Beyond the Yellow Brick Road

When are you gonna come down?
When are you going to land?
I should have stayed on the farm
I should have listened to my old man

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse
I’m going back to my plough

Back to the howling old owl in the woods
Hunting the horny back toad
Oh I’ve finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road

Some of the most famous lyrics today, and instantly recognizable.  We sing Bernie Taupin’s words and hear Elton John’s voice.

Elton John.
An icon.

Many facts have been known about Elton John, and for over a decade Hollywood was trying to make a biopic of this enigmatic performer.

The wait is over, as Rocketman was released last week, and I sat in a red cushioned seat to learn way more than I knew about him.

And also to see many aspects of myself up on that screen, not all of it pretty.

Have you ever wondered how celebrities make it?
What is the special sauce they have?
Have you ever wondered what the spotlight would do to you?

The movie opens with Elton walking into a rehab facility and saying,
I’m an alcoholic
I’m a drug addict
I’m a sex addict…..

All this while wearing a very outlandish costume as he’s just come from Madison Square Garden. Literally.

So, what went wrong?
How did one of the most talented and successful performers of our time succumb to such depths where he almost died from overdosing, was miserable, lonely, and only getting through shows by being high or very drunk?

Is this what fame does to everyone?
Is it possible to be sober, happy, fulfilled AND be famous?

2009 was a rough year.

12 Broadway shows closed within a week in January, and the regional market where I had made most of my career as a musical theater performer was flooded with Broadway performers needing work.  The country was in recession, and audition after audition I was hearing, NO.

I was waking up to the fact I was not happy in my marriage, and feeling rising panic around my ability to book gigs.

My answer?  To drink….a lot.

I had bonded with a younger crew from my last show in 2008, and they liked to party.  So I joined them…a lot.

My days were disappointing, so having weekends to go out with them was something to look forward to. 

As I was growing away from my husband at the time, it was also a relief to be with this vivacious younger crowd, and not face our marital issues.

I could drink away my own issues of loneliness, confusion, and anger.

I didn’t work as an actress that year at all.  I did have one choreography gig that summer, but that was it.  This was the first time in five years I had not booked performing work.

I didn’t understand why…but more importantly, I didn’t know HOW to look at it.

2010 brought way more work, and things really picked up. By 2012 I was fully booked again, but underneath it all was this disquiet, this unease, and my roller coaster had actually gotten way more extreme.  I was trying to get pregnant, and panicking that it wasn’t happening.

I kept thinking the answer to my happiness was outside of me…in the next gig, in getting pregnant.

I was crying in the shower alone.  My career was doing so well…but I was miserable and scared.

And then the bomb dropped…Thanksgiving Day of 2012 and my husband looked me right in the eyes and said,
I don’t think I want to be married to you anymore.

And everything that had been alive inside me came rising to the surface.
Nothing was going to stop it.
And I didn’t want to.
Clearly what I did before wasn’t working….and I couldn’t hide anymore to the outside world that everything was FINE, that our marriage was GREAT, that I had it all together.

Truth was, I was falling apart.

Finally, on my knees, I stopped.
I listened, and I got help.
Teachers and coaches flooded in, responding to my cries.

They showed me how to let go of the persona, and instead took the time to figure out who the HECK I was.

And something radical happened….my career completely renewed. And the best part?  I was no longer pretending.  I was no longer ACTING.

I was BEING.

Turns out, that is what has the most impact not only for me as an Artist, but on my audience.
Who knew?

The tale of Elton John is very familiar.
Young person comes into fame and gets swept in the chaos. 

And underneath it all is a great pain….which many times comes down to,
It’s not safe to be me.

With Elton, it all stemmed back to his parents, to a narcissistic mother and a father who refused to touch him or show any affection.

Elton was starved.  Starved for love.

As I imagine many of us are.

I remember justifying happiness would come from all those crazy nights out drinking with my friends, and yet I would return home and just feel shame and loneliness.

One of the most powerful scenes in Rocketman is when Elton can hug his younger self and finally give him the love he needed.

What if it’s that simple?

Remember this is about a relationship WITH your audience, not for.

As Artists, we are SHARING our world, our gifts, our translation. We are inviting our audience to our party of self expression.

It can be easy to think or start to believe we are beholden or trapped in a cycle, but that is not sustainable.

Look at countless celebrities who have become addicts.  When your audience is put above your well being, it’s a recipe for disaster.

When you believe your audience will replace the love you never got from your parents, you will experience deep disappointment.

And the beauty is, we now have evidence of so many sober Artists.  They are famous AND have boundaries.

But most of all…they know who they are.

The single most important journey you can take as an Artist is to understand yourself.

And the answers are within.

Not in your audience
Not in a bottle
Not in a pill
Not in a party…..

Within.

Because when you are at peace with who you are, THAT is sustainable.

Now you can stand with confidence and ease, and do your best work.

Beyond the yellow brick road.

Homecoming

“What I really want to do is be a representative of my race, of the human race. I have a chance to show how kind we can be, how intelligent and generous we can be. I have a chance to teach and to love and to laugh. I know that when I finish doing what I’m sent here to do, I will be called home. And I will go home without any fear, or trepidations, wondering what’s gonna happen.”
– Maya Angelou

I have to tell you, last weekend my world was blown wide open. I saw Beyoncé’s Homecoming on Netflix.

Written, directed, and produced by the Queen Bey, the film documents the making of and live performance of her 2018 Coachella Show.

The first black woman to headline the infamous festival, she spent 8 months conceiving an original piece that was not only a love letter to her heritage, but an explosive night of empowerment.

Steppers, dancers, full orchestra, breakers, a baton twirler, back up singers, full drum line…..all on a massive bleacher.

Beyoncé created her own black university up on that stage; alive, proud, unapologetic, and celebratory.

And the film was rich with quotes from prominent black voices like Nina Simone, Toni Morrison, and one of the greatest female writers of our time, Maya Angelou.

I was SO inspired.

And did I mention she created this show after Jay Z cheated on her, a very difficult pregnancy, gaining a ton of weight, and birthing twins?

And none of it was sugar coated. Beyoncé was very open about her fears and doubts. She was raw, free of makeup, and struggling to learn choreography after a long hiatus.

So, we saw this juxtaposition of her dressed as Nefertiti, standing in her power AND sharing the road to this moment.
“I studied my history, I studied my past, and I put every mistake, all of my triumphs–my 22-year career–into my 2-hour Homecoming performance.”

Standing strong, standing confident and saying to the world,
Here I am.

What has stuck with me since seeing the film was when she said,
I wanted to make an environment where no one felt marginalized.

That last word went through me.
Marginalized.
Verb meaning – to place in a position of marginal importance, influence, or power.

Have you ever felt that?

Do you have something important to say?
Do you want to say this with your Art?
Have you struggled with HOW to do this?

I remember for years secretly wanting to be the lead, to create my own show. It had started young, starring in and directing my own version of the musical Annie when I was eight.

Then, choreographing an original ballet to Hans Andersen’s The Little Match Girl in high school.

And when I entered the professional world out of college, I started with guns a blazing. I was on fire, turning down work and working towards my biggest dream.

But over time and with so many rejections, I struggled. While I worked in my profession, I couldn’t seem to step out of the ensemble or playing supporting roles. I started to doubt if I “had what it takes”.

And then I lost everything, my marriage, my home, my car….and I questioned if I was still an Artist. 

But even through the deepest pain, I kept dancing. And I returned to writing. The Artist was still very alive.

So I hired a coach, because I wanted more for my life, and I created my one woman show, my company ZenRedNYC.

I had felt marginalized as a woman in my profession. I had felt I was a dime a dozen, and had to compete to survive. I felt I had to “be what they wanted” instead of spending my time figuring out WHO I was.

I had thought my recognition would come from someone else giving the green light, whether it was a director, or a casting agent, or a choreographer. I never imagined I could actually CREATE it myself.

After my divorce, I was sick of trying to be someone else, or that image of perfection I THOUGHT was going to get me cast and bring me the roles I wanted. Turns out, I had the right idea as a young girl.

I reconnected with that eight year old and took a leap. I started saying what I really wanted to say, raw and real. And to my shock, when I was vulnerable and real, it actually brought people close, AND it opened them to do the same.

Beyoncé moved me deeply because she created this show.

She didn’t wait for permission.
She didn’t ask if it was ok.
She created it herself.

And formed a family around her that shared her vision.

“I’m so lucky and grateful that I’m able to take all these crazy ideas and actually make it into something that heals people; that may spark vision in people, that shows them to dream big, that shows them that they are limitless. It’s possible. If my country ass can do it, they can do it.”

And you can.

It can be so easy to get caught up in believing the gatekeepers hold the reins, but what if you are more powerful than you know?

What if the reins are YOURS to take up?

If someone gave you a permission slip TODAY, and you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do differently?

Art has the power to change the world, one beautiful audience member at a time.  You possess this, because you made a choice to be an Artist.  You made the choice to CREATE. And maybe it’s not even a choice…maybe it just IS.

Because all we have is today.  Your greatest point of power is the present moment.

So, what do you want to say?
What is the show that is dying to be birthed?

Is it a book
Album
Blog
Exhibition….

As Beyonce says,
You are limitless.

Stand beside the great women and men who have come before you to make this moment possible.

Step forward and share your light.

“Tell the truth, to yourself first, and to the children.  Live in the present.  Don’t deny the past…and know that the charge on you is to make this country more than it is today.”
-Maya Angelou