What I’m Doing While I’m Not Acting

Like it or not, I have to admit to myself that I am a Type A personality.

For the vast majority of my school career, I was a persistent straight A student, although not the naturally gifted kind that didn’t have to study and just got by by winging it–no, I was the Busting My Ass Nonstop to Make the Grade kind that instead of chatting and creating inside jokes, hid herself in the corner to complete extra credit assignments while waiting for cues backstage. So with all that to say, I bet you can guess what my Tragic Flaw is…

If I was a character in a Greek myth, I would undoubtedly be called “Gina, The Ruthless and Bloodthirsty Perfectionist”.

I realized early on that there is a formula to getting what you want and, as a high schooler, raising my GPA so I could go to a good college (and escape the torture of being an outcast theatre dork at Brentwood High) was all that was important to me. So, my 16 year old brain came up with something along the lines of:

Work hard+Never give up+Follow the rules=You get the grade

When I got to college and started working on my BFA in theatre, I used the same formula, only this time I added: “Be the Best”. In the theatre world it’s not just good enough to show up and work hard, you also have to be something that everyone else isn’t. It’s a mysterious quality that no one can put their finger on, but no matter how seemingly unattainable, Freshman Year Gina was determined to obsess over it, find it, capture it, and use it.

This formula proved to yield successful results in an academic environment, and, I even found myself booking shows and landing contracts upon graduation. When you’re competing for jobs in an extremely formulaic cattle call like UPTAs, SETCs, etc., that whole perfectionist Type A mindset actually has it’s advantages–I was prepared as hell. Not only did I have my pieces memorized like the freckle formation on my right arm, but I also had like ten back up monologues held at my side like secret weapons ready to shoot out “Oh wait, she’s funny!”, “Oh my god, I can’t stop crying at that epically beautiful dramatic monologue!”, or “I’ve NEVER heard that tirelessly overdone balcony speech said nearly as truthfully as the way that girl Gina D’Arco did it.” I vomited over-preparedness all over those hotel room callbacks and shouted “GINA D’ARCO NUMBER 242!” from the passenger seat window as my family drove me away from Memphis, confident that my reign as “The Best” would never end.

Fast forward a few years later and all of this changed about as drastically as one could imagine… The ruthless, bloodthirsty perfectionist in me finally had to slow down–and not by means of a short but restful vacation, but by running headfirst into a brick wall. Think: the scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Harry and Ron are late for the Hogwarts Express and they run full-speed into Platform 9 3/4 and ricochet backwards, tumbling disoriented and dumbstruck onto the ground.

That was me in Philadelphia–repeatedly getting rejected by Platform 9 3/4 for three months when my whole life I had prepared to be a wizard.

The journey into The Singular Most Challenging Time Frame of My Life began with a voicemail asking me to audition for an understudy position as a very well-respected Equity house in Philadelphia. This tiny little 45 second voicemail was a beacon of hope that in the course of an hour and a half (the amount of time it took to call and text everyone that mattered about the news), I had blown up in my head to translate to the actual beginning of my Broadway career. Before I even booked the flight to go to the audition I was daydreaming about telling interviewers that I got my start by understudying and oh my gosh what a miracle because all I did to submit was send a headshot and resume via snail mail 6 months prior and they still for some reason called me in to audition.

Well, my delusions of grandeur were quickly reversed when I realized that if offered the contract, my glamorous stipend would amount to $25 a week, 13 EMC points, and I had to provide my own housing. So this shining, beautiful, career-shaking contract quickly spiraled into what it really was: an apprenticeship; an “educational opportunity” that the theatre can get away with paying me pennies because they are “paying” me in experience and EMC points. Okay, so we can all agree right here right now that a rational person with literally any common sense would probably think that this contract at the very least was not the most convenient (for lack of a nicer and more appropriate word) for a middle twenty something who has A) limited savings, B) has been paid a reasonable salary to do professional theatre in the past, C) a southerner who is NOT used to the brutal cold, D) a person who is used to having her own space to then have to sleep on a couch located in a living space shared with four other individuals, and E) someone who has never, ever spent more than a couple of hours in a major city alone and who also happens to have an introverted disposition. Add on to that having not fully processed a pivotal life transition (my parents moving 8 hours away) and taking a gamble by giving the whole long-distance relationship thing a try. Yeah… it didn’t make a lot of sense. Mentally, emotionally, physically, financially. But let’s remember, a key element in all the famous Greek heroines– a sense of urgency and desperation. Only a person that was truly desperate for change, validation, a sense of direction–you name it, I probably felt it– would be driven by the inner Type A Perfectionist saying “Take it. It’s your only shot.” So, when I got the second phone call about a week later offering me the role, I asked my friends if I could live on their couch, I applied for a part-time job in Philly, and I said yes.

If I continued from here to go into elaborate detail about how hard it was to live on a couch, have to make the decision almost daily between buying lunch or a Lyft so I didn’t have to walk in below freezing weather, working multiple part-time jobs on top of my commitments at the theatre, miss my boyfriend and my family severely, feel a constant sense of low-key terror every time I walked home after 9pm, and to be constantly, constantly surrounded by people but feel so, so miserably alone, well… it would sound like a lot of whining and would probably be much more boring that this compound sentence. So let’s just sum it up briefly by saying that it. Was. Hard. On top of all that, my Type A Perfectionist brain would not let me rest. That would be a complete waste of time! Here I was, only a train ride away from New York City and I’m considering not going to ten thousand open calls? How ridiculous! And with my new EMC card, surely I will be seen at these auditions. I mean, people talk about waiting in line for hours and hours only to eventually be dismissed without singing a single note or speaking a word of text, but that won’t happen to ME. I’M EMC, right?! Before I even boarded the plane to Philly, I had already bought a few Megabus tickets to and from NYC so I could test my luck at a couple open calls. As I typed in my credit card number and clicked purchase, I was absolutely positive that I would book something before returning to Nashville in March.

Spoiler: 3 or 4 auditions turned into a grand total of 46 (film auditions included) and a few bus trips to and from NYC turned into weekly bus trips (mostly leaving the station at 4:45am), multiple rented cars, and an audition tour that spread over 4 states.

Here’s another spoiler: I was called back for 1 out of the 46 and I booked 0 out of the 46.

Pro Tip: The above stated formula for success does not account for one of the most crucial factors in booking a gig in the entertainment industry…luck

Fast forward to mid March and I’m finally back in Nashville–I’ve escaped the hellish cold of Philadelphia during the most brutal time of year, I’m living with my boyfriend, I can finally see glimpses of the sun again, I’m fresh off a wonderful visit to my parents’ new home in Tallahassee, I’m already looking ahead at future audition opportunities and I have a few leads on potential survival jobs… but still, I feel like a bandaid was just aggressively ripped off of me without warning. I feel raw and exposed and I can’t seem to keep straight what season I’m in and where we are in time– but what’s most terrifying about this state of disorientation is that possibly for the first time I have epically and grandly failed. I failed. I went to Philly, I thought this would be an enormous career opportunity and it wasn’t. I auditioned everywhere, I gave everything and I got nothing. And now I have to come back home, Type A Perfectionist that I am, and smile while I say, “It was a difficult contract, but I learned a lot.” When in reality I’m thinking,  “I was so miserable and continue to be so down on myself for it that I still question my self worth and why I even tried”.

I spent the vast majority of March and April trying to figure out the why. Why did I have to go through this? Why did I have to become disillusioned with my chosen career path? Why did I have to be pushed to my absolute personal limit and why couldn’t I go back to before I knew I wasn’t special and thought I actually had a place to fill in this industry? Not to mention, why did I throw essentially every penny to my name at audition after audition to either not get a second look or be told “we have an amazing apprentice program you might be interested in… for $2,500″? Basically, I was mad as hell and worse, I was tired of fighting for myself.

At this point, theatre became similar to an addiction for me. A person consumed by addiction acts impulsively without regard to what is in the best interest of themselves and their loved ones. A person consumed by addiction doesn’t feel validated unless they are indulging in that addiction. A person consumed by addiction repeatedly puts themselves in harmful situations in the hopes that maybe this time there will be a different, more positive outcome– “It’ll be better this time”. It wasn’t until the end of April, after receiving yet another formal rejection email (this time from a film and television agency) that I decided (in the midst of an angry and tearful panic attack) that I needed out of this addiction. I had one more audition scheduled for the season and I canceled it. I had Playbill.com and Audition Update favorited on my phone’s homepage and I deleted the links. I had drafted a few emails with attached audition videos and I sent those directly to the trash. I knew that I needed to quit cold turkey if I was ever going to stop resenting theatre and start loving myself again.

When obsessively auditioning was no longer an option, I had to think, “What do I even like to do in my spare time?” Who the hell am I? Gina D’Arco isn’t just the heading of a resume that I agonized over for hours. I started creating a list:

  • I want to learn Spanish
  • I want to write (plays! This blog! Letters and thank you cards just because!)
  • I want to travel, even if it’s just to the next city over
  • I want to learn to play the ukulele
  • I want to teach
  • I want connection
  • I want to save money
  • I want to be a better listener
  • I want to actually sleep through the night
  • I want to read
  • I want to have enough money to buy pointless frivolous things just because they’re pink and I want them
  • I want to take care of me so I can take care of someone else for a change

And the list gets bigger every single day because I realized that while I was busy pretending to be someone else, there was a whole lotta shit that Gina never got to do.

Long story short: I’m taking an acting hiatus, but it’s not entirely for reasons out of my control. To say “Oh I wasn’t cast in anything” is a passive way out. No, I’m choosing to place regaining control of my life as a priority over continuing to fall deeper into the obsessive Perfectionist spiral.

So, what am I doing while I’m not acting? I’m living.

This photo was taken on my daily walk to work in Fairmount, Philadelphia

5 Replies to “What I’m Doing While I’m Not Acting”

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