Magic. Jello. Courage.

“Why do you love magic?” was written across a white board in the middle of an industrial loft space somewhere in Studio City. The first question I was posed two Mondays ago. Asked in all seriousness and not terribly out of line given I was at an audition for one of the largest electronics companies in the world, I paused.
Commercial auditions and I don’t generally get a long. Often posed with seemingly inane questions and asked to bring authenticity to contrived and sometimes absurd scenarios, I’ve had to consciously work on my attitude about it. “Imagine you’re watching a Gorilla walking past your car!” (No, really…that actually happened.) I’ve since relinquished the belief that commercials are fake, but now choose tolook at it as just a slice of life, heightened. With theatrical acting, I’ve usually created such a rich world that when I speak as the character, I speak the truth. Instead of focusing on what isn’t real (in commercial auditions), now I focus on what is real, to me. Instead of gunning to be the fastest little responder this side of the Mississippi, I take a breath and answer, honestly.
Though I generally dislike being able to hear the other actors audition, it ended up being a blessing in this instance. Their responses ranged from canned (“Magic is fun!”) to the discouraging (“Magic is frustrating!”). Seriously?! It made me remember watching Lance Burton on a Vegas family trip (btw, that’s what Angelenos do for family trips…not quite ‘The Hangover’) when I was in elementary school. My sister was sick so it was just my parents and me. I remember sitting in between them being riveted and totally at ease with the unknown; no control. I was okay with it, my parents were okay with it, everyone around us was okay with it…It was this moment of collective allowance for ‘whatever’ to transpire. When the camera pointed at me, I answered easily, “Because magic is all about possibilities! We live in such a predictive society were a phone will finish your sentence or your journey is based on a route it suggests. We always know. With magic, you don’t know what will happen but you know it can be amazing and beyond your imagination!” Something that could be mistaken as delight flickered across the CD’s face in that moment and he fought to keep neutral. I imagine that’s the way truth hits us. When it resonates within us so deeply it penetrates past the filters and barriers—before we can cover. Surprise. I didn’t book that commercial but I left the room feeling great. I still look back and smile about that audition.
Afterwards, I raced over as I’m often apt to do on my Mondays with just enough time to setup up the class & prep some more work for my scene. Heavy, and loaded with references to my personal life, I looked at my scene and put it down instead to have a conversation with my classmate, Jordana. To connect with her, and trust that all the work I had done creating a character that wasn’t me would show up. As other classmates filtered in, we gathered in a circle to discuss the ups & downs of the past week. Though I know I would not be judged, I often power through the tough weeks to reveal a fully fleshed out scene and share ‘gets’ from knocking down my to-do list like a champ. On this day without hesitation, I murmured, “I feel like I’m walking in Jello.” There it was. “Where everything just takes longer and I feel like I’m working hard but I can’t get myself to get it done. I can do what I need to do but no more.” A room filled with silence is an incredible thing to behold. But it was filled with kindness and understanding. Perhaps it was the every day work and energy that is part of my character and thus my reputation, but there was no judgment or disappointment in my inability to “contribute” goals I had met that day. And it’s ironic that was my perception of the week as I had been on set for a guest star role. But oh, the jello.

Oh, I also seemed to have forgotten the premiere of ‘The Mad Ones’, a movie I shot last year with another Penn Alum, Mike! My favorite thing is that he’s so filled with the wonder of it all and humble about the process.  I asked him how it was being the CEO of his company, and all he wanted to do was hear about my acting. You humble me.
Remember that magic I mentioned? I had seen it fade from the eyes of someone who brought it into my life. Someone who filled me with a sense of possibility. Someone who wanted to take the risk and journey into the unknown with me. Like the colors bleeding into the sky, I saw the kindness fade like a beautiful sunset. Those eyes which softened when I asked him why he was interested in VC. The voice that told me what I was doing was brave when I was scared and felt stagnant in a career where I was doing everything and could achieve ‘nothing’. Both now cold, detached, demanding to know. A guarantee of what was to be and how it would be. As he watched me fumble for my artifacts, I wanted to say it was never the car, the house, the name—it’s always just been you. Why are you asking now? The words died on my lips as my confused eyes locked with his. The look of victory well and present. Knowing the easiest, deepest way to wound, he took aim. So, Jello.
How about you, fearless leader?” I asked my teacher changing the subject. And she lovingly and lightly responded, “I’m not fearless. Anything but.” Our class turned silent again. WHAT?! Says the same woman who went to shoot a feature film in Pakistan, raises two sons while producing her own film and teaching class, and runs triathlons as if it’s just another day at the gym?!? “I fear a lot but I just work in spite of it. I believe that’s what courage is; working through the fear.”
There is no shortage of reminders telling me, telling us, to head back the road we came down from because we don’t know what’s ahead – so much to fear – but I’m going to find courage and keep walking even if it’s through Jello. Magic.

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