Top of the World in Las Vegas
One night at dinner, I arrived with a photo of my friend and laid it out in front of him and said, “Can I have your autograph?” I smiled sheepishly because he had just appeared in a locally produced tv show and I was proud of him.
He signed it, “See you at the top!”
While this exchange started out as a joke, it has become “our thing” to encourage each other and remind each other that despite hardships & challenges we may face in our pursuit of our dreams, we will see each other at the top of our careers.
I have only been in the acting/talent industry for a little over a year and never imagined myself pursuing such a career that is completely 360 to what I know as a profession: creative, vulnerable, emotional, risky. My professional background is built upon educational leadership that is very logical, pragmatic, cerebral, management orientated – there is an answer and a hierarchy for everything . My experience as an educator is what partly brought me to Hawai`i. But if you really want to know the true answer for what brought me to the islands, it was an ex-boyfriend. While we are no longer together, the one thing that I will thank him for is that he gave me a reason to move away from my comfort zone in San Diego, where I was very content & had all the friends in the world; to a place where I absolutely knew no one besides him and the colleague that brought me to Hawai`i during my interview.
When that relationship didn’t work out – ending even before I moved to the island – I was having lunch with a mentor and shared with her how devastated I was that I moved so far for someone only to discover that it was not meant to be. She looked at me and smiled, “Well Aala, I am proud of you. I know you can’t see it now, but perhaps you didn’t move out there for him. Perhaps he was just an impetus to get you there. The real reason for you being in Hawai`i has yet to unfold.”
Fast forward five year later, I find myself in an acting class with Scott Rogers Studios. I remember my first night there, feeling very out of place, with the infrastructure was announcement/lecture at beginning followed by actors putting up scenes. My first thought was, “Oh no, what am I doing here? I thought this was a beginner’s class. They don’t teach you how to do scenes – you just go up there? There’s no way in hell I am going up there!”
But after a month of sitting around, listening, taking it all in, observing & taking notes, I realized that I only had 2 more months to see if acting was for me. I wouldn’t know if I should pursue acting unless I got up on stage and put up a scene. Let me tell you, acting is not easy. It takes extreme talent and vulnerability to put yourself out there. I was horrified, but excited at the same time, to have the opportunity to see what I could do. I was doing something new, something that I always wanted to pursue, but was too afraid to do it. Thank goodness you can’t see anyone when the lights go down and you’re just doing your scene. Once I was done, I breathed a sigh of relief that I got through it, despite stumbling over my lines, and was ready for the not so fluffy feedback/notes from my coach. But that’s what I needed. I needed someone to give me the hard critique because I know that’s the only way I learn and can improve.
Afterward, just as with any pursuits I have, I wanted to become better and challenged myself with harder scenes that I probably should not have pursued having been such a novice. But the point of all of this, is that acting gives me a creative energy that I have discovered that I would not have been able to pursue while I was in California. I am now in a position where I am able to weave my acting/talent pursuits into my “day job” of education and I am so grateful for this opportunity. I have met some wonderful actors that I value and am proud to call my friends – friends I would not have met if I stayed in my comfort zone of California, let alone in my world of higher education.
I think back on the conversation I had with my mentor and her words regarding why I came to Hawai`i and think, “Isn’t that life…you think you’re on a certain path and an opportunity presents itself to take you on a different path, to lead you to different people that will contribute to your life, so you can grow and learn – even if it’s hard stuff to go through.”
The journey on the path that you choose will never present itself with guarantees, but it is a risk and choice you must commit to, regardless of the outcome. The journey can be scary and you may not want to do it – but what will be the cost if you don’t do it? I almost missed out on an exhilarating opportunity, speaking of going to the top, when my friend wanted to take the XScream ride. Though as I child, I loved the excitement of roller coasters and the thrill of scary movies, I am now afraid of them – I as many of us do, lose the child in ourselves to take risks and go balls out. And while I was afraid to go on this XScream, I did it anyway, because when would I be able to experience this with my friend again? The funny thing is, as I look back on the ride, remembering our thing about “see you at the top,” we literally shot up to the top. There was a moment high up in the air where all the lights were beautiful, as I looked around and just took the peace of it all in – it was bliss – until we shot right back down again. But that moment at the top, comforted me because even though I was scared shitless, I was alright. I did it, I survived. When you put yourself at risk, you need to think about what are you really risking? Okay, so maybe in this instance it was the extreme – my life, the safety bars couldn’t work, etc. – but many times it’s our pride and vulnerability that we are not willing to risk for the sake of pursuing our bliss. I am here to tell you, while I am no Meryl Streep and still need to continue to train, I have put up enough scenes and received hard feedback, but I can tell you that I am still okay. In fact, the critiques have only made me better and more confident in pursuing acting as alternate career.
While I still question why some things happen or why I am faced with certain challenges, I am comforted to know that whatever I am facing is all part of my life path – that what is meant to be, will happen. The key is to listen to the voice that says “Yes, do it – you have nothing to lose,” and ignore the voice that brings you down – because we all have it in us to tell ourselves we shouldn’t or couldn’t do that – it’s easy to listen to the voice that discourages us, it’s safe – it’s justified. But why couldn’t we? I always tell my students when applying for scholarships, admissions to colleges, or career opportunities, “It’s either you or him/her that they’re going to select. Who’s it going to be? Why not be you?”
Exactly, why not be you? Why not have it be you at the top, instead of looking up to those that are pursuing their dreams, their passions? I hope to see you all at the top as well.