2020 zoom talk to the Missouri National Society of Arts & Letters

 INTRO: Thank you Kathryn for that introduction and for inviting me to speak with your membership.

This month marks my 48th  year as a professional actor. What part to talk about? My husband Tom suggested I answer the questions, I most often receive. Great idea! Here is question #1 out of 8.
#1. How did I get my start?
I’m from St Louis where I did skits and talent shows at St. Roch Catholic grade school, plays and speech competitions at Visitation Academy, and received an undergraduate degree in Theatre Arts & a teaching certificate, from St. Louis University.
I thought very briefly about being an actor but dismissed it as impractical. I determined I would teach at a Catholic girls school,  as I remember my classmates being afraid to get up in front of our peers, which I thought was ridiculous.
After St louis U, I also knew I had a whole lot more to learn, if I was going to be the best drama teacher ever.
So I went to the U of MN for a MFA in Acting. I wanted to learn about stage combat, voice production, period dance, make-up, opera, costumes, improvisation, ETC.
I did many shows in Minneapolis-St Paul both at the U and in community theater. Best among them was a 100 performances with the Shakespeare in the Streets touring company. Best summer job I ever had. AND great parts. I also took private lessons with the lead soprano of the Minnesota Opera Company and was cast in their production of THE THREE PENNY OPERA.
But one part, in one particular play, proved pivotal. I played the upstairs neighbor Eunice in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. The director Dr Charles Nolte had been a leading man on Broadway in his younger years, and invited his personal friend, Tennessee Williams, to see our production.
All the area newspapers interviewed him where he said the “three young actresses, (and stated our names) were the future of the American theatre.”
Regional theater directors came to the show and all of us were offered contracts.
Mine came from Terrence Kilburn from Meadow Brook Theatre, outside Detroit. I told him I was in the first year, of a 2 ½ year program and asked if he would come back in another year with the offer. I promised to accelerate my studies, which I did.
I learned everything I could about actors unions, salary, health insurance, pensions, rules, ETC.
And I set new goals: I wanted variety, constancy & longevity
I accepted a 7 out of 8 show contract at the end of my 2nd year.
#2. What made you leave the stage for television and film?
I worked at Meadow Brook for 6 seasons as well as other regional theaters during which time I moved to New York. 
In between plays  I did a lot of odd jobs: market research, bookkeeping, literary research, house cleaning, extra work, and even sold my handmade baby quilts at Bergdorf Goodman.
It occurred to me, that although I always made a living, it was not enough to own a car, let alone a house.
So I turned down regional stage work to stay in New York to see if I could compete. 
Did my odd jobs, a few off-off Broadway plays, became the first model hired at Big Beauties, the first agency for large models... I did print, runway, and fit work. I was so poor I went on food stamps. That year I made about $5000.
I couldn’t compete with those Julliard grads, I was NOT a triple threat. I knew I had to move to LA for more lucrative work. And I felt artistically satisfied with my 10 years of stage, which qualified me for a Actors Equity pension at age 65.
I saved enough money to live in LA for 6 months, took a month to hitchhike around Ireland and moved to LA the summer of 1981 at age 33.
#3. How have I measured success
White doing stage work I measured success by making a living and being able to travel, my great passion.
In LA my goal was to earn 100K a year to live comfortably, start investing, buy a house by age 40, and travel.
Once in LA I also added 3 prayers petitions: get a series, lose weight, find my husband
Meaning of success now, is reflecting on my Grad School goals: I have achieved variety, constancy & longevity.
I LOVE having enough income to turn down work when it interferes with our travel plans.
#4. What has contributed to my being a successful “working” actor?
I believe the role my faith has played in my career is the single most important reason why I have been a successful working actor.
I know I have been given gifts and strengths that compel to praise my Creator and show my gratitude, by using them.
When I am using my gifts, I am happy, I feel fulfilled.  My faith is the foundation of my life.
Besides being given the ability to act, to express myself, I was also given the gifts of logic and practicality.
Neither my Right Brain (emotional/artistic) or Left brain (logical/practical) is dominant which is fairly unusual for an actor. I think it has been a key to my success.
Two of the biggest stumbling blocks for an actor is the pain of rejection (which happens constantly) and long periods of no work which breeds self-doubt.
I don’t have a problem with either of these.  Yes, there have been times when I really wanted a part that I didn’t get, but I remember that other actors have to work too, and I will get the parts I am meant to get.
When I have gone through a slow period without work I have been excited to have time to pursue other interests. I am a lover of life and was blessed to learn from the good nuns at Visitation, not to procrastinate. I was also given leadership training at Viz, both of which have lead me to pursue  many areas of interests.
I think the last major component as to why I have been a successful working actor is I had exceptional parenting.
My parents remained in love, they were grounded in the same faith, they were very good at parenting, they had a sense of humor, they cherished their children and dealt with each of us as individuals.
Although my mother was a severe manic-depressive, now commonly referred to as bi-polar, she made her faith the bedrock of her life.  As did my Dad.
Their life together set the course for their five children to have successful lives.
5. What has been your favorite role?
I usually say, whatever I am working on!  But the truth is...
The TV sitcom LIFE WITH BONNIE. The part of Gloria, a housekeeper/nanny was written for me, so learning the lines was organic.  I thought the storylines were hilarious. I knew my schedule for the year so I could accept other work on my off weeks, and I no longer had to audition.  We could travel. I was paid well and knew it was my chance to secure our retirement and grow my pension.
It was positively glorious.  Both seasons are now playing on YouTube if you are interested.
My other great FAVORITE part was on the daytime cult soap opera called PASSIONS.
I was hired for a 9 day shoot, which was a take off on PSYCHO so played Norma Bates, a character of dubious sexual identity. 
The soap creator James Reilly fell in love with my character and had me recurring for 8 years.
“Norma” carried her Daddy’s skull in a baby carrier on her chest. I voiced both parts which usually entailed arguing with myself.
I had off the chart scenes and stunts, from swimming in NYC subway canals, to roaming the catacombs of Paris, to touring lesbian bars with my lover Edna, who played the piano dressed as Lady Liberty, while I sang Striesand & Elvis favorites, dressed like a man. 
It was the most demanding work of my career. You learn an average of 50 pages a day, of inane dialogue that stretched over days of shooting, so there are minor changes in script. You also shoot out of sequence so you have to determine your emotional level for each scene while you are memorizing. There were no line rehearsals, only blocking, and most scenes are shot only once...It took a great deal of discipline. It was challenging.
6. When not acting, how do you spend your free time?
I have always been involved in charity work. Shortly after we married I became president of our inner city block club. A year later, my husband became disabled so I applied for non profit status for the club, and began writing successful grants which funded the free 5 year after school program at our home. Tom set ground rules, schedule, field trips, life skill lessons and taught all subjects for 50 at risk kids. 
I’ve been the project manager, for the total restoration of our 1905 Four Square American Craftsman home. Then, I applied for and received Los Angeles Cultural Monument Status for it. 
I’ve chaired many fundraisers, read to blind people, visited the elderly, chaired the Pastoral Council at my church, was Lay Ministry coordinator and formation leader for all ministries, have run a 26 year prayer warrior online group, did genealogy for 30+ years, founded and chaired Global Reunions for both sides of my family for 20 years, founded and chaired the Visitation alumnae chapter in So Cal for 25 years, I’ve been a trustee on endowment funds, mentored numerous young actors, given master classes, blood donor 50+ years. Since 2003 I have been a volunteer, donor and fund raiser for Heifer International.  Hence, my background.
Several years ago I began peeling off those jobs. Training others to take my place. Now I only participate in non leadership roles: online prayer group, choir, lector, Eucharistic minister, blood donor and fundraising for Heifer. I’ll also bake anytime I’m asked.
7. How has the pandemic affected you and your career?
I was blessed to shoot two commercials shortly after my husband and I returned from an extended trip to Peru & the Amazon.  My Geico “Aunts” ads have just been bought for another 13 week period, which is wonderful news.
I was in NYC March 12 to see friends, a young actor I mentor and then fly to the Dubai for a 10 day trip thru the Emirates & Oman.
An hour after I arrive the tour was postponed for a year, and I was back in LA 2 days later.
Since my husband had many medical issues and his life is dominated by chronic pain, we were in 100% lockdown. Everything was being delivered and picked up.
Remarkably, I shot one of the first commercials in pandemic, for SlingTV,  using my iPhone, with my husband setting up the lights, props, sound, filming, ETC. We took all the directions from the director over our laptop.
On a recent zoom panel, I was asked by an actor if I was struggling during the pandemic, because there was essentially no work, no auditions, no acting.
I said No, because I am using my other strengths and talents at this time.
Being an Actor is not my identity.  It’s just what I do for a living.
From July through October my husband had a new medical issue, his third bout of cancer, this time in the bladder.
Through our strong spiritual and faith based network, he got through surgery, and had a miraculous pathology report. Cancer is removed, no follow-up treatment necessary, will do periodic scans to monitor.
So here we are again, leaning on the Lord, trusting him to hold us firmly in his hands and carry us, until he wants us home.
I’ve stopped dyeing my hair, Tom shot new headshots of me, I continue auditioning for voice over and tv. During the pandemic I am only interested in accepting one day shoots, in LA. I’m booked to work on THE KAMINSKY METHOD November 25.
I still want to act but know I am blessed because I don’t have to work.
I’m doing panels on social media, doing zoom play readings, taking webinars on social justice and anti-racism, and reading more, getting more sleep.
8. LAST QUESTION What do you see for your future?
Travel.  I canceled 6 trips because of the pandemic.
First just to get together with our LA friends, then travel to see my family & friends throughout the US, then get to New York to see friends & Broadway shows, and yeah, I’ll stop by and see my NY agents.
Then do the Dubai/Oman trip, then a rescheduled Norwegian cruise in June and if all goes as planned, Eygpt over Christmas 2021.
And, more career work.
Thank you for your time and attention.
But most especially, thank you for your dedication to the arts, and supporting artists.
Your name: