Hello again. Been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been half the world away for ENTIRELY too long! Back to the blog and very happy about it.
What a year. I feel like I’ve lived twenty years in one. Central is the best place I could ever have asked for. I’ve found my calling, my people, and my place in the world. I felt like my body caught up with my soul when I moved to London. It has been everything I’ve dreamed of and more. The theatre, the learning, and the lifestyle in England are the best.
So much of me has changed this year. As an actor, of course, but even more as a young woman. I think I’ve finally crossed the threshold from “anxious but ambitious baby” to…still anxious but still ambitious adult.
So, in honour of my birthday, I’d like to take some time to reflect back on the shows that have changed me the most, both this year and the decade or so preceding. With photos! Yay!
THE TOP FIVE SHOWS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
5. Little Women
Location: Triple Rock Theatre
Role: Jo March
Where would I be without you, LW? The people in this show are some of my lifelong friends. I love them all as much as I did nearly five years ago. If nothing else, this show would make the list for the friendships forged alone. The bond we had was so strong, and it helped me learn how important a sense of true ensemble is in a company. We took care of each other onstage and off, and that’s all you can hope for in a company of actors.
But it wasn’t just the people. Playing Jo pushed me into exploring myself as an actress. I am very similar to Jo, but I wasn’t quite comfortable being vulnerable onstage. That wasn’t something I started trying to do until much, much later.
At this point in my life, I was starting to learn not to judge myself as an actor (again, an ongoing process). A memory that immediately springs to mind is my first rehearsal (and first meeting) with our Professor Bhaer, my very dear friend Roman.
I was beating myself up for one line or another, and I apologized to him. And he quipped, “For what? For being an actor?”
I think on that moment often. I remind myself of it in rehearsals sometimes when something isn’t quite right. There is nothing to apologize for when you are trying your best and exploring your process in rehearsal. That’s why they call it a process!
Thank you for letting me know you have to fail in order to keep maturing, and for pushing me to explore instead of hide, Little Women.
Location: Pearland High School
Role: Hope Cladwell
Peetown! One of my all-time faves!
This was my first production at public high school. It was my junior year, and my first year in choir.
Up until this very play, I assumed I would never play an ingenue. Yes, I could hit all the high notes in choir to flesh out the big-ass chords, but I had NO passaggio middle range to speak of (or so I thought). No Cosette for me. Sigh.
And then there was Tinkle Town.
Hope is a soprano. I had a bit of a WTF moment reading that cast list. If there’s a word for being even less than uncertain, I was it. I was bamboozled. I was flabbergasted.
(OK, exaggeration. What else can you expect from a Leo?)
Of course, as these things always are, it ended up being one of the most rewarding challenges I’ve had. With some busting of the ass, some amazing voice lessons from Jack Beetle, and the fear of God struck into my vocal chords, I did it!
I learned that I am in fact quite funny AND a soprano. Double whammy. I learned not to pigeonhole myself into “can/can’t.” Doing that rips away the fun of learning what you’re capable of, and destroys the soil you grow in.
Thank you, Urinetown, for showing me that typecasting yourself is a fool’s error.
3. Thoroughly Modern Millie
Location: Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre
Role: Millie Dillmount
Where can I start? The role? The team? The cast? The fact that it was the role that got me started to thinking I could maybe possibly do this forever?
This is the best musical I’ve ever been in. Bar none. I was rewatching it the other day, and I wish I could be an audience member and watch it for the first time. It was magical. Everyone I worked with in this process was an amazing talent (and way too much fun at the cast party!). Kevin, our director, is an absolute genius, and knows precisely how to pull out of you exactly what you need for the role you’re in. He is a visionary with an eye for the whole story and how to move an audience, never just how to put on a spectacle. The shows I’ve seen of his I never want to see done a different way – he’s that good. Not to mention, he’s probably the nicest man on the planet.
I was the youngest principal in the cast. Fortunately, I had a lot in common with Millie: she has my same sense of humour, fits in my sweet spot vocally, and shares many of my personality traits and fashion sense.
But as I listen and watch back to Millie, I realize so many things I know now as an adult that I didn’t as a teenager. It was a role I really had to dig deep and use my imagination for. I had to step out of relying on my singing if I wanted to do it well. I had to come face to face with my insecurity about (and my fear of) acting
I have always understood her ambition and work ethic, because I’ve always had it. But I didn’t have an inkling of what it’s like to sacrifice everything you have to go after something that might as well be a dream.
I understood what it was like to be in love – I’d fallen in love for the first time at that point in my life. I knew the fun angst that came with it, and the butterflies in the stomach. But it would be years until I really understood being willing to leave your security and safety and love someone, “poor as [they] are”, completely and utterly. To want to share your world with someone for the rest of your life. I just couldn’t understand the intensity of that as a kid.
This especially is clear to me when I watch my baby self do “Gimme Gimme”. I can see it bubbling under the surface, but my emotions were shut in. I was so afraid of being vulnerable onstage because I was terrified of getting it wrong. I used to close my eyes a lot onstage when it would be an emotional or honest scene because I was too afraid to open up. I have been scared for years that my acting would never match up to my singing or dancing, and because the stakes felt so high for me during this run, I had to face it full on for the first time.
Still, when I look back at the tape of this show, I am proud of teenaged MacKenzie. I wasn’t perfect by a longshot, and I had a long way to go compared to my adult castmates. But there was something about my spunky attitude, commitment to the role, and natural instincts that worked. I was fully expecting to cringe looking back at myself knowing all the things I do now about good acting…but I was pleasantly surprised. She was alright, that kid. 🙂
I’d kill to get another shot at Millie one day. Years later, I really feel like I could give myself to the role completely, instead of dipping my toe in.
Walking out during those bows was a top ten lifetime moment, I’ll tell you. The Spirit of Sutton was with me, I’ll testify! 😂
Thank you, Millie, for showing me all I didn’t know, and challenging all I did.
2. The Cherry Orchard (technically not a show, but we’re counting it anyway)
Location: The Royal Central School of Speech & Drama
Ah, Chekhov. I went in thinking I hated you. But you changed my life.
Second term was full of surprises. The biggest of all is…get this…I can act?
Even after getting into Central and having a term under my belt, I told myself and others I was an awful actress. I didn’t know what I was doing. I questioned whether Central had accidentally put my name in and felt too bad to take me out.
Then came Chekhov.
We spent the full ten weeks working on this project. Some of the class did scenes from Three Sisters, and some from Cherry Orchard. I was lucky – I was either one of the only students or the only student to play one character through several scenes. I did three scenes as Varya, who is…not too much like me on first glance. Except she is. Chekhov wrote that she is a “crybaby”. What better role IS there for me?!
For some context: Varya has taken care of the orchard for years while her adoptive mother has been essentially throwing her finances and life away abroad. She is practical, direct, dedicated, and plain. She has been in love with Lopakhin for years, and everyone knows. They tease her for it. He teases her for it (though he loves her, too – he’s just afraid to say).
I did a scene with my “sister”, a scene with my “Mom”, and a scene with Lopakhin. While those first two scenes were fabulous for teaching me simplicity (that is, just saying the damn words and meaning them when you need to), it was the final scene where the penny dropped.
This scene had six lines between Lopakhin and Varya. He has been sent in to propose to her (SPOILER: He doesn’t). The lines themselves don’t say really anything. It was what was happening between the lines that made the scene. My partner and I are still very proud of our work on that one.
It was where I learned I don’t have to do so much. Yes, acting is active and you are always doing something to the other person, but I mean in the physical sense. I feel very free with my body onstage, but I struggle to be still. The time the tutor made me do this scene planted to the spot unleashed a well of emotions I was blocking off by being too active.
I realize now I was so busy onstage because I was afraid of vulnerability, a lifelong habit I am still dismantling. I had so many emotions that this scene was reminding me of that I really wouldn’t confront, and I was so focused on getting it right that I was being selfish onstage and not listening to my scene partner.
When I relinquished control for once, and found stillness, it worked. And it worked again and again.
This unit made me love how rich the characters and stories of Chekhov are, and I think pushed me over the edge of my fear. I finally started to think of myself as an actress, and a pretty good one at that. The more I worked, the more comfortable I became with this idea. I can’t thank Central enough for this time.
Thanks, Chekhov. I drank coffee like water during this period because you wore me out so much, but you taught me stillness is just as powerful as great displays of physical capability.
What the Butler Saw (Central unit on farce & jazz – I found out I can scat!), Clowning (what it says on the tin), Annie, and Into the Woods (both times!).
1. Twelfth Night
Location: Royal Central School of Speech & Drama
I won’t shut up about this one, I know! But it’s the best thing I’ve ever been a part of. For our ensemble, it was what finally glued all 18 of us together. For the first time, we gave to each other as a company, and everyone was able to shine.
I have been a Shakespeare nut for a while. It’s my favourite thing about theatre. It just lights me up, ya know? It makes me happy just thinking about it. It’s a HUGE part of the reason I moved to London. I have always wanted to do it, but I never had the chance until college.
I had about a billion ups-and-downs during this six week process. And for good reason, too: I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder at the start of rehearsals. I got medication after that which helps me stabilize, fortunately. But it was still tough.
This new information, along with the IMMENSE pressure I was putting on my own shoulders drove me, my classmates, and probably my poor flatmate crazy.
I worked my ass off on mastering the text, using the verse to inform my choices, finding my emotional connections to the character, and incorporating a different physicality. I read John Barton’s Playing Shakespeare during rehearsals, and I HIGHLY recommend it for anyone learning Shakespeare. It served as a great tool and reminder of what directors present and past have said about Billy Shakes’ words.
I felt like I really had a handle on clarity of language, but something was missing. And I was so stressed out. I saw my classmates really coming into their own with these characters, and I, admittedly, was jealous. And I knew that my jealousy was so ugly, yet it still hurt to feel like I was the only one failing.
Our director (oh my God, I will sing his praises forever. He’s like British Kevin, and an AMAZING Shakespeare teacher) gave us one-on-ones before we opened. During mine, the first thing he said was: “I’m going to tell you something you’ve probably heard a million times: stop being a perfectionist. It’s the one thing holding you back from getting it right.” He then told me to trust that the work I’d done was in my body & mind already, and let myself play.
A few days later, my favourite spoken voice teacher asked me during feedback for our voice assessments: “Who do you trust?”
Trust. That was what I needed. In myself, in others, in the words I say.
I shared Viola with two other brilliant actresses (Liz & Rumi, who played my little sister in Cherry Orchard as well). I enjoyed watching both of them take on the role, and finding ways to connect all three of our interpretation. Here was another reminder: we were three completely different actresses who happened to play the same part. It was never, ever a competition; it was a joy.
I was the final Viola, so I entered in the middle of a scene with Olivia. Already, the scene is complicated, because there is a section where each word is one syllable, and that requires a significant amount of technique to make clear and understandable. So, entering at the hardest bit is doubly difficult.
Maddie, my Olivia, is a saint for letting me put her through the eight billion times I tried to get this scene right instead of just listening to her. She was fantastic to work with already, but her patience is something that really meant a lot.
Up until the day of the show, I could not get this scene. Something just wasn’t sinking in. It wouldn’t click. The harder I tried, the worse it got. I cried over that scene a million times.
Until I remembered our director’s advice, out loud said, “F*ck it,” and walked on.
That moment, I decided to take a leap of faith in myself and just be Viola for that half hour. And it worked. I was completely present for those performances. I gave myself to it, and trusted that my work would be there. And it WAS!
I found the thing that lights my heart on fire (and not in an indigestion way). And I learned that I have to stop putting so much pressure on myself for things I love, because if I do, I squash my passion and it morphs into a terrible anxiety. And that anxiety can crush my creativity if I let it.
Thank you, Twelfth Night, for helping me learn to be part of an ensemble and trust myself.
In conclusion, all of these processes have led me to take the plunge and actually begin to trust myself. I used to think it’s a mystical thing, trust: somehow, you just begin to feel that way with time. But, like therapy, it’s just a choice to make the changes you need. It’s a difficult one, and one you never stop making. But I feel now as I emerge into real adulthood that I have the power to make that choice. And now, since I’ve made it once, I know it feels better than any time I’ve doubted myself and miraculously done fine. Trusting my work and my heart above all else has brought me my happiest times, and I intend to keep doing it.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for an amazing birthday yesterday! I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated with my life in London, now that I’m quite a bit better at balancing it all. Hope everyone reading this is having a fabulous summer.