One of the concepts I've been learning to navigate over the past few years is being "seen". Those in the entertainment field are forced to reckon with this more than most and even develop ways of curating or "branding" themselves. When tackling issues of authenticity and anxiety, this is no easy task. Sure, if self esteem is high or I feel particularly prepared: it can feel easy. The trick is learning how to navigate being in a sort of continuous spotlight with grace. Ultimately this skill becomes part of owning who you've been, who you are, and even who you will be. Between social media, events and the occasional real life run in- I've had to learn that being known means always being on.
In my sophomore year of college I was in the play "Splendor in the Grass". Due to the nature of the production and limited number of actors, some members of my class had to juggle more than one role. I was one of those so I tackled playing the roles of Ginny Stamper and Miss Metcalf. It was a fun challenge, both character wise but also logistically. These two ladies were so different. Ginny was vivacious and a hot mess with a raw magnetic charm. Miss Metcalf was a prim and proper authority figure repressed by her own traditional views. Exploring these two roles simultaneously, I considered their relationship to being "seen" and living in their truth. It went to how they physically presented themself and their ease with who they were. Throwing myself into the mix, I was forced to explore my own tension with this. Throwing myself into the work, I gave those roles all the epiphanies and didn't retain any for myself.
Some years later after thinking I had a grasp on the symbiotic relationship I created with acting, a newness set in. Film and a blossoming career requires so much more of you. You create the role, then if you're lucky it in turn creates you. Becoming "Chrissy" in 'Return to Nuke Em High' was more layered than you might imagine. After landing the role, I explored what it meant to exist in that world. Finding her was a thrill because the creative process tricked me into putting some of my own DNA into her. She became the badass I wish I was. The delightfully quirky wannabe sleuth and she "got the girl" even if the means were chaotic.
There are a billion stories I could share of my time on set but one sticks out the most. The last night of principal photography I had to be Chrissy mutant style. My last shot was me absolutely pulverizing one of the Cretin Villains -fun times. After I was wrapped, I walked into the dark across a muddy field and into a small lot. I stopped: a wave came over me and I started shaking and crying. Then of course, those tears turned to laughter and out of left field I punched a tree. A lot of complicated emotions, for sure. It was the first time I felt "seen". Looking back I think it's because this creative process had me exploring things about myself along with my character in a way that was beautifully cathartic but tough to process at times.
After production had wrapped I was introduced to the world of promotion. From interviews to interacting with fans, I've been asked continuously to express and convey what projects mean to me. Not gonna lie, it has tested me. At first, it felt effortless. Riding off the high of a unique project and taking it seriously: I wanted it to be seen and experienced. Then the murkiness set in. My own insecurities manifested in the form of online trolls, mainstream industry standards, fair-weather friends and my own mental breaks. It was a weighty time and difficult balance. There were times that the occasional cruel email (even from a random meanie) would get me in the foggiest headspace. There were times when I resorted to avoidance when I knew I could not sit right with myself (let alone others). After years of unresolved issues I saw that my only out was through them. Breathe it in and love it all as it comes. In a word: acceptance.
To survive this career comprised of perpetual visibility you have to develop an inner strength. Inside you determine your worth and you in turn tell the world how to see you as well. A good support group comprised of people who "get you" and support your passion helps. Owning a deep understanding of your story and how to share its value to others is another way. Sometimes setting things aside just for you and deciding what you want to share makes a difference. Whatever it is, be right with you and being "seen" becomes easier. I'm working on it everyday myself and it constantly surprises me how my own self image evolves. The less I worry about my value being determined by others-the more I make myself immune to the downfalls of the occasional self doubt.
So as I decide to make my dreams bigger and my idea of my self stronger to match: a truth emerges. Acknowledging how I'm feeling inwards has helped me better at projecting outwards.
As the title suggests, I wanted to write this week about my pet rabbit. Her name is Gia and she's a spot lionhead mix. Her favorite treat is cilantro and for reasons I can totally understand, she is most chill when watching Joe Bob Briggs. I adopted her through a special drive 3 years ago in one of the best decisions I've ever made. This particular bunny has changed my life in more ways than I was prepared for and I'm so grateful for her.
I guess I've always felt a kinship to rabbits. When I was a little one, I remember going to my first Chinese restaurant and looking intently at this special placemat set before me. It was one of those Chinese Zodiac wheels showcasing all the animals, along with the unique traits and years of each. My mom pointed out that she was a rabbit and what do ya know-so was I. Upon further investigation into my year of birth, I learned that I was a "fire rabbit". Sweet.
Seeing this slick yet innocent animal as a part of my identity, I've always been fascinated by all they represented. Rabbits have been described as sensitive, compassionate, creative and even lucky. For obvious reasons they are also adorable on the most basic of cuteness levels. I've collected symbols of my favorite animal over the years, from little trinkets to a couple kissing rabbits as my wedding cake topper. In fact, shortly after getting married, I begged and begged my husband to also let us adopt a bunny of our own. Beyond the basic desire to have this adorable creature in my life, I now needed to have a meaningful purpose for introducing a rabbit into our home. So the research began...
Rabbits have a reputation for being vulnerable creatures. Hunted often, they fill the role of easy prey and in many ways they are. However, they are constantly aware of their environments as well as adept at assessing danger. When scared, they are quick to flee and when cornered, their bite is formidable.
They love to establish their comforts when they have a home and safety therein. Understandably they like their spaces nice and dare I say lavish. Kept in a home, they are litter-trained and need a consistent routine. They should ideally be fed on a wholesome diet (primarily of hay and leafy greens). Playful in nature, they tend to seek out places to hide as well as to explore so it's important to bunny-proof where needed.
Since rabbits don't make much sound (unless displeased), communication is primarily visual. Being around a bunny, you learn quickly to read the cues of their body language. From "relaxed mode" to the joy of seeing a "Binky" (a special happy bunny dance) , it's beautiful how expressive these creatures are at communicating their state of being.
A close friend of mine told me they would make ideal pets for me because of all this. Suffering from a potent combination of Bipolar Disorder and C-PTSD for years, I came to realize rabbits had a similar level of alertness and even a reputation for being torrential in nature. In being around a rabbit of my own I thought I might even learn more about myself.
Then I found Gia. She had already been named, and after one good look, I took it as a sign that this sweet little ball of white fluff shared the same name as my favorite supermodel, Gia Carangi. Wild and from a fractured life in her own right, my Gia was one of the infamous Gowanus rabbits who were seized by the ASPCA and needed immediate care. They even threw a "Some Bunny to Love " event to get the word out that these little ones urgently needed homes. Not all were able to be adopted and many had a myriad of health issues requiring constant care. I was lucky with Gia for many reasons, including the fact that she was in good health on the surface. Her first weeks at home were interesting to say the least. She didn't behave exactly like the textbook bunny. She was very on-edge at times and that's when I realized, besides the basics, it was time I threw my homework away.
Gia and my relationship became one built on intuition and the truest of presence. In my years with her, I've learned to listen to my gut. In my caring for her I've learned to care for myself. I've wanted better for her and thus improved my own quality of life. Gia responds to the security and love with utter joy. She dances in the air. She jumps on me and gives me kisses. She relaxes in the feeling of safety my husband and I have given her.
The more care and love you give these gentle creatures, the more you'll get in return. Provide them a little room to play and you'll find yourself in absolute awe of how they reconnect you with what's important: feeling into each moment, taking care of yourself, and leaving room for the spontaneous happy dance.
Over the past couple years, I have been humbled to be in a position to be asked for guidance on various projects. From how to build a pitch deck to giving crew referrals- I've taken joy in being able to help where I can. This has a lot to do with my own projects and the people who showed me in their own acts of reciprocal altruism that we all need each other to survive. One of the greatest words of advice I was given early on was to make the work personal.
A little over three years ago, my husband wrote a feature length script for a film called MONIKER. Written out long hand, meticulously edited and then typed out on a vintage type writer which I can still hear sometimes ringing in my ear. A gift for our first wedding anniversary, Clay gave me a dream role on more than one level. The lead character was Maggie - a woman dealing with trauma in her own right and thrown into a well crafted thriller. At the time, I wasn't sure I was up to it. Dealing with unresolved issues of my own I had grown into the habit of avoiding anything that -sorry if this sounds cheesy- made me feel. I was flattered nonetheless and after some serious convincing, Clay put the fate of MONIKER in my hands as not only Maggie but as the film's Director.
We jumped into the frenzy and started to stumble through "How do you make a film?" Coffee meeting after coffee meeting we met with actors, crew, potential investors and mentors. At one point I met with a wonderful indie filmmaker by the name of Jenn Wexler. I had met her over the years at various Glass Eye Pix events and was lucky to see her rise to the badass directress she has become. (Check out her feature directorial debut THE RANGER) Anyway, over kombucha in Dumbo, she offered up all I needed logistically to make a film but also a gem of true insight: make your projects personal.
After some contemplation I decided to take her words to heart and build my plan to make MONIKER its finest. I'd have to make something from me first. My hesitance from this feature and so many others was relinquishing control. What was at the heart of that? Layers. I needed to explore part of my trauma and, in that risk, free my desperate need for control. I put together THE SLIGHTEST TOUCH. Making this project a part of my journey in healing made it vital to my survival not only as an artist but as a person.
In making the film I spoke passionately because it was my passion. I was in a fever dream learning everything I could about filmmaking but also what it meant to me. The subject was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the mission was to portray my voice and undoubtedly others like me. The visual medium would bring the deep feeling of stigma out of the shadows and into the light to offer, even temporarily, a sense of YOU ARE NOT ALONE. In embedding this feeling into the film from screenplay to edit to screening- I made it personal and followed through as a result.
Since the project's finish, the world vibrated the same. Overwhelmed and drowning in the wave of voices for change, I let my heart rest. For those who made the work, those who've seen it-- their feedback has been priceless. The fact that I made a work that meant something to me and that it could now mean something to them BLEW MY MIND. Family members becoming familiar with my silent pain brought us closer together. Friends and viewers being able to see themselves through the story made it all worth while. Not just as an advocate but as a filmmaker, I felt I had finally understood how to move forward.
In the time since I have been lucky to translate that feeling into projects that weren't always my own but certainly became it. Making work personal in front of and behind the camera brings an energy that I can only describe as simultaneously therapeutic and magical. Three films under the banner of my production company, Abandoned House Productions, have taught me different pieces of that same theme. Our slate ahead has me so excited to share those short film projects and the feature ones (including MONIKER and a not so secret other) that have been marinating all along. As I prepare to direct again very soon, I carry the urgency of Jenn's seemingly simple guidance. Make it matter to you and it will matter. Then you'll be like me, excited to share about every story you make.
One of the most difficult parts of growing up is the idea that the world gets more and more boring. As an artist I see casualties of mediocrity all the time. These people did nothing "wrong" and I personally think that's the problem. Following a specific path and being goal oriented isn't bad but it leaves few chances for ingenuity. In order to live our wildest dreams we need to leave room for the impossible.
Once I accepted that I wanted to be an actress my fantasy began to form. It took a few years to be specific, especially when I moved to NYC, but I knew I wanted to embody exciting characters. Without representation when I first started submitting to projects, I went for the things I thought would be obvious sells. In the summer of 2012, I submitted and was called in for two film projects that couldn't be more different. One was a straight drama about a man, a woman and their complicated relationship; the other a subversive horror comedy about teenage lovers against a bunch of mutant cretins. I was auditioning for both at the same time and knew at some point I'd probably have to choose one or the other since their production dates would conflict. It felt like buying two different lottery tickets.
When I asked my actor friends for advice they immediately jumped to the straight drama. They argued it'd be good for my reel and ultimately be a safer bet - one friend even going so far as to say that doing the other would "ruin my career". I felt at that point they might be right, but I couldn't help but smile every time I went in for a callback for the other project. After a month had passed, I had to choose. With no logical way to back it, I made the "wrong" choice and it couldn't have been more right.
That summer I starred in my first feature film and took myself off of the assembly line of safe artists. More than the screen time, what I truly valued was the experience of being a master of my own fate and scaring myself with this kind of newness. The set was beautiful chaos that required that you be constantly adapting and contributing. It was just the experience to lead me to self reliance: accountability for my art. Some said I had burned a few bridges back home but ultimately I didn't care because I'd build my own destiny. I'd use these fumes to fuel my fantasy, this dream that only those who dared could see - no matter the cost.
In the years since that infamous summer, I've done what I can to continue to listen "wrong" choices. They might feel delusional to everyone else but they sure shake things up. A few years ago I had a crossroads between a few different film projects and imploding on it all to make something new. The offer seemed simple: I'd star in a project, get exposure, and it'd lead to more acting work. The only trouble would be soldiering through an existential funk and risk not being able to put my heart into it. People do it all the time at 9 to 5 cubicle jobs---perhaps this was my "putting in time." Risking sense, I said no to so very much. Against the current, I chose to say yes to focusing everything I had to write and direct a film of my own.
Pages and pages of poetry were worked into a script. Years of unresolved feelings manifested into catharsis. Dreaming and scheming turned into a reality and somehow a film was made. This second "wrong" turn revealed a new world for me. It showed me ways I could implement my voice on and off the screen. Being behind the camera made me aware of how I could be in front of it. I saw that I had leveled up in my aspirations as a storyteller.
Now, as I am taken to task in my work, I find that these "wrongs" were my favorite parts. In the tension of those experiences, I grew. Over tears, I opened my mind to what hadn't been possible before. Through pressure and heat, I found myself shining.
Every time we walk on our paths there are signs. The signs are sometimes made by those who've been on the path before you and can lead you for most of the way. They make sense and even offer guaranteed results. Other times, the signs are feelings and tests, as it were. These moments give us a chance to add to our own trail. They can be hard to justify, but they make us who we are. The world is only as boring as you make it. Contradict yourself for once and see where it leads. You might end up in a fantastical place.