Allison Page has your name on her list.
Sherlock has Moriarty. Superman has Lex Luthor. Harry Potter has Voldemort. (Uh oh, I probably shouldn’t have typed his name.) And I have some girl named Sheila (that’s totally not her name). Having a nemesis is pretty common amongst both fictional characters and Allisons.
Sheila auditioned for a lot of the same parts I auditioned for – particularly on-camera stuff – and I hated it. I tend to audition, and then immediately put it out of my mind. But it seemed any time I allowed myself to have the thought “BOOOOOM! NAILED IT! ROLL OUT THE RED CARPET AND DRESS ME IN SEQUINS!”, I wouldn’t get the part…I bet you can guess who did. IT WAS SHEILA for those of you with no powers of deduction. It began to dawn on me that Sheila was just a better version of me. Talented. Taller. Thinner. Absolutely gorgeous. Shiny, frizz-free hair. (The hair is what really got under my skin. It was like a beautiful cascade of black velvet that made me want to throw myself into the river.) Fantastic timing. Really funny. Photogenic. Great range. Totally likeable. Comfortable in front of the camera. She was basically my worst nightmare all wrapped up in fashionable clothing and a sunny disposition. That’s the other thing – she seemed really nice. Isn’t that terrible? I wanted to dislike her, and she wouldn’t even let me. I mean, I don’t really know her so it’s possible that she’s just a horrible human being who likes to start fires in orphanages, but everyone we have in common seems to think she’s a sparkling angel and I tend to believe them.
About a year or so after I started considering her a threat, she moved away. I WAS PUMPED. Yes! Get out of here, go be amazing somewhere else! I sort of forgot about her eventually. Then, at a party, a newish friend of mine – let’s call her Juniper – says to me “Ya know, my friend is kind of obsessed with you.” I clearly found this a delightful shock. Naturally, I had to know more.
“What do you mean she’s obsessed with me?”
“Well, she just thinks you’re a better version of her and you’re going to take all the parts she wants.”
Yes, that’s right. The exact thing that I thought about Sheila, someone else thought about me. That’s just bananas. I couldn’t believe it. It blew my mind. I’ve never considered myself a threat to anyone, but now completely unbeknownst to me I was dangling over someone’s brain, stealing parts from her and running off into the night like the Hamburglar!
The truth is, I’ve had nemeses all my life. I sort of enjoy it. Particularly if they have similar aspirations, because instead of sitting around thinking about how much evil they’re doing, I’m actually just shining a light on my insecurities and faults. Yes, I do think that’s a good thing. I can’t be better at something if I think I’m already the best at it. There’s no inspiration there. No reason for growth. But if someone steps up and shows me something I don’t think I can do – then I want to do that thing. I want to figure out why they can do it, and I can’t. Or why I can, but they can do it better. What’s Sheila got that I don’t have, and why do I want it? And what can I do that she can’t? Because I promise you this – there’s always something you can do better than the next guy, no matter how shiny their hair is. Sheila’s existence caused me to try harder. Caused me to look more closely at my goals, and the steps I’m taking to achieve those goals. I’m a better performer because of Sheila, and she doesn’t even know it. (LIKE I WOULD EVER GIVE HER THE SATISFACTION OF KNOWING.)
What would Sherlock be like if not for the existence of Moriarty? A guy who’s always right and has no obstacles apart from his opium use and the fact that he seems to have no sexual interest in anyone? YAWN. I want a hero who’s fighting someone, or some thing, or some force, or some idea, or themselves. Someone who’s striving for something. I want a hero with imperfections. It’s the job of their enemies to toy with those flaws, to exploit them, to test them, to keep them grounded in their fictional reality. Can you imagine what a dick Superman would be if there were no kryptonite? Just a guy with great hair who’s constantly on top of the world? Ugh, gag me. In the end, though I may have labeled Sheila as my nemesis, the truth is that I am my own nemesis, and I always have been. I look for my own flaws and try to correct them, or use them to my advantage somehow. And thank goodness for that, because my own personal forever-plateau sounds like a fucking nightmare. I need the Sheilas of the world to remind me that my work is never done.
I hope that the girl who sees me as her own Sheila is getting something out of it other than daydreaming about throwing me into a volcano as a glamorous ritual sacrifice. I hope that she thinks, “Okay, Allison got that thing I wanted…why did I want that thing, and how can I get that experience somewhere else? Are there reasons she may have gotten what I wanted? Are those things qualities that I’m able to work on, or is it something stupid like her hair is the right color?” (And we all know that sometimes it is totally the hair thing.) I’m completely fine with being someone’s Voldemort if that’s what works for them, though I’d obviously like to think that I’m a nice person and if she knew me she’d be like “Just kidding, I don’t want to kill you!”
Truthfully, when it comes to acting or writing or a bunch of other shit, the only person you can control is yourself unless you have access to a lot of booby traps. You are your own tool, your own instrument of creation or destruction. Make sure you’re tuned up, so that when Sheila comes in, you don’t just hand everything over to her…you give her a good, solid fight. It’s what Harry Potter would do. Don’t try to be Sheila, just learn from watching her. I’ve spoken previously about professional jealousy in a slightly different way, mostly the “fuck ‘em, go your own way and don’t compare yourself to others” idea – which I think is still important, but there’s nothing wrong with observing the other people in your field, and applying those learnings to your own life. Or not applying them if they don’t…well…apply. A lot of times the annoying strengths we see in others are just the weaknesses we think we see in ourselves, and the quality I value most in other performers and writers and humans, is their ability to be self-aware. I can’t buy into a show if it doesn’t seem like the actor really knows who they are and what they’re workin’ with – and that’s what I want out of myself, too. I don’t want to let myself off the hook that way. It actually bothers me if I say, “I’m shitty at this.” And someone immediately pipes up with “NOOOOO, don’t say that!” because it’s important to me to know my weaknesses. You know what’s never going to help you improve? Never admitting that you could use improvement. And sometimes the best way to figure that out starts with grumpily narrowing your eyes at your computer screen when you see that someone got some shit you thought was meant for you. It’s okay; they’re probably doing it to someone, too.
Don’t tear yourself apart for not being Sheila, just be the best you that you can be, and if she can help push you to do that, then that’s awesome. The great art of rivalry doesn’t make you a bad artist or a bad person – it just means you’re human. Sure, it’s nice to say “Let’s all applaud each other and buy each other cakes!” and believe me, I applaud others on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean that I think they’re the only ones who should be achieving that goal. It’s possible to clap heartily while thinking “You win this round, Ra’s al Ghul, but the Bat’s comin’ in hot next year!”
It’s not about feeling bad about yourself or wanting to take people down – it’s about encouraging a drive within you each day. Otherwise I’d just nap for weeks at a time. There’s a reason Sheila doesn’t know she’s my nemesis and that’s because it’s not for her. It’s for me. It’s not to serve her; it’s to serve me.
And it’s just really fun to have your own personal Newman.
You can see Allison acting in MENELAUS at the SF Olympians Festival at the Exit Theater November 7th, and you can see her short play THE GOLDEN APPLE OF DISCORD November 20th as part of the same festival. She’s also on Twitter @allisonlynnpage if you’re into that.