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.
These are confessions of my life as an actress working on Broadway, TV and Film for 20 years
Copyright 2017 M Patterson