My days in the green room, on stage and in a rehearsal studio – they were my early glory days. They were a part of my story, the beginning of my natural unfolding. They were my way out of poverty, my childhood stresses, and my home life. The theatre saved me, created me and challenged me.
In middle school, I began earning money acting in commercials, a feature film and professional musical theatre productions around my hometown of San Diego, eventually leading me to move to New York City when I was 18. I was that kid in drama club in high school: passionately driven about the art and storytelling of musical theatre and filling up my calendar with dance classes and community theatre productions.
When I was 18, I packed up two suitcases, saved up $2,000 from my theater gigs, and fledged off to New York – promising that I would never return.
During my early years in New York, I performed in underground cabarets, took a summer stock musical “in the country” , acted for a year in an Off-Broadway play, and after years of primping and practicing and all-day non-equity cattle calls, I landed my Actors Equity card… which fiiiiinally allowed me to audition for Broadway musicals and plays. Whew! I sang for my supper, as a singing waitress at Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway, and kept it all together – years of silently breaking down, miserable and knowing I was not where I was meant to be.
I had everything I wanted at the time. My goals were ticked off. I had an amazing community of friendships and artists in the theatre scene, I was making decent money performing. So…why wasn’t I happy?
My spirit was meant to thrive, right? I deserved to find pure joy doing something I loved, that I could bring something special and uniquely me to….but what? How do I stop?
I write about it more in detail here and letting go of that childhood “story” here. But while that was a part of my story, I learned so much from my years in musical theatre.
Growing up on the stage affects me daily whether it’s on location at a photoshoot or plugging away, writing on my blog or in the digital darkroom Photoshop, reminding me that everything I reap, I’ll sow – with time, dedication and patience.
I learned that you have to put in your hours, to dedicate time, constant practice and aligned effort in order to make progress.
I learned about the power of teamwork, that asking for help and partnering with another leads to open doors that wouldn’t be there if I worked alone.
I learned that you have to work a little harder than necessary to obtain something that doesn’t come easy for you.
While my journey in musical theatre is long over, it still affects me daily: it has given me confidence and shown me that through dedication and practice, dreams can be attained – even impossible dreams that wouldn’t seem accessible to a 19-year-old!
I am pure proof that dreams can be attained through dedication, belief and consistency.
And I am also proof that what one thinks they want when they are younger, may not be of interest when one grows up.
My classmates and I still have a bond that no one will understand; we grew up on the stage together.
We watched each other mature, change and morph into different characters. We triumphed and struggled. We prayed and cried together, we watched each other fall for our castmates and experience first heartbreaks. We played improv games and enjoyed weekends away in between long rehearsal days. We lived together in cast houses and took our final bows, swapping cards and hugs goodbye, promising that we’d keep in touch over the weeks, months, years. We started new shows in the spring and ended them in the summer. We enjoyed late nights together after curtain, throwing straw at each other at Denny’s and slurping milkshakes at In-and-Out Burger. We formed bonds while carpooling, driving each other home after matinee shows and celebrating over beach bonfires. We said goodbye and befriended another batch of artists. Our circle was wide, and it was, in essence, magic.
Teenage Helena never would have believed that I would grow up to become a photographer. She would’ve laughed, rolled her eyed and kept plugging away at memorizing some script. But I don’t regret the journey. Sometimes I do find myself wishing I had gotten into photography and blogging earlier, before the over saturation of blogging and Instagram.
My musical childhood led me to New York City. The glitzy world of Broadway and musical theatre led me to find my love for underground Off-Broadway plays and La Mama, the power of words and finely-tuned scripts. Those plays led me to take scene-study classes, which allowed me to discover the world of casting and the business of theatre.
All of these experiences led me to realize my personal values and beliefs, how I desire to intentionally spend my remaining adult years.
Growing up in musical theatre led me to New York where it ultimately helped me meet my husband. It was through falling in love that helped me realize the priceless treasure of companionship and the joys of sharing a life with another person.
Growing up in musical theatre helped me find my voice and urged me to write daily in journals. The theatre led to photography, the art of visual storytelling, color, shadows and depth.
That journey led me to be the naturally joyous person I am now.
While I still am a total film buff, I don’t enjoy musical theatre anymore and you won’t catch me watching The Tonys like I grew up as a child doing. I’ve swapped the performing arts for the visual arts: both equally magical but in different ways.
I often look back on my life and wonder what my childhood and life would have looked like if I hadn’t shown up to those long hours of ballet class and music rehearsal.
Would I have left home? Would I have still moved to New York? Would I still have been a creative artist, a storyteller? Would I be living my dream life traveling the world and writing about it? Would I be living in France with my best friend like I am now?
Probably not….I would be a very different person, for that is how the theatre can impact you.
There is no doubt about it: theatre will always be a part of me.
Here’s to all the dreamers and doers. May you rise, find your soul and soar.
Photographs from that Journey: Welk’s A-5678, Oklahoma and Phantom of the Opera at Saddleback CLO, and San Diego County Fair, The Taffetas at the Theater Barn, Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at St Lukes Theatre and my dreamy albeit difficult teenage years in NYC.
June 10, 2019
2016 - 2019 Helena Woods | Helena Woods Portraiture is located outside New York City in Fairfield County Connecticut and travels worldwide for her clients. Helena Woods is New England and Connecticut’s premier family, children, baby and newborn photographer specializing in modern classic custom family photography with a timeless look that's always in style. As a professional photographer, Helena captures maternity, newborn, baby and family portraits in NYC, Westchester, Trumbull, Easton, Weston, and Westport, Greenwich, Darien, Westport, Norfolk and all Fairfield County surrounding areas.