Monday, February 22, 2010

Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

"Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas."
-- Marie Curie.

(This was supposed to be published on the great website Brains of Minerva.) Enjoy!!!

I think I have always been different. Honestly. I remember being little and swinging in the backyard, singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow and crying. Literally making myself cry – not by sticking stuff in my eyes -- but rather because I too was dreaming as my hair swept the grass below my swing, my head practically touching the ground, my tanned, skinny legs poked up into the air with my big swinging swoops.

I knew even then, at eight, that my dreams outsized my town. I felt even then the pain of having lost the lion in the movie. A few days before, my mom had told me that the actor who played the lion had died in “real life.” And when I’d listen to her record, I cried for the lion too.

Years later, when I met with William Morris as a student living in New York City, I showed them a page from a journal my mom kept of me. I was saying some pretty deep things then for an eight year old. I photocopied the journal page and passed out five copies to the agents. As I stood up to leave, I took them all in and said, “I’m not saying I was prescient. But I am saying that I knew what acting was at eight.”

And as I write now, I am so much that same young girl who set out with an oversized dream. And after having taken a few years off to travel and write books, I am back in town – this time, Los Angeles, and I am once again passing out journal pages. Except this time, it is a blog. And I am yet again taking juicy meetings, on the cusp of breaking out and at the same time, holding onto what has always made me different – being such a huge dreamer. And I believe, the ability to see the two glorious sides of life and love them both equally.

My mom died when I was seventeen and this is much of the nucleus of my forthcoming memoir, Mighty Forces Are Gathering On Your Behalf. But also, then as now – I LOVE this life. I love human beings – they fascinate me. I love acting – and the honesty inherent in it that forces us to look at ourselves and question the world around us.

And so, in step with the young girl who attended Barnard College and debuted on Broadway in The Diary of Anne Frank, I have begun to re-create my own success! In fact, I am going to share with you three steps I have taken recently that have begun to explode my career. Not to mention my life.

First, letter writing. I began writing letters this past summer. My goal was clear, simple. It was time. I had been out here for six years working on my craft, building up relationships, a theater and production company and mainly if truth be told, working on myself. I decided it was time to combine my two loves – writing and acting. I was going to write 50 letters to people in the industry with whom I wanted to work. Badly. I wrote people as diverse as Queen Latifah and Christopher Guest. I wrote Steven Speilberg and Garry Marshall. I sat down and really thought about these letters. I googled movies I adore – I thought about what moved me in each one. Was it the star? The direction? The producer who put the whole project together? Then, I researched each person on line. I found a connection with each one of them. For example, Speilberg founded an organization called Shoah, which is a nonprofit organization established to record testimonies in video format of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust. I interned for Joel Siegel at Good Morning America as an undergrad and we remained dear friends. Joel was also very active in the Shoah Foundation and this is how I first heard of it. Also, Speilberg had said that if one teacher brought his or her class to see Shindler’s List then it was a success. I told him that my father took three of his classes to see it. They filled the theater.

Secondly, I met with a career counselor, the indomitable Lesly Kahn. And as I sat on her plush couch, sockless as is code, I admitted that other than my childlike excitement at having seen her after almost nine years. I wasn’t really sure why I was there. I told her that my life had become a smattering of beautiful puzzle pieces, but that I wasn’t exactly sure how to put them all together. She asked me what I wanted this year. And I knew it so well that I excitedly exclaimed, “To be a best-selling author. A movie star. And finally,” I inhaled deeply and let out a gasp of joy, “a millionaire.”

She looked me in the eye, smiled and said simply, “Write a blog.” That way, she explained, everyone can see what you are creating. Every day. You can share your experience and invite people into your process. And if an agent or a producer or a manager or a director, heck if my dad wants to see what I am doing, I can simply email them the link. And first I thought – “Oh gosh, maybe this is conceited or something. My life becoming these things. But why would anyone else want to read it/” And then, by doing it every day, I have learned that my goal with it is two fold – I am chronicling my daily process of becoming these three things, but also, I am – it turns out!!! – inspiring other people along the way. And this is the whole point of success anyway. To inspire others – to give back. And the more success I accrue, the more I can give. So, the blog features video of me, pictures of people who are helping me along the way, quotes that are sometimes irreverent, but mainly uplifting. And people are reading it! I feel like Julie and Julia. Plus, and this is key to success – it is forcing me to be consistent in my efforts on a daily basis. And I need this. We all do. It’s like a virtual coach. And I am becoming one hell of a playa!

And thirdly, my movie. Last November, my theater company put up a celebration of one acts and I starred in one called, Happy Birthday/I’m Dead. In December, I bought the rights it into a feature film. The amazing playwright, Bekah Brunstetter, is writing the feature as I type. In fact, she sent me the first 25 pages last weekend, and reading it felt like biting into the most delicious New York cupcake. Mmmmm. I am taking meeting about three times a week with producers, assistant directors, screenwriters, producers, movie stars, and investors. And it is quite exhilarating actually. I find myself asking more questions than talking. I want to hear their stories. How did they become successful. What was their process. Who mentored them. What inspired them to enter into this business. What were their ideas or advice for me and my process of getting this movie made. So far, so inspiring. I feel like an athlete – getting up every day to work out, to stretch, to push myself, to go even when I am “not in the mood.” To make myself uncomfortable – not in a bad way, but rather in a way that helps me to grow. And I am. The meetings, the contacts – they all come from simply vociferating what it is I want. Louise says in Thelma and Louise, “You get what you settle for.”

And I for one am not going to settle. I have come so far. And risked so much. Met so many. And continue. Written so many words. Listened to so many stories. Been championed to keep on the path by some of the greatest – Alec Baldwin who referred me to Lorne Michaels who flew me out to New York a week later to test me for Saturday Night Live. Morgan Freeman who called to leave me a voicemail after having seen a monologue of mine a friend happened to show him. Ashton Kutcher who came to my show and offered to direct a short film version of the one act I starred in.

And most important, I could never let down that little girl on the swing with the outsized dreams. Hollywood may be bigger than my hometown. But no place is big enough for this girl’s dreams.

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