Recently, I pulled a book from my shelf that I haven’t read in many years: The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. I purchased it at my first writers’ conference in the early nineties and used it to help me delve into the art that had been pushed down deep inside. Looking through the pages, I saw the comments I made in the margins and now I think it would be good to go back to using one of the tools: weekly artist dates.
Artist dates are blocks of time, at least two hours each week, when you go, alone, on an outing to nurture your creativity, to replenish images in the well you draw from in your art. My well has felt depleted lately and it’s time to return to that basic weekly practice.
Yesterday, I went on an artist date to the North Carolina Museum of History to see the featured exhibit, QuiltSpeak: Uncovering Women’s Voices Through Quilts. My friend, Mary Belsma Sening, who has been pursuing acting for the past four years, portrays a couple of the women quilters in the video that tells the stories of the quilts. Mary and I have supported each other in going after our artistic dreams. I witnessed some of the fruits of her labors in her polished and convincing performance.
I wanted to know more about how Mary got to this point in her art, and I thought you’d like to hear her story as well. Here are my questions and her responses:
When did you first realize your desire to act?
“Summer of 2015 right after I retired from public school teaching at age 60.”
What factors impacted when you got started?
“The biggest factor influencing when I started acting was time. It wasn’t until I was freed of the need to earn a living that I could declutter my mind from the career responsibilities and ask myself, “If you could do anything and it didn’t matter if it brought in income, what would you like to do?” (I really admire the relatively many people who can pursue an art form while having a career! And if I had to do it over, I might have done it that way.)
What were your greatest fears in following your heart?
“Well, the greatest fear was and still is whether I am a good enough actor to get gigs. But truthfully, that fear has subsided because I realize now that acting like any art form is a process; I mean the normal process is that with hard work you keep getting better. Another fear was the opportunity cost- if I spend 3 or 4 hours a day learning to act, applying for jobs, memorizing lines, etc. then that’s less time for other hobbies and people. Finally, I was worried about the cost. The acting classes, headshots, auditions etc. are not cheap. But I tell myself, it’s cheaper than a hobby of flying airplanes! And truthfully, I was also worried I was too old, but what I’ve discovered is that while there are more jobs for young women, there is definitely a market for baby boomers too.”
What were the first steps you took?
“First I took acting classes- lots of them. Then I had headshots made, wrote an acting resume, secured an agent, created an online Acting Profile, and filmed a Demo Reel. (A demo Reel demonstrates your acting ability to casting directors.) And while completing these tasks I continually looked for acting jobs in theatre and film using various online casting websites.
Who/What encouraged you to keep going when you felt discouraged?
“My husband Heinz and friends- like you Connie. Also kind actors and directors along the way. But mainly an actor has to keep himself going because most of the time after applying, memorizing lines, self-taping or driving to the audition, we don’t get the gig. If we used our spouse or friends to soothe us each time we were “rejected” we’d wear them out!”
What were the biggest obstacles along the way?
Thus far the biggest obstacle has been breaking into an acting market that pays. There are many free acting opportunities out there and an actor could keep doing these all of his/her life. But it takes extra focus and dedication to begin to earn enough money to cover one’s expenses.
How do you feel now about what you’ve accomplished? What emotions do you feel after you’ve completed an acting gig?
I feel satisfied when I look at my acting resume and realize how much I’ve learned performing in the projects listed there. But mainly I feel excited about upcoming acting itself! I’ve recently completed some of the shoots for a film called “Circles” in which I play Shirley- an alcoholic, former singer, single welfare mom who is pushing her daughter too hard to be what she never was able to be. The days shooting Shirley’s scenes are some of the most enjoyable days in my current life. But, in preparation for the shoots this summer I’ve spent three hours each day since April gradually memorizing 50 pages of dialogue. You got love it to do that right?
Anything else you think would help people who want to move toward the art within?
“I like the way you phrased this question Connie by saying “people who want to….” because not everyone wants to move toward a traditional art form such as an actor, director, writer, potter, dancer, singer, painter, photographer sculptor, etc. But everyone, in my opinion, does need to discover and move toward their “thing”- some active activity or hobby that one pursues for fun. Why? Because doing your “thing” is a great way to live joyfully in the present. So my advice would be: Don’t feel guilty if your “thing” costs a little money or takes time away from your responsibilities and other people. In the end, you’ll make people around you happier because you’re happier. And besides, your “thing” is bound to be cheaper than hobby airplane flying!”
Thanks, Mary for sharing your story.
I returned to the weekly artist dates to support my creativity while also supporting my fellow artist and friend. My time absorbing the stories and colors and patterns of those quilts added new images to my diminished well. It gave me a greater appreciation for those textile artist and for Mary who brought her art, and theirs, to life.
How About You?
Is there art inside you that needs to be expressed?
What steps can you take toward practicing your art?
What supports do you have now, and what supports could you develop, to encourage the artist within you?