I remember watching the movie “Far and Away” with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise when I was somewhere around eight years old (doesn’t everything in childhood happen right around when we were eight?), and thinking that I wanted to be famous. Why that movie? I have no idea at all- I’ve actually seen it since and it’s nothing special. But for whatever reason, my heart was set.
And surprisingly, off I went to make that my reality!
I auditioned for Annie at the Woodland Opera House, along with my mom, shortly after deciding my future fate. I had a dynamic poem memorized called “Mother doesn’t want a dog,” and I even brought a prop! A snake in a box that I would pull out at exactly the most dramatic moment! And I sang ‘I am 16 going on 17’ from The Sound of Music.
Yes, I realize I was eight.
I didn’t get cast. My mom did. That was awkward. My first taste of the cold, hard world of the theatre! But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I was allowed to tag along to rehearsals with my mom, and by golly, theatre WAS just as amazing as I had suspected! I fell madly in love, despite my brush with the harsh rejection, and realized then that dreams were worth pursuing!
So my mom, bless her heart, decided that if I wasn’t going to be cast, she was going to pay for me to perform! (And we wonder why our kids grow up to fear rejection? Can’t take the heat? Pay your way in!)
I was ‘cast’ as Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the summer camp my mom enrolled me in a few months later. TOTALLY not a heavy script for a bunch of 8-10 year olds to memorize and completely butcher! And let me tell you, if you’ve ever seen adults butcher Shakespeare, you can imagine what our parents were in for on the performance nights.
But none of that mattered to me. I was a star! I graced the stage, said my 10 lines perfectly (for an 8 year old) and thus began my journey towards fame!
My resume from the time I was 8 until the time I was 23 is completely filled. I didn’t go more than two months during that period of my life without participating in a theatrical performance. I’ll admit, it took me a few years to catch my stride and develop my skills, but by the time I was 13, I was being cast in lead rolls (in youth theatre that is)!
After performing as Kate Keller in The Miracle Worker and Cinderella in Cinderella, I stared as Laurie in Oklahoma! which was my first musical theatre leading role! I was pretty sure broadway was only a few short auditions away!
That is until high school hit. First audition of my first year, I was cast as a tree in The Wizard of Oz and MAN was I brought back down to earth in a big way! And on top of that, I was auditioning for local college productions- thinking I was a really big deal- and getting cast as chorus girl number 2 and jitterbug number 4.
Ego be GONE! I had some MAJOR pride swallowing to do! Imagine me- formerly Laurie in Oklahoma!– showing up for my costume fitting for leaves!
Needless to say, I kept at it, learned a TON and had a blast the entire time! By the end of high school, my credits included Abby Williams in The Crucible, and Ruby in Dames at Sea!
And then came college…
I attended San Diego State University and majored in theatre with an emphasis in performance. Never once did I question what my purpose on this earth was- I had decided that when I was eight. Eight year olds know everything. And I had been working towards it ever since. There was no question as to what my major would be, and trust me, my mom didn’t even bring up any sort of community college or a ‘real’ major or anything of the sort. I had a decided heart for sure!
Day one of freshman year: I showed up for Acting 1, and if I wasn’t intimidated enough, our entire class was let in on a little secret- MAYBE one of us, if we were REALLY lucky would even stand a chance of making a living as an actor.
Well AWESOME! I’m so glad I’m paying so much to be in this class then!
And to make matters worse, by the end of that semester, I was told directly by the teacher himself- a former soap star nonetheless- that I was a “scream queen” and I would “only be cast in horror films because I was blonde and had big boobs.”
Don’t worry! I didn’t cry in front of him.
Auditions in college were like nothing I had ever experienced. Most auditions are closed, meaning you just go onstage and do your monologue and/or song in front of the director and perhaps a few other c0-conspirators of whatever show it should happen to be. In college, though, as a performance emphasis, you were REQUIRED to audition every semester in front of any and everyone who happened to want to wander into the theatre that day. The theatre sat about 600 people- there was plenty of room.
My freshman year, I was cast in NOTHING!
My sophomore year, I was cast as Lady Montague in Romeo and Juliet. You’ve never seen four lines more dramatically performed!
In my junior year, a student director took a chance on me and cast me as the lead in a two woman show called Stop Kiss. It changed everything about me, who I was, and my life. It was a seriously impactful, important show and I was cast opposite a little known newbie to the scene named Tess McIntyre. If you know me, you know that Tess quickly became my soul sister and remains my very bestest bestie to this day- so it’s important to note that she came on the scene during this very influential point in my life.
I remember standing on the stage during one of the performances- it was my very favorite scene of the show and was about five minutes long, performed entirely to Evanescence’s ‘All of Me’ with no dialogue at all. It was so stunningly, beautifully directed, and although it’s hard to set up the scene for you, I’ll say that it was a pivotal moment in the show, and specifically for my character and it was POWERFUL!
I stood there, in the flood of the spot light, and I could hear the entire audience sobbing…
The show was controversial (but important). It was heavy (but so truthful). And I knew that by being up on that stage, I had made people think about things differently. I had made them feel something. I had made them look inside themselves and ask hard questions. I had made them gain perspective…
And I knew in that moment that THAT was the rush I was chasing all those years. That was the passion. That was the dream. That was the why. That was at the CORE of it all…
I wanted to influence people. It wasn’t the fame. It was the impact I knew I could make.
I went on to be cast as the leading role in several shows my senior year, and was one of about 120 people accepted in America and in Britain to attend The British American Drama Academy in Oxford the summer after I graduated. I went. I was transformed. I developed an entirely different and DEEPER level of skill and level of love for the craft I had pursued the GREAT majority of my life. I also developed a GREAT deal of debt doing it! But I gained SO MUCH PERSPECTIVE being abroad (that’s another blog entirely) and I came back to be set free into the professional world of theatre!
I was ready! I mean, look at me ^.
I was still on my mission to be a person of influence- theatre was still the way I thought I would do it. I still had a decided heart…
Why on earth did I just tell you ALLLLLLLL of that about myself?
Because, I am not an actor today. I’m not famous. I haven’t been on the stage since before I became a mom- more than 4 years ago.
Was I committed? Absolutely! Did I pursue my calling? For sure! Did I go to endless school, programs, and into mountains of debt trying to accomplish this dream, this goal, this profession? 100%.
Perhaps this quote will explain what I’m getting to…
I thought I knew- no- I was DAMN sure that I was on the right path for me. I was certain this was exactly what I was meant to do with my life. I was passionate about it. I LOVED it to my core. But there came a point very quickly, once I entered into the professional world of theatre, that I realized my passion could not be my paycheck. I was taking ANY role, doing ANY gig that I could to make money (no I was not doing anything inappropriate!) and it was no longer about the art, about the craft, about influencing people… it was about making a living.
My heart wasn’t in it anymore. Not even close. But that was ALL I knew. I had been working towards that career for 15 of my 23 years. You can’t just leave that kind of a committed journey behind you!!!!
I. Was. Lost.
You guys, here is what happened…
It took me two years of struggling in the ‘real world’ of theatre, and several months of questioning what the heck could possibly be next for me before I decided to just go back to where I came from- I moved home.
Within a week I was dating my soulmate, my future husband, the man I would have 2, almost 3, beautiful babies with (which only showed me that being a mom was really one of my God given callings on earth- something I may not have ever experienced chasing the dream of fame). After being home for a few months, I was back on the stage where it all began- the Woodland Opera House. And I was there because it was fun, not because it was a job. From there, I was hired to teach a summer camp called Show Biz Kids there at the Opera House. I LOVE THIS JOB! I’ve taught it for seven summers, despite the fact that I no longer live in the state of California. I was also hired to teach an outreach theatre program, where I worked with kids in an after school program to help them develop confidence through theatre performance.
And of course, I found my real calling… no, not schlepping lipstick… but a business opportunity I never dreamed I’d embark on that has given me a life that I never dreamed I would have. A life where I’m paid to help people think bigger! I make people think about things differently. I influence their journey and their life. I make them look inside themselves and ask hard questions. I make them gain perspective. And I help them to step outside the life they thought they HAD to lead because it is the one they’ve ALWAYS led.
A coincidence that I stumbled into my real purpose? I don’t believe in coincidence.
Leaving the path towards performance was one of the MOST difficult things I’ve ever done. I felt like a failure! I was terrified of what people would think of me ‘giving up.’ I felt lost. I felt like I had WASTED a lifetime’s worth of life chasing a dream I was just going to leave behind…
But when I stopped looking backwards at all the lost days, and all the fears, and the questions… I realized that ALL of that stuff, those experiences, those ups and downs, learning to deal with rejection and criticism… it had all led me to, and prepared me for, exactly where I needed to be at exactly the time I needed to be there.
And I still managed to accomplish EXACTLY what I was so passionate about to begin with… influence.
The moral of the story is this: Embrace every part of the journey that brought you to where you are right this second. Don’t be afraid to step off that path so that you can step INTO YOUR GREATNESS! Everything you’ve done and been through and fought for, brought you to THIS MOMENT. And this moment is the first moment of the NEXT chapter.
Let me put it to you this way… don’t you think every caterpillar is afraid to step into that cocoon (assuming caterpillars can grasp fear…)? It’s dark, it’s scary, it’s new, it’s different, and I’m sure it’s uncomfortable in there! It’s NOTHING like the path they’ve been on up until that point…
But what would the world be like without butterflies?
Maybe the greatness you’re standing in now is only the caterpillar version of your greatness…
Maybe, just maybe, you’re not destine to be a caterpillar at all…
I love this Wendy! Thank you for sharing this!! I’m practically in tears reading this. I was in that same class that day and hearing Him say that I think helped sour my college experience. Not to mention that same teacher pulled me aside and told me that I would never play anything but nurses and maids if I ever wanted a “career.” Terrible, terrible things to say to a 19 year old clinging to a dream. I had thought for so long I was the only one.
But, I feel you! Stepping away was hard but this journey has been amazing. I’m so happy that things are going well for you! Congratulations on all your blessings 🙂
All my best,