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Bertha's List: January Edition
 They say the first two years in New York are the hardest.  

In my case the proverbial “they” are almost always right. I spent the better half of my time desperately grasping for a sense of home and I often came up short. After a whole year of not booking a single acting job I began to doubt not only my talent but my determination. Every unanswered audition chipped away at my confidence and I started to wonder if the path I’d chosen was what I was meant to do. But after my last trip to Miami it seemed like the adjustment period was coming to an end. I was adapting, expanding, settling into the synchronized routine of my days.

I found joy in getting up early for Sunday breakfast when I could settle in the quiet comfort of a cup of coffee and an issue of New York Magazine. Uninterrupted hours of bliss. I relished my frequent visits to the library, walking out onto the city streets with a tote full of words and dreaming up little fantasies. Just as much as I treasured my time with friends I also valued my time alone. It was a good feeling to sit in a café by myself and be completely at ease.

I signed up for New York Cares, a volunteer organization, in the hopes of giving back to the city that had already given me so much. I was also hoping to grow some roots. What better way to balance the egotistical nature of a career as an actor than to spend the afternoons reading to five year-olds or helping someone study for their citizenship exam? And hey, meeting a cute, brown-eyed, altruistic Aquarius along the way wouldn’t hurt either. Clearly my intentions for volunteering weren’t entirely selfless. But I never did get to meet that cute Aquarius or have the chance to bathe shelter puppies or dance with grandpa for his senior prom because it is the well-known secret that life will give you exactly what you want the minute you stop looking for it.

On a cold Wednesday morning I rushed out of one EPA (Equity Principal Audition) to make it to another. I walked for a few blocks and when I couldn’t find the theatre I thought about turning back and going to work early. But I figured since I was already so far out of the way might as well make the last two blocks. I fell in love with the theatre as soon as I stepped into the “cranky” elevator. Something about the way it creaked and moaned its way up to the fourth floor which I found endearing. I hear ya’, buddy, I’m tired too. There was almost no wait time and I made it to work before noon. It was a good day.  As luck would have it I got called back for both auditions. After two years of stagnancy I suddenly had two callbacks. Karma must have confused my return address. I left the callbacks feeling nothing but happy to finally have the validation that only a director’s appreciation can supply. We actors eat that stuff right up. I left the audition room and made a conscious effort to forget it as quickly as possible. Letting go doesn’t come natural to me but I’ve found that it’s a much easier way to live when not attached to results. The callback was satisfaction enough and after a busy day all I really wanted was to snuggle up on my couch with a French movie. The following morning the phone rang. We would like to offer you the role of… I nearly screamed. To think I almost turned back to work instead.

A copy of an Equity card, which I once printed out from the Internet and covered with Wite-Out to re-write my name over it, had been part of my vision board since January 2011. Fast-forward to January 2013 and I sat at a rehearsal table signing my very own AEA contract. It was surreal. After our first week of rehearsal I got my first Union paycheck. I was being paid to do that which I would have gladly done for free. Some time has passed since that first rehearsal and the elevator and I are better acquainted. Let’s just say, I no longer freak out when it takes me to the basement instead of where I meant to go.

In retrospect I see how I needed those two years of lessons more than I needed two years of success. Life would be much easier with 20/20 hindsight. Those two years grounded me. They tested me. They humbled me. They gave me the time to find my footing and figure out the kind of person I want to be. But most importantly they taught me that if you’re lucky enough to get paid to do what you love, if you have at least two friends you can count on to bring you chicken soup, if you have special people that will celebrate your small triumphs with unlimited brunch mimosas, if you have found The One (whether it’s the perfect pair of jeans or the perfect mate), if you can find peace where you are right now (not ten minutes ago or two years from now), if you carry your home in your heart, if family is not just a word but a promise, then you got it all. And baby, can you really wish for more?


“In Texas, we have something we call ‘the Cortez moment,’ which refers to when the great Spanish explorer and conquistador of Mexico came and set up camp and then burned his boats. The phrase ‘burn the boats’ means there’s nothing but forward, onward, no turning back or running home scared. It’s a motto for New York as much as for Texas. When you move here, if you’re any good at all, you burn the boats.”

~Dan Rather, My First New York

Copyright © 2012 Bertha Leal, All rights reserved.
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