Thank You and Goodnight to My Survival Job

Well, Friends, I’ve been busy. This time last year I was in callbacks for Grad School Programs and dreading all things auditions. I was at a very low point in my career in a place where I thought I’d never sing again. Singing was no longer a joy for me, it was a job that I had to do. As I was sitting in callbacks I began asking myself a lot of “why” questions. If you’ve been following the blog since the beginning you’ve certainly read my ramblings on these thoughts as they were first emerging. I couldn’t answer my why questions; “why do I sing?”, “why am I an actor?”, “why am I even pursing this industry?” All of these questions came back with my confusion but what I did know was that I did not want to continue waiting for someone behind a table to validate my art and talent.

I didn’t end up going on to grad school (my wallet is grateful). I launched the blog and started focusing a lot of my creativity onto this medium. I was working a good bit, both with my family that I nanny for, and with the last client I had taken on with Alzheimer’s. I spent a lot of time really focusing on my work with music and how it effects the brain and memory. All of these things led me right back to the place I knew I’d always return, the theater.

Yesterday I said thank you and goodnight to my survival job. This job has been more than a job for me for the past few years. 

As a few of you know, and to my newer readers who do not, I have been working very closely with the effects of music on the brain, specifically as it relates to Dementia/ Alzheimer’s. I’ve been working both on the clinical and enrichment side of this disease. I’ve worked with a few clients over the last four years and have had the privilege of helping write the final chapter to their story. Talk about an honor, however challenging it was. There were days that were so filling and rewarding and days where crying in my bathtub with chocolate was the only answer. (in fact, as I’m writing this I’m sitting in my bathtub with chocolate and a box of tissues.) 

When I first moved to New York I considered this work as more of a “survival job” while I auditioned. A few negative experiences and many failed auditions later, I was becoming increasingly nervous about my skill as an actor. As I mentioned, I was in a place where I thought singing was no longer a skill I possessed. Yet, I’ve been studying voice for over 15 years, during which time I attended a fine arts high school specializing in vocal performance and subsequently majored in musical theater during undergrad, so these negative thoughts about myself were clearly coming from a dark and misguided place.

Having some background in clinical work, it was an easy fit when I took on my first client suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. I had no idea at the time what this work would ultimately mean to me (no longer as a survival job) and the launchpad it was preparing for me as an artist as well.

As an actor over the years I had developed a skill, unbeknownst to me at the beginning stages of my work, that enabled me to connect with my clients in a way that I couldn’t describe at first. That skill is formally known as perception. The literal definition of perception is “the ability to hear, see, or become aware of something through the senses.”

Difficulty with speech is commonly one of the earliest signs of someone suffering from Dementia/ Alzheimer’s Disease. When I meet a new client I often only have non verbal cues to draw from to find a connection with the person. Particularly, in the first few visits it’s important to connect as much non-verbally as possible, and to relate on a level that creates comfort to the person effected by the disease.

I found that years of rejection (with some successes) and having to rely heavily on social cues of those people behind the table in an audition room was particularly useful in my work. Often as an actor it’s two minutes tops for an initial audition so it’s important to stay focused during your audition time (duh), to better understand what works and what doesn’t in the room. And even that can vary. One casting office may prefer pop/rock while another director prefer more traditional musical theater. They don’t often share these things verbally in an audition because the time is limited, so learning these little bits along the way is important, and understanding the non verbal cues helps hone a deep ability of perception.

As I’ve studied how music effects the brain, many more questions have popped up on memory in general. Science has shown that music stimulates multiple parts of the brain, including areas that release mood boosting chemicals, and auditory memory sensors. It also stimulated the prefrontal-cortex, which is one of the last to atrophy in patients with Alzheimer’s, and in turn, this feature is able to help an individual reconnect to certain memories when familiar music is played.

This is another sensory, non verbal queue that can be used to gain insight into an individual and create a “new” memory that they may not fully understand but can feel. It’s pretty cool that something I practice regularly, music, is yet another way to connect with people suffering from cognitive deterioration.

All of the work I’ve done over the years studying the brain closely and identifying aspects that make it work (and not work in the cases of my clients) has brought me back exactly where I began, only with a better, more focused understanding of myself and what I want. It’s become apparent to me that it’s so important to cultivate a balanced lifestyle; curating things that bring joy, peace, and health, while illuminating stress and fear.

As I close this chapter of my life, at least for now, I have nothing but gratitude for the last four years. For the opportunity to learn and grow through my clients and this work. This last year has been a year filled with growth as an individual and as an artist. We are incredibly strong. Our whole system was created to work together so efficiently that by just living a balanced lifestyle and creating as many opportunities for joy in our lives as possible, we will grow into the person we’re suppose to become. For me, taking me back to my first love, theatre, to share more stories and love with others is part of my balance and I’m so grateful for this work that help rekindle that fire.

With a completely new outlook I am happy to share that I have come back to the theater and auditions, welcoming it with open arms and a new understanding of who I am as an artist. The bottom line for me in all of my work is that I want to share with others, be a light and a source of joy, and live fully, with no regrets on the “what if’s?”.

Perhaps soon I will share the balance I try to create for myself in the day to day. But, I want to encourage everyone reading to find something that brings you joy on a day to day basis. Grow in that, learn what that means and how it effects your mind, body, mood, outlook etc. Pursue the things that seem crazy or scary and uncharted. Being an actor in the city is totally scary at times and quitting my job might be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. However, I am certain that my work and time away has prepared me for exactly where I’m suppose to be right now and I’m more excited than to take a big leap.

I can now answer my why questions (which is a whole separate blog) but I encourage you to ask the “why” questions in your own life and search for the answers because the conclusions you’ll come to will only help the person that’s been there all along waiting to find their voice.

I say goodbye to this chapter of my life and know that the job I did was done well and to my best effort. I leave with a full and changed heart and in the end, that’s all I could’ve asked for.

Edit* New York has this beautiful way every so often of reminding you that despite the uncertainty, you’re right where you’re suppose to be. When I left yesterday, I went to treat myself to a coffee for a job well done. The barista there knows my client and I as we frequented that coffee shop. When I ordered she said “you know what, this one is on us today.” The tears streamed.. I shared with her this was my last day with the beloved older lady who came in like a firecracker for her daily coffee. This act of kindness meant more to me than I could put into words but if free (good) coffee isn’t a New York sign then I don’t know what is. Shoutout to Mara the barista for being able to perceive the kindness I needed in that moment…I wonder if she’s an actor…? (:

Much love and thanks for keeping up with my journey,

-E