The love affair I had with New York started fading at around year eight or nine. I was getting worn down by the fast pace and the rushing around, without much to show for it. I had taken many acting classes, paid for numerous headshots, lived in seven different sublets and one rented apartment over the course of those years, and I didn't feel like I was making much progress. It wasn't all a complete waste of time. I learned so much from my wonderful two years in the Meisner program taught by the extraordinary William Esper. I had produced a couple of plays and received a good review from the New York Times. But I had also gotten married and divorced, struggled with depression, and had mounting debt. There was one distinct moment toward the end of my time in New York, when the smell of the urine in the subway finally got to me, and I decided I had done all that I could in that crazy city. Yes, I was ready to give up New York, but not quite ready to give up acting.
I had been to LA once, to participate in some industrial shows. I was hired to sing and dance about the products of companies like Kinny Shoes and Avon. These industrial shows were paid trips out west that introduced me to the big open sky, the sunshine, the happy attitudes of Californians. So, when my current husband, Dave (who was my then boyfriend), told me he was going to LA for work and asked if I could join him with his frequent flyer companion ticket, I said yes! I was excited to leave behind dreary New York City for the bright and sunny City of Angels. I worked out the details in my mind: I had a little extra money coming in from a commercial I had shot, and I had a cousin in LA who I could stay with. I would take the play I produced in New York and produce it in LA and invite casting directors to see it. It was more of a plan than I'd ever had in my life, and it sounded brilliant to me. Baby steps.
I packed my bags (and a huge box of sample shoes I had bought when I was shoe modeling) and told my very patient roommate, Barb, that I may or may not be back...and off I went. I arrived in LA only to find out that my cousin had a cat to which I was highly allergic, so he set me up in the back bedroom of his girlfriend's mother's house in West Hollywood. Right after I placed my toothbrush in the bathroom (with no cat hair, thank God), I set about using my commercial money to produce my play.
There was an openness to LA that I never experienced in New York. Whereas the theater community tended to be smaller and more tightly knit and much harder to break into in New York, LA was very different. People were much more laid back, which I attribute to the year-round gorgeous weather and the abundance of beach access. So I produced the play, got a lot of casting people to attend, and started getting auditions for myself, even though I didn't have an agent. I also started attending an arts group at the local Presbyterian church. I found a community of faith and started a new life.
LAYING DOWN THE DREAM
Letting go of something you love is never easy. Being willing to release a dream, to bury it like a seed, takes faith and trust. Somehow, a farmer trusts the process of planting a seed, and when he lets go of what he has in his hand, he knows he will get a harvest in return. After all, a seed is really just potential. The question is: In our own lives, are we willing to let go and trust the process?
While I was in New York, I was really struggling for work. I felt like I just couldn't get ahead. I would have angry internal conversations with God. I'd say, "Why would You give me this desire and then shut all the doors? Seriously, this isn't funny!"
I got to the point that when I was auditioning, I just couldn't control my nerves because every role meant so much to me. Each opportunity felt like it would make or break me and I just carried a lot of insecurity and frustration about it all. The irony of the situation was that I believed deep down that God created me to be an actor, but I was behaving like it was all up to me to make it happen. I was not willing to let go and trust the process. I was doing it my way and mad at Him for not helping me. It was at this point that acting became more than a passion; it became an obsession—it became the center of my life. Today, people looking from the outside might say, "Well, acting is the center of your life. It's what you do. You are an actor and producer." And yes, I do those things, but they are not the center of my life. Those things don't define me. If it all went away I would still have an identity outside of that because my faith is the center of who I am.
Back when I was living in New York, I hadn't yet made this internal shift. In my mind, if I didn't become a successful actor, I'd have to retreat to a mountain in Tibet and live in monk-like silence with my shame. I carried this pressure and frustration with me to LA. At the time, the Presbyterian church I was attending was organizing a mission trip to an orphanage in Mexico. I decided to go and roped Dave into going with me. We were just there for the weekend doing
some repairs on the building and playing with the kids. We laid down some sod that I was sure would never grow, and fixed a sewage line that I hoped would stay fixed. Though none of us spoke Spanish and none of the kids spoke English, we connected in a meaningful, authentic way. I'll never forget their sweet smiles as they shyly held our hands when we threw them a little party. When the weekend was over, I returned to LA, and I noticed something was different inside me. For the first time in forever, I experienced... peace. It was an unbelievable peace that I can't even describe. Unbeknown to me, God had really been working on my heart in Mexico. Afterward, I honestly thought, Well, I don't need to be an actor. I could go right back and work as a missionary in that orphanage and be satisfied for the rest of my life.
This excerpt ends on page 12 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book In the Waves: My Quest to Solve the Mystery of a Civil War Submarine by Rachel Lance.