Tonight, my first “Oh my God, this was totally on Broadway once!” show as a member of a main cast opens
Tonight, my first “Oh my God, do not call my phone between 9-10 unless you want to get cursed out” tv show ends.
These two things are intricately related- for me, anyway.
When Scandal premiered on April 5th, 2012, I was weeks away from graduating with my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. I was moving the day after graduation to North Carolina to attend graduate school after deciding some months prior not to stay at Hampton for my 5th year to get my MBA. I had a plan laid out. I’d finish grad school, move home to Chicago and start full time at the firm I’d been with since I was 20. At some point I’d certainly meet a boy, fall in love and get married. I’d slog through being an Associate and in 15-20 years I’d make Partner. I’d make a crap load of money, enough to enable me to travel or buy the things I wanted, or do something else that would actually make me happy.
There. There it was.
Do something that ACTUALLY made me happy.
I wasn’t happy. I didn’t enjoy accounting. On the contrary, I hated math. It was my consistently lowest score on every standardized test since I was a child. I can write and read like nobody’s business, but don’t bring no math round here. I was incredibly unhappy, and deep down I knew I’d made a mistake. But I wasn’t sure how to correct it. I wasn’t sure (or acknowledging it, anyway) what would make me happy.
So I went with the bit. I executed the plan I’d laid out.
But when Scandal debuted. I was obsessed. I loved Kerry Washington separately. I’d fallen in love with Shonda Rhimes 5 years earlier while flicking randomly through the TV and coming across the 3 episode arc of Grey’s Anatomy when Meredith drowns and spends her time unconscious trying to make sense of her life. It was a revelation. Shonda had me then- but she really had me now. A Brown woman, like me, put another brown woman (LIKE ME!!) on TV to whip folks into shape? I was in LOVE. Kerry Washington strutting down the streets of Washington DC as Olivia Pope being a bad ass was a MOOD, ok?
But I didn’t want to be Olivia. I wanted to be KERRY. I wanted to be Shonda.
I wanted to so fully embody a character that people like me freaked out about it and turned their phones on silent when I came on the screen. I wanted to tell stories, I wanted to create, I wanted to be… up…there.
This became crystal clear for me in 2014, when I completed my Masters but before I started my job. Truth be told, if I’d been paying ANY attention before, I might have noticed that there was a reason why, in undergrad, I’d understudied Lion in the Winter, acted in our production of Dreamgirls and my friends’ student run shows and used every free elective in the theater department. There was a reason I played episodes back over and over, studying how characters spoke and how they would react in situations and freaked out when I saw a Grey’s actor in Scandal. There was a reason I researched their histories and what they’d studied in school and how they’d gotten their starts in acting- Jeff Perry was a founding member of Steppenwolf?! I’d been obsessed with Steppenwolf since high school! There was a reason I could exactly remember scenes and episode names, and story arcs and how they moved on screen and their ticks and the clothing and the music and…
There was a reason, There was a reason, THERE WAS A REASON!
I decided after graduation to use my 6 months wisely. Chicago is an awesome place to explore the arts and since I was from here it was the perfect place to test my theory. I’d get a little job, enough to take classes in writing and acting and start getting my feet wet, and maybe when my 6 months were up, I wouldn’t even move to Charlotte. I’d be safely ensconced in my happy place, grinding for my art. But I never fully executed that plan. I went to Charlotte, as planned, and began working at the firm, as planned.
I’ll gloss over my years in Public Accounting. It was bad, I cried a lot and I did a lot of begging and pleading to God.
In 2016, I made a new plan.
Well, not completely new. It contained elements of the old plan, rolled up with a bit of new. I’d quit my job in Charlotte, pack my things and moved home to Chicago. I’d get a little job, enough to start taking classes at Second City and Vagabond. I’d have headshots done, and start auditioning and performing whenever I could in whatever moved me.
This time, I followed through.
And Now. Here. Today. On a day that feels like the first day of the rest of my life, the show that led me from there to here ends. The show that changed my life, that made me wanna be a bad ass and follow my dreams is ending, and for only the second time in 6 years- the first time being last week during tech rehearsal- I won’t be there to live tweet it.
I count it as a blessing. I don’t know if I would be standing here, walking in my purpose, in my passion, were it not for Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes and that fateful meeting with Judy Smith.
I’ll leave things here:
“We know what we’re capable of. We know who we are, who we’ll always be, and we have a choice. We can hide in the shadows, or we can stand in the light.”- Olivia Pope
Thank You, Shonda. Thank You, Kerry.
Thank you for helping me stand in My Light. My Sun.
You Changed My Life.