Actress Anna Cameron: “Let’s create a movement to use drama as therapy”

With Edward Sylvan

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I’ve given this so much thought over the years. I would start a drama therapy program. We already know that theater is therapy, both for the audience and the actor. Catharsis is powerful, empathy is vital, self-awareness and self-discovery are essential elements in a well lived life. I want to bring storytelling, improv, role play, and drama into an accessible setting for all. Drama therapy is not just for individuals who have experienced trauma or mental illness, it benefits everyone. Giving others the opportunity to explore their creative side, and to connect in a safe social setting, that’s my dream.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Cameron. Anna is an actress, artist, and adventurer! Her recent credits include a principal role in Joe Wright’s upcoming film, “The Woman in the Window”. Anna was just nominated for best lead actress in a short film at the London International Film Festival for her starring role as Amy Holiwane in “Birthday Girl”. She has also co-starred in TBS’s “The Detour” and FOX’s “The Following”.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you so much! Well, my path to the industry has been a rollercoaster. I have always performed, starting with ballet, then singing, and later plays and musicals. That’s how I broke the ice when making friends or meeting new people, especially while traveling and living abroad with my family. I learned early on that by exploring characters through acting I was actually discovering parts of myself, which was addictive! But what made me want to pursue acting as a career was the rush I felt in taking audiences through a journey of self-discovery, changing people’s perspectives, and moving them. In my quest to find a more selfless way to practice acting I was introduced to drama therapy. I worked with a group of students at my high school, and later at a local mental hospital I worked with patients affected by schizophrenia. Writing scenes together, reading plays, and playing improv games gave these incredible people a new tool with which to express themselves. I felt like I was making a difference. So, in undergrad I studied acting as well as psychology and biology, eventually designing my own major so that I could study abroad and research psychodrama in New Zealand. After graduation I made the choice to pursue more of the medical side of drama therapy. So, I worked in an Emergency Room as a scribe, planning to apply to med school and get into psychiatry. But, in order to feed my passion I directed plays at my old high school and starred in a local production as Wendla in “Spring Awakening”. Scrubs by day, stage by night! During this time I was also sending out my headshot and resume and was eventually contacted by a scout and manager. They refined my audition skills, headshot, and resume and brought in agents from New York and LA. I was so astonished to have received a contract offer from every agent- maybe I had a chance at this after all? So, I decided to take a leap of faith. I signed with a wonderful agent, quit my jobs, and moved to New York with nothing but a suitcase!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be prepared to fail. The industry is not easy. I had always heard that it would be “hard to break into the industry”, but I truly had no clue it would require so much devotion. Meryl makes it look so easy! You have to learn to face every rejection, every expense, every harsh opinion, with dignity and gratitude.
  2. Be genuine! Figure out who you are, shape your best self, and put that forward every single day.
  3. Be positive. I cannot tell you how many negative people that I’ve met in the industry, putting others down, putting themselves down, putting the industry down. As I said before, it is not easy! It will never be easy. This is a CAREER, and your bookings are earned through hard work, discipline, and passion. If you aren’t getting a rush from auditions or classes, if you feel yourself criticizing yourself, your peers, your coaches or teachers, take a step back and focus on the positive.
  4. Be patient. I went into the industry thinking that just because I had an agent I would have auditions every week. WRONG. Yes, your agent works hard to get you in the door, but you will not get into that door right away. You have to take classes, meet with and make positive connections with casting directors, and then when the door does open you have to have the tools to audition. It may take months, but it typically takes years.
  5. Be resourceful. Your life is an acting class. I’ve worked at a pie shop, in a diner, as a nanny, as a nursing student assistant, a medical scribe, and an acting coach. All of these jobs have helped me prepare and book roles, I just didn’t realize it at the time! Living in England when I was younger, studying in New Zealand, traveling the world and discovering cultures, copying accents, those experiences have helped me prepare and book roles.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

Probably the story of my time shooting as the spokeswoman for a major appliance brand. I was asked four days before the shoot to memorize 22 different commercial spots with no teleprompter. Mostly these were 30 second monologues with some as long as one minute. I prepared by writing down the lines multiple times, making recordings, asking my husband to quiz me any chance I could (thanks, Andrew)! However, the day before the shoot, several of the scripts changed. My only option was to cram new material the night before. The stakes were high for this two day shoot! We had to film 11 spots each day, so I created a system with the help of my amazing make-up artist Joe Rossi and intern Alyssa. As I changed wardrobe, hair, and makeup for the next spot, Alyssa and Joe were running lines with me. When I went to set, I practiced lines while blocking, when getting touch-ups, any chance I could! Thanks to those two, I somehow managed to get every spot to be word perfect in record time. I’m so thankful for that job because it forced me to push myself under pressure and to understand that you have to expect the unexpected in this industry.
 Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, my hair color history has been a hilarious journey. When I was first auditioning for legit work I was a brunette, hair cut above the shoulders, no concrete style (in my hair or my clothes! My first headshot is a riot)! I was auditioning for shows shooting around Baltimore and was picked up for an episode of “Who the (BLEEP) Did I Marry?” to reenact the story of a fiery young housewife with a criminal for a husband. Now when I say fiery, I literally mean she had a beautiful head of “fire engine red” (the casting director’s exact words) hair. So, to get the part I would have to dye my hair red. I thought, “carpe diem!” and rocked an Ariel shade. After my next audition, the casting director said, “you were great, but, can we see you blonde?” And so I went from brunette, to red, to golden blonde, strawberry blonde, and finally an icy platinum by the time I arrived in New York. This lasted until my hair performed seppuku and gave up taking any color. When I explained this to my agent, he was confused, “why are you even changing your hair? Just be yourself”! Just be yourself. What a lightning bolt moment. This entire time I had been suffering from an identity crisis, blending in with my blonde siblings, sure, but not being myself. So, after a massive chop and letting my roots shine through, I have learned to be happily, and unapologetically, me. Will I be asked to change my hair for a role in the future? Possibly. But, that’s what wigs are for!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just worked on a short for Comedy Central with Nick Massey which was way too much fun! Also, I recently finished shooting for “The Woman in the Window” which was so exciting. I’m still pinching myself about it!

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

During “The Woman in the Window” I met and was directed by one of the most celebrated directors of our time, Joe Wright! I could not believe it. Still can’t believe it! I spent the day with Mr. Wright, and then I met Amy Adams. AMY ADAMS! I have been a fan of Amy since I first saw her in “Catch Me If You Can”. I was shaking in my boots! But, she was one the loveliest, kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever met. Most of our time together was rehearsing and working the scene, but we had a few relaxed moments to chat in between. We even had some things in common: we came from military families, we both found Boston accents to be a challenge, and we both loved dogs and spicy food. She is beautiful inside and out and a wonderful role model!

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

You never know which of your experiences will help you professionally- you take on a job to help with the rent and later that job can form a character. For instance, my experience as an Emergency Room scribe helped me obtain elite nanny jobs which paid the rent, and also added to my ability to play characters in the medical field. I know how to pronounce a lot of medical terms now! I can also keep calm in a crisis, which is sometimes what the auditioning process feels like. This industry is rife with tumult- you have to be able to survive and keep going even when you don’t get the part. If you think of this as failure, you won’t be able to pick yourself up, plaster on a smile, and pump yourself up for the next audition. Keep your life interesting and varied, expand your interests beyond the class-rehearsal-audition-performance- rinse-repeat cycle. Know that every side job, every experience, is also training you for an audition. A part where I play a baker? I can do that now! A part where I have to speak in an accent? My travels helped me book a part as an Australian on “The Detour”! So, travel, even if it’s just to a new part of the city. Volunteer to help those less fortunate. Try improv! Take classes. SEE SHOWS! Spend time with friends, especially those not in the performing arts. But, most importantly, stay grounded and humble. Try to focus on the process of your craft and not just the resume you are building. Have a “real” life. Remember WHY you act, and how it is a gift you want to share, not for fame and riches, not for yourself, but for the connections you make with other people.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’ve given this so much thought over the years. I would start a drama therapy program. We already know that theater is therapy, both for the audience and the actor. Catharsis is powerful, empathy is vital, self-awareness and self-discovery are essential elements in a well lived life. I want to bring storytelling, improv, role play, and drama into an accessible setting for all. Drama therapy is not just for individuals who have experienced trauma or mental illness, it benefits everyone. Giving others the opportunity to explore their creative side, and to connect in a safe social setting, that’s my dream.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is “The art of art, the glory of expression…is simplicity” — Walt Whitman. A banner with that quote hung in my bedroom growing up. It was the first, and last, image I saw every day. This was a daily reminder to be true to myself, and to focus on what matters. It became a sort of mantra that I still use today to keep myself grounded.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I will forever be grateful to my family, my friends, and my husband. They have all supported me and given me this strong base from which to launch. I am incredibly lucky to have them on my side! My agent and manager, of course, have helped shape me as an actress and guide me in my career. But the person who initially instilled a passion in me, and who I give credit to for taking the leap of faith that day to leave my job at the ER and move to New York, that was Kathy Schnorr.

Mrs. Schnorr taught drama at my high school, but she was so much more than a teacher. She made the theater a home and she loved every single student. Kathy Schnorr posses this beacon of light within her that has the ability to make others shine. She pushed me to be a better actress and a better person. She was the one who introduced me to drama therapy and started a volunteer group, “A Better Place”, where we worked with other students who were facing challenges and needed help with social skills and confidence building. She inspired me to dream and to believe that I was enough. And her wonderful teaching associate, Harry Langmead, pushed me to think outside of the box, to dig deeper within myself for roles, and nudged me to work at the local mental hospital and explore drama therapy there. Kathy Schnorr is my greatest inspiration.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this…
Honestly, I would LOVE to have breakfast with Jackie Chan. My father and I are BIG big fans. I have so much respect for Jackie’s insane stunt work, physical comedy, and his background in the Peking Opera. Let Jackie know that I’ll be bringing my dad!

How can our readers follow you on social media?



Twitter: @annabcameron

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

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