Every year my preschool teacher calls my mom to ask if I still sing in class without realizing it, and every year the answer is “Yes”! From the time I was a precocious three year old singing onstage with the band at my aunt’s wedding, I knew performing was what I wanted to do. I just didn’t know how drastically it would influence my life. Most people grow up following a clear-cut path leading from grade school to college to a career, but before I turned ten years old, I’d already deviated away from that narrow road.
I started acting professionally in grade school, juggling school work with “outside” work up until my high school graduation. Whether I was acting on Broadway in New York City or doing theater at home in San Diego, school for me was never normal. I did independent study in NYC like most working minors, but with only one tutor and fifteen broadway kids taking study breaks every five minutes, I’m sure you can imagine the chaos. We probably spent more time running around with brooms belting “Defying Gravity” than we did actually studying. Needless to say, I had a LOT of makeup work to do when the shows closed. When I came home to San Diego I wanted to easily transition back to high school with my friends, but it turned out to be much harder than I’d expected. I was absent from school for rehearsals or L.A. auditions so often that the attendance lady had my off-campus permission slips pre-signed in bulk! Having such an unstable learning environment made me understand and value time-management skills.
I must just be one of those people that works better under pressure because the more I had on my plate, the more driven I was to complete it all. I understood early on that if I was going to pursue acting I couldn’t let it affect my overall education. There were bound to be sacrifices on both ends, and I needed to sort out my priorities. Do I go to junior prom or a feature film callback? Do I do a reading of a new musical in NY or take my AP tests? I was faced with decisions like this throughout all of high school, and with my family’s support and guidance I learned to trust myself and make the most of every opportunity I was given.
Everybody knows how grueling the college application process is, and if you don’t know for yourself yet, you will eventually understand. Despite the countless hours writing essays and prepping for SAT’s, I was so happy to be planning the next phase of my life. I applied to twelve schools across the nation and went through all the pain and joy of finding out where I’d be spending the ‘best four years of my life.’ After visiting campuses and meeting alumni, I knew that Stanford University was going to be the place for me. At the same time, I was already weighing the pro’s and con’s of leaving the acting industry for an entire year. I’d been thinking about taking a year off to really focus on my career before college, but I was just so excited to move out and start school that it took me a long time to make up my mind. This decision was life-changing and deserves its own blog post, but I can tell you this right now: Taking a gap year was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
During my year off, many friends and colleagues told me that I’d never stay away from working long enough to finish college. On the flip side, I had other peers and mentors advise me to go to school and not put my life on hold for a job that I may not even have yet! One of my favorite vocal instructors once told me, “you have to be smart to be a good actor”, but many smart, successful actors I’ve met chose not to go to college. I kept hearing people tell me what they thought was the right choice. Classes or Acting? Ultimately I realized that while everyone around me was focused on choosing one or the other, I forgot what I’d been doing my entire life. Both!
Sure it may be difficult… for all I know it could be impossible! But my track record so far shows that just because something isn’t traditional doesn’t mean it won’t work. Balancing work and school isn’t a foreign idea to anyone, yet for some reason there are so many aspiring actors that truly believe they have to choose one or the other. I am here asking the question, “why not both”?
I hope that by blogging about my successes and failures, schedules and conflicts, and personal thoughts about balancing my education at Stanford with my passion for performing, I can inform and inspire other actors to have confidence that they can do it all too.
So as the lights fade on my gap year and the crowd from high school falls quiet, wish me luck as the curtain rises for act two; Stanford.
For more info on Allie, visit her website.