I wrote the first “How I Got Here” story post in 2011, which nobody asked for. Part Two (The University Years) was added in November 2012. Part Three (The Post-Uni Years) was added in January 2013. We’re up to Part Four now! Read on!
It was April 2008. I was back in London, Ontario, and back to working part-time at the toy store.
I still wasn’t happy though. However, I finally figured out what was missing: theatre. I hadn’t done any theatre for years. So I found the phone book (yes, the phone book! Do people still use that anymore?) and went through the yellow pages for “theatre,” where I stumbled on a listing for the Palace Theatre and London Community Players. I phoned them up and asked if they needed any volunteers, and they said “YES!” — specifically for the LYTE program, aka London Youth Theatre Education.
So that summer, I volunteered as a classroom assistant/assistant stage manager on three productions: Ghosts Don’t Act, Revenge of the Mole Queen, and Scenes from a War. It was a lot of fun, and I was even inspired to write my own show (that would go on to be produced next summer!).
(I am eternally grateful to my mother at that time for her patience with me while I was probably pushing my mooching to the limit.)
The summer volunteering at LYTE led to an opportunity to stage manage a production called Frights of Spring, which was pretty cool. It was a series of four spooky productions in The ARTS Project, and once our scene was finished, we were able to watch the other performances. Stage managing was a great way for me to get back into theatre work, although I really wanted to be able to be involved more creatively. (Stage managers, while a vital part of the theatrical team, don’t generally get to give creative input — they’re meant to be the hyper-organized soul who makes the show actually happen once it’s blocked and set.) I stage managed a few more shows after that, and slowly started getting my name out in the London community. I also moved out of my mom’s condo and into my own place; a bachelor apartment in a very sketchy building. It was the first time I’d ever lived fully on my own.
While working at the toy store, I toiled away at a script that I had pitched to the director of the LYTE program, which would end up being After Alice, a sort-of sequel to Alice in Wonderland where Alice’s children end up in Wonderland. I finished it in time for my second summer (2009) with LYTE, and it was selected to be one of the shows to be produced. I also applied for and successfully earned the position of Production Manager; a paid job where I was in charge of budgets, props, and generally getting stuff done. I was able to contribute to the creative process a bit more (especially on After Alice) and observed first-hand what it took to get a show on its feet in two weeks! On top of that, the toy store allowed me to reduce my hours and work exclusively evenings and weekends so I was able to do both jobs. We produced three shows that summer: The Adventures of SuperMom, After Alice, and Scenes for a War. I also got my first onstage role in London, at the Palace Theatre in a production of Dark of the Moon. I was cast in a two-line role that ended up being a much bigger role after switching roles with another actress… two weeks before the show opened. During that show I met my one of my best friends, Andrew Richardson, to whom I would eventually introduce his wife; and who introduced me to the man who would eventually become my husband!
After the LYTE program finished for the summer, I picked up a second job, working part-time at a children’s hair salon as a “Glamour Girl Party Hostess.” I hosted birthday parties and did “mini-cures,” mini makeovers, and up-do’s. I got to wear fluffy pink feather boas and eat lots of pizza and birthday cake. It was the closest thing at the time to being a cruise staff cast member, since part of the birthday party routine involved a “fashion show” to Hannah Montana and High School Musical music (of which I knew ALL the lyrics, thanks to my Disney training). We got good tips and I picked up some hair and makeup skills from the real stylists. But I had to give up that job when I was promoted to associate manager at the toy store, since they needed me to work weekends and run birthday parties for that store.
Here’s something I learned about being an employee at a toy store: while it’s fun being a salesperson and getting to play with the toys and the kids; being a manager in a toy store is not fun. You are stuck worrying about making sales goals, scheduling, sorting stock, and all that other boring stuff. While my sales staff LOVED working with me (I encouraged dancing in the store), my store manager put me on a “performance plan” because while I was making my sales goals, apparently I wasn’t going “above and beyond.” At the time I was really offended and hurt. By that point I had put years into that store, and this is how I was being treated? However, it ended up being the push I needed to get myself the hell out of there and pursue a job that I would actually enjoy. Looking back on it, I think my store manager was actually doing me a favour. It must have been fairly obvious that I was not happy working there.
The previous director of the LYTE program had moved to Alberta, so the 2010 program director position became vacant. I applied for the position and got it! With that job in hand, I decided to make a very risky move: I resigned from the toy store. I knew that since I had been promoted they would not allow me to reduce my hours like I had the year before, so I worked and saved my money and then gave my two weeks’ notice. Rather than feeling sad, I felt a rush of relief. I knew this was the right decision, despite the fact that I knew the LYTE director job was a contract gig and after the final camp, I’d be unemployed. But I didn’t worry about that. I just wanted to get away from the toy store.
That summer was so much fun. I hired my support staff and managed volunteers, ran games and supervised the kids, and got three damn good shows up on their feet: The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg, Inspector Noble and the Figure in Black (the second youth play I’d written!), and Saving Grace. I also started this blog, and was cast into what still stands as the best show I’ve ever performed in: The Three Musketeers, in the role of Sabine, the younger sister of d’Artagnan.
As the summer of 2010 neared its end, I was getting a bit nervous. Once the LYTE program ended, I was officially out of work, but still had bills to pay. I had already started to apply to retail jobs, although I was dreading the thought of going back to the drudgery of sales. However, the day after the LYTE program ended, I received a Facebook message that would change my life…
Stay tuned for the epic conclusion (thus far!)