Acting Let Me Step Outside My Comfort Zone
In my 60s, I realized a lifelong dream to pursue my passion wasn't out of reach after all
It was exactly what I expected when the teacher admitted the students into the Zoom classroom. It was me, a 62-year-old woman, surrounded by eleven other students beaming out from their Tic-Tac-Toe boxes, who were all at least half my age. I felt anxious and self-conscious, but I was finally in a New York City acting class and my heart was soaring.
My anxiety problems started in my young childhood from living in a home with an alcoholic father, who was hard working and quiet, but who could also be cranky and explosive. I never knew what might set him off and there were times when I was the focus of his anger and criticism. My survival strategy was to try and be invisible, and when I couldn't be invisible, I did my best to be perfect.
My desire to learn acting was equal to my feelings of anxiety over failing, especially in front of others.
When I was in my mid 20s, I was living in Georgia and there was nothing I wanted more than to be an actress. I was working as a waitress when I saw an ad for an acting class and signed up. My desire to learn acting was equal to my feelings of anxiety over failing, especially in front of others. I battled my nerves to show up for class the first two years.
In acting class my nerves jangled, but after a few years I felt safe and was enjoying it. Then the teacher insisted I start auditioning. I ignored her request until she said I couldn't be in class anymore unless I did.
So, I'd prepare and drive to an audition, only to sit in the parking lot and cry, and then drive back home without auditioning. She gave me points for making it as far as the parking lot and let me stay in class. I eventually made it to a handful of auditions but not without great anxiety.
When I was 27, a long-term relationship ended and my solution to mend my broken heart was to move to New York City to pursue an acting career. This strategy was odd given I still wasn't auditioning for anything in Georgia and had never made one penny acting.
But still, I moved to New York City and waited on tables, and if anyone asked me what else I did, I'd reply 'I'm an actress,' although I was doing next to nothing to support that claim.
Twists of Fate
By a miraculous twist of fate, when I was in my early 30s, I got hired as an entry level assistant in the music business. By miraculous, I mean a guy named Don moved into the apartment next door and knocked on my door to ask a favor. We got to talking and it just so happened he was starting his own music publicity firm and he wondered if I wanted to make some extra money answering the phone. I said sure, and I spent the next twenty-five years carving out a career for myself as a music publicist.
The learning curve in the music business came with its own share of terror-filled challenges.
Also, by miraculous, I mean I didn't have a resume and even if I had had one it would have said that I barely have a high school education and my work experience was as a waitress, dishwasher, maid, McDonald's counter clerk, paper cutter and gas station attendant.
I was blessed with generous mentors, and the multitasking and people skills I developed as a waitress created a perfect path for me to become a good publicist. With lots of hard work and determination I slowly made my way up the ladder.
The learning curve in the music business came with its own share of terror-filled challenges. Confidence isn't a luxury I possess, and the need to battle my insecurities rarely lessened, but with lots of therapy and Twelve Step meetings, I learned how to cope better.
In 2016, when I was fifty-six years old, I was laid off. Despite knowing I was at an age more likely to get the axe, I was still thunderstruck when my number came up. The record company wasn't just a job, it was my life and the people I worked with felt like family. I was still at the top of my game, I was working hard and getting good results. I was shocked and afraid, but at the same time I had this gut feeling the Universe was moving me along to some new destiny. To where? I had no idea.
A year after the layoff, my partner of twenty years passed away. So now both of my life anchors were gone. I felt adrift, like I was floating through life untethered and purposeless. I found a part time job because I needed the income, but more so because I needed to be busy, distracted and required to show up somewhere.
Sparking the Acting Dream Again
The calling to be an actress never left me, it was just silenced by the busy work years. As time passed and my grief lessened, I began to hear a faint echo, which evolved into a whisper, which made me wonder, can I circle back in my sixties and spark up this old dream of acting?
I'd feel inspired and Google acting schools, but almost immediately the thought of how silly it would look for someone my age to show up in a beginning acting class would swirl around and shut it down. The voice in my head would say, what's the point? You can't have any kind of career as an actress at your age, you're being ridiculous, that ship has sailed.
To finally be on a (very small) New York City stage in front of a live audience was a dream come true moment.
COVID arrived and I got laid off from the part time job. Like most everybody else, I was living life mostly inside my own four walls when in October 2020 I got an email from one of the acting schools announcing online acting classes.
I had no idea what would become of my world, or even what would become of the world in general. It was a lightbulb moment, it felt like it was now or never, and I signed up.
I haven't look back since. I still take acting classes, and I just finished my first Improv class. I've taken three storytelling classes and at the end of each semester we did a show in front of a live audience.
All three times I was too afraid to invite anyone I know to come. I wish I had because every single time, once I was on stage and speaking, I felt at home and elated to be there, despite my shaking hands and Sahara dry mouth. To finally be on a (very small) New York City stage in front of a live audience was a dream come true moment.
This year I signed up with an agency to do extra work. I recently had fun playing a pedestrian on one of my favorite TV shows, "Only Murders in The Building." The best part was watching Steve Martin do his scene over and over.
Fear and insecurity are part of my DNA. Taking chances, trying new things, being visible will always feel outside my comfort zone. The only thing I can do is be brave, face the fear, and simply show up. As Stephen Hawking once said, "showing up is half the battle."