There are tons of people who have struggled with the same challenge as you, even if you don’t hear about it. It’s really common in this line of work to feel that you are the only one struggling with a certain issue, and that feeling of being alone can make the core challenge feel exponentially worse by exacerbating feelings of shame and sadness. I’m not immune to this–especially because I came from a corporate background, I feel a lot of shame for putting myself in a financially strained position by pursuing multiple creative and entrepreneurial avenues simultaneously. But every time I share this, it turns out that so many people around me are on the same journey. And just finding out that I’m not alone–and trusting that’s the case even when I don’t have the guts to share something–lifts my spirits.
As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ayelette Robinson. Ayelette is an actor, voiceover artist, and producer. Previously an attorney and multiple award-winning information management professional, she is also the founder of ActorsGuru, a career management tool for actors. Ayelette has been seen on LA’s #1 news station KTLA, the streaming morning show Good Morning La La Land, and Film Daily discussing her award-winning web series The Couch. In 2019, Ayelette was selected for the EMMY® Awards nominations ballot for Outstanding Actress In A Short Form Comedy Or Drama Series for her lead performance in the series, which boasts an innovative structure that allows the viewer to change the narrative in real-time. She is a passionate proponent of advancing the roles and visibility of underrepresented communities both in front of and behind the camera, and is proud to have produced The Couch with a diverse cast and crew. An avid supporter of animal welfare, Ayelette is on the Board of K9 Youth Alliance. She is also a National Latin Ballroom Champion, and a graduate of Brown University and University of Michigan Law School.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Ayelette! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I had an Orthodox Jewish upbringing in Brookline, MA. I was born in Jerusalem but came to the States when I was three years old, so I grew up in the U.S. I went to the same Hebrew Day School, Maimonides, from Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade, and still have some friends who went through all those years with me. I’m very grateful for my religious upbringing and continue to have a deep respect for Orthodox Judaism and all people who hold a close place in their hearts for their faith.
That being said, the community was extremely academic and I never had any creative role models. The lack of artistic professionals around me meant that it never dawned on me to pursue a career in the arts. However, my mother was a beautiful amateur dancer and got me into dancing at a young age — I think I started when I was six years old. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school I studied ballet, jazz, modern, tap, and pointe. I absolutely loved dancing and performing but always felt like a bit of a freak for having an artistic hobby. And, unlike acting for me today, dancing has always felt like a hobby to me, something that I do for an escape and wouldn’t ever want to turn into my career.
When I got to high school, there were two extracurricular activities you could join at my school: basketball and drama. I wasn’t very good at basketball and acting always intrigued me, so I joined the drama club. But we had no instruction, it was just a bunch of kids getting copies of a script, memorizing lines, finding props and costumes, and then selling tickets to some shows at the school.
By the time 12th grade rolled around and it was time to apply to college (it was assumed that everyone would go to college), I knew I wanted to see more of what the world had to offer and I wanted to attend a university that fostered diversity in all aspects of life, supported independent thinking, and encouraged you to be adventurous in your growth. And that’s what led me to Brown University, which was an absolutely perfect fit.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ever since high school, acting had been a seed in the back of my mind but I never considered it as a career path. Many years later, when I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area and actively competing in the ballroom dance circuit, one of my coaches recommended I take an acting class to enhance my competitive dance performance. I didn’t think much of it, but a few weeks later saw a Groupon for an Acting for Non-Actors class! I figured why not try it, and I signed up for the class. I completely lucked out because this class was at a very strong Meisner studio. I knew absolutely nothing about acting so this really was luck.
The moment I started the class I knew that this path — painting stories with my emotions — is what I was meant to do. I was in a very stable career at the time and was not quite sure how I would make the career transition happen, but I knew that I would find a way.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
What’s been most interesting to me since transitioning into acting from my prior career (I used to be a corporate lawyer) has been discovering other people from my past who either have pursued or want to pursue an artistic path. When you’re interacting with corporate professionals, it can be challenging to share that you are an actor. You subject yourself to questions like “What’s your real job?” “What do you really do?” “Have you been in anything I’ve seen?” “That’s what you used your education for?” and all sorts of awkward silences and interactions. Often, the path of least resistance and most self-protection is simply not to share what you do. As I got more confident in my new career choice, I was more open about my pursuits to the people I knew from my prior life and the moments that have moved me the most are when people then share with me that they too have a dream of pursuing a creative profession. It kicks the door wide open for us to talk about what we truly want for our lives and how we can and do go after what we want.
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 this isn’t exactly a mistake, but one of the funniest stories that happened to me was during my first year of training. I had an audition for an independent short film for the role of a mother. The audition sides had two scenes: one that involved me breaking down crying and a second that involved me running across the front lawn of a house. I love to cry so I was very excited to get this audition and I knew I nailed the breakdown scene. Needless to say (in my own mind), I booked it!
A few weeks later, I’m on set and in a car with the director because we’re driving from one location to another. As we’re chatting, he asks if I want to know why he cast me. I enthusiastically said yes! I was sure he would tell me how wonderful my emotional breakdown was. But nope… he said that he cast me because he wanted that lawn running scene to be in slow motion, and, probably because of my dance background, my running was very graceful and he knew it would look great in slow motion. I can’t tell this story now without laughing, but in that moment, my heart sank.
The lesson I learned is that, whether you book a role or not, as long as your acting is good enough to get you considered, the actual reason you do or don’t get cast will probably have nothing to do with your acting. Sure, in rare instances it will. But especially now having been on the casting side of the table as well, I can confirm that the final decision of who gets cast (again, assuming your acting is good enough to put you in the ‘possible’ pile) is almost always based on something that you have absolutely no control over and would have no way of knowing that they’re even looking for.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The two main projects I’m working on now — both of which are exciting — are the web series I produced and star in, The Couch, which launched about a year ago and is still making the publicity rounds. The series, which allows the viewer to change the narrative in real-time, follows a psychology graduate student as she goes through her own counselling with four different therapists. The second project is a feature I’m co-producing and also acting in, Trigger, which is well into development. The script was written by the wonderfully talented and award-winning Tania Meneguzzi and will be directed by the award-winning Elizabeth Blake-Thomas, whose grounded and powerful style immediately caught my attention. Trigger is a thriller about a woman Sarah who, after losing her memory, is taken in by a wealthy colleague she meets at AA. As Sarah attempts to re-build her life, her new friend tries to discover Sarah’s past and finds she may not be what she seems.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
- I’m a firm believer that if you can see it, you can be it. Every person should be able to see themselves on screen and know that they can become anything they want.
- We need to help society see and appreciate the humanity and three-dimensionality of all human beings, no matter their race, creed, gender, age, size, sexual orientation, or anything else that makes them unique and wonderful.
- We can’t do either of the above without a fully diverse array of creatives working at every level behind the scenes — writers, directors, producers, investors, art directors, location scouters, wardrobe designers, assistants, every professional category needs involvement and investment from the full range of humans we are lucky enough to have as part of our society.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Know what you want and be confident enough to go after it. When I first considered becoming an actor after being in the legal industry for several years, the idea seemed crazy. But I realized that no one has to live with my life decisions except for me, and I wanted to be an actor. I can’t imagine my life now if I hadn’t made the switch, and I clearly wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t gone after what I wanted.
- You will survive dozens of ‘failures’ (though I hate that word) for every success. I can’t count on all my fingers and toes many times over the number of auditions I’ve had and haven’t booked, the number of meetings I’ve had or events I’ve attended with industry professionals that didn’t lead to the collaborations I hoped for, the number of “reaching out” efforts I’ve done that didn’t get the response I wanted, and the list goes on! But I would absolutely not have the wins and successes that I have had if I hadn’t worked on, tried, met with, attended, auditioned, emailed all the things that I have. I frequently say that there is no Version 2 without Version 1. You can’t meet the person who becomes an ally if you’re not putting yourself out there and meeting a few non-allies along the way.
- There are tons of people who have struggled with the same challenge as you, even if you don’t hear about it. It’s really common in this line of work to feel that you are the only one struggling with a certain issue, and that feeling of being alone can make the core challenge feel exponentially worse by exacerbating feelings of shame and sadness. I’m not immune to this–especially because I came from a corporate background, I feel a lot of shame for putting myself in a financially strained position by pursuing multiple creative and entrepreneurial avenues simultaneously. But every time I share this, it turns out that so many people around me are on the same journey. And just finding out that I’m not alone–and trusting that’s the case even when I don’t have the guts to share something–lifts my spirits.
- Trust your gut. When it comes to collaborating with people–whether it’s an agent or manager, a fellow creative on a project, or any other partnership where you’ll be working together–you absolutely must trust your gut. I’ve had meetings with people, male and female, where things just felt off. It doesn’t even matter why something felt off. Whether it’s a personality mis-match or physical boundaries have been tested or your visions aren’t aligned, don’t work with that person no matter how much you think they can advance your career. Trust your gut and walk away from that interaction. There are plenty of other people to work with who will lift both your career and your spirit!
- Embrace wherever your journey takes you. I don’t think any of our journeys are what we planned, are they? We can choose to be frustrated or angry or sad about that, or just embrace it and go on whatever adventure the new path hands us. I’m much happier when I choose the embracing option, and it inevitably leads me somewhere new, exciting, and beyond my original plans.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Remember WHY you do what you do, and always find a way to DO the thing that you are pursuing. Meaning if you are an actor, make sure you are actually acting at least every week. Don’t let other obligations and commitments overwhelm you so much that you don’t find the time to do the thing that you are working so hard and sacrificing so much to make happen!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂
Begin every interaction with compassion. When you meet someone, start with the assumption that they have been through as much challenge as you have and maybe more.
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?
My partner has been an absolute rock for me throughout my journey and my career transition. His unconditional support has given me the lift and net I have needed so many times. And he knows how to make me laugh. I’m not the best at remembering specific stories, but I will say that I’m not immune to his perfectly timed puns and his shares of cute animal videos when I’m feeling down.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” — Mikhail Baryshnikov
I want us all to be in this world as our best selves. When I compare myself to anyone, it’s to yesterday’s me. Throughout my creative journey — dancing throughout my life and acting now — I have always been driven by the idea that I want to be continually improving. The moment I read this quotation from Baryshnikov, my heart lifted because someone had put into words the way I had always felt. I am constantly working hard, not to be better than anyone else, but to be the future me that I see in my visions. And I dream of a world where each and every person is the greatest version of themselves, sharing their gifts with the world.
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 just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would be wildly grateful for the opportunity to work with Jason Bateman, Jodie Foster, or Sigourney Weaver. I find their work to have such depth, richness, boldness, and simplicity and for that they are all inspiring to me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am on Instagram and Facebook @ayeletterobinson, and on Twitter @therealayelette.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
Thank you for the opportunity to share my story!