I got my first paid acting job at 22. Switching my major from pre-medicine to theatre was a risk that even I thought was insane.
Halfway through my junior year at Loyola University of Chicago, I was up all night cramming for an organic chemistry exam. But I knew I’d rather stay up all night memorizing lines in the back of the theatre. While I was overjoyed when I made this decision, I had no idea what to expect.
You see, I grew up performing but my whole academic life was focused on becoming a doctor. I took the MCAT and had already met my pre-medicine requirements. My parents didn’t force me into this – I honestly wanted to be a doctor. For some reason though, it just didn’t feel right. My heart was yearning for the stage, and my mind was finally catching up to it.
I felt like this was the right thing to do, but I was still freaking the heck out! I’m not freely dancing in the meadow in a flowy floral frock thinking “okay I’m on my way to Hollywood”. It actually feels more like I’m entering a haunted house not knowing where and when the monsters are going to pop out!
I come from an Indian culture where you are expected to work hard and to be successful.
But, If I pursue a career as an actor, there is no guarantee I’ll make it! I don’t want to go all the way to Bollywood either, hoping to find other actors that share my skin color or love of samosas. Surprisingly, my parents are very supportive, but I know deep down that all of this could be a huge mistake.
Collaborating with a community of artists to create something that will encourage viewers to think, laugh, escape, or feel something is important. Shifting from pre-doctor to pre-actor is a big leap, except that I’ll be helping people in a different way.
I’m betting on the chance to learn more about myself and others in this constantly evolving world, breaking down racial and cultural barriers, and doing something different
But when reality hits a few months before graduating with my shiny new theatre degree, I realize I don’t have an acting job lined up.
I had heard, however, that the The Goodman Theatre was seeking a diverse cast for their annual production of A Christmas Carol. A nervous energy ripped through my stomach. That’s when I knew I had to go for it. Whenever my stomach knots, I know I’m scared but scared is good because it means I care. It also means I need to do something about it!
I didn’t have an agent so I decided to simply mail the theatre my headshot every two weeks. It’s springtime and the show won’t start rehearsals until autumn.
I know I have lots of time and I continue to send in my headshot for several months until they announce auditions are taking place. I didn’t get a call.
I could have given up, but I knew there must be another way. So, on a Wednesday morning in the middle of July, I borrow my parents’ car and drive straight to the theatre’s box office in beautiful downtown Chicago.
I ask a staff member, “Can you please please place my headshot into the director’s mailbox backstage?” She firmly replies, “Sorry, I can’t do that. This is where you buy tickets to see shows.”
This was a pivotal moment. The tears come as I tell her, “I live in Wheaton and drove two hours to give you this. I just graduated with a theatre major and I have no idea what I’m doing, but I do know I want to at least have an opportunity to audition for this play. Can you please find it in your heart to simply stick this envelope in the box?” She did.
Okay, okay, I know I sound a little nutty, but this is acting, right? As I drive home I know I’ve done everything I can and I just have to let my fears go.
A few weeks later, I am at work which at the time consisted of hanging Goody hair accessories on pegs in freezing cold grocery stores. When I get the call to come in for an audition I’m not sure if it’s because I sent a zillion head-shots or something else. A few weeks later, I am walking into a giant rehearsal space wearing comfy clothes to dance in. All of my determination pays off and I’ve got my first gig.