn't a day that impacted his life or made him feel important. But it made me feel important, valued, like a colleague.
We sat down in a place that was small but quaint. I remember we shared a stuffed artichoke appetizer. We talked about life in Los Angeles vs New York. How to break into Television (I hadn't done any TV work at the time), what Pilot Season was like, working in movies, fame and just life. It was about an hour of talking back and forth before we left the restaurant and got a cab.
Never once did I feel like it was romantic. Like it was uncomfortable or forced. And I kept thinking, why can't a man who's a movie star ask a woman to lunch and just connect? Maybe I'm naive for thinking this, and I can't speak for Alec Baldwin, but he never made it seem like he was trying to date me. Or that he wanted to. It was just lunch and it was awesome.
I also have never been the type of actress, or woman, to knowingly use my looks or sexuality to get what I want. I have never used sex to get a part or get "discovered". I know many stories of people who have. For some it works out, they get where they want to be. But I know, I wouldn't be able to look myself in the mirror if I did that. If I chose to be with someone romantically because of where they could get me in this business. Or what they could do for me, money wise, fame wise, any of it. I couldn't stomach it. And don't you think that the other person, the celebrity or wealthy man knows they are being used? I mean it's all so deep seeded and shady, so inauthentic and shallow. I would rather sit here in my comfy small apartment with my beautiful babies and the love of my life authentically living life....... than rich, famous and spiritually gutted because I slept my way into every opportunity, and was with someone because of where they could get me in life.
All this being said, I took my lunch and my conversations with Alec Baldwin at face value. I didn't read into, or expect anything from it. And maybe that's why it was so comfortable? I now know celebrities have to be on guard, and honestly check their gut and see why people are contacting them.
I believe they always think that people want something out of them. And I imagine, its a somewhat sad existence to not be able to trust anyone's motives? Almost every celebrity I have known, I have to emphasize that I'm not friends with them or contacting them to "get something" out of them. Its sad, but I sometimes feel I have to say it. Most of them tell me thank you. Because they have people clamoring at them all the time. From the past and the present.
But that day in New York City, Alec Baldwin and I had lunch and got to know each other.
We kept in touch via email for a few years after that, but not much. I would invite him to shows I did, watch my TV Debut, and would congratulate him if he booked something huge, like when he got the role of a lifetime and became Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock.
After that, I didn't hear from him and I didn't contact him. He was off into the stratosphere of fame yet again and I quietly celebrated him from afar, just like I do now.
To Mr Baldwin. Thank you so much for that lunch and for treating this young actress with admiration, curiosity, giving solid advice and being a pure class act.
I have been trying to figure out my whole life how not to associate my self worth or happiness with my success.
Let me explain.
When I am in a successful place in my career and at the top of my game, I feel a high. I feel important, loved, & happy. The best long term example of this was when I was starring on Broadway in 42nd St. I was playing my dream role on Broadway for a whole year. And I had never been happier stepping out on stage every show. Dancing my heart out and seeing the faces of the audience at the stage door afterwards. I loved doing interviews and feeling involved with the Broadway community I so admired.
Also I felt a high from the molecular energy only a live audience can give you 8 times a week.
It was a drug.
But I also felt valued, I felt like all my hard work in the dance studio as a kid was finally paying off and I was just doing what I had dreamed of my whole life. I was doing what I had passion for. What I loved and craved. I felt like people felt that energy from me and that in turn just kept giving me more joy.
For years I kept striving to get back to this place. For 10 years after that to be exact. I was in NYC striving to get back to that feeling. I did it briefly, for 2 months, get to star on Broadway again with the musical White Christmas, but after 12 weeks I was "back on the street, looking for that fix again".
I sound like a drug addict. But those of us who have been there, know that feeling. And there is no other way to describe it.
It is a drug.
But, if you are lucky, you get your fix, you get the opportunity to work. And I did, for years, but after awhile I wasn't working. No one was calling, I wasn't getting hired. Nothing about me or my work was being appreciated, praised or valued. I was being rejected right and left. My skills were the same, my talent hadn't changed, but people just weren't biting anymore. And as much as you try, when you are at this point, its very hard not to feel worthless, sad, lonely, and depressed.
From the time I was a kid I have loved Madonna. (Stay with me, this has relevance)
I know Madge has her faults, but truly I think she is a brilliant mind. I think she is an incredible business woman & artist. To have survived and thrived in this business from the time she was 24 is impressive. I don't care who you are.
So the other night I was feeling "worthless" and happened upon an old interview of hers while surfing YouTube. Random... but it helped me put things in perspective.
It was an interview with another powerful women I love, Ms Oprah. Madonna had just become a mother and was talking about her life now, the ups and downs of motherhood, her career and then she got to a part where she talked about fame. She talked about the high's and low's of this business. I was fascinated to think that she, someone who I think of as having everything, has times when she is feeling worthless and sad.
Of course she does.
She is human.
Oprah chimed in about how she deals with the high's and low's. and I was just glued to their every word. There they are, Madonna & Oprah, two insanely powerful women talking about how they have had to learn to disconnect from the power of connecting your self worth to your success.
Ah ha. Moment.
Now if they have to learn that, with all their success, what does that mean to someone like me? It means it is much harder to be Oprah & Madonna with the high's and low's because not only do you have yourself to face....you have millions critiquing and judging every move you make.
So in a way I feel lucky because my low's are on a much smaller level.
No wonder Madge says she doesn't watch TV or read American magazines. Its too hard to be exposed to the criticism's. Hey I get it. I would shield myself too.
After hearing all Madonna and Oprah said on the subject I thought...I don't think I would've been mentally fit for fame. It takes a certain personality to survive those high's and low's. Thick skin and a thick heart. But...don't get me wrong.... I wouldn't turn it down because the "high's" I know are incredible. Being able to do what you love and have people call you, want you to perform, have tremendous influence and not to mention the financial benefit.
I would take it in a heartbeat.
See? Even after all that....I still am a drug addict.
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!!!
These are confessions of my life as an actress working on Broadway, TV and Film for 20 years