Not too long ago (or an eternity ago; it seems like both), I made my Broadway debut.
I was 22, portraying a girl in her late teens. Not unusual, and the fact that I looked about 16 throughout most of my twenties made it even less so. (you can read more on that here)
During the run of the show, an acquaintance, (a Broadway gal herself, but not working at the time) expressed frustration concerning my show’s producers for their unwillingness to see her as the understudy for my role. Looking back, she seemed much older than I, but I think it bears noting that she was younger than I am currently.
It was always blatantly clear to me that she would in no one’s reality but her own, EVER be cast to play an 18-year-old. (Unless of course in someone’s reality, she was a celebrity, in which case, talent, and appropriate age and type are completely optional, but as obnoxious as that is, it’s not the point of this post.) I was baffled that such delusions could come from someone so seemingly sane and level-headed, not to mention, fiercely talented and able to play a plethora of roles I was bursting at the seems to be old enough to play myself!
I have carried this with me throughout my performing career, to serve as a reminder of a promise to remain astutely aware of my own physical changes as I age. But, something happened the other day that made me realize that that promise, strung through the trickery of passing years, may be more beguiling than it first seemed through my 20-something, crow’s-foot free eyes.
There is a reputable regional theatre near our home-town that just held auditions for one of my favorite shows; a show that just so happens to already be listed under my resume’s Broadway credits. I understudied both of the lead female roles and performed them numerous times. When I learned of this possible opportunity, I flipped with excitement.
Some time passed and I asked a fellow performing Mommy, during a park playdate,
“Hey! Do you know when those auditions are happening?”
“Yeah. They were last week. You didn’t get an appointment?”
My heart-rate quickened, and grotesque actorish defenses surfaced and clenched my jaw. I left Isabelle by the slide and stormed off to fetch my phone from the stroller. Thankfully, before dialing my agency, she tripped and face-planted in the dirt. While brushing her off, this pivotal conversation happened:
“I just don’t get it! I performed both of those roles in the Broadway company?”
My friend, with much finesse, said,
“Maybe they’re just thinking that because you did the Broadway show, and it was awhile ago that you wouldn’t still be right for it?”
“It wasn’t that long ago. I just did it. It was….
When was it?”
…(insert audible intake of breath)
Nine years ago. Nine. I was 26.
-Nine years, a marriage, two children and more life-changing experiences than in any of the other decades combined.
Holy crap! I can’t play early 20’s! What the hell was I thinking? Of course they weren’t going to see me! Did I think that time stopped here in New York during my six-and-a-half years touring and living on the opposite coast? It feels like I just did the show because it was the last show I did before leaving town. But I did NOT just do the show!
(My agents can thank Isabelle’s lack of grace for sparing them that excruciating bi-monthly phone call.)
In that moment, I felt a little more compassion for that old acquaintance, and hopefully caught myself before heading down the same path of delusional and unhealthy Make-Believe.
For some reason, our own changes happen right under our noses, but often without our knowledge. I look at pictures of myself from my 20’s, and honestly, other than the lack of dark under-eye circles, I see no glaring differences. (at least, none that would be obvious to an audience of the stage)
But, does that mean that casting directors and producers are flat-out wrong and on some sort of quest to keep me from supporting my family?
Absolutely not. All too often that is the slippery slope that traps aging actors and earns them the off-putting, fluorescent-orange “bitter” badge.
Just as I was able to see all of the roles open to my friend if only she could have embraced her age, I intend to do the same for myself.
Thank the Lord I can’t play 18, or 23 for that matter. I don’t have the energy. And, if I carried myself with the freshness and naïveté I did ten years ago, it would surely mean I was on some highly dangerous and illegal uppers.
I have earned these dark circles and crow’s-feet and I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste my 30’s fighting for my 20’s.
Un-Bitter 30-Something Entertainer