By Lindsay Travis
My line of work is incredibly superficial and selfish. People are nice to people who can do things for them. Simple. I didn’t really believe the depths an actor would go to for a role until I moved to New York City and saw the desperation.
I hesitate to be completely transparent about the entertainment industry because I feel like I am giving away precious secrets of the business, and perhaps revealing a dark underbelly. There seems this carnal need for employment, because it so wrapped up in your self-worth that you are basically nothing if you don’t have a job. It sucked me in too and shattered my heart. Eventually I had to change. God found me (and keeps re-finding me) in my darkest place and told me that I am enough, just as I am, with or without being onstage.
In 2008, I moved to New York City from the Midwest with Broadway dreams. I had a theatre degree, a modest résumé with some fun experiences under my belt, and was ready to be a small fish in that iconic pond. Another layer to the whole situation was that I was married to a minister (still am!) and we were praying about eventually planting a new church in the city as well. I suppose an actress/minister’s wife is a weird combination. My in-laws joked that we should start a blog called “The Preacher and The Showgirl” which always made me chuckle.
The next few years were a whirlwind. I’ve gone out for literally hundreds of auditions. I know this because we buy the head shots I leave at each audition in packs of hundreds, and we’ve gone through several orders. These auditions are sometimes all-day affairs—up at the crack of dawn, hair, makeup, warm-ups, waiting in lines, jitters, praying, and finally singing your 16 bars for a small panel behind the table. Normally the only feedback you get is “thank you.”
I’ve gone on hundreds upon hundreds of auditions, waited in lines that stretch around the block, met with an agent, been granted acceptance into the actor’s union, worked a few regional theatre gigs, and attended callback after callback. I’ve gotten close—so close—but Broadway never called.
I became increasingly unhappy with where I was professionally and with the condition of my heart and self-worth. The people felt phony, the interactions at auditions were forced, and it left me empty at the end of the day (and often without a paycheck as well). I attended networking events where no one really talked (or listened) to one another. Everyone apathetically
checked their phones until the moment the casting person or director walked in the room—then it was like a switch flipped and everyone laughed and flipped their hair and joked boisterously, vying for the attention of the “important” person.
I really disliked this about my industry and I really disliked what it was doing to me. As I began to reflect, it became crystal clear that Jesus didn’t work under this paradigm in his ministry at all. To him, prostitutes are as important as religious leaders. And people are not ranked in importance by what they can do or what they can do for you. I felt convicted when I read, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. . . . have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1, 4).
I resolved to live my professional life dedicated to this biblical principle. I simply saw no other way to be at peace with my soul and Jesus. I was not going to treat people differently depending on what they could do for me.
My first test came quickly.
As an actor, to be sick and attend an audition is the cardinal sin. If another actor gets the sniffles, actors treat them like a leper, because our bodies are our crafts and if we get sick, then we can’t make money. I was at a call where there was a sick girl who probably shouldn’t have come to audition, but she did. She was miserable and it showed. Everyone was giving her disgusted glances and she asked someone for a tissue and a glass of water. Everyone ignored her.
I was trying to focus on my material and was feeling a bit nervous that day, but as I looked at her, I got this vision of Jesus. He didn’t run from the sick. He ran to the sick. I didn’t save her soul or tell her the good news of Jesus that day, but I got her the tissue and the water and even gave her hug. And you know what? I didn’t get sick.
Another thing I focused on is when I booked gigs, I tried to be respectful and not dismissive to the wardrobe staff and stage crew. I wanted to see them for who they were, rather than just people who were there to serve me. What were their stories? How did they get where they were? How many kids do they have? I learned so much and my relationships grew richer. I felt a deeper sense of obedience to what God wanted from me. I started bringing the church to people who weren’t ready to come to church.
(Side note: I did a Broadway musical at a regional theatre once where I had 25 seconds to run offstage and change my entire costume, including wig, outfit, and shoes and then run back onstage—a virtually impossible feat—every night! I am so thankful for my trusty dresser waiting in the wings for me and could not have done it without her.)
I wish I could say that I have been vaulted to Broadway and fame because of my good, Christian obedience. I haven’t. I think living like this has actually cost me, professionally speaking. When you refuse to be fake and scratch people’s backs and tell them what they want to hear all the time—sometimes you’re not the favorite person in the room. And that’s OK with me because I can sleep in peace, knowing I am following Jesus.
As an artist, it’s difficult to find contentment and purpose when you’re not creating. When your skill and passion is your occupation, and you’re financially dependent on what you create, things get emotionally messy.
There’s lots of soul searching when you’re in the in-between times: in between work, in between contracts, in between performances, waiting for the phone to ring with your next gig.
While I may not be where I want to be professionally, I am still challenging and pushing myself to find some sort of identity outside the arts and to be as kind as possible to people along the way. I’ve had to do the hard work of seeking and knowing God’s truth. I am enough because of him. I’m not any less when I’m not working. I’m not any more when I am.
Because of Jesus, I am enough, just as I am.