I think about success a lot this time of the year. In the theatre world, it’s award season which means everyone is measuring the successes and failures of the last theatrical year on Broadway. In my world it means I’m reminded that another year has come and gone and I’ve not achieved the goal I set for myself at age eighteen. Without fail, for every year since I was very young, I have watched the Tony Awards. From ten-year old me sitting in my family living room inches away from our big box television thinking, “someday that will be me” to the 32-year old sitting in her box-filled New York apartment just days after arriving in the city thinking, “someday that will be me,” the Tony Awards hold a special place in my heart.
As I got older, went through all kinds of theatre training and ventured out into the strange business that is show, I became more cynical, even weary of Broadway and the awards they handed that first weekend in June. Having a close-up view of Broadway highlighted the dirty secrets of 42nd street where money reigns, commercialism thrives and spectacle often trumps storytelling.
That’s not to say I don’t love Broadway and love it with every ounce of my ten-year old being—I always have and always will—I just now see it for what it is and I know as an artist, you should not-you CAN NOT measure your success with a 42nd street gig.
Still, I sat in Times Square with two close friends and a thousand strangers and watched the show just blocks away from Radio City Hall. This year wasn’t just a sentimental salutation. I was there for a very specific reason. John Cameron Mitchell.
JCM is one of my artistic heroes. He represents passion, perseverance, artistic integrity and is a champion for all the people sidelined by life. Trask and Mitchell’s show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a show that continues to change my life and JCM is the type of artist I strive to be. I wanted to hear his acceptance speech for his award and recognition that is long overdue. I needed to hear it to be reminded that everyone’s success looks different, arrives differently and that sometimes a career in the arts isn’t a quick sprint, but a long marathon.
Two and a half hours into the show, as we crept closer to the end, I thought-there’s NO WAY they won’t broadcast his award. What he has to say, people need to hear. As the show wrapped, I stood in disbelief that they chose not to air his 1:36 minutes worth of musings on Hedwig, art and gratitude. Personally, I think we could have done with one less Cummings/Chenowith moment in order to honor an artist who has changed lives, saved lives and jolted Broadway into the real world.
This is one reason why, as much as I love the Tony Awards, as much as I still hope someday to stand on that stage and accept an award, I refuse to measure success with Broadway credits and American Theatre Wing awards.
Every June I sit and think about what it means to be a successful actor. I’m 34, have a master’s degree in performance and playwriting, was trained at an acting conservatory in London and hold a bachelors degree in both theatre and writing. I also don’t have my equity card, haven’t treaded the boards of anything other than an off-off-broadway stage in Brooklyn and when I’m asked, still shake my head “no” when asked if I’m a professional actress.
I think of the high school acquaintance who has a very successful career in musical theatre here in New York City. I think of the undergraduate who arrived in New York City months after graduating and landed an off-Broadway gig. I think of my ex-husband who has a list of television credits that landed him an agent and opened doors to more auditions. I think, I think, I think I could drive myself crazy comparing myself to other artists. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. I’d be kidding myself if I said it didn’t knock at my insecurities to know that I’m not where I want to be and others are.
Does all this mean I’m not successful? I’m not working on Broadway, but I’m working. I work when I can, and work when I can’t. I sit down at the computer after eight hours of day job-ness and write. I get on a train after eight hours of day job-ness and travel an hour and a half to rehearse equally as long for a show that won’t provide a paycheck but will exercise every actor muscle and jump start my soul. I work with other artists and learn and collaborate and am constantly inspired to keep moving. I work. I’ve never stopped working.
And I won’t. I’ll never stop working for the art that makes me feel whole and truthful and alive. I know how big my dreams are and know that there is a lurking reality that I may never find myself onstage at Radio City Music Hall accepting a Tony Award. But I also know that I won’t ever stop running, walking or crawling towards what looks like success to me, and that-THAT- makes me a successful artist.
"People say, everything’s been done, there’s nothing new. I say turn off the internet, combine all the things you love in the world and make something special that’s lasting.” -John Cameron Mitchell, 2015 Tony Awards