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What’s Your Story? I’ll tell mine if you tell yours.

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Jessica Leigh Smith1How did you become an actress? I get that question often.  Do you?  I think most people, even other actors, are fascinated with what is in a person that causes them to pursue this life.

My response begins with growing up in a small town in the south, moves into pursuing other fields after college, and ends with another actress “discovering” me and pulling me into it.  It’s a fun story and I do love to tell it.

But I no longer consider that to be “My Story.”  Sure, it is how I entered the professional pursuit, but it is not how I became an actress.

And while I know that being an actress is something I just am, not something I do, this also is not “My Story.”

I actually have a moment in time when I knew it had changed for me.  In 2011, I was cast as Catherine in a local production of A View from the Bridge.  This would be my first play, and therefore my first meaty role, since I had started actually studying how to act.

Mostly, I was concerned with boredom.  See, I had never performed a character for an audience more than two or three times.  I would be Catherine for 12 shows.  I know it isn’t exactly a Broadway run, but 12 was a lot for me.  Could I cry A LOT for 12 shows?  Could I fall in love 12 times?  Could I truly experience Catherine’s life 12 times?

I also wondered if I was good enough to be such a complex character.  I mean, Arthur Miller definitely does not write superficial roles.  I didn’t study this profession in college.  I didn’t spend two years (or any time at all) in an intensive, immersive conservatory program.  I was just little ole me doing the best I could.

So, I went to the read through with a bit of fear.  I went through rehearsals with great excitement.  The tech rehearsal went up and it was electric.  Oh, boy, did I go home that night on cloud nine.

But, no, that is still not “My Story.”

We all came back for dress rehearsal, the night after tech.  I knew the pitfall, the possibility of a letdown performance, so I was determined to not let dress be bad.  And it wasn’t!  It was actually worse.  It started bad and only plummeted downhill.  Intermission was my time to reign it all in, to refocus.  Instead, it went second half, same as the first.  I learned a very big lesson that night.  But no, that is still not “My Story.”

To tell you “My Story” I have to let you in on my little intermission secret for each performance.  See, the second half of that show opens with a very emotional scene for Catherine.  I would need to gather myself the last few minutes of our break by getting into a quiet corner, and kneeling with my headphones and music.  Each night would be different—one night I might experience the full emotion of the upcoming scene through music, one night I might find myself in joyful, streaming tears, one night I found myself overcome in praise to God.

Twelve intermissions, roughly 5 minutes each.  That is 60 minutes that changed my life.  That is where I learned what acting was about—I was there to share Catherine’s story, her viewpoint of what happened to her life.  I was Catherine’s ambassador to the audience so that maybe someone in that audience would see Catherine’s life and take something away that related to his or her own life.

My little corner was where I fully realized that I was in the right profession.  I was meant to be an actress—in whatever form that takes.  In that little corner, I knew I could be proud of the hard work I had put into being Catherine.  I knew I had been created for that moment in time.  I had, of course, been created for many other moments in time, as well, but this was the first time I understood that.

That moment in time was life changing for me.  There were many little details leading up to that role and when you put those tiny things together, you get one great big, beautiful, ordained painting of perfection.

And that, my dear friends, is “My Story.”  I’m sure when asked I will almost always share the first story, but I’ll really be thinking the second.

What is “Your Story?”  When did you truly become an actress?  When did your career choice move from being a career choice to something so grand that only your heart can understand it?  Please share Your Story in the comments; I truly would love to know it.  

Jessica Leigh Smith

About Jessica Leigh Smith

Jessica Leigh Smith can currently be seen running around town in her yoga pants, toting her two little girls everywhere she goes. Being a mommy has played into Jessica’s latest projects, Mommy Parodies. The first is a parody of a song from the movie Frozen, which has reached almost 40,000 views (and climbing) on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86FY-AEdizA. Jessica’s most notable acting roles are co-starring roles on One Tree Hill and Drop Dead Diva. Coincidentally, Jessica was toting her daughters in those roles as well, since she was pregnant both times. In addition to acting, Jessica has co-produced an educational series for actors, called The Dinner Project, putting actors and casting directors face to face. Episodes can be found at http://thedinnerprojectshow.com/. For more about Jessica, the actress, please visit her website, http://www.jessicaleighsmith.com/, and follow her on Twitter, @JessiLeighSmith.