i'm always seeing people i know on tv. it's the wierdest thing. this one gets a sit com, this one gets another national commercial, that one gets a psa. i'm watching the trajectory of everyone else's career from my couch. actually, that's what got me off the couch and actively pursuing on-camera work. i saw one too many people that i'd done theater with and i thought, i could do that. and as it turns out, i can.
last week was no exception. i was watching oprah the other day while i was doing lots of other things, like checking my email and cleaning house and everything else. there was a promo blurb about the show oprah's big give that caught my eye. a black woman on the show from the series who had caused a bit of controversy. everyone said that she had an attitude, that she was always snapping at people on the phone, that she wasn't a team player, that she had an ego. i stifled a yawn, disinterested. what black woman are they NOT going to say that about?
why did she look so familiar, i wondered. and then it hit me: i know her...it's rachael hollingsworth!
i met rachael quite a few years ago when, after an audition and 3 callbacks, i did a master class for the disney musical "the lion king" wherein they taught us how to sing in several african dialects. for weeks we came in and clicked our way through it. rachael was tall, elegant, beautiful -- and funny. she had a great voice. i remember the african conducting the class kept flirting with her. her sister was a dancer -- also tall and elegant and beautiful -- and was already in the show. rachael was singing regularly with hank lane music and eventually i followed her there and did a few club dates, too. i liked her. i thought she was mad cool.
as it turned out, she was dating larry doberman, a friend of mine who was a broadway stalwart from georgia. larry was the only male negro in that lily-white musical crazy for you -- amongst many others. he has a truly beautiful voice. perfect lilt of a tenor, with range and power and grace. and he could dance -- and tap dance -- his butt off. how did i meet larry? we went through the governor's honors program in georgia together, with a concentration in theater. he's also an excellent photographer. (i'm still using his shots!)
anyway, i recall that rachael and larry were an item for awhile and after they broke up she headed west -- but not before she and i worked on that spectacular catastrophe, Marci X. i couldn't go to LA. i didn't know how to drive and the people -- black, white and otherwise -- freaked me out. so i knew that my transition to film/tv/commercials would have to happen on the east coast. but i distinctly remember telling her a heartfelt good-bye and wishing her well. some time later, i saw her on that courtney cox series dirt with a nice chunk of a role as a fashionista and i thought, good for you. hats off to any black woman in this day and age that can work in LA, no matter what she looks like.
so what was rachael doing on oprah? as it turns out, she was one of several contestants on oprah's big give. she made it all the way down to the final four -- her and three other people. whoa. now i had to stop all that other stuff i was doing and really take this in. this was crazy huge.
as it turns out, she'd gotten booted off the show and she was coming on to do this whole big explanation thing with oprah that continued after the show. ugh!
i saw clips of the controversial episode and as i watched the discussion online, i understood. as a performer, you're pushing yourself out there so hardcore with any opportunity that comes along. especially if you're on the verge. and let's face it -- you're always on the verge. as i watched rachael's interview, i remembered this wonderful interview i read on naomi watts where she was going on about how she was in LA and unknown and her agent/manager/person was reprimanding her because she was going into auditions and the producers that were considering her work could see how desperate she was, and it was turning all of them off. and her friend nicole kidman who was hugely famous, was telling her things like, no matter how bad you think you're doing, there's someone out there who'd love to trade places with you. and she would console herself by saying, okay -- i have a ratty old car, but it runs. i have a ratty apartment, but at least i'm not homeless. and so on.
i'm not sure how ms. watts turned off that "i'm getting old! i'm desperate! hire me!" approach when she would go into auditions, but she did eventually and now she's huge. i think i had that when i first came to nyc but after i finished college and fell into music and songwriting, my priorities shifted and i found myself not caring about a lot of that stuff anymore. my problem, i think, is that i should have shifted to film/tv/commercials a lot sooner, instead of sticking to theater.
i can't even imagine being consumed by "fame" and "money" and "making it" at this point. graduate school is an ever-present possibility and the auditions for on-camera work come and go but right now, all i can think about is getting better at playing guitar and writing better songs. i'm way more interested in developing ideas and writing stuff than i am in being the center of attention.
regardless, i know what that "pushing yourself out there" thing feels like. after awhile, it's like a reflex. so i could understand what happened with rachael and the carnegie hall moment and i could totally relate.
the idea of getting out of the way with your ego so God can work is an important one in Christianity, so this wasn't a new concept. the mechanics of how to do it is what's tricky. i think that oprah was clear with her explanation of what it is and how to approach it -- and in the end, the scenario was much the same as many online "after the show" moments: rachael sat there, nodding and crying and smiling and holding oprah's hand tightly, while oprah went on dispensing new age wisdom and courage, like a modern day yoda.