© Lucia Saldarriaga Photo
This is a long story, but it’s a story about pursuing your dreams.
This is a story about crossing paths with one person who believes in you.
This is a story about creative love, jealousy and my personal connection to A Star Is Born.
If you’ve ever been brave enough to pursue your dreams, and particularly to embark on a creative career as an actor, you face endless -and often times inexplicable- rejection that comes with each audition. But, I’ve always felt that there’s a sanctity and holiness to the process of portraying another character. As an actor, when you put down your shield, mechanisms and defenses of who you present yourself to be I.R.L. (in real life), and enter into the experience and character building of another person (by way of the play or script) along with a backstory and your character choices, it can really feel like an out of body experience, a deep meditation and channel of energy (that oftentimes you didn’t know you possessed). Those rehearsals and moments of pure bliss, often times balance out the constant rejection.
My path into acting came about in an odd way. I had previously studied and majored in International Relations an Fine Art at George Washington University, out of a deep compassion and curiosity for advocacy, understanding political climates, international economics and wanting to make a positive impact. My inner ten year old self simultaneously wanted to pursue a career in acting, to tell stories and heal through art and start to rebuild and strengthen the empathy gap in the universal human experience by way of art, storytelling, and playing characters that were vastly different than myself. Certainly growing up, I had an immensely vivid imagination (I grew up in a small farm town in the woods, catching salamanders, frogs, snakes, basically in the middle of nowhere with a total population size of maybe 7,000 people), coupled with an extreme shyness, so my first exploration of Art (big “A”) was through painting and writing stories.
Anyway, I decided it was time to try. To try to finally commit to the life and pursuit of auditions and acting. To try to push past the assumptions and definitions about who I was. So, I went on my first audition for The Actors Studio Drama School in New York City, back in 2011, for their Masters of Art in Acting. I remember the day so tremendously vividly. I didn’t tell my parents (dreams are quite sacred, and for realistic -or realistic for very hardworking, business owning parents- reasons becoming an actor was my parents nightmare), booked two seats on a Megabus with my then best friend Meg. My audition was at 8 am and the bus rolled into lower Manhattan at 3 am. We then got lost on the subway (this was pre-Uber/Lyft era) until we stumbled into my uncles apartment in Harlem and devoured some meatball sandwiches from the corner bodega that was still open (thank the Lord for bodega’s, post midnight sandwiches (our savior “sammies”) and kindness that that bodega owner showed us). We had made it to Manhattan, I didn’t sleep the entire night.
The next morning at my audition, I was guided into a waiting room on the floor of ASDS by Steve (a man who to this day, I love with all of my heart -the most gentle and caring soul, rest in peace Steve). I was a bundle of absolute nerves. I remember sitting in a seat and my hands were shaking, I was so nervous. When I was called in to audition, the entire room was black -a Black Box Theater, which is a very common rehearsal space to channel focus, and block out exterior distractions. I couldn’t see how many professors were watching but I did my monologue from Leslye Headland’s “Bachelorette” and it went ok (I knew I couldn’t prepare more but I tend to be extremely self critical). Then, I was asked to wait outside. I was followed outside by Elizabeth Kemp who wanted to see me enter the room and when I was ready, she had me think of a time when I felt betrayed and work off her direction and guidance as I improvised and thought of a specific moment and that betrayal. To this date, working with Elizabeth was the only time when I’ve ever felt so completely relaxed that I could stop smiling through pain (physical and psychological), she created a space where that kind of relaxation was even a possibility and was welcomed and not perceived as weak. Working with Elizabeth Kemp was the first time when I felt completely seen and safe. It was my very first audition and I felt like I had stepped into a world that I was so removed from, all of my classmates had acting resumes and professional work that I didn’t, although I was so grateful and so hungry to get better. Yes, I successfully got into and was accepted into the Actors Studio, but the biggest take away -for me- was that I was thrown into the arms of a coach and someone who believed in me, before I really believed in myself.
Fast forward with me to the present day (2018), writing from my desk in Europe and I have seen A Star Is Born in theaters twice. Now, I’m a long time and huge fan of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper (I’ve loved him since he played Will Tippin -Sydney Bristow’s best friend, on J.J. Abrams Alias). I first saw Lady Gaga perform when I was still in college in 2008 and “Just Dance” had exploded on every possible channel, radio station and on YouTube. I also met her when I was working a survival job as a receptionist in New York City in 2013. So, I am so very supportive of both of their independent careers, they’re both tremendously successful in and of their own rights. I also knew that Elizabeth Kemp was the acting coach on the film (I believe there was some interview she gave with Cooper, but I also saw her at the Actors Studio about two years ago and she mentioned it in passing), so, going in to see the film, I knew it was going to be powerful, but sometimes you get your hopes up (especially with remakes). But, I didn’t know how powerful.
Without spoiling the plot, it is so all encompassing to watch Lady Gaga as Ally wrestle and struggle with this lofty and childlike dream to sing and perform, to go through the daily disappointments of “not making it” and sort of watching her rationalize the disappointment to her father (played by Andrew Dice Clay, who was also so wonderful in the film too), to perform in the small bar -a resigned balance of performing for an audience, but also working a really shitty survival job, living at home and the moments of shame and personal reflection about your career choices. Then, when Ally meets Jack, I/we/ you get so invested in the romance between Bradley Cooper’s Jack. I mean it’s real, it’s really real. Not cheesy and cutesy but it was so real to me that it hit a few emotional switches. It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks.
During my time at the Actors Studio, I was in a long-distance relationship (he is DC, me in NYC) with a musician who was struggling with alcoholism. Throughout the many years that we dated, I tried to get him into rehab. There were multiple times when I’d try to wake him up and physically pick him off the floor because he had blacked out so badly. I’m also only 5’5” and he’s 6’1”, so it was not only physically difficult, but over time it was heartbreaking and exhausting. I’d try to get him to drink less, to cut back party a little less. While I spent a lot of time on stages, backstage, on tour with him and his band in California, quite often…and behind closed doors so much of our relationship was at the mercy of this disorder. There were moments of deep connection and love, but there were also a lot of nights and alcohol fueled rage that I balanced at the expense of my own safety, health and opportunities that I had worked hard for (for myself). But, at the same time, he was so insanely talented and creative. Just like Jack in the film, we were creative together, and I believe there was a deep and intense love for each other, and understanding and drive. I was shy and less confident and needed a bit more of a push of encouragement back then. When I got into the grad program, he didn’t congratulate me and throughout our time, he would make disingenuous quips and jabs about my hard earned opportunities (and really, my desire to get better as an actor). But, to relive some of those intensely deep moments of love and see the palpable chemistry between Ally and Jack, and to relive what it looks like when someone is suffering from a disorder (of any kind), to want to save them at your own expense (like what the film shows with Jack and Ally), and to experience what it looks like when creative partners get jealous, was not what I anticipated at all. It was beyond cathartic, but also such a feeling of being understood.
Broadly, I think that’s the best part about Art (stage productions, film, fine art, dance music and everything in between) -for both the audience and artist, is that it is a space for catharsis, transformation, introspection and feeling deeply understood.
On a lighter note, since the release of the film, the soundtrack has exploded everywhere and I think it’s also well deserved. Lady Gaga is such a powerful magician with her words, a true wordsmith. The lyrics not only parallel the shots on screen, but they make and paint the film just as much as the dialogue. I think I had “Shallow” stuck in my head for an entire week, and listened to it on repeat for days.
This upcoming Tuesday, November 5th is Elizabeth’s birthday. So, while much of the film is sprinkled with her incredible acting gifts, my post today is also a giant thank you and ode to her grace, her strength and her complete, and utter devotion to a lifetime of Art, she is a warrior and Artist with a capital “A”.
If you haven’t already, go see A Star Is Born. If you’ve already seen the film, definitely see it twice,