[Editor’s Note: This is a guest article by Catherine LaMoreaux, artistic director of the Metuchen-based Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center. For more information, visit dragonflyartsnj.com. — Jay Lustig]
When is it too late to pursue your dream of becoming an actor? Some later-in-life performers believe it is never too late. While they come from various walks of life and have had different careers, they share the joy of accomplishment in finally following their dreams.
I spoke with several actors who have worked with my New Jersey community theater, Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center, to see what advice they had for people who are looking to start acting careers at ages most people are beginning to plan for retirement.
Mitch Holsten is an actor Dragonfly found via Backstage, and asked to audition. After a successful cold reading, he appeared in our production of “Our Town” as Mr. Webb. He is a chiropractor who began acting when he was in his early 40s. He’d had the bug to perform for many years. He calls it an “itch that needs to be scratched.”
Since taking the plunge, he has done background work in 12 films and TV shows. His advice to prospective actors is, “If you don’t try, you don’t know whether or not it’s for you.”
Another actor we found by using the “Find Talent” feature on Backstage is Craig Mayer. He has an MBA in Finance and has spent most of his adult life in the corporate accounting/finance field. Yet for 30 years, he wanted to act.
He began by taking classes in New York at HB Studios and The Acting Studio. Then he enrolled in a program at the New Jersey School of Performing Arts. He was cast on his second audition. His advice to those longing to act is that it is a very tough field, and requires a lot of work. He says one class is not enough because “honing your skills is a never-ending process.”
An actor who came to Dragonfly to perform and stayed to join the board is Shailendra Khurana. He started acting when he was 37 years old; he is a software engineer, but performs in several shows a year. He had always loved theatre and wanted to study acting.
He started out doing backstage and tech work for a community theater. That led to acting workshops, which led to performing. In the six years that Shailendra has been acting, he has appeared in 10 plays. He feels that acting gives him a different perspective for looking at life. His advice: “Go for it! You will discover things about yourself that you could not have imagined.”
Kathleen Ann Gallagher is a registered nurse and a published romance author. As a child, she helped her father, a former vaudevillian, with his magic act and often presented plays in her living room. She put her performing desires on hold, though, through nursing school and raising her children. After a cancer diagnosis, she “realized it was now or never” and signed up for an acting class at Dragonfly.
Her first show, “Twelfth Night,” was just over a year ago. Since then, she has been in six shows at different theaters. Kathleen recommends trying out an acting class for anyone interested in performing. She says it can help build confidence and is a great way to make new friends.
Barry Leonard began acting when he was 55. He had done plays in grade school but along the way he “became very self-conscious.” While working as an information systems programmer and analyst, he attended many Broadway and local performances. As he watched, he felt there was an excitement he was missing.
He was offered his first role when a friend asked him to fill in. Since then, he has retired, and in less than three years he has been in 24 plays and musicals.
He has a caution for prospective thespians: You have to be able to handle rejection.
But, he says, “I can’t imagine not having made this choice. It’s made my life complete.”
My dream — that of starting a theater — is one I held in check until I was in my 50s. Then, knowing it was now or never, I teamed up with my daughter and founded Dragonfly. I still teach high school, but I have the joy and fulfillment of following a dream I’d held for many, many years.
I didn’t want to die never having tried. And, as Barry said, it’s made my life complete.
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