The past year has been quite a journey, and what I have learned the most directly relates to expression, creativity, and finding my authentic self. In the next week, I will be making a trip back to Illinois Wesleyan University to celebrate my five-year anniversary of graduating with my BFA in Acting. I am absolutely thrilled to be going back and seeing my best friends, bonding over memories of those four special years, and seeing the beautiful Midwest campus in all of her autumn glory.
The School of Theatre Arts has recently made it a tradition that every year during every IWU Homecoming, the graduation class from five years prior are invited back to campus to share their journeys from the “real world” since graduating. What an honor, right? How exciting to hear words of wisdom and experiences from the world of entertainment! I have been talking with several of my friends, and while we look forward to going back, our feelings definitely veer from this “excitement” zone. Will it be awesome to go back to IWU and see all of our amazing professors? Of course. Will it be amazing to catch up with one another? Yes, surely. But our nerves are definitely building up (at least mine are!) The pressure is on to be shining examples of what it means to have graduated from IWU’s School of Theatre Arts. What does that even mean?!
First of all, where have those five years gone? It feels impossible. It seems as though I just packed up my car with my parents, and drove with my Mother across the United States to set up a life for myself and live my dreams in the City of Angels. It feels like I just started waiting tables (which certainly made the stereotype of being an artist even more realistic”. It seems like I just had my first professional acting gig, or my graduation show at Second City. However, that is not the case; each of these things actually happened long ago. And where the initial question is “What the hell have I possibly done in these five years that these students want to hear about?”, the truth is, so much has happened. So, so, so, so much has happened. Has it all been roses and sunshine, and audition after audition after audition, endless bookings, and feeling like I’m on top of the world? Hell no, and at several times, quite the opposite. Have wonderful things happened in my life in Los Angeles? Of course. Many amazing experiences I could never have dreamed of, but each one of those was paired along with thousands of struggles and hardships.
For me, the hardest thing about being out here on the west coast and doing what I love is being so far away from the people I love most in this world. My family. My friends. Have I made some pretty awesome friends out in Los Angeles? You betcha (many of them being form the Midwest, ah hem, Chicago), and it has been so much fun forming those relationships and being by each other’s sides through thick and thin. But my family is not out here; the people in my life who have been there through everything. My family, who were always just a drive away while I was at IWU. Hearing their voices or seeing them over Skype is as close as I can get to them some days. And you know what? It sucks, because that is not enough. I need to hug my Mom and Dad. I need to laugh with my sister. I need to play baseball with my little cousin, and be at his games, but I cannot. Dreams come with sacrifices, which is something you are told about in college, but until you truly are living it and experiencing it, it is a reality that is hard to grasp.
I was fortunate enough to go to a University that had a theatre program that was very small, and followed somewhat of a “conservatory” style, in the sense that we were around the same people all of the time, with a small pool of professors and students. We got wonderful one on one attention, which I believe helped challenge us even more because we were constantly pushing one another, and we were being celebrated as individuals. But you know what else happens when you are around people so much? When you are seeing each other change, grow, and form your own unique selves for four years? You build the most intense, loving and passionate relationships. My friends from college are the people who know me most on this planet; they saw me grow into the person that I am now. They pushed me to be my best, and they saw me succeed and fail again and again and again. The bonds we have can never be broken. However, you know what I was not prepared for after graduation? They change. The bonds change, because people are constantly changing. In college we were by each other’s sides through those changes, and now, we are not. Sure, we can call one another and cry and complain and question our lives with one another… but we aren’t there to hold each other in the dorm room bathrooms crying our eyes out at 2 A.M. And we find (or attempt) to find new people to fill those shoes. For me, that has been the biggest challenge living in Los Angeles, because it feels like starting college all over again. I moved out here not knowing anyone (Ok, except you, Mr. David Ruben – thanks for all of your love & encouragement). I had to forge the road for myself, keep pushing myself, believing in myself. But for a while, this was all by myself. And lots of times I just wanted to fly back to Illinois and hug it out with my parents, and drink wine with my college roomies, and forget about the craziness of the world. But I couldn’t. And you know what? It just fucking sucked. Every single time.
As much as that hurts, I truly believe that life is beautiful and brings people into our lives at special moments that we really need them. I have met so many wonderful people in Los Angeles, but it takes time to really build friendships. Relationships take time, and that is something I had forgotten because I was around my friends constantly at IWU; a blessing that perhaps I didn’t realize I had at the time.
There are many things I reflect on during that point in my life that I didn’t realize were such gifts to us all. The immense amount of artistic work and creativity we were doing was INSANE! At the time, even though we loved what we were doing, it felt like we were forced to “do our best” for a grade or validation of our talent. Looking back, I see how truly lucky we were. Every damn day we were coming together to create, to express ourselves through characters, and we were nurtured to do so by our wise and beautifully creative professors. Hey, current students of IWU? THE WORLD DOES NOT WORK THIS WAY. (Oops, was that too blunt?) It is a GIFT what you have now. The world does not care if you do not get up every morning to apply yourself to your career. You can sleep in, you can party hard, you can blow off an audition, you know why? Because nobody cares. It’s a choice you make, and you will quickly learn your choices and behaviors form to create the “present you”. Now, the beautiful thing about this is you can find a strength, drive and persistence you never knew you had; to create things, to make it happen in your life, and to hold yourself accountable. And that strength and ability to create through your independence and drive can get you through some of the hardest times of your life.
That is what I have been exploring the most this year – what it means to truly create for yourself, and step into your authenticity as an artist in this industry & world. It has been such a wonderfully rewarding adventure to find people I really jive with, and to be storytellers together. I have found communities of other creatives that support and uplift one another, and that has been such a gift.
I am excited to share my journey next week with the IWU Theatre Department, and even more excited to be with some of the people I love most in this world. I am nervous and anxious, but I think what these students need to hear the most is that we are all on our own journey, and that will never change. There is no cookie-cutter way to do things in this industry; you truly just have to find what makes you the absolute happiest in this world, and follow that with all of your heart. I do not know where the last five years have gone, and each of my friends (including myself) is on their own path. Where we will be in the next five years will probably be even more drastically different and exciting. But the one thing I can say with absolute confidence? The years of 2007-2011 were some of the best memories of my life, and I cannot wait to make millions of dollars when I sell the sitcom of our insane School of Theatre Arts adventures. My forever love to the IWU SOTA class of 2011.
Now lets hashtag the fuck out of Homecoming 2015