“I think that anyone who uses their hands to create something out of nothing is well on the way to doing good in this world. Make something. Find the other people that make the things. They are wildly diverse: in age, race, religion, preference, politics — but they all create. And they want to celebrate what you create. And sharing those creations makes all of the other differences fall away for a minute. More of those minutes wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
I had the pleasure to interview Marcy Harriell. An actress by trade — having starred in film, TV and Broadway productions (most notably, in Rent and Lin Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights) — Marcy is a Sewist, founder of fashion blog Oonaballoona, and the host of “Re:Fashion,” a new series on NBCUniversal’s streaming on-demand subscription service Bluprint (it’s like the Netflix of makers, doers and creators). Her upcoming show is a DIY costume series in partnership with DC Comics called Suit Up!, which debuts on October 4th.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Always happy to be asked to dance!
In 2008, New York had become too much for us, so my husband Rob & I packed all of our essentials — which at the time included three cats — in an SUV, and hauled the whole shebang ‘cross country to LA. I taught myself to sew, as a diversion from the nonstop slog of the “biz” there, and blogged about it to keep my East Coast parents close (this was in The Time Before Smartphones). I named this online diary “oonaballoona,” one of the many monikers bestowed upon me by my parents. A few years later, acting work brought us back to our New York home (which luckily, our hearts had grown fond for again). But the “hobby” stuck, and grew into a passion that I kept blogging, instagramming, and twittering about, never thinking it would grow into a career.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I’m going to take a page from Stevie Wonder here: I’m hopeful that the most interesting story is yet to happen, especially since this new path has just begun! I will say that seeing the looks for “Suit Up!” come to life was like having an out-of-body experience. I’m still a little stunned that it all came together, and so proud of it.
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?
Sewing wise, I cut my first pattern out in polyester chiffon, on top of a fluffy down comforter. Oh, the hilarity that ensued! Lesson learned: don’t do that. For those who do not speak sewing, here’s a civilian story:
My first NY television job was Law & Order. (The running joke is, you can’t call yourself a New York actor without a Law & Order credit on your resume!) At the time, I was playing Mimi in Rent, so it was a double-duty kind of thing. I sleepily arrived to the makeup trailer at 5am on a Monday. Shortly after, a very handsome dude entered the trailer, greeted everyone, and took a seat next to me. Putting on my best outgoing attitude, I cheerily asked the Very Handsome Dude if he was playing my boyfriend. “I’m one of the detectives,” he replied, with some confusion. I instantly realized he meant one of THE detectives. The dude was Benjamin Bratt. Later on, rehearsing a scene with Bratt & Jerry Orbach, Bratt gave me some good natured ribbing, and Jerry gave Bratt some right back: “Ben! She’s a theater kid! She’s doin’ eight shows a week, she doesn’t have time to watch television!” And he actually meant it, being a theater kid himself. They were both absolutely lovely.
Lesson learned: Do your homework! Not everyone is is so good natured!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
A new musical by Joe Iconis about the life of Hunter S Thompson…a gown for a red carpet event, involving leather and brocade, and possibly feathers, or maybe pom pom trim…a silk tie and French cuff shirt for Rob, for that same event…a ensemble concert pitting Manilow and Streisand against each other…and the usual handful of roles that I’m not allowed to talk about, until I’m allowed to talk about!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I meet a lot of people in my line of work, as in, people you’d know by name, so I could throw up a laundry list here…but to be honest, I interact with interesting people every day, if I’m open to looking. At the grocery store, in the subway, on set — everyone is fascinating, if you ask the questions. I learned that from my Dad. He will know a person’s life story within three minutes of meeting them. He played in nightclubs where gunfights ended the evening, climbed mountains, drove an eighteen wheeler for twenty-two years, saves pitbulls, and hears music in his head 24/7 (a trait I happily inherited). Everyone is interesting.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
If we’re talking about acting…find a hobby! Something you like to do for fun, that has zero to do with the business. That’s the advice Judith Light gave me when I asked her before that temporary move to LA, and it turned out pretty well. (Judith Light IS the boss.)
If we’re talking about sewing…you got into it because you love to create, not because you love to Instagram. Make the stupidest, wildest, most irrational thing you can think of, just for fun, and *just* for you. And I mean YOU — not your kid, parent, sibling or mate, not your blog, and definitely not for social media! That’ll be there when you refuel.
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.
HAHAAA!! Oh wait, you’re saying I am theoretically a person of great influence. Okay. I’m with you.
I think that anyone who uses their hands to create something out of nothing is well on the way to doing good in this world. Make something. Find the other people that make the things. They are wildly diverse: in age, race, religion, preference, politics — but they all create. And they want to celebrate what you create. And sharing those creations makes all of the other differences fall away for a minute. More of those minutes wouldn’t be a bad thing.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
In terms of acting? I only have one: Be. A. People. Person. I’m not saying you have to be a bar hound, or “schmooze” (one of the worst words in existence). I’m saying: people want to work with people who are fun to work with. Or people who will, you know, not bolt from the theater or set so quickly that you question their existence in the first place. I was shy to begin with, one of those actors who could be naked onstage (and I do mean naked), but happy to hole up and hide offstage. Example: In The Heights would come down at 10:45, and I would be out of costume, and out the stage door, by 10:49. I even beat the audience out of the theater. I loved that cast (and I hope they loved me!), but I missed a lot of chances to get to know them.
On the flip side, in sewing, my alter ego was outgoing, outrageous, ready to organize, start, and stay at the party, until well after last call. That confidence found in online and real life sewing circles helped me come out of my shell more with my stage playmates. And now, I get to bring that personality to life on my series on Bluprint! Being able to say (or rather, shout) “THANKS I MADE IT!!!” when someone compliments you on your handmade dress is a great icebreaker.
But take heed! Once people know you sew, you’re going to get requests. That’s the one thing I wish someone had told me, sewing-wise: Be ready. They’ll expect anything from darning a sock, to making a tuxedo for a dog from a novelty print baby blanket. That doozy came in my first year of stitching. I did not say yes to that dress.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Ooof, nothing will get me to scroll faster than a quote in a square! But, my Mom once wrote the entire lyrics to “The Waters of March” by Jobim on a starry, tissue wrapped birthday present for me. I still have that adorned paper. I love the words and the feeling of that song. Life rolls on.
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?
Two years ago, my husband Rob was listening to me rant about the never-ending stream of people who were surprised to find me pounding the pavement of New York. We’d been back in the city for almost seven years, and still there were directors, producers, even folks I’d recently shared a stage or set with, who were shocked to run into me. Rob suggested that this irritating ball could be in my court — since we’d returned from LA, my sewing alter-ego was where where I’d devoted most of my energy. I was having more fun in my sewing life, and I LIKE to have fun. Any sewist knew where I lived and played — but, they thought of me as “oona,” and they didn’t know my occupation unless they caught me on TV. With all my energy focused on a sewing persona in which I’d cut my work life out of, no wonder people in the business forgot I was around.
That conversation resulted in a name change, or maybe I should call it a name return? That year, on my birthday, I changed all of my social media handles to “@marcyharriell”, and included my real name in my blog title. That sounds trivial, but deciding that I could be both personas, that I could be just as outgoing and fun as Marcy, was a major shift for me. Almost immediately, people were stopping me on the street because they recognized me from a performance, rather than a blog post, or calling me for in-town gigs. That name return married my business and play life, and started the ball merrily rolling towards a new career path I didn’t even know existed. Last year, Bluprint reached out to create the series Re:Fashion, where I host, and get to sew, play, dress, and act just as wild as I please. And the icing on the cake is: Rob’s right there with me. I get to do what I love with the man I love, the guy who nudged me back onto the path. Wildest dreams kind of stuff.
Some of the biggest names in Business, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.
Cookie Monster, please and thank you. In human form, this would be Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. It takes two humans to make a muppet.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter as @marcyharriell, Instagram being my favorite for the visuals that creating craves. You can catch my sewing series on Bluprint at www.mybluprint.com. I still keep up my blog, “oonaballoona by marcy harriell,” (http://www.oonaballoona.com/) where I talk about all manner of things…occasionally coherently.
Originally published at medium.com