Proceed with Caution: Rantings of a Feminist Actor

“There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”

-Hannah Gadsby (Nanette)

How terrifying is it, making up your mind, to chase your dreams?  Whether it’s creating your own business, starting a family or becoming an astronaut, making a decision to chase your dreams is the first step and it can be scary, especially if you have personal hecklers.

This year I have met some of the most amazing people, people I’d never imagined I’d get to know on a personal level, and this has lead me on my greatest journey yet: discovering that once you make a decision to be ambitious, you never lose that.  I’ve been through periods where I’ve questioned my dreams and reevaluated them, and I think that’s a good thing.  I think it’s important to stop at crucial, life changing moments and go “is this what I want?”

Last year I packed up my suitcase and said goodbye to the craziest, noisiest and hardest city I have ever lived in.  I packed up my bags and thought “maybe this isn’t what I want.”  Six months later, I’ve realized that actually, acting is exactly what I want.  A step back to breathe and be “normal” was exactly what I needed to see that “normal” is not, and will not ever be who I am.  And I’m okay with that!

When I first got accepted into NASDA, the school of my dreams, to study musical theatre full time, I had just developed two serious and “incurable” pain disorders and was bed-bound.  I remember the day some men from my local church came over to visit me.  They saw my illness as the “thorn in my side” that was mine to bear, and their not-so-encouraging words about why it was a good thing I was sick, still linger in my mind to this day.

“I would hit the roof if I discovered my Godly daughter wanted to be an actor!  You need to find a nice man and fill the earth.”

“I mean think of the people who will see you with no clothes on, there are some fast-changes in theatre and you never know who might see you inappropriately!”

“Well, it’s just a good thing you’re a woman and not a man, men need to have a bread-winning career and acting isn’t exactly lucrative.”

You’ve read my feminist rantings.  Can you imagine?  The girl with the brain-fog, bed-ridden and barely able to string together a sentence, being told by people who were supposed to support her, that her dreams not coming true was a good thing because it was dishonoring to God.

Well, I don’t have brain fog anymore, and as I sit here backstage at my first ever professional musical, I am taking the time to reflect on those statements said to me seven years ago when I was only 18 years old.

“I would hit the roof if I discovered my Godly daughter wanted to be an actor!”

First of all, buddy, I’m not your daughter.  In fact, much to your disapproval, I was raised by a solo-mum whose courage makes you look like a little-boy wearing big-boy pants.  Secondly; Patricia Heaton.  Viola Davis.  Carrie Underwood.  Would you say the same thing to these Godly-daughters?

As for “filling the earth” – if that’s what you’re telling young women whose lives have barely begun, I don’t see you as being any better than Picasso – a teenage girl is not in her prime!  Ask Hannah Gadsby, or at least pick up a book.  If a woman’s sole-purpose is to have babies – then what do you tell the women in your congregation who can’t have children, or don’t want children, or aren’t ready for children?

Funny you mention finding a nice man to marry, I am about to marry the man of my dreams, with a heart of gold, who loves Jesus and is even studying neuroscience – so respectable huh?  Such a bread-winner.  Did I mention?  He’s also standing on the stage next to me.

“Men need to have a bread-winning career and acting isn’t exactly lucrative.”

Briefly, on the subject of bread-winners; does the Bible not tell us that money is the root of all evil?  I’d much rather be broke, humble and happy doing exactly what I love, than the trophy wife to some rich, un-creative, misogynist.  Thank you very much.

“You never know who might see you inappropriately!”

Actors don’t use fast changes to get naked and check each other out.  My personal favorite fast change was one where I had 12 bars of music to run off stage, strip off my costume, throw on a leather jacket and a corset (ooh sexy!), and run back on to the stage.  I was sure to wear an electric blue G-string too, so that the crew could admire it while rearranging a rather heavy set that required their full attention!  I’m sure my very busy cast-mates who were frantically running on to the stage in the dark appreciated the womanly-form I possess.  Or am I supposed to be ashamed of my body?  Is that why fast-changes are unholy?  Because a woman’s body is so unbearably horrible that it should be concealed at all times.  Is it that fast-changes for MY JOB, mean that I’m asking to be gawked at, mistreated or objectified?

Stage manager walks out into audience:

“Hey guys, apologies, we are going to vamp this music for about five minutes while our lead character gets changed in a private dressing room, far away from the rest of us so that no one can see she has skin.  Talk amongst yourselves and we will resume this show when the male elders of her church have assessed the situation and come to an agreement on her skirt length…”

Instead of projecting modesty on to the world, practice it yourself.  If you find yourself tempted by the female form and can’t control yourself, then don’t look.  Teach your sons to be modest with where their eyes go rather than making women feel ashamed for being exactly how God made them.  Also as a side note, what kind of weirdo is hanging around backstage waiting to catch people getting changed in three seconds flat?  What kind of ludicrous and dark ideas do you have about theatre?  I’ve met a few sexual predators at church, maybe you should draw your attention to their grooming behaviours instead of wasting time passing your judgement on my career.

As I enter this next chapter of my life, I reflect on those words spoken to me as a girl with a broken heart and shattered dreams who had just been told she may never dance again.  I am proud of the responses I now have to the flippant rantings of men who have never worked a day in their lives as an actor.  I think of that famous line in Pursuit of Happyness, “You got a dream… You gotta protect it.  People can’t do something’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it.  If you want something’, go get it. Period.”  I have taken your concerns into account, cheers.  I’m going after this dream.

I sat down for the most exciting coffee date ever yesterday with an actor I truly respect who has a career I admire in the industry I’m working toward, and I was challenged more than ever to get shit done.

So it’s not easy?  That’s okay.  None of the good things in life are easy.  But once you have the creativity bug, once you’ve had a taste of what ambition can get you, it’s too hard to back down.  I’m ready more than ever before.

To those men who “encouraged” me, with their oppressive words and beliefs: there’s still a few tickets available to my current show.  I want you to come and see what art looks like, what happens when creative minds work together to tell a story.  I promise you won’t see my quick change.

Chelsea xx

“Strong men, men who are truly role models, don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful.”

-Michelle Obama

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