Falling With Style: My Failed Attempt To Pursue My Dream Was The Best Thing I’ve Ever Done

In the final installment of her column, Helen puts a bow on her experience of jumping off the corporate ladder to pursue a full-time career in the performing arts.

I started this column a year ago to document my journey towards becoming (in my own words) “employed full-time by the arts.”

Over the course of my investigative process, I did a lot of studying (notably, at ACT’s Summer Training Congress and with Theatre Bay Area’s ATLAS program). I tried a number of styles of performing, from cabaret to children’s theatre, readings to fully-staged productions. I tried my hand at professionally manning other parts of the production: I stage managed; I music directed; I assistant directed. And I even dipped a toe in the waters of arts administration and development at one of the largest Equity theaters in the Bay Area.

Throughout much of this time, I held one or more part-time jobs to ensure a flexible schedule. And to be frank, I would have been financially under water without my partner’s help and encouragement.

Ultimately, I found that the goal I’d set for myself was counter to my true desires. Once my avocation became my vocation, it was more stressful than enjoyable: I could no longer choose projects purely out of enjoyment. I noticed myself wearily considering jobs for their paycheck or resume-boosting potential.

Something was definitely rotten in the state of Denmark, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it better — how to describe what I really wanted. And, wrong as the goal I had in front of me might have been, I didn’t want to give up on it — not after I’d sacrificed so much to go after it.

The answer hit me right in the gut when, at one of the ATLAS sessions I attended, Velina Brown said she practices “heart-centered acting.”

It bopped me on the nose when, through TBA connections, I sat in on TheatreWorks’ auditions and saw sublime work from Equity and non-Equity actors alike.

It goosed me when, thanks to the Theater Pub collective, I finally attended my first Saturday Write Fever and listened to a dozen just-written monologues (and even performed one myself).

And it razzed me right up close in my face when I was asked out of the blue to participate in a reading of The Fourth Messenger with Equity and non-Equity mega-talent all around me.

Now — bruised, sore and one step closer to enlightenment — by George, I think I’ve got it. It seems my ambition is to become a heart-centered actor, and in doing so, create superb art (regardless of my union status, my performance frequency, my ‘type’, or any other malarkey).

My focus for now is on step one of my journey towards heart-centered acting: developing a practice of heart-centered living.


Now, in these last moments before this column comes to a close and my voice rejoins the continuum, I’d like to thank Stuart Bousel for the many jolts of artistic inspiration and introspection he’s provided me: this column, his own tome-like blog posts (can something be tome-like if it’s only in digital form?), Saturday Write Fever, and SF Olympians, to name a few. Thanks for being a creative catalyst for so many people, Stuart.

Helen Laroche (www.helenlaroche.com) is an artist currently living in San Francisco. She bruises easily; probably a B12 deficiency. You should see the other guy, though. She continues to write at www.sayshelen.com and she always loves a good story.

Falling With Style: The Moment I Stopped Caring, It All Fell Into Place

Helen Laroche shares how the last 6 months of not auditioning has done wonders for her career.

When I started trying to make acting a full-time thing last year, I went whole hog. I went out for every audition I could find, regardless of the distance I’d need to travel, regardless of the content of the show, simply to be seen and be cast.

Eventually, I got tired. And then I started undermining myself. I’d set up auditions and then cancel them soon after. One time, I was halfway to an audition 2 hours from my apartment when I realized I’d never feel good about the commute to rehearsal. I called the group, bowed out, and turned around.

I didn’t like the grind of constantly auditioning, constantly clamoring for roles I didn’t even really buy into, constantly driving all over the Bay Area for the chance to win roles that would hardly pay for gas. And I felt so guilty that I didn’t like it. This is the way to become a real Bay Area actor, I thought. This is what I need to do to succeed, to be seen, to build my career. If I really love performing as much as I say I do, then all of the sacrifices should be worth it.

But they weren’t worth it. After a production in January where I’d get home after performance at midnight, only to wake up at 3:45am for my opening shift at Starbucks and then perform a matinee, I was done.

I stopped auditioning, I moved to San Francisco, and I sold my car. I laid low. And then, a funny thing started to happen.

Every once in a while, totally out of the blue, I’d get an audition invitation or a full-blown offer of a role. A few times now, the opportunities that have come my way seemed to have been divined just for me — stories that I needed to be a part of at that particular moment in my life.

This Tuesday, I started rehearsals for the first time since May, for a read-through of The Fourth Messenger (previously played at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley; this time going up for a one-night reading at the Zen Center of San Francisco). As if on purpose, all of my previous hang-ups about the audition and rehearsal process were bypassed: I was cast without an audition, the rehearsal process is less than a week long, rehearsal is walking distance from my apartment, I’m being paid for my work, and I’m surrounded by wonderful local actors, many of whom I’ve seen in high-level Bay Area productions before. And the content of the musical is eerily on point with the current view on my personal development path.

In other words, I couldn’t have written a better story for myself if I tried. Thanks, chaos/God/destiny/FSM.

Helen is a writer and fun-time facilitator (read: event planner). You can read more about her escapades at www.sayshelen.com.