The publication Backstage produces an annual actor event called ActorFest, I attended my first Los Angeles event back in 2010. It’s a convention of everything actor. Performers get to learn about the business of acting, register for auditions with television and film casting directors, industry panels, workshops, and more. The industry panel discussion, I signed up for, was complied of powerful and notable casting directors from television and film. I was enthralled by this panel of experts, they were veterans of their industry, candid with their point of view and generous with information regarding actors, directors, how they get their jobs. Laray Mayfield, casting director for all of David Fincher’s films, was on the panel. I knew of Laray because she would sometimes cast commercials and had brough me in from time to time.
I am always in search for golden nuggets of guidance, I still have the notes from that day, full of information, that I still rely on. The copper in the penny moment, was a simple one. Laray Mayfield said she has to go back home, to Tennessee, often. She needs to go home to soak up all the love from her family and friends, go back to her roots, it’s what she needs to recharge her battery to continue thriving in hollywood. That small nugget of insight caused me to pause and recognize why I chose to go home every year. I’ve made it my business to go home, to NY, at least two times a year or at least a mandatory once. Before this panel, I don’t think I realized the relevance of why I needed to go home annually. Home is where unconditional love is. Where no one cares if I’m booking or not. It is where I go to decompress, recalibrate, inhale different air and eat good food.
I chose to move to LA, away from my family and closest friends to pursue a career in entertainment, like 10,000, or so, other people do annually. My drive, work ethic and focus, to make my career a success, can be so intense I tend to burn out. During my early years of residing in Los Angeles, I couldn’t recognize my burn out. It would show up as different maladies. I’d feel lonely, like, I’m out here by myself, woe is me, even though I chose to move here, by myself. I’d lose focus, not knowing what my next step was, causing me to make decisions that didn’t serve the grand vision, or suffered analysis paralysis, resulting in wasting time, money or energy. I’d lack desire to do anything except, watch reality TV and eat food that didn’t nurture my body or I’d just hate people and isolate myself. Yes, I know hate is a strong word, its usually only temporary. I grew numb to these emotions and what they meant when they showed up. Hearing Laray Mayfield state, why she must go home often, was a revelatory moment.
When I go home, I tend to go for two weeks, either in May or October. I enjoy being in New York City in the spring and Fall the best. In January 2012, I was in conservatory at Second City, by the time I’d reached graduation level classes it was June of 2013. At that point, I hadn’t been home since November of 2012, I was long overdue for visit home but so committed to the grad program and to my peers, that I chose not to go home until after 21 weeks. The time it took to improvise, re-improvise, write and re-write sketches and perform an 8 week show that completed in November 2013. By the time November came around I was easily irritated, abnormally sensitive, disagreeable and the worst of it, I wasn’t booking, I was off of my game. Energy depleted. Battery dead. Like Rosie from The Jetsons. With all of this going on in my being, I still managed to enjoy my grad level at Second City. I was fortunate enough to share that experience with people I enjoyed being around. They became my Second Family, from Second City. Four of us, out of the eight, are still a group to this day. Now known as Sibling Rivalry. Any hoots, here it was November, when New York’s fall weather beefs up into the beginnings of a blustery winter. I have LA blood now, I’ve lost my ability to endure NY winter, but I didn’t care. I purchased my airfare, packed a heavy coat, some sweaters and went back east for 16 days.
My parents purchased a home in north Jersey years ago, out of habit, and maybe some resentment towards New Jersey, I still say I’m going back home to New York. The truth, I really go back home to, forcing myself to say this… NJ, which is just a place my parents live and now, most of my close friends. I enjoy my parents home, but I MUST be in the city, or what transplants and tourists call Manhattan. I enjoy a long walk around Manhattan, to soak up the energy of my city. The city that never sleeps. I inhale the NYC grime, like the most content pig in a pit of mud. Well, that’s not completely true, actually, I’m “LA” now, as my east coast friends call me. I can only take but so much grime, a nominal amount. Side bar, was NY always dirty and I was anesthetized to it from being born and bred there? I digress, I eat everything that tastes better in NY. Bagels, Pizza, Chinese food (any corner spot), Jamaican Food, Puerto Rican food, Falafel (Mamouns), Pastrami (Katz Deli), everything tastes better in New York. It tends to be the most indulgent time of my life, every year when I go home.
When I’m there, I disconnect from my pursuit of acting. I binge watch shows with my mother, no Lifetime though, which is disappointing to her. I see my friends, I fill my tank with a kind of love that I had taken for granted before. An unexplainable kind of love. Its potent, palpable and makes me want to weep from its gloriousness. Don’t get me wrong, I have love in LA, too, I have great friends and support systems in place in Los Angeles, but nothing tops long term, dysfunctional family and friends love. Oh and I miss the train. Call me crazy, but I look for the rats… on the train track, preferably, not on the platform. I get a lot of reading done on the train and the best nap from the rocking and sound of movement on the tracks.
Funny, I’ll think I’m getting away from acting, but when I’m home I’m observing and digesting the rich behavior of the characters. The people who make up the story of New York. These are the most authentic, alive and aware people. No one is ever overly expressive, excitable, its almost unwelcome or deemed uncool to behave excitably. A good friend of mine, who’s from Jersey, will often ask me, why do NYrs always act unfazed, unruffled or irritated by what they deem is foolish? I never have an answer for that question, I do know that I am all of the things that make up “NY Cool” I just made that up. Conversely, I’m very grateful to have moved to LA. I get to be the opposite of “NY Cool” in LA. Soft, unhinged, vulnerable. But the moment someone asks me where I’m from, my exterior becomes “NY Cool” when I answer the question. Its as if we’re playing poker and I know I’ve got a Full House by saying “I’m From New York.” “Where? THE BRONX!” It makes me want to laugh at how ridiculous I’m being, but I don’t because I’m “NY Cool.” I’ve lived in Yonkers NY also, The Bronx’s neighbor, when my parents were taking a page out of The Jeffersons handbook to “move on up“, but if you’ve ever been to Yonkers, you’ll see its not that much better than The Bronx and has a host of its own dysfunction and bleakness. Oh, and we did a short bid in South Jersey, bid because it felt like a jail sentence at first, but that was a short lived experience. Thank God.
When I’m in Nueva York, I may attend a play. Typically something Off or Off Off Broadway. I feel the Off Broadway shows are less relegated to drawing megastar celebrities for box-office draw, although I don’t mind seeing some Broadway shows nor do I mind the reason they bring in big names. I live in Los Angeles, I understand “the bottom line” now more than ever. I tend to revel in the the Off Broadway storylines a bit more. They’ll put on productions of plays I’ve either never heard of, original works, or plays that haven’t seen the light of day for centuries.
After spending time regenerating my soul, reinvigorating my spirit, I return back to my LA home, with a new fire. I returned back to LA in December, a time when the industry shuts down for the holiday. I worked on a year end revue of 2013. A wonderful way to see what worked, what went well in my life/career or what fell flat or didn’t work. I plotted out 2014 goals and the New Year began shortly thereafter, with a restored, renewed, exciting view on raising the stakes in my career. In the first quarter of 2014, I booked five national commercials. I have to believe is was do to my return home. Thanks Laray Mayfield for sharing the importance of going back home to Tennessee. As I write this, I’m preparing to fly back to NY/NJ in two days. It’s the perfect time I suspect… I’ve been watching a lot of reality shows and eating food that doesn’t nurture my body, and slightly disliking people, lately. I hope after reading this, you’ll make going back home, wherever that is for you, an annual priority.