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.

Coming Close to Your Audience

Are you frustrated by your audience?

Do you wish you could just shake them and say,
HEY! I’m amazing!  Don’t you see me?

I mean, you are doing SO much work and putting out your
music
words
art

Aren’t they supposed to love and cherish you?

Do you wish they would just do what you WANT?

Wouldn’t it be amazing to just have a magic wand and they would come eagerly running and buy all your work?

You may be scratching your head and asking,
How do the most successful Artists do it?
How do they have raving fans?

Because I imagine, you would love the answer. You could stop exhausting yourself and actually build an audience you love as well that nurtures and promotes your work.

So, how do we go from wanting to control our audience, and feeling frustrated and overwhelmed to actually having them come running to US?

I have to admit something to you.

I have really struggled with wanting things to be different than they are.

For most of my 20 year career as a performer, I felt like I was waving my hand in the air and saying,
PICK ME, PICK ME!

Can you relate?

It felt like I was reaching out with my arms, seeking attention, my arms outstretched, all my energy going OUT.

And then when I would experience rejection, it felt so personal. 
Didn’t they see how badly I wanted this? 
Didn’t they know how much this meant to me?

I was so confused, and in this confusion my answer was just to try harder.  To want it even more…to SHOW them how hard I was working.

I thought if I just tried hard enough, I could control them.  I could WILL them to pick me. I would just place all my energy on being perfect and amazing, so I would stand out.

And I hit a ceiling.  This trying so hard only got me so far.  I thought the rejection would go away.  I thought I would finally book my first Broadway show.  And I didn’t.

I was devastated…..

Do you feel like you are doing this with your audience?
Do you feel like no matter how good you are, it doesn’t matter?

And this whole energy going out went on for years, and affected many other areas of my life where I struggled.

I would want people to be quiet on the train who were speaking loudly into their phones.
When I was dating, I would want the guy to specifically say what I wanted to hear.

And it even seeped into my meditation practice. In a quiet room, I would sit with my sangha in silence and meditate together.  Except sometimes people would fall asleep, or their legs hurt. It would drive me crazy to be sitting still and feeling my mind calm, to be completely distracted by the person in front of me fidgeting.

Oh man….even here I’m struggling.  I can’t seem to get away from this!

Until two weeks ago.

I did a weekend meditation retreat and it was the longest and most intensive retreat I’ve done.  My teachers had given a very specific instruction, which was when I felt myself wander, or difficult emotions arose to simply,
Move closer.

So, I settled in, and sure enough I had someone in front of me who was moving around.  I could feel that voice coming in, judging and saying,
Why are they doing that?
Don’t they know I need stillness?

And then I came close.  Literally….I shifted my energy on them and their actions, and came back to myself, sitting on the cushion.

And I felt something very different in my body, in fact I then had an awareness of how OUT of my body I had been in that moment and how QUICKLY I had gone there. My eyes had actually shifted up towards the person in front of me.

So, I came back to where I was, my actual experience, and lowered my eyes again.  Immediately the judging voice went away, and I felt a relaxation.

This happened again and again, and each time, I just brought myself back to me. 

Each time I would start to obsess on someone’s practice or actions, I would just come back to my breath, to my body in space sitting on the cushion.

And I began to remember and process all those moments as an Artist when I had NO awareness I was doing this,
When I would stay fixated on the choreographer who didn’t pick me
When I would stay fixated on the casting director who was looking at his phone instead of listening
When I would stare at the director during an audition, willing him to pick my headshot
When I would want the audience to cheer and they would barely clap

This was all actually OUT of my control.

And energetically, I was wasting my energy because what really ended up making the difference and caused me to have a total resurgence in my career was when I stayed IN my body and placed my attention more on my experience.

I had always heard my acting teachers say,
You can’t care about what they think…

And this always confused the HECK out of me!  But I DO care!  How am I supposed to audition or perform without my passion?

But, what I realize is they were actually pointing towards,
I can’t control my audience.

In fact, the largest lesson I learned in my divorce is, I can’t control another person.

That energy is wasted, which is why it exhausted me.

When we put all our energy on our audience, we are seeking validation, and validation is a one way trip to disappointment.  No everyone is going to like you or your work, and that’s OK.  This isn’t about pleasing everyone.

But most of all, when all of our energy is placed outside ourselves, we are lopsided.  We’ve all been in the presence of someone who is trying too hard, who just wants attention, and I imagine your reaction in that moment was to turn away.  It probably felt uncomfortable.

As Artists, we really need to learn how to receive, but in order to do that, we need to know how to BE in our bodies.  When you come closer, and stop obsessing about your audience, it means you are coming back home.

You are coming back to who you are as an Artist.  And you need to know who you are.  It may be the most important work you do.

Because when you can sit with who you are, with acceptance, then you will be relaxed.  When you are relaxed, then you feel safe to others.  And when you feel safe to others, they will come TO you.

Look at your marketing.
Look at how you are speaking and showing up to your audience.

Really assess where your energy is, and learn how to build lasting relationships that are healthy, not one-sided.
It begins with you.

Come close.

Photography by: Caitlin Cannon Photography