Take time to relax and do things outside of the industry. There is a whole world out there and honestly, sometimes stepping away and having real experiences is gonna make you a better artist.
Make your own work- this can take any form you want. But make things, write things, rehearse things- just for you. It will keep you sane and engaged and who knows where it will go!
As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Whitney Uland & Nora Kaye. Whitney is the creator and star of Janessica, a viral web series, streaming on Amazon Prime. The web series garnered a combined 170,000 views and her script, Janessica’s Guide to New York was selected as a semi-finalist in the 2019 Showtime Tony Cox Writing Competition. As an actor, Whitney’s work can be seen on stage as well as in commercials, television and film. Nora is developing a play, Baby Goes Down, which is premiering in New York this fall. She just returned from Edinburgh Fringe Festival where she acted and played foley for the internationally renowned vaudevillian clown show Beep Boop. Nora is a lead in Happy Camper, a new series in development with Nickelodeon, and performs with sketch comedy and improv troupes in NYC. Whitney Uland and Nora Kaye met playing best friends on a project. Art imitates life or they just bothered each other enough — that they became friends and creative partners. After working together on My Best Friend’s Husband’s Funeral they decided that they wanted to do more projects together and so they did…hence…Hysterical Women. Their short film, The Dingo Ate My Baby, which they produced, wrote and starred in is an official selection of the Austin Comedy Shorts Festival, and the Short & Sweet Film Festival. Dedicated to inclusion and diversity, Whitney and Nora strive to make films/television that is as complex, honest, weird, funny, dark and intricate as the women who make them. They also have several other feature films and series scripts in development.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Whitney and Nora! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Whitney: Thank you for having us!! I am the youngest child in my family and I grew up in Dallas. My parents really encouraged me to try everything — I took dancing and singing lessons but I was also on my high school’s swim team and yearbook staff and was president of the Math Club. I’m really grateful that my parents had me try so many things — I think it’s why I love being part of all the different parts of the filmmaking process.
Nora: Hey — I grew up in a super liberal town in Massachusetts called Northampton where the city motto is “we like our women like we like our coffee- strong.” And as corny as that is — it was a super great place to grow up. My parents also were super encouraging of all the things I wanted to do — and to be honest — it was probably too many — like all the school plays and impov and soccer and a stint as co-class president. I feel like I was just constantly running. But also, it’s the way I liked it! I love that you were the president of the Math Club!
Whitney: Thank you! I tried to be class president but I failed!!
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Nora: I don’t know! I feel like I was making weird plays from the get-go. I remember at a very earthy-crunchy preschool (that was like in the woods?) I would write these VERY long plays. And by write I mean dictate. And then the class would act them out. I don’t remember many of them but I’m sure they were all brilliant. Actually — I do remember that one was a complete rip-off of the Lion King. So I’ve learned to edit and not plagiarize for the most part. It’s important to always be evolving as an artist haha. And when the handheld video camera came around, OH BOY, changed my medium and made some very art new wave pieces about like hauntings and vampires. Used a lot of Ketchup for blood.
Whitney: I always loved making people laugh and I spent a lot of my time as a kid putting on plays and musicals and movies with my sister and friends. Me and my cousins made fake movie sequels whenever we got together. We made Napoleon Dynamite 2 and one time we made a spinoff of The Apprentice where I played Donald Trump! Even as a 10-year-old, I didn’t think very highly of him, so that footage has become even funnier now that he is president. I do remember when I was around 16 realizing that if I wanted to keep acting professionally, I had probably better get started! So I auditioned for Beauty and the Beast at a church in my hometown. I was cast as the Sausage Curl Girl and had exactly one line, but I honestly thought having an audience that big was the most amazing thing ever and knew I couldn’t stop.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In this past year, we have found that this industry is just the highest of highs and lowest of lows. We were under the impression that if you worked really hard then eventually you would get to a level where, you know, a bird doesn’t poop on your head (metaphorically or literally.) But we have found — it’s all a mixed bag. Like one time a bird literally pooped on Nora’s head but later that day we were at a party with Usher. It’s all about balance. We felt really fancy being at Cannes with a short film we produced, but the same film was rejected from a festival in New York. You just never know what you’re gonna get — but it stays exciting.
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?
Whitney: Oh boy. So many mistakes!! When I first got to New York, I definitely had a fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude. In a lot of ways, I still do. But when I first got here, that manifested in me telling my agent that I could do well…anything. So when she first asked me if I was a tap dancer, I said “of course!!” even though I am a VERY poor tap dancer. I figured the director would hear me sing first and then maybe let it slide that I couldn’t really tap. Big mistake. I got into the audition and was surrounded by Broadway-level tap dancers and very quickly realized that you cannot fake tap dancing. The choreographer taught the combination very quickly and I don’t think I picked up a single step! Haha I was pretty humiliated when I had to dance in front of the creative team and my peers — all of whom were much better and more confident than me. It was definitely a lesson in humility — you have to own where you are at! Being a beginner is nothing to be embarrassed about — but lying about being a beginner can get you into a sticky situation. It’s easy to be so desperate for a job that you fudge the details, but there’s so much more power in admitting when something isn’t right for you because then you can focus on the jobs that are right for you!
Nora: weird. I haven’t made any mistakes.
Whitney: Nora’s perfect.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Nora: I’m so so jazzed about a new feature we are working on. It’s like a weird and wonderful mix of nostalgia and whimsy. It also makes me laugh so much which is what I value above most things in a project. We just finished the script and are shooting early next year so you could be seeing it soon too!
Whitney: Agreed!! We also are developing a new series, Hysterical Women, which is a dark comedy about gender in the workplace. We independently produced a pilot episode of the series and have been taking it around to some really amazing festivals (SeriesFest, Catalyst Content Fest, Bentonville Film Festival). We’re excited to continue developing that series as well!
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?
- Everyone should get the chance to see themselves represented on screen. It makes people feel like their stories and selves are valued by society.
- Diversity in films behind and in front of the camera gives us the opportunity to tell stories that actually represent the stories of people in the world. TV and film has such an impact on perspectives- we need all kinds of people telling stories otherwise WHAT IS EVEN THE POINT
- Diversity means we get better films and television thank goooodness
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Resilience — there are so so many small things and if you can try not to sweat them, it’s gonna be easier in the long run. Like sometimes the part you are auditioning for gets cut before you even get in the room. It happens!
- Opinions — everyone has them, some you should take with you. Others, just chuck em! Getting feedback on Hysterical Women really taught us that- we had to learn what advice was useful for the story we were telling and what was trying to tell a different story.
- Type — The industry loves stuffing you into a digestible box, sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not. But at the end of the day you get to make decisions about your career and you are ultimately in control. Nora: I go in for a lot of characters and like quirky best friends. And at first, I was like HEY I can play the ingenue. But I learned to love these characters and who knows — maybe I still will play the ingenue (she’ll probably be a total quirky weirdo).
- People — find people making the things that you like. Find people that want to make work. Find people that are supportive of the work. Get some good ones. Find your Whitney, find your Nora, find a theater company that is making stuff you love.
- Headshots — don’t sweat em too much. Cuz you’ll have to get new ones. You’ll probably have to shoot new ones in six months.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
- Take time to relax and do things outside of the industry. There is a whole world out there and honestly, sometimes stepping away and having real experiences is gonna make you a better artist.
- Make your own work- this can take any form you want. But make things, write things, rehearse things- just for you. It will keep you sane and engaged and who knows where it will go!
You are people 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. 🙂
Nora & Whitney: that’s a lot of responsibility. We’d like to continue to assist this movement in media that is revolutionizing the expectations of what film can be and who has the authority of telling stories. The steps toward equity and diversity in film is great and just the beginning. We’ve got a ways to go and we’re excited to be part of that.
Nora: Also I’d like to be part of a movement where everyone eats Big Pasta. I can’t get too much into it because I’m working on a patent but you’re enticed right?!
Whitney: Mm. Count me in for the Big Pasta movement.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Nora: No one has ever helped me. I did this all myself. I’M KIDDING. I mean, there have been countless people that have encouraged me and laughed at my jokes which is wow very important. But to be TRULY CORNY, and also deeply earnest it’s Whitney. Our creative partnership has allowed me to value my work and my voice more than ever. And the tenacity and vision with which it operates is infectious. She’s the best “yes” woman you can find and a true go-getter. I mean — we were on set for an independent pilot and the next thing I knew we are writing our own. To have her as a friend and ally has been so so huge. And if she doesn’t say I’m her particular person I take it all back.
Whitney: Wow. Well. Don’t mind me I’m just here crying? Um. Okay I’m back. Obviously Nora is also that particular person for me too. Nora is such a good “yes” friend — whenever I have an idea about something crazy — which is…often — she’s always quick to dive right in and make it 10x better and more fun. I think we do a good job of balancing each other out too — I remember one time during a festival I’d had a rough week and was mentally spiraling about…pretty much everything. She took me on a walk and gave me a pep talk and together we yelled about how awesome we are. It was less weird than I’m making it sound.
Nora: No it was totally weird but like EXACTLY what happened.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Nora: “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down” — because no one has time for that. I also like how “The Bastards” can be anything and anyone — even yourself. Honestly, I think this was a quote that I know because I’ve been watching the Handmaid’s Tale. I watch too much TV. But I’m not sorry about it.
Whitney: My dad always told me to not be a victim. I think he mostly meant like stay away from serial killers but it also applies to less dramatic parts of life!! As an actor and artist, it’s really easy to start to believe that you are at the affect of your life — you’re waiting on a call from your agent, or an audition or to get a certain job or whatever. But you can’t wait around having a pity party wondering why no one is calling you. You have to go out and create the opportunities that you want for yourself. I think that’s what I love about working with Nora — she’s always willing to take charge of her career and together we make some pretty awesome things.
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. 🙂
Nora: I literally have more talent crushes thank I can count. But the big time favorite at this moment would be Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She’s creating so much of my favorite work right now (killing Eve, Fleabbag, watch it watch it!!) and is just an epic badass. I’m absolutely not the first person to feel this way — but her series Fleabag totally rocked my world — and exploded the expectations of storytelling, television, character, tone. She’s the raddest, and boy would I love to eat a sandwich with her.
Whitney: I would say Lucille Ball. You probably can’t tag her because she is…deceased. She is truly the OG of creating her own work and making everyone laugh along the way. A lot of people don’t know this but she essentially invented multi-camera comedy and she also invested in the first season of I Love Lucy herself because the network didn’t believe in the show enough to pay for it! This worked out super well for her too because then she owned half of the show and made a killing. She was a shrewd businesswoman and a funny lady. So she’s basically my idol. Also Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Nora: Copy cat…
Whitney: Except I would prefer a brunch with a lot of pancakes instead of a sandwich.
Nora: This girl LOVES pancakes.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can can follow me, Whitney @whitneyuland and me — Nora @nokaye but if you want to follow Hysterical Women, our series, it’s @hystericalwomen!!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!