The last time we met here, in this little corner of the internet, I was chatting about Broadway Bound Live — Katharsis Media’s flagship production and one of the coolest indie projects currently being produced.
I mentioned, in the midst of discussing the life-altering opportunities this show provides for low-income creatives, that I empathized with the contestants because I knew how difficult it can be for a teenager to manage working multiple jobs, taking care of your family, and going to school all at once. I, like the young talents in Broadway Bound Live, spent all my life teetering on the edge of the poverty line — most often falling on the less comfortable side of it.
My high school experience parallels that of the contestants in more ways than one. I started working the moment I was legally able to do so — my career was born the same week as my birthday that year. From ages 15 to 22 there was only one 24-hour period where I wasn’t working at least two jobs, and by 17 I had graduated early so I could work full-time to help my parents with bills and living expenses. (And at 23, the pandemic hit - in case you were wondering what happened there!)
This part of the story feels a bit tedious, uncomfortable — it’s not my favorite part to share, and it’s rarely anyone’s favorite part to read. More importantly, it’s also the least interesting part, in my opinion. In fact, as a teenager and young adult, I didn’t think much about whether or not I would work, where I would work, or what I would do. Sure, there were brief flashes of extraordinary grief and self-pity in those younger years, given the fact my social circle was comprised solely of girls from upper-upper-middle-class families who’s main concerns were centered around boys or the mall. But outside of these typical teenage moments, it didn’t seem that strange to me that I started my career much younger than my friends. I just simply did what I had to do to take care of myself and my family.
This helped: I had the enormous privilege of being raised by educated and extremely creative parents, who were radical in the way they supported and encouraged me as a highly sensitive person and artist. To this day, aside from a healthy amount of friction, I don’t think very much about money because there was never a whole lot of emphasis placed on it. What was important, for my family, was much, much, much deeper than our wallets. (Pun intended!) We worked to get by, that was all.
Here’s where it gets tricky, though. You know how every teenager rebels by fulminating against that which is most sacred to their parents? I was no different than my peers in this arena. A part of me knew that, in the grand scheme of things, money meant nothing to me. So I drowned this part of myself in sugary lattes and snuffed that artistic fire in my belly with more of the same — at 15 I was desperate, most of all, to just be as conventional as my milieu. I flipped the script I’d been given and became a workaholic, planning to slowly claw my way toward a cookie-cutter mansion of my very own. It was never the working that I thought about, only where the working would eventually take me.
This behavior was easy to justify. My family genuinely needed the income, for one. Our culture rewards those who overwork themselves, those who are willing to compromise their health and happiness in favor of productivity, which is a not-insignificant factor, too. And, of course, there’s the whole I-would-have-killed-to-be-able-to-afford-Panda-Express-for-lunch-everyday-like-my-friends thing. Plus, it’s incredible how far people can go on spite alone — especially someone like me.
And, for those of you suffering along with me still, here’s where we get to the point. I genuinely believe that I would have continued working 60-80 hour weeks at menial jobs that meant nothing to me, endlessly, had I managed to skip just two weeks of my life in the middle of summer during my 16th year.
That July was sweltering, but I would have sweat right through my thrifted, but adorable, polka dot dress even in the dead of winter. I checked and rechecked my reflection in the glass doors I was approaching every single millisecond it took me to reach them — always a multi-tasker, I was both monitoring the position of my hair and looking behind myself to see if my mom had driven away yet so I could pivot at the last second and go running into the distance. Thankfully, she was wise to my tactics by then, and waited to ensure I not only entered the building but actually stayed inside.
In fact, she was so wise to my tactics, she apparently could see the trajectory of the path I had put myself on and decided unilaterally that it was unacceptable. Using a paper I had written for a mandated film class, my mom applied for a scholarship to a young filmmakers program on my behalf, and, much to my teenage-chagrin, won.
It wasn’t totally random. That creative impulse I had thought was thoroughly squelched had shone through, just the tiniest bit, when I happened to tell my mom about an editing project I was working on for school. She knew that I wouldn’t take off a day of work, let alone a whole two weeks, and she knew that my sense of self had become so rigid in the creatively-bankrupt suburban community that I’d be dead before I stuck my neck out and applied for some kind of ”arts” program. She also knew there was no way we could afford the cost of this elite production outright, even with my constant working. So she applied for the scholarship and she won and she drove me to this enormous, foreign building and she waited, longer than most would have, to make sure I went in and stayed in.
For those who know me now, as an adult, this story always rings false, and for good reason. Just beyond those reflective doors was a group of people who not only called me an artist — like, to my face — but also nurtured the my burgeoning obsession with editing films until it was obvious enough for me to see it, too. (And then, like editing does with those it chooses, it took over my life.) I had grown so accustomed to the constant implicit shaming that came with being friends with wealthy teenage girls, that I had no idea there were people my age who might actually like me, and adults who might actually value my creativity.
I wrote an essay again, the next year, and won another scholarship. Then I applied to the University of New Mexico for a degree in Film & Digital Media. From that summer forward, I stopped seeing my future in beige and sandstone, and started dreaming beyond the covenant-protected neighborhoods my parents would drive me to on weekends in their 20-year-old car. I started actually, consciously sticking my neck out — joining production crews, making films and doing shoots with my friends, acting and modeling, writing scripts. Now, because I’m still trying to kick that whole workaholic schtick, my 60-80 hour weeks are filled with art and creativity and kindness and innovation and community, not just the same four walls of an office. When I relay this part of my life to close friends, and now total strangers on the internet, we all laugh at the idea that, at one point, my biggest goal was to land smack in the middle of the mainstream — as if I could have been safely contained there.
Despite how silly it seems now, years later, the young filmmakers workshop I did at 16 changed my life. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to let my life be changed, had I not won that scholarship. (Don’t worry, I’ve thank my mother profusely since.) So while it wasn’t quite the Broadway Bound Live finale — I didn’t move to New York to attend the world-renowned American Musical and Dramatic Academy and learn from actual Broadway performers, but I had my own version of that. A smaller, but equally important, personal revolution that came at just the right time.
That’s why I’m so unbelievably passionate and honored to be the project manager of Broadway Bound Live. One of t