fbpx Living the Dream Podcast # 12 | HowlRound Theatre Commons

Living the Dream Podcast # 12

Ali Stroker

When I was in college studying acting, we were told that there was a tried and true path to being a working actor. A path every actor worth respecting has trodden.

Now that I’ve taught acting for fifteen years, and watched the whole business utterly transform in the wake of all sorts of new developments, I’m wondering if that path we were told about in college still exists.

That’s the purpose of this podcast series. Over the next year, I am going to interview actors from all over. I am asking all kinds of actors to share why they act and how they act, in a world of diminished residuals, rising student loan interest rates, reduced network pick-ups, and a dying regional theatre circuit. How are actors faring as the business both widens its spectrum but also narrows the amount of available work? How did their training help prepare them for each and every day?



Today, I’m speaking with Ali Stroker. She’s currently starring in Deaf West’s acclaimed Broadway production of Spring Awakening. You may have seen her around the trade’s recently—you know, first leading actor in a wheelchair on Broadway, and all that… She’s part-trailblazer, part-advocate, part-instigator and all artist.

Theme song by Chris Martel & Ben Patey.

Matthew: Hello, hi, how the hell are you? This is Living the Dream, subtitled Hi-Diddly-Dee. Sorry, I haven't done the subtitle in a while. And I am the host, Matt Gray, and you're listening to the official podcast of howlround.com, which ironically leads me straight into what I think today's episode is actually all about. The world is changing, people, and mostly for the better. I have little sympathy for the conservative ideals that seem to be screamed out these days rather than reasoned out. Theatre itself is shifting too.

So, to start with today, I want to congratulate HowlRound's own founder, [P] Carl, for being awarded the National Theatre Conference's Person of the Year. [Carl’s] tireless commitment to telling more diverse stories and telling them better, and in more diverse ways, is a shining example of everything the theatre business, and the world, should be aspiring to right now. Congratulations, [Carl]. I can't think of anyone who deserves it more than you.

During the last episode, I mentioned that today would not be part two of my interview with PigPen Theatre Co. That'll be next week. And without spoiling too much, I managed to snag a chat with three other members of the company, so definitely don't miss next week. Instead today, I mentioned that we would have an exciting guest. And she is. Today, I'm speaking with Ali Stroker. She's currently starring in Deaf West's acclaimed production of Spring Awakening on Broadway. You may have seen her around the trades recently. First leading actor in a wheelchair on Broadway and all that. She's part trailblazer, part advocate, part instigator, and all artist—but more of that in just a sec.

I want to take a short moment to recognize a former teacher of mine, Neil Freeman. He passed away last month, and his teaching has lasted with me for years. First and foremost, Neil loved actors, loved them. In fact, having started in Canada and not being exposed to the British masters like John Barton, Neil and his focus of Shakespeare was incredibly intimidating to me, at first, because I thought Shakespeare had to be approached academically rather than intuitively or physically. But Neil's love of actors and his intimate and broad understanding of the text literally changed my approach to performance. His work on the First Folio text is still something I use year after year.

And he used to use this quote on the definition of acting that still resonates with me. He would sort of hunker down and always make eye contact, smile, and in his baritone British dialect, which I won't do right now, he would say, "Acting is why you say," punctuated with a finger gesture, "what you say," another finger, "in the way that you say it." And on that last phrase, he'd kind of release his hands, tilt his head as if to offer you his own deep understanding. He was selfless, kindhearted, and a committed educator. Thank you, Neil. I think I got it. Or at least part of it.

Onto Ali Stroker. Started acting professionally at eleven, trained at NYU Tisch. Maybe you remember her from The Glee Project, then Glee, or Faking It, or the movie Cotton. As I said earlier, she's now on Broadway in Spring Awakening. She also has a dance ensemble. A lot is said about the importance, or even the oppression, of type in this industry. But remember there's always Ali Stroker.

Ali: I was seven years old, and my family had just bought a house on the Jersey Shore on Long Beach Island. And we had neighbors who had three kids, and their oldest daughter was twelve at the time and had just come back from Stagedoor Manor, which is like a performing arts theatre camp in the Berkshires. And she came home from camp and I met her, and she announced to the neighborhood kids that she was going to direct a production of Annie, which I believe she had done at camp. And she cast me as Annie. And that summer I watched that movie musical over, and over, and over again, memorizing all of it. And then we put up the production at the end of the summer on our back deck. And the whole neighborhood came out and bought like tickets. It was so cute. And that changed a lot of things for me that summer, because I really felt a new kind of purpose and passion for the arts, and for singing and acting. And yeah, I became obsessed.

Matthew: Did you go and see plays as a kid? Were your parents theatregoers?

Ali: No, not really. I mean, after that summer, I started to go see a bunch of theatre. But before that, there was always a lot of music in my house, but neither of my parents are performers or in the industry. I think that my mom... I remember Rafi as a little kid.

Matthew: Oh, now, my heart just sort of wiggled a little when you said Rafi.

Ali: Yeah. Right. And I grew up on that. And yeah. I mean, both my parents like music, but not any more than maybe the average person. So it was really something that I think... There's a lot of music in my family, outside of my parents. Like my aunt is a professional musician and on my dad's side, there are some music teachers, but no, there really aren't any performers.

Matthew: Interesting. So when did you decide that acting was what you wanted to study in college, and why did you end up choosing the program that you went to?

Ali: Well, I knew that I wanted to do this professionally basically after that summer. I was so set on being a professional actress and singer. And so I performed all through elementary school, middle school, and high school. And then when it came time to go to college, I was so excited because I wanted, and could, just focus on my performing. And I looked at a bunch of different conservatories, but NYU was really the perfect fit for me as far as who I was as a person.

I remember going to look at colleges and coming onto the campus, and feeling like people sort of were, I don't know, not unfriendly, but maybe a little bit like taken aback by maybe my chair, and I didn't really feel like I fit in. And New York just felt like the perfect place for me. I felt like I could totally be myself. And nobody was staring. There wasn't anybody at campus where everyone was... New York is your campus, and that just felt so appealing. And I came to visit my friend who was a film major, and I stayed over with him and just spent the night. And we had such a great time. We went to the movies and went out for dinner, and it was just living in New York. And I was like, this is what I want. I don't want to be trapped on a campus. So I applied early to NYU and auditioned and ended up getting in early decision.

Matthew: Wow. That's exciting. Do you have any recommendations for other students looking at programs? And the reason I ask is because I've been lucky, I've been able to sort of go to a bunch of them. And the thing that I usually try and say is, it's all about how you feel when you are actually there in front of people. I mean, you can look at the website, but they're all sort of formatted the same with the same kind of language. I mean, I'm curious to hear your recommendations.

Ali: Yeah. I had the most amazing experience with NYU. I do not think NYU is for everyone at all. And that is the thing about college is that people can rank colleges and say, "Oh, these are the best," but that doesn't exist. It's what's best for you. So the best way to find the right school, in my opinion, is to go and spend a night. And then talk to people who are in the theatre program, or whatever program you want to be in, and see if you can sit in on some classes. It's not about even really liking it as much as it's, can you imagine yourself there?

Matthew: Right. Right.

Ali: And I guess those go hand in hand, but yeah, I just feel like if you... You can want to go to a college because your idol has gone there, or because they are ranked really well, or there are teachers and opportunities there, but if you don't feel right at the school, it doesn't matter. So, yeah, I think it's a little bit what you were saying, it's all about being there and seeing if you're comfortable.

Matthew: What was your first paying gig, and how did you end up getting that job?

Ali: I guess it was the summer after my freshman year in college. I was an intern performer at Surflight Theatre, which was a theatre that I actually had grown up going to down on Long Beach Island. And I was paid very little, but it was such an incredible experience. And to do five musicals and work from May to September and meet all these pros who were not interns—were actually hired professional people—that was really, really special.

Matthew: Something that is talked a lot about so much, starts in training and certainly in the business, it's this thing of type. And I would love to hear your thoughts about type. I mean, type in school first and foremost, because that's a thing. And then how type is addressed in school and how it reads you for what the business is, or actually how different the business perception of type may be compared to what schools is.

Ali: Type has been a tough one for me because I just never really felt like I fit into one.

Matthew: Right.

Ali: And so I tried to figure out, okay, if I had to type myself, where would I fall? And even then, I couldn't really figure it out. I feel sort of relieved that I think it's... There's always going to be typing in casting. Because when you're trying to create a full picture or a full cast or puzzle, you need different pieces. And therefore you have to go out and look for those pieces. But as far as like as an actress, I think typing is the casting people's jobs, not an actor's job. Your job is to do your best work at the best of your ability. And that's all you have control over truly and the rest of it is not really your business.

I sort of got that advice at one point in my life or in my career, and I was like, yeah, I'm going to use that. Because, I don't know, I feel like it isn't helpful. It's not helpful to figure out how you fit into someone else's vision. What's helpful is to bring your own and your own unique skills and talent to a role or to a part. And who knows? They might be looking for an ingenue, but you go in and you do something that maybe doesn't fall into the ingenue character and you get the part. So, I think that the idea of typing and typecasting is of course still around, but not something that I feel like is helpful to an actor.

Matthew: I agree. It's also interesting to hear your thoughts on this, because I look at particularly the pieces on Broadway that are really exciting and redefining what Broadway could be. And if you tried ... So for example, if I looked at something like Hamilton and said, well, let's really be careful of type, I mean, would any of those performers be cast in those roles?

Ali: Not one. Exactly. And that's where we're headed, and I'm also excited about that for the disabled and differently abled community is because very rarely in a breakdown does it say that they're looking for somebody with a disability. So, like I've always felt like it's my job to actually break the idea of type.

Matthew: How would you characterize your relationship with your agent? How did that relationship get started?

Ali: I met my agent after I graduated from college. I did a showcase with NYU and with CAP21, and my agent came to the showcase and then wanted to meet with me. And we had a meeting, and we've been working together since. I've added more people to my team. I actually moved agencies, and my agent also did as well. So yeah, that was kind of how it came about. And I feel very, very, very grateful to him and to all the people who have helped me in the past, I guess. Well, I actually had agents before I graduated college. I had an agent when I was a kid as well because I started performing professionally when I was eleven.

Ali: So yeah. So, the greatest part about an agent is that they can hear the “no's.” You don't have to hear as many “no's.” You know what I mean?

Matthew: Oh yeah. Can you talk a little bit about the moving agent thing? I cannot tell you how many conversations I've had with actors who—

Ali: Oh, it's—

Matthew:—move, and certainly early on, there always seems to be this kind of, I don't know, fear, terror.

Ali: It's terror. It's terrorizing. Yeah. I feel that all the time talking to people, and I felt it when I was doing it. And it's one of the scariest… First of all, the first time you do it, it is the scariest because you feel like it's like breaking up with somebody for the first time.

Matthew: Right.

Ali: Oh my God, I'm never going to find anybody who likes me again. And the thing that's really hard is because we're creative and emotional people, those relationships mean a lot to us, and so it's scary. It's really scary to think that you're ending something with someone. But I also think it's really important to allow yourself to tap into your business mind and that it is a business and you are doing a business with somebody. And if it's not working, that's on you then. You know what I mean? People are so quick to blame their agents, and I just think it's like, you can blame them, but this is also you have equal power.

I think that's the thing. When you first graduate from college, you feel like the agents have all the power and it's like, but wait, you're collaborating together to make this work. They can't do their job without you.

Matthew: And also, they're your advocate. And if you can't trust them to be your advocate, or if they're unable to advocate for you, and there's lots of reasons why that can happen, then, as you say, you got to put your business hat on and make the business decision to be with the person who advocates best for you.

Ali: Exactly. Exactly. And that has been a huge lesson in my entire life about advocating for myself. I mean, I have to do that constantly. So I really wanted to find somebody who I felt like represented me well, because there are extra conversations here about accessibility and whether somebody is wanting or willing to take the chance with me. And to have somebody who doesn't represent you well, for me, it just doesn't work.

Matthew: Was that a conversation that happened a lot between you and potential agents? Did you feel that there were agents who weren't prepared? Because again, this comes back to the type conversation, which is, were there agents out there who are like, no, you are not someone who I'm willing to take a chance on?

Ali: Well, the great news is I didn't even have meetings with those people. I mean, the people that, I mean, that's what's so fun also about my situation. When you are as specific as I am, it's like dating. It's like either it's good or the door's not even opening.

Matthew: Got it.

Ali: There's no in between. Somebody's either really passionate or not. And I've just been so fortunate to have those people that are really, really passionate about me.

Matthew: Fantastic. Yeah. What's the kind of appropriate ratio of how you work. Like how much is like theatre close to home, how much musical theatre, how much travel, film, TV, voiceover, internet series, devised new pieces? What's the kind of diagram breakdown of the pieces that you do in a year?

Ali: Yeah. Well, it's been different every single year. So, it's not really been anything like any patterns really. After I graduated, I did more theatre in college, obviously. And then when I got out, I did all the Glee Project stuff, and then I did Glee, and then I did Faking It on MTV. I've done Sesame Street. I've done a bunch of TV things, but then I did …Spelling Bee at Paper Mill Playhouse, and I've done readings. So, it's been pretty much kind of an even split, I would say. I do have the opportunity and continue to do speaking things as well and performance kind of... People will ask me to come to benefits and things like that and speak or conferences and things like that.

So, that sort of fills also certain holes through the year as far as work goes. And I dance with my, I am on a wheelchair dance team. So the past few years I've performed all over the country with them speaking and dancing. So yeah, it's a lot of different things. I couldn't say that there is a pattern yet.

Matthew: How do those things relate in terms of you... Is there anything that you prefer doing more? I mean, and the reason I ask this is because kind of the message I got when I was training as an actor is well, theatre's the real place and everything else is kind of fake. You'll need to do it because of money, but theatre's the real thing. And I think that attitude has started to change, especially the work on television and the writing on television is getting more and more interesting. I'm curious if you have strong feelings about that.

Ali: Theatre was sort of my foundation, but I mean, I love working in TV. So I would never say that... They're just very different. They're very, very different. It's like biking inside and biking outside. It's like they're just different beasts. And I am just so excited about this industry and how we really, I believe, have a voice in the way that our society thinks and feels and perceives. And so I want to work in any capacity I can, and I also feel like as far as like the mediums go—like I love stage, I love TV—a huge thing that makes or breaks your experience are the people you're working with.

Matthew: Right.

Ali: So, I'm more swayed by an experience based on who I'm working with than like what I'm working on.

Matthew: Can you talk about… so much of what we have to do is auditioning and different people have, different performers have very different relationships to that process? Do you have like a best audition ever or worst audition, funniest, weirdest, most uncomfortable?

Ali: It's so weird. I do not remember most of my auditions and not because I don't think about them, of course, a lot. But, I really have made it a point to try to not hold on to any of it.

Matthew: Right.

Ali: So, I've had auditions where I was like, that was not what I wanted to do. But I had really good auditions. I remember my auditions for the Glee Project were really good, and I felt so good about it. My audition for Spring Awakening was really great. I felt really good about that. I recently had a really good audition for an upcoming show that I ended up not getting it, but I remember leaving the audition being like that was one of the best auditions I've ever had because I felt like I was myself and I was bringing all of who I am to it. Also, when you're working and auditioning, it's very different.

You're going in there with such a different mentality. You don't need the work as badly. So, it's a different game, I would say. But yeah, no, I don't know. I don't really hold on to auditions. They're a part of this process of working in this industry, but not the parts that I'm… the audition process is not the thing that I'm running home, wanting to talk about.

Matthew: No, that makes a lot of sense. Have you found that Spring Awakening has changed the kind of auditions that you're going in for now?

Ali: No. I think that what happened was that now when I go in, people know who I am.

Matthew: Right.

Ali: And they knew that a little bit with the Glee Project, but as far as auditioning for more theatre, most people in theatre have gone to see Spring Awakening, so they know and have seen my work, which is really a nice entry point into an audition.

Matthew: Right. Have you identified a process that you use because I mean, obviously, I teach actors and I love the whole process of teaching that, whether it's the formal method or improvisation or viewpointing. But I cannot lie and say that I am entirely confident that that's actually what my students use once they go on into the world. And so what I am really interested in is, what are the things that stuck? What's the process that you find that you use? Does it change depending on the project? What changes come about?

Ali: Yeah. I mean, my favorite part of college and one of my favorite parts of acting is creating the character, and I like to follow the things that make me excited because that's where I am going to be doing my best work, if that makes sense.

Matthew: Yeah.

Ali: So to me, if I can create a character, whether it be voice, what this person believes, the way they dress, the way they talk, the way they move through the world. To me, I know it sounds like acting level one A. It's so basic, but for some reason, it really propels me forward into a scene or into whatever it is that I'm doing. So creating that character, to me, is basically my favorite and first thing I do then working on anything, whether it be, even when I'm going to be myself. When I have to go and be me, okay, what are my intentions? What am I trying to do here? And those are all questions that I ask myself and what do I want, those basic questions.

And a lot of times, you don't have a lot of time. I'm literally repeating myself. A lot of times, you don't have a lot of time. Many times, you'll get an audition the night before, and you're like, I'm like, “Okay, I have to go do a show and then I'm coming home, and now I have to go in tomorrow for this audition.” Are you talking for like, are you talking as far as like work goes or auditioning?

Matthew: I think they're related, but I think they're very different processes, so I'm happy to hear you talk about both.

Ali: Yeah. I mean, well, once you get the job, especially in theatre, the process is laid out for you in many ways. I mean, there's work to do at home, but you get the time. TV is a little different, you go in and are expected to go on set for rehearsal for ten minutes, and then you're going to go shoot it.

Matthew: Right.

Ali: So TV, the process is also the work.

Matthew: It also sounds like TV's also, and film can sometimes be very front loaded. As you say, so many of that work is done to the audition. And then what you do in the audition is often what they want to hold you to do on set, at least in the times that I've been involved with it.

Ali: Yeah. I do, because I come from theatre, I do really love having a longer process, like to be in rehearsal. I really love that. Yeah. I've always really, really loved because it's an opportunity to explore with the people that you're going to be telling the story with.

Matthew: Absolutely. How does your work as a dancer and with your dance group, how does that impact the work that you do as a performer when you're acting, whether it's on camera or on stage?

Ali: That impacts everything. My movement and my physicality and the way that I move through the world and through my work and my art is so important because it's different. So I need to own it. That is just one of my things, I have to be really solid and comfortable in how I'm moving. It also puts everyone else at ease, if there's any fear or any discomfort around what I do. I have to be the first person who's on board. So yeah, so that's been really fun. That's a really, really fun part of it.

Matthew: Is there anything about the business—and sometimes I laugh as I ask this question, because the answer can sometimes be absolutely not, or where do I begin—but is there anything about the business that really frustrates you, that you really wish wasn't there, that would shake and move a little bit more?

Ali: Obviously I would love to see more people with different abilities given more opportunities.

Matthew: Right.

Ali: I mean, I don't feel like we're that heavily represented. But I do feel that changing and that's why I'm hesitant to say it really bothers me because it's not something that bothers me anymore. It's something that I've decided, I'm changing. So it's not something that I feel stuck around.

Matthew: Was there anything that you wish you had learned in school now that you're in the business?

Ali: I wish I had gotten the opportunity to talk to more people who were working but doing it a little differently. I don't know. That's not very articulate, but I felt like when I was in college, you have this idea of how it's going to be done based on what the majority of people, maybe their process. But what I learned very quickly was that there actually is no right way to do this and that there are more ways to work in this industry than going to EPAs. And I guess it's like, you never know that until you're doing it, but that I wish I had had a little bit more exposure to because I also felt really scared leaving school because a lot of people coming out of my program went on to be dancers.

Matthew: Right.

Ali: And I was like, well, I can dance, but I'm not going to be auditioning for the Rockettes.

Matthew: Right.

Ali: I'm not going to be doing a lot of traditional dancing. But again, that is such a specific ... I think also knowing that if you study musical theatre, it doesn't mean you're going to do musicals for the rest of your life. And if you study acting, it doesn't mean you're just going to be in straight plays or on TV for the rest of your life. There's so many different ways in.

Matthew: Absolutely. And just because you're studying the history of musical theatre and how it's been done, it doesn't mean that's the future of musical theatre either.

Ali: Right.

Matthew: Is there a best thing a teacher said to you or a worst thing or both, that's something that stuck and really either helped or really sort of resolved you in a way?

Ali: It's a practical piece of advice that I remember that I always tell people when they feel discouraged or lost or are just wanting to talk about the business. I had a teacher who told me, if you can do three things a day for your career, whatever that might be—because we don't have normal schedules and there is no guarantee that you're going to have work right after you finish a job—

Matthew: Right, right.

Ali: —so if you can continue to work for yourself and create and move towards a goal, then you're putting momentum out there. And I believe in that kind of stuff, that what you put out is what you get. And somehow it feels manageable, the idea of three things a day, whether it be an email, a dance class, an audition, a interview, reading a play, watching something, singing something. I really believe that what you put in is what you get out. I've done a lot of thinking and exploring of the psychological part of this.

Matthew: Right.

Ali: Because physically, we can do about anything in our twenties, so psychologically, how am I going to do this? And I've had to really own and take on mottos for myself that are helpful because when you really look at the grand scheme of it all in this industry, there's a lot of rejection which can be really defeating. And so how do you shift your mindset? And this is something that I've had to do my entire life with my disability. So I felt like I was like this was perfect training. Having a disability is a perfect training to getting into this industry because you're used to somebody saying, you can't do that.

Matthew: Right.

Ali: Okay. If I can't do that, what can I do? Okay. I was so determined as a kid to not be a victim, that if you don't allow yourself to become a victim to this industry, you can win. All of the mindsets and where you allow your mind to go, and it's tricky because also your ego is involved and the highs are really high. And then the other parts of it feel low and finding that balance and not getting your hopes up, I mean—

Ali: Finding that balance and not getting your hopes up. I mean, everyone in this industry makes that mistake of getting your hopes up before something's actually happened and that's a real fine line as well.

There is a tendency to, my friend calls it, be a fortune teller. There's a tendency to already know or predict what it's going to be like. And if you can be present, if you can be more present in the process of it, of like, "Here I am, and I am waiting to go in for a callback." Be right there with that experience. Instead of, "I have the job. I'm making a lot of money and I'm happy."

Matthew: Right.

Ali: You know? So to take yourself out of the results and put yourself into being obsessed and loving the process of it.

Matthew: That's great advice and speaks to something you said earlier, which is, even as a director, I find the word I hear more often than anything else in this business is, no.

Ali: Oh yeah.

Matthew: And sometimes the best thing to do is just to be really like, "Okay, I hear your no." So for example, I was hearing this great story of Amy Poehler talking about doing SNL and Lorne Michaels between the dress rehearsal and the actual taping. They'd done something which she thought was ridiculous. She wasn't going to do it. She's like, "Lorne, there's no way I'm going to do this." And he goes, "I know, I completely understand. But imagine if you did." And she would be like, "No, but you didn't hear me, Lorne. I'm not going to do it. It's a no." And he goes, "I hear that. I completely understand but what would happen if you did?"

I find that is sometimes no, we kind of want to hear that as being total and sometimes it is. And yet sometimes no, kind of really doubles you down and goes, "Well, why? Why, no?" What if I just stayed present? What if I tried? And what if I tried again? And what would shift if I tried again?

Ali: Yeah. It's such an interesting, not to get too heady and philosophical about this, but you know, as a kid, some of the first things you learn is no. And based on whatever you believe, nature, nurture, whatever, you process that differently. That's part of why I don't believe that this industry is necessarily healthy for everyone.

Matthew: Yeah.

Ali: It's just not. I mean, to me, no is motivating, which is kind of weird. But you know, when someone says, "No," I'm like, great. Now depending on what the situation is, but now I feel clear or now I know that I don't have to waste my time there anymore, or now I get to go on and do other things. Or, I'm going to prove that wrong, which I've done a bit of in my life, which is people might say not great. But I do get motivated by that when someone says, "No." I'm like, "Oh yeah, watch this."

It depends on the person but I say this… maybe this industry isn't for everyone. I do believe that if you have any interest, any excitement around it, give it a try. Give it your all. And then if you feel defeated or you feel like this isn't healthy, or this isn't good for me, then step away but don't put yourself in a position of wondering.

Whenever I have... After I graduated college, I was like, I want to move to LA. And somebody, I was talking to a mentor. I was like, should I, or should I not? And she was like, "If you didn't move there, would you wonder what it would be like?" And I said, "Yes." And she said, "Then go out to LA."

Matthew: That's great advice. I'm so conscious of your time, so I want to sort of move to the last question, which is a definition. Without this sounding, I don't know, like the final weird questionnaire that Inside the Actors Studio guy gives everybody.

A quote that I keep coming back to is from the actor Stephen Tobolowsky and says, "You can't teach talent because everybody is talented. But what you can teach is a system of priorities." I think often, I think the actors that I really respect, what I mean by that is I'm respecting what they're holding up is their sort of top priorities, rather than some actors hold tempestuous, emotional sort of life, as the absolute most important thing. And others actors put looking really cold and cool as the highest thing.

What three priorities would you suggest a new graduate, just coming to this business, keep?

Ali: Priorities. Ask yourself why you're doing this, all the time. That's not really a priority, but your intentions in your career are equally as important as your intentions that you bring to your art. Do you know what I mean by that?

Matthew: Oh, I totally get it. I actually think that's that's almost a definition of intention, right? Constantly challenging yourself. Why am I doing this? Because it reminds you, and it also focuses you on what you're going to respond to. Am I going to be frustrated and an upset today? Or, am I going to remind myself why I do this?

Ali: Right. Exactly. So, have having that be really clear for you and also knowing that might change and that's okay.

Then my other... Another priority is having a life. I think that some people have this idea that if I only do this 24/7, then I will be happy and I will achieve my goals and my dreams. And some people think that's true, and I have found that literally drives me nuts. If I don't have a life and perspective, then I can't do this.

Matthew: Oh, I hear that, and that speaks to something you said earlier about something that's so important is your ability to be present. If you're constantly, constantly caught up in every nuance of the business, you can fool yourself that all that concern is somehow translating into the work itself, or being present and it isn't. They're different things.

Ali: Right. Exactly.

The third piece or priority that I think someone should have: figure out a way to really like yourself. Become friends with yourself—and not for anyone else but yourself. It's just self-love stuff that I've, and every human being is on a journey with. It sounds corny because it's like... But I do believe that what you, how you treat yourself, is how you treat others, and that is directly reflected into your career and into your work and into your art.

I guess that's maybe just a bigger priority in your life, but I think it directly affects your work.

Matthew: I think that's huge. That's a huge one. I mean, if there's anything that all of us can attest to having seen and can sometimes bristle at is the performer who's there begging us to love them and that gets in the way of us being able to see their own work, because they're relying on us for that rather than themselves.

Ali: Exactly. Exactly. And it just directly affects your confidence, and confidence is such a funny concept now in this industry because there's a lot of false confidence, a lot of fake ego, and I think that the only real way to get to a healthy place with that is to really like yourself.

Matthew: So, that was Ali Stroker. You can find her at alistroker.com, where she has a mailing list you should sign up for. You can find her on twitter at @alistroker, as well as Instagram, YouTube, Facebook. You know, where the kids are these days.

Today's episode was written, edited, mixed, and produced by me. The theme music is by Ben Peaty and Chris Martel. Special, thanks to Ramona and Vijay for editorial, technical, and emotional support. Living the Dream is part of the howlround.com universe and online theatrical commons for and by the community. You can subscribe for this podcast on iTunes. Just search for HowlRound and find us there.

Until next week: you’re too clean. Make a mess.

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Thoughts from the curator

In this podcast, I am interviewing all kinds of actors from all over to share why they act and how they act, in a world of diminished residuals, rising student loan interest rates, reduced network pick-ups, and a dying regional theatre circuit. How are actors faring as the business both widens its spectrum but also narrows the amount of available work? How did their training help prepare them for each and every day?

Living the Dream


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