I would love to have to capability one day to offer some sort of standard living artist wage for those of us, particularly in New York City, who work so, so hard with the 24 hours we are given in a day and still can never do enough to make ends meet. New York City is the Mecca of the American artistic community (and a lot of the world as well) and yet there are so many artists who can’t even afford to take off from work to go to an audition. I’m sure there are some organizations like this, and of course there are grants for established companies, but for individual artists the pressure of financial stability is crushing, and often the emotional responsibility of disappointing the people we work with at our survival jobs hinders us even further. I know I would have been grateful for something like that, especially when I was right out of school.
As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Magee. Megan is a New York City based actress, writer, and director currently residing in Astoria, Queens. Megan has performed on Off and Off-Off Broadway stages through her ten years in the Big Apple, including BAM, Cherry Lane, Stage 72-The Triad, and St. Luke’s Theatre. She also had the privilege of directing a Manhattan revival of Michele Lowe’s “String of Pearls” at the Arthur Seelen theatre in 2017, and currently is attached to the on-going project “BFF” (www.bffplay.com). More at www.meganmagee.com!
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
-My pleasure! This is always such a complicated question because what brought me to theatre, arts, and entertainment was childhood obsession, to be quite honest. I wanted to be up on a stage singing and making people clap and cry, and I wrote on any career assignment in grade school that I wanted to be “The Next Julie Andrews”. Needless to say I was frightfully ambitious. However, I moved to New York City when I was 18 (with the goal of becoming the next Julie Andrews) and I’ve since learned that the real reason I want to continue a career in theatre arts is that I like people. I really like being around people, talking to people, hearing people talk about their stories, and hearing their response to mine. I think it’s how we process the who we are and how we live, and it’s so important for true happiness.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
– Gosh, I’ve had more than I can count, but one that sticks out that is very industry specific is when I was directing String of Pearls; we had a successful opening night and I attended the following evening’s performance as well. All was going swimmingly until one of our actresses was rushing in for an up-the-aisle entrance and she tripped and fell down, hard. There was a silence, and then another actor picked her up and rushed her off stage, leaving me (from my seat in the third row) to slowly stand up and quietly announce, “Okay, so… we’re going to bring the house lights up and take a quick break… and… I guess I’ll be back in five minutes to let you know what’s happening.” And I had to calmly manage this room while calmly walking backstage, the whole while experiencing utter panic in my head!! Unfortunately, she was pretty hurt. She’d fallen hard and her face had hit the floor so hard that her tooth had chipped. There was simply no alternative; we had to get her a cab home. So over the course of the next ten minutes, we figured out a way to cover all of her parts and cut one scene where she had a meaty role and then we just… kept going. It was absolute insanity. “The Show Must Go On” to the nth degree. Fortunately, she was a real trooper and came back the next evening after a successful dentist appointment and was ready to perform, but that definitely goes down in history as one of the most nerve-wracking experiences in my theatre history.
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?
– Oh just AWFUL auditions! Awful! As in I should never show my face in a rehearsal studio again awful. Going in unprepared with songs or monologues that I thought were good choices that I wasn’t comfortable with, going in and if they said, “Do you have any questions” just babbling until I made up a question to try to sound smart, submitting for things I was just absolutely wrong for, forgetting lyrics and having to start again, or even (I admit) lying about the level of my skill set just to get in the door. Overall, I’ve learned a huge lesson in humility and grace (which every young actor probably needs), it taught me how to laugh at myself, and most importantly it taught me that auditioning is a skill in its own right, and is not to be taken lightly. I still find auditions trying, and I always have to practice a lot more than I anticipate I will. It’s also taught me that staying active in class is a game changer. Auditions seem a little less terrifying when you’re already performing in front of a group of peers once a week or so.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
-I’m very lucky to be director on an on-going project entitled BFF, a dark comedy that explores friendship, morality, and various methods of dismemberment. It’s a new dark comedy by an extremely talented young writer — in fact, she was only 17 when we premiered the play at Winterfest, where the play was nominated as a finalist for Best New Play and also for Best Direction! The play is in its most exciting stages right now. We’ve performed two successful industry readings which have allowed us to accumulate funds and publicity, as well as giving the writer insight for rewrites. It’s incredible being so closely involved with this project as it grows, and our next step is to launch an extended Off-Broadway production. We’ll see where it takes us!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
– The people who immediately came to mind are this wonderful group of self-coined “rapscallions”, The Ophelia Theatre Group. I was fortunate enough to be cast in a production of theirs back in 2014 (Fox and Boulder) that introduced me to a magical group of people, many of whom had been making theatre together since high school, who had travelled from California to New York to try their hand at theatre-making in the Big Apple and they succeeded in so many big ways while remaining the craziest, most loving bunch of loons I’ve ever met. I’m very happy to continue to call them my artistic family, as many of us write, read scenes, rehearse monologues, and even shoot short films together regularly. They’re the kind of people whose love for each other is only rivaled by their love of mischief and laughter. It’s a good group.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
– Gratitude, daily. Just practice, practice, practice. And therapy, which helps with the gratitude! I’ve been the happiest in this work when I am very happy with the life I have, and great auditions, bookings, events, and readings become the cherry on top… and in general the happier I am, the more calmly I pursue my goals and I tend to end up with a lot more cherries.
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 would love to have to capability one day to offer some sort of standard living artist wage for those of us, particularly in New York City, who work so, so hard with the 24 hours we are given in a day and still can never do enough to make ends meet. New York City is the Mecca of the American artistic community (and a lot of the world as well) and yet there are so many artists who can’t even afford to take off from work to go to an audition. I’m sure there are some organizations like this, and of course there are grants for established companies, but for individual artists the pressure of financial stability is crushing, and often the emotional responsibility of disappointing the people we work with at our survival jobs hinders us even further. I know I would have been grateful for something like that, especially when I was right out of school.
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) You will never stop being an artist. — That is first and foremost. Especially in my first few years here if I went through a spell where I wasn’t in a show of some kind I thought my career was over, and that I couldn’t in good faith call myself “an actor”. I now say that is completely untrue, and my ultimate goal as an actor is to seek truth in myself and others and inspire other people to do the same… and I can do that on stage or off. I can call myself an artist as long as I believe I am putting good into the world for the benefit of the people who need it. That can’t be put on a resume. Gigs will come and go. The artist lifestyle will not. I am an artist when I am going to auditions, and I am an artist when I barely check my email and just put my nose to the grindstone to save up cash to make rent. I am an artist regardless of the projects I am working on at any given time. Reminding myself of that has been incredibly liberating.
2) Keep taking class. — It reminds me every week why I wanted to do this to begin with and from a technical standpoint it helps take the pressure off of auditions.
3) Take an on-camera class. ASAP. — Even if you’re bent on pursuing theatre, self-tapes are absolutely everywhere right now, and I book more in person auditions that lead to callbacks after sending a self-tape. I think it helps ease my mind as well because I feel more comfortable on camera than I do walking into a room full of strangers, at least for the initial read.
4) Try your hand at writing, directing, producing, marketing, stage managing, sound and lighting… all of it. — Almost everyone I meet in this industry started as an actor in grade school and they progressed to their current position. And the further and further I go into the professional tiers of theatre and filmmaking, the more collaborative it all becomes. There have been film projects in particular where even if I’m proud of my work, I recognize the scenes I’m in would be absolutely nothing if that lighting design hadn’t been so excellent, or if the camera operator didn’t know how to use the dolly to that effect. Everyone is working together to tell the same story, and acting is really only one part of the game. It’s been the hardest pill for me to swallow because I have such a nostalgic attachment to it, but it’s opened me up to different roles in projects that have brought me such great joy (like directing).
5) Don’t neglect your home, your friends, or your self care. — It can become so easy to hermit yourself away, living in filth, broke and sleep-deprived with no time to see friends because all you’re doing is working, auditioning, and sleeping. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned the value of a clean room, a long bath, and a glass of wine with a friend. Believe it or not, those moments are worth just as much as a sold out curtain call in the grand scheme of things. Cherish both, seek both.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
– “Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” — Haruki Murakami. This relates to another nice little quote my teacher used to say, which is that as actors we “turn our sh*t into gold”. We will have pain in our lives, but whether we choose to live in it is entirely up to us. It’s so hard to see sometimes, but it has freed me up from a lot of self-sabotage I used to hang on to incessantly because it was the only thing I knew.
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?
-Without a doubt my parents. I mean, they let me move to New York City at 18 years old, may God bless them for that. They have stood by me and supported me even when I know they think I’m crazy (because they tell me) and they’ve always accepted the unconventional choices I’ve made as long as I believed they were the right choices for me. They’ve come to see me perform on larger stages than I could have dreamed up, they’ve let me cry to them about college rejection letters and bombed auditions… It’s such a relief, and I know how lucky I am.
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 private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
– I would have to struggle to keep breathing if I could meet with Betty Gilpin or Alison Brie from GLOW. Man, when that show was coming out I just remember thinking “THIS is what I want to do! This is the kind of show I want to be a part of!” and it’s been such a fun ride. I’ve been an Alison Brie fan since Community and I she’s one of my comedic idols until the day I die. Then Betty Gilpin is this tour-de-force who is so open and vulnerable while keeping herself so, so strong and that’s just how I strive to live my life. She released an interview in Hollywood Reporter last August called Why Acting is a ‘Seesaw of Death’ and it was like reading some of my most personal journal entries, and seeing her ability to share that with the world and provide comfort and relatability to me and so many other actors is very admirable.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
– I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! @meganmageenyc for all three — please follow along!