To Hell With LocationBy lesly kahn | August 3, 2017
Kahnstituent Lauren Buglioli contributed this post, and it is a must read!
Seven years ago, I moved back to Los Angeles from New York. I’d previously lived, studied and worked in Los Angeles, New York and London. But I wanted to be the next Reese Witherspoon/Kristen Bell/whatever-you-want-me-to-be so I book the job. I was going to make all my dreams come true. I was going to be an actress. Nothing went according to plan, and it has been the greatest gift of my life.
I arrived in Los Angeles, skipping down the street, as doe eyed as Kimmy F-ing Schmidt, and the manager I was working with told me (over a lunch that I paid for), that I was not going to go on any auditions until I was underweight. I listened. He called me weekly to ask what I weighed and I restricted my food intake and made my career about my “image.” I was told I needed to be “thin and pretty enough to keep anyone from changing the channel.”
In addition to trying desperately to prove my worth, I took workshops, classes, and eventually landed meetings with huge managers and agencies, went to producers for major TV shows and was deeply deeply unhappy. Things were “happening” and frankly, I was dead inside and REALLY FREAKING HUNGRY. I say all this because it got very dark before I found my way out of that “lifestyle.” And let me say, it is a lifestyle.
I wound up in the ER because my blood sugar was dangerously low. I was ushered from the ER to the neighboring weight loss clinic. That’s the thing, when those doctors discovered I was trying desperately to lose weight, they didn’t question it. They helped me take it further. THIS IS NOT OKAY. I really thought I was doing my job. If ONE person reads this and stops hurting themselves “for their career,” I didn’t go through that for nothing. Nothing is worth your health or sanity. NOT A DAMN THING.
After eight months in Los Angeles, my dear (and inspiring AF) friend Ali Stroker noted that I was slowly killing myself. I thought it was a fair point and a valid concern, so I went back to New York. I spent time teaching children with special needs and did off-off Broadway to feed my soul.
Then, five years later, I decided to leave New York, acting, and my complicated love/hate relationship with the industry behind me, and go teach Pre-K in Tampa, Florida, where I’d lived when I was ages 4-10. I wanted to go where it was warm. Quite literally, but also, i just wanted a new, gentler way of life surrounded by family and friends.
But, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t living my purpose. I’m a performer. So I played Sara Bareilles’s “Used To Be Mine” 8 MILLION TIMES and auditioned for Mad Theatre’s Production of “Cabaret” at The Straz Center for the Performing Arts. I booked it. I was reviewed on BroadwayWorld.com and nominated as best local actress. I got a review that made me cry my face off. I hadn’t failed. I found my way (cue the final number in Legally Blonde the Musical).
The best part? I’m like Kimmy F-ing Schmidt again. At 30, I’m the doe eyed 23–year-old I was when I moved out to Los Angeles. I got that passion back.
The bottom line? For me, the industry managed to suck the joy out of performing. When I was a kid, I dreamt of performing. I didn’t ever have the location of the theatre or the size of the house in mind. I wanted to be on stage, bearing my soul and making art. Somewhere along the way I’d lost the plot. I listened to that idea that you have to reach a certain echelon to be “successful”.
For a while I looked back on my time in Los Angeles as a failure, as if I went and tried and got chewed up and spat out. But then I stopped being a real a$$hole to myself and realized how much I gained. I gained experience, learnt invaluable lessons and gained knowledge that I use to this day on stage. I took Lesly’s comedy intensive, worked with her privately prior to auditions and then took ongoing classes to work on my chops. For me, Lesly’s gift is that she loves what she does, and it’s contagious. She has perspective, prioritizes artistry and values hard work. That value system stuck with me. I just face timed with her to work on my next role, because I want to keep challenging myself and growing as an artist so I can deliver the best performance possible. Because it brings me (and hopefully others) joy. I work just as hard doing (sometimes) unpaid work in Tampa as I did in London, New York or Los Angeles. People deserve my best work anywhere. People deserve to be entertained. Though our ego wants to believe it matters, LOCATION AND PAYCHECK DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING. Sorry. It just doesn’t. I gave up my Equity card so I can work more frequently in Tampa because I love this town and it makes sense in this market. No regrets, y’all.
Now, seven years later, I’m using what I learnt in Los Angeles to perform in Tampa. I’ve never been more fulfilled. I played Sally in “Cabaret”, Daisy in “The Great Gatsby” and am gearing up to play Sister Mary Downey in “Disaster!” in the fall. That is a sentence the 23-year-old version of me would never have imagined she’d type when she was crying her eyes out in Los Angeles feeling helpless and alone. Everyone’s goals are different. I’m fortunate enough to have a flexible job I love that pays the bills that allows me to perform FOR THE LOVE OF IT. It’s pure, and it’s more rewarding for me. It’s about making art. It’s about feeling alive and inspired. It’s not about my ego and making it and proving myself and the chip on my shoulder. I’m happy, fed, and jump out of bed every morning to live a life I didn’t think I’d be lucky enough to experience. If you can do it in a way that’s healthy, more power to you! We need healthy, happy, fulfilled artists in every damn city in existence.
Here’s the thing, I am competing with actresses from Los Angeles and New York here in Tampa. Local and regional theatre requires immense hustle and I get crushed on the regular when I don’t book something. I consider myself lucky to have something I love this much that can break my heart and then make it explode. I’m grateful for every “no.” I focus on the work and keep going, super imperfectly. Even outside of NYC, LA or Chicago, etc., you have to plug away. You have to establish yourself, you have to WORK, fail and pick yourself up, and love what you do for it to be worth your while.
Please note: I don’t have a THING figured out. I’m learning as I go. But what I felt in Lesly’s class… that joy, that freedom, the license to PLAY and LOVE entertaining—it stuck with me. I’m forever grateful for having been able to work with her. The quote that made me leave New York and move to Tampa was, “there’s a difference between giving up and knowing when you’ve had enough.” I’d had enough of trying to do the things I thought would get me ahead. Now, I found a way to be an artist in a town full of incredibly talented people doing what they love. I’ve never felt more successful. Regardless of where you are on your journey in this crazy freaking industry, I hope you can appreciate how far you’ve come and get excited about what’s next. Not to rip Meryl off or anything, but wherever you are, go make some art y’all.