The Art of Pivoting: To Wed? Or Not to Wed? With Samantha Rolen

Our last feature in The Art of Pivoting series detailed the inner-workings of three brides navigating the emotionally-draining process of planning their postponed weddings during COVID. This week, we’re zeroing in on a bride who, despite postponing, made the difficult yet empowering decision to take the pandemic by the horns and create a beautifully monumental memory amidst the Colorado mountains with her life partner, Paxton. Samantha’s eloquently transparent recount of the highs and lows during this time is impactful and relatable; whether you’re in the midst of planning a wedding or not.

Photograph Courtesy of Mary Meck

Within a year of dating my now-husband, I was certain I wanted to spend my life with him.

I was already on Pinterest planning my dream wedding! For someone who spent their whole life imagining that they would just have a life partner and never get married, this was a big deal. Our relationship had changed my opinion on marriage, and my desire to have a wedding. So when he proposed after almost eight and half years together, I was thrilled and ready to get to planning. Within two months, we had our date and venue picked out and chosen. Within three months, I had my wedding dress and an ideal style for my bridesmaids’ dresses. Everything came together so easily because of how long I had been developing my idea of my perfect wedding. October 4th, 2020 would be our ideal day.

The weekend after taking our engagement photos, I received the heartbreaking news that one of my best friends had passed away.

Erica was one of the people most excited about my wedding, and the idea of planning it without her was devastating. The idea of getting married without her by my side, when I had the honor of being in her wedding party, was something I could just not fathom. With the help of my closest friends and my very supportive husband-to-be, we adjusted our bridal party and moved forward with planning. While I was still so excited to marry my fiancé in front of our friends and family, the wedding planning process had lost a lot of its luster for me.

We had our engagement party in January of 2020, and the excitement of our party guests, as well as some really great surprises, brought back the joy I had experienced at the beginning of the planning process. Flying back from Connecticut, I was ready to start planning all of the final touches for our big day.

In March, when everything shut down I was still feeling optimistic that everything would be okay.

We held off on sending out our invitations; with every passing day wondering if things were going to improve in time, and in May we finally decided to mail them. Once our invitations went out, we started getting questions from guests about whether or not the wedding was going to happen. Depending on who was asking, and how they asked, I would feel either sad or frustrated. I am a planner, and not knowing the answers to our guests’ questions became increasingly difficult for me. Then, we started receiving RSVPs. Those closest to us remained dedicated to making it to our wedding, but many guests responded with no’s.  For every no, a new guest was added to the list (I imagine we will come to regret this!) and my stress levels got higher.

Come June 2020, any mention of the wedding would cause me to burst into tears.

We realized for the sake of my sanity that it was time to decide whether or not we would postpone.
We had been keeping in touch with our venue, who had been open about the ability to change our date from the get-go, and they made things extremely easy for us. My best friend, who had designed our wedding invitations, created flat versions to be used as save the date cards for our new wedding date of 10/24/2021. Most of our guests understood our choice to postpone, but not all did. 

For a long time, we were both sad about postponing our wedding, but as a couple, we realized the most important part of the wedding to us was celebrating our love with our family and friends in a safe manner.

This did not stop October 4th, 2020 from being a very sad day.

We had planned to go somewhere beautiful and read our vows to each other, but due to the wildfires in Colorado, we kept having to change location. Plan after plan fell through, and by the time the third rolled around, I was too sad to want to go through with our plans. I missed my family, far away friends, and felt like we may never get a chance to have the wedding we wanted. We spent the day that should have been our wedding at home, trying to pretend that it was just a normal day and avoiding our phones. I couldn’t bring myself to admit how devastated I was, and we did not talk much throughout the day. 

The next day, my fiancé and I decided we should do something special. We drove into the mountains for lunch and discussed the possibility of eloping. Our ten year anniversary was quickly approaching, and we were both ready to take the next step in our relationship. In Colorado, a couple is able to officiate their own wedding, which opens up a lot of avenues for couples trying to get married.

We were worried our friends and family might not understand, but we made the decision to elope on 10/24/2020, exactly one year before our new wedding date.

We loved the idea of having our “second” wedding be our one year anniversary. This was when my opinion on weddings truly changed. We decided on Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs for its beauty, and the hope that it may not be too crowded. We picked out a hotel, grabbed some bagels, a friend provided the champagne, Paxton dipped some strawberries in chocolate, and we were on our way! 

When we arrived, we ended up falling in love with our hotel. We stayed at Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado Springs. There was the gorgeous castle, beautiful lodges, wildlife, and fantastic scenery. When we got to our room to drop off our belongings and get dressed, we looked at each other and agreed that we should just get married there. Our plan was just to wander around until we found the place that felt right. One of the first few things we noticed when we arrived was a beautiful bridge. My parents have a framed wedding photo in their living room on a bridge, and I had made my fiance promise that we would have one as well. The bridge felt like it was the perfect place for us to say our vows.

Photograph Courtesy of Mary Meck

Turns out, it was perfect.

After we said our vows and pronounced ourselves husband and wife, we ran around with our camera on self-timer taking photos everywhere we could think of. And I will be honest, this was my favorite part of the day. Just the two of us, together, being silly.

I have always firmly believed that a wedding should be solely about the couple, and how they want to celebrate their union. I know some of our loved ones were not happy they couldn’t be with us the day that we eloped, and do not understand why we wanted to do so. I am so thankful to have that moment to forever be just ours.  

I am happy that we are still going to have our wedding in October, so we can finally celebrate our marriage with everyone that we love. I look forward to fulfilling my original vision but have not worked on planning since we made the decision to postpone. With all of the ease and joy our elopement brought, the idea of a big party is harder for my introverted personality to accept. Don’t be surprised if I downsize the guest list before the fall!

Photograph Courtesy of Mary Meck

The Art of Pivoting: Planning a Wedding During COVID-19

We could compile a list the length of a CVS receipt recounting the ways in which this pandemic has impacted our day-to-day lives. But what about the ways in which it’s disrupted some of the milestones? Those of us smart enough to stay six feet away from others have sacrificed celebrations, graduations and, pretty soon, everyone will have had a COVID birthday.

But imagine, in the midst of all of this, planning one of the most monumental moments of your life. A day that (usually) doesn’t come around more than once in a lifetime: your wedding day. What has been notoriously categorized as the most hectic, stressful day in a woman’s life has just been magnified to the nth degree. No matter how strong we are, no matter how much we can handle as women, planning a wedding during this time has become a bigger beast than we could have ever imagined. So how are we handling it?

We asked for the testimonials of three women who have had to hold their breath at various moments over the last year, wondering how long the universe will force them to perpetually postpone their big day, and what sacrifices they’ve had to make along the way.

Photograph courtesy of Tom Russo Photography

For Alexandra Imbrosci-Viera, most days are spent preparing for the fanfare that similarly accompanies a wedding. As a performer, you’re constantly on your toes, ready to pivot at any moment to accommodate a live show; an eerily similar dance to the one done while planning your wedding.

Our engagement was everything we could have wanted and nothing like what we ever expected. My partner, Eric, and I had our first date at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT and it was his dream to propose there. He had a plan: ask my parents for their blessing while I was away on an acting contract, secure the ring, and pop the question in May. Well, we quickly learned that 2020 wasn’t a big fan of plans.

Alexandra Imbrosci-Viera

As the days spent held up in their apartment together during quarantine came to pass, Eric realized he was either going to have to find a way to fit the Maritime Aquarium in his living room or he was going to have to get clever with his proposal. After sneaking her engagement ring into their home in a laundry basket (yes, a laundry basket), Eric proposed to Alexandra in the comfort of their home, which she still describes as “perfect”.

Planning our wedding during COVID-19 has been about prioritizing, letting go, and perspective. One moment everything’s exciting, and the next all you can do is worry, but you can’t let the unpredictable future shadow your happiness in the present.

It’s been really useful to figure out our priorities are when wedding planning. We love a good cocktail hour and a packed dance floor, but if those things can’t happen how we ideally envision by our December wedding day, how will we go forward? We determined what’s important to us is getting married and being close to our family and friends. That translates to being legally married on our original date and postponing our formal ceremony and reception until it’s safe for loved ones to gather.

Alexandra Imbrosci-Viera

The word “priorities” has been thrown around a lot amongst not only the women we spoke with, but the general population of brides everywhere. Despite doling out setbacks, COVID has really forced couples to reckon with what actually matters when it comes to customizing their big day.

Photo courtesy of Melanie Steinkamp

Abby Riss and her fiancé, Paul, got engaged back in August of 2020 – another couple that was hopeful this would be over by the time their wedding date rolled around. And there’s still hope! Abby and Paul are set to wed in October, which, as it stands, is very feasible. But weren’t we all duped into thinking this thing would be over by now?

Subsequently, Abby and Paul aren’t taking any chances on being disappointed when it comes to their wedding day. So they conjured up a “Plan B” on the off-chance they can’t have their killer celebration in nine months, forcing them to come face-to-face with their non-negotiables.

The deeper I get into the weeds of wedding planning, I can’t help but notice the unique opportunity I’ve had to work through some of my own personality flaws. For a person dependent on a set plan, this environment can be crippling. I tend to be a perfectionist when it comes to projects I’m working on, the type of gal to be anxiety-ridden about what centerpieces to have on the tables.

All things I’d normally be losing sleep over are insignificant. Considering everything that’s happening in the world today, not just the pandemic, it really put my priorities into perspective. I’ve taught myself to be more fluid and ultimately learned to give myself a little grace. Everything always falls into place and it’s going to be perfect in its own way.

Abby Riss

For some brides, the priorities aren’t always just about the little nuances of a wedding, or even the bigger details like the headcount; it’s about whether or not to have the wedding during this time at all. For many women, it’s not nearly as easy to relinquish the idea of a big, fat, beautiful celebration with all the bells and whistles, exactly the way you imagined it. And can we blame them?

So, it begs the question, to wed or not to wed? Do you prioritize being married, taking your vows privately, and throwing a big party with your loved ones later? Or do you give in to the pressures of the pandemic and postpone, postpone, postpone, until it lets up?

Like many independent women, Katie Armstrong moved through her early twenties unsure if she wanted to get married; unfazed by the concept of a huge wedding even if she did. But when her fiancé, Adam, popped the question on a surprise trip to Nashville, Tennessee last December, Katie found herself “excited to be excited.” (You can read Adam’s retelling of their engagement story and COVID experience here)

They had their sights set on April of 2021, a very practical endeavor with a leisurely span of sixteen months to plan their dream day together. But COVID had other plans.

Eventually we changed our minds and started planning for October of 2021 instead, but even that made me nervous.  We knew things should be getting better soon with a vaccine on the horizon, but the thought of planning everything only to have to re-plan it all over again was terrifying to me.  I’ve heard hundreds of stories from couples who have done this and my heart breaks for them.  As we came closer to deciding on a venue we knew that if we wanted to have the day we’d been dreaming of and feel truly confident with the date we’d decided on, we’d probably need to push our wedding out to 2022.  So that’s exactly what we did – May 14th, 2022 is the big day.

Katie Armstrong

It has to be said that modern weddings have really become about the celebration – and that’s okay! You’re in love, you’re in love, and you don’t care who knows it. You want to shout it from the rooftops in your big white wedding dress and scream sing to Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer surrounded by your closest friends while your drunk Uncle hits on the bartender and that is okay. Many of us have dreamed of that day, and come hell or high-water, we’ll have it.

We still have so much to do in terms of planning, but so far the process has been fun yet frustrating, exciting yet nerve-wracking.

I’ve had days where I’ve wanted to cry because I feel like I’m planning a wedding that’s never going to happen or like I’m being too selfish.  I know so many people who have had smaller, more intimate weddings due to COVID and they have been absolutely BEAUTIFUL weddings (I attended my best friend’s 12-person wedding and it was amazing!). But I can’t help how I feel – for somebody who never thought about her wedding day until the day she got engaged, it’s crazy how suddenly I wanted this whole experience.  I want all of our friends and family there to celebrate with us, I want the crazy long grand entrance winding down to the water at our venue, I want us to rock out on the dance floor with our wedding party, and I really just want to have the experience of planning this day that suddenly became so clear in my mind in the days following our engagement.  There are great days too, though – days when we book another vendor and I’m so excited because “Yay, we finally accomplished something and we’re one step closer to being married!”  There have been many, many days where my fiancé and I have randomly asked each other “Will you marry me?” all over again, and those beautiful moments snap me out of the bad ones almost instantly.

Katie Armstrong

The common thread amongst all of these women is that there’s never any doubt that their special day will be exactly that…special.

We may have to change the date of our wedding to have the one we’ve always envisioned, but the pandemic has made it even clearer that the most important aspect of our special day is our marriage. And our marriage will happen no matter what.

Alexandra Imbrosci-Viera

No matter what happens, if we have to go with plan B, the most important thing for us is we aren’t going to let it stunt our progression. It may not be exactly how I pictured it but it won’t make this time in our lives any less special.

Abby Riss

I’m grateful for Adam’s love, partnership, support, and ability to keep me sane as we anxiously await this next chapter of our lives together.  He reminds me that we’re doing all of this because we want to and not because we have to.  So we’re waiting a little bit longer than we’d originally expected to officially get married, but we have a lifetime of memories to look forward to creating as husband and wife.

And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about right? Whether you’ve chosen to forego the “typical” large wedding and elope, or you’re holding out for that big banger of a day standing in a sea of those your love, what matters most is that the easiest choice these women have ever had to make regarding their wedding is choosing their partners in every scenario.

You can read their full testimonials below:

The Art of Pivoting: A COVID Q&A with Sarah Kleist

We’ve all had to endure our fair share of pivoting throughout the COVID-19. Large or small, the ways in which our day-to-day has shifted is staggering. Chickadee sat down with one of the fiercest females we know, Sarah Kleist, who went from Performing Artist to a multi-hyphenate seemingly overnight. So what has she been up to and how has it fueled her creative energy during such a draining time? Let’s dive in, shall we?

CC: Where are you pouring your creative energy into during this time? Was this established pre-COVID?
SK: I’ve pivoted full-time into web design and branding; which was completely new to me when the pandemic started. Back in March 2020, I had just booked a DREAM show (Kinky Boots) that inevitably got cancelled, I was performing weekly in composer concerts, and I was getting all sorts of callbacks for things that I adored. It really felt like I had started gaining some actual momentum in the theatre world. However, I had also been working in the same restaurant for six years and had already been thinking, “What else can I be doing to sustain myself financially?”

CC: How has this time of standing still nurtured pivoting into design and branding?
SK: I am not someone who can just sit down and chill… I’m always experimenting with new ideas, new ways to be creative, etc. etc. So when we were all forced to put our lives on hold, I started paying attention to things I was drawn to. Design was one of them. Then, one day, I was re-doing my muggle resumé and gave myself permission to make it as #aesthetic as possible. I had SO much fun with it that I started doing it for my friends. And then my friend’s friends. But then I realized… I could be doing this same thing on websites. And MANY beta clients, learning curves, and hard lessons later, here we are! I’m so proud to say that I am fully booked months in advance. The best part is that, through all of it, I’ve figured out that my special sauce is working with multi-hyphenates, personal brands, and creatives who don’t fit into one square box. Kinda like me. 🙂

CC: Is this just a COVID relationship or do you think you’re in this for the long haul?
SK: I am definitely in this for the foreseeable future. There is nothing like the feeling of watching someone go from, “I’m probably not qualified,” to, “Holy crap, I look LEGIT.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting, it’s that there is such power in the way we present ourselves online, and most of the time, it’s just about the formatting. 

CC: What tools has your artistry in performing given to this newfound parallel career? 
SK: I really don’t think I could do this without my background in theatre. I use storytelling every damn day on websites– not only telling the story of the person whose website it is, but making sure the story is clear for the viewer. I think this is why I love working with multi-passionate people; it’s more of a challenge to tell a story that says, “Hey, I’m this human, but I do all these things, here’s how you can hire me for all of them”, but it’s a challenge I’m up for. Someone also recently said to me that when I’m designing, it’s almost like I’m taking someone’s lived experiences and aesthetic and creating a performance out of it — which is basically acting! That blew my mind.

CC: Have there been any obstacles or setbacks to overcome?
SK: Oh definitely. With any new skill, it takes time to learn. I look back at some of those first sites I created and I know I could do waaaaay better now. I’m also way faster — it was not uncommon in 2020 for me to be working 14 hours a day in order to meet a site deadline. I’m glad to have those days behind me but now I have so many learnings to look back on.

CC: Any words of wisdom for those embarking on a similar endeavor?
SK: Yes! Stay curious. We are often told in this industry that if we’d rather do anything else, that we should go ahead and do that instead. I think that’s BS. The pandemic, while absolutely catastrophic on a grand scale, has proven to be a great time to try out new things, get to know ourselves better, and see past the scope of the lives we lived before it. 

A note from the Editor

I met Sarah one afternoon in the tucked-away oasis that is Bosie Tea Parlor in the West Village. We very rapidly commiserated over our shared struggles of breaking into the industry and I will never forget going home that day, looking her up on Facebook, and seeing a video of her singing that nearly blew my mind (watch here to be gagged) . She’s so staggeringly talented. I’m not shocked in the least that she’s taken this time to creatively thrive – she’s a true star.

Life Takes You By Surprise: Exploring the Lows and Highs with Laura Nelson

If you told me last year, I would someday be here…I would have laughed in your face.

Desperate Measures, by Peter Kellogg (2017)

I think all of us can agree that 2020 and, so far, 2021, is not what we imagined it would be on January 1 of last year.

These lyrics are from one of my favorite shows I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of; and I was lucky enough to work on Desperate Measures for both of it’s Off-Broadway runs. First, at the York Theatre Company in 2017, and then again in 2018 when it transferred to New World Stages; where I got to work alongside the lovely and amazingly talented Chickadee creator, Tara Llewellyn. This show holds a very special place in my heart, but it was during its 2018 run – not this crazy time of COVID – when things began to change for me.

The first few months of 2018 started out great! I had a fantastic vacation to the Caribbean, moved into an awesome apartment, booked work again on an amazing show (see above), and I was living up the single life in NYC. Like many people, I made a New Year’s resolution to get healthy and workout more. …That didn’t last long! I think I went maybe a month and a half working out, inconsistently mind you, before life got in the way or I found other excuses. “I’m too busy/tired.” “I’m counting my three flights of stairs up to my apartment as my workout today.” “I spent all day running around backstage. That counts as a workout, right?”

Then summer hit and everything started falling apart.

In the span of 10 weeks, I had some health issues that turned out to be precancerous cells, a cousin was shot and killed, an uncle passed away, there was a mass shooting in my college city, I got injured backstage at work and had to miss a few shows, my roommate ended up in the hospital, and my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor; which we later found out was cancerous.

I was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. 

After my cancer scare, and even more so after my dad’s diagnosis, I wanted to actually get healthier. I had seen a friend posting on social media about a 30 day wellness program with a business she was a consultant for, and decided to try it. What did I have to lose?

I’m so glad that I gave it a shot! After a few days, I could already tell a difference – I was sleeping better, I had more energy, my skin was clearing up, and I was less bloated. Two weeks in, I was feeling better than I ever have. I wanted to feel this good all the time, and I wanted to help others feel as good as I was feeling, so I signed up to be a consultant myself! I know what you’re thinking – “oh no, not one of those people…”

Yes, network marketing gets a bad rap and has a lot of preconceived notions around it, but hear me out.

Have you seen a friend post a referral or discount code online? They were using network marketing. Watched a good movie or read an interesting book lately? Found a restaurant or new local coffee shop? Got some new clothes from a brand or store you love? Naturally, you’re going to tell people about it or post about it on social media tagging the brands. I bet that store or restaurant didn’t give you a “thank you” check for your referral. My point is that everyone does network marketing every single day. Unfortunately, not everyone has found out that you can get paid for it. With my business, that’s what I do – I share the products I use and love with my network, but I get compensated for doing so. And I love that I’ve been able to build my business alongside my theatre career. I love that it gives me the flexibility to work wherever I want, whether that was a hotel room on tour last year, or now traveling back and forth from my home to my parent’s home a few times a week to help them while my dad is having more cancer treatment.

That song continues on with:

“But fate has a plan, unimagined by man.

And we must accept it with grace.

You think you know what’s coming.

You think that you are wise.

And then when you’re not looking, life takes you by surprise.

Desperate Measures, by Peter Kellogg (2017)

Summer 2018 did take me by surprise – a lot of surprises. The best surprise was finding this amazing company! Doing the 30 day program not only taught me how to eat healthy, but gave me tools and lessons on how to commit to goals and create good habits. I am a huge believer in this program! I’ve seen how it’s positively changed lives, and helped so many people find a healthier sustainable lifestyle. I am working out again and while I’m still not perfect, I have a more well rounded self care routine now that includes working out, reading and listening to personal growth books, building this business, listening to training videos, and participating in team calls. This business wasn’t something I was looking for, and it wasn’t something I never knew I needed or wanted. Now that I am part of this community, I wouldn’t trade it for the world! It changed not only my health for the better, but everything about this company has positively impacted my life as well.

I hustled hard and quickly promoted to the first of only four levels. Now, I’m very close to being promoted to the second level, and I had three of my biggest months ever in the craziness that was 2020. However, it’s not about the levels, or the gifts, or the white Mercedes. For me, it’s about the company; the culture of the company and the amazing community of men and women supporting each other. We are teachers, fitness instructors, students, grandparents, project managers, physical therapists, dieticians, occupational therapists, choir directors, event planners, actors, hair stylists, nurses, accountants, and so much more. And while we all have many differences, what we have in common is far greater. It’s about community, people, calling out greatness in one another, creating a life of purpose, and having a ton of fun doing it. I love that I get to help people become healthier and switch to products that are good for them and good for the planet. And I love showing people that there is another way and that I get to help people create more in their lives like I have in mine. You won’t hear advice from me unless I’ve tried it myself and it’s worked for me. I won’t recommend products, a program, or a service unless I think it may benefit you as well. My greatest hope is to be of service to you in health, mindset, business or life through my example (failures, successes and everything in between)!

I found this company and these amazing people when I was in one of the lowest points of my life. Even now as I’m writing this, going through another very hard week in my personal life, which closely resembles the summer of 2018, I know I can turn to my team to lift me up or to be a shoulder I can cry on.

Obviously, I didn’t dream of selling nutrition products and personal care/cosmetics when I was a little girl. But this business is a way for me to get closer to my actual dreams. While COVID doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon and, subsequently, my theatre career put on major pause, I’m so grateful that I have my business and community to fall back on. We were made for more. These are my people, and there’s room for you here.

*there are no guarantees. results are different for everyone.

A note from the Editor:

I met Laura working on the Off-Broadway run of “Desperate Measures” at New World Stages in 2018. Her recount of the production is nothing short of what it was; we all felt extremely lucky to be a part of its magic. I vividly remember when Laura started this journey, and it’s wonderful to see that she’s been able to successfully balance a career as a Stage Manager with this opportunity to champion others in their endeavor to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

A Creative in Quarantine: Month by Month

by Christina Colgan

Photograph courtesy of Todd Estrin Photography

Six months.

It’s been six long months since the city shut down and the world was put on pause. Maybe my hindsight is just 20/20 (no pun intended), but I felt like I was really on track to figuring out my career, relationships, and life in the Big Apple those first couple months of the year. And then COVID happened. So, what did I do and how did I cope when life took a devastating turn for the worse?

Month 1 was met with vacancy.

Like literally everyone else on the planet, I didn’t know what to expect, how to feel, or how to process everything that was going on. I am one of the lucky ones, where the only thing I lost was a job and sense of stability. But witnessing my industry collapse, watching half my friends move out of NYC, and waiting around in an apartment at the epicenter of a pandemic left me overwhelmed.

So, I did what a lot of people do when life gets overwhelming: I turned to Netflix.

And let me tell you, if you haven’t already started watching Schitt’s Creek, you really should.

Month 2 was met with restlessness.

After finishing all five available seasons of my new favorite show and all three seasons of another show (and maybe a lot more seasons of a few more shows), I felt lost. I missed acting. I missed being on set. I missed reading a script. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and make my own TV show.

I immediately contacted my favorite actor (my dog, Barkley) and asked him to be the lead, I held auditions (I didn’t have many options so I ultimately had to go with my husband), I drafted out a timeline, created an NDA for the main actor to chew on, and wrote a script for this six-episode soap opera I titled, Dogs of Our Lives. And maybe I was high off the adrenaline of producing my own show, or maybe my dog gave me the confidence I always needed; but this dopamine fix led me to email an agent I had auditioned for but got rejected by six months prior (pre-COVID) to let her know what I had been up to and to invite her to the virtual series premiere of my new fake show. And before you go judging me, just remember this was like 30 days into quarantine, so I think we can agree we were all a little delusional at this point. But lo and behold, two days later she was my agent. Now, I’m not saying Dogs of Our Lives helped me get this agent, but I’m also not not saying that either.

What I am saying is that you should always try, even if it’s scary or out of your range of expertise, because you never know where it might lead.

I’m not necessarily referring to quantifiable success – I consider my directorial debut a win simply because I had a lot of fun doing it.

Month 3 was met with exuberance.

I felt empowered to do absolutely anything so I tried to do absolutely everything. I started taking acting classes (five to be exact), I tuned into every live Instagram video any casting director/agent/manager/etc. had to offer, I started teaching myself how to speak in a British accent (it was bloody hard and did not last long), I applied to more agencies and got two more agents in the process, and I finally started acting again. It felt amazing to be busy. I began to feel like I didn’t have enough time; there was always something else I could be studying, something more I could be practicing, something else I should be doing.

Subsequently, Month 4 was met with burnout.

I had been fixated on the fact that I needed to get ahead in my career because I had been given this gift of free time. As the city started reeling back its restrictions, the auditions slowly came drifting in. With all these new skills and classes under my belt, I was ready to take on the industry. However, the feeling wasn’t reciprocated and I was welcomed with radio silence. But then, I took a second to really listen. And I heard the sirens; I heard the desperate cries of injustice; I heard the shouts of despair; and I took a break to really listen and learn. I read some books, I joined the protests, I started painting, I mourned with the world, I watched the sunset, I breathed.

Month 5 was met with determination.

I began thinking about the things I have control over, and actively started moving toward changes I could actually work on; no matter how small or insignificant my steps looked. I started using bar soap to reduce plastic, I started turning my phone off, I started making oat milk at home, I started speaking up and using my own voice. But then I started wrestling with my choice in career. There are people out there making a difference, saving lives, and I chose… acting? Well, I thought about it. I thought about it a lot. And I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m no superhero (though I’d absolutely love to be cast as one someday), but I believe in the power of art and creativity and the positive impact it can
have on the world. In some of my darkest times, I’ve turned to movies and music. In times of limited understanding, I’ve seen TV shows that have enlightened me and challenged my personal perspective. In times of not knowing how to express myself, I watched a film that perfectly articulated what I was going through. And other times, art has made me laugh so hard my belly hurt; or smile so big my cheeks were sore; and has always inspired me to reach for the stars. I realized I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be because I think the world needs a little more of that these days.

Photograph courtesy of Tiff.gif Photography

Month 6 was met with hope.

I got an email from a production company that I had worked with in January saying they had an upcoming shoot they wanted me in. Then, I got a text message from the owner of a studio I worked at last September for a big name commercial he thought I’d be perfect for. And then, I got a phone call from a videographer I had worked with last December saying he had me in mind for a short film he had written. And just like that, the jobs started rolling in!

I was ecstatic that my hard work was paying off! Although not in the way I originally had in mind. Most of the jobs I was getting were from relationships I had established with people I made on various sets before the virus.

All these exhilarating opportunities + the sobering realization that we had just spent half a year in quarantine = the perfect blend of passionate delirium I needed to throw my hands in the air, yell at a responsibly loud volume “Why not!?” and apply for Miss Dog Mom 2020. Not what you were expecting, was it? Neither was I, but now I’m a finalist and will be participating in the pageant at the end of the month. So, yeah, this is where 2020 has brought me. But hey, you never know where it might lead.

I wanted to look back and be proud of what I did these past 6 months.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that quarantine was secretly a productivity competition. I would’ve definitely been disqualified from all the movie-watching and phone-scrolling I took part in.
But I did get some good quality creative work in, and I can rejoice and celebrate these sparse yet exciting victories. Most importantly though, I grew. I educated myself in things I had been ignorant towards, I confronted existing beliefs I had, I admitted to myself when I was wrong, and I took some leaps when I didn’t know when or where my feet would touch the ground.

And it was all worth it. I am worth it.

Photograph courtesy of Tiff.gif Photography

A note from the Editor:

I was lucky enough to find Christina when I was casting my TV pilot “Under the Influence” this time last year. She was a fast friend, intuitive scene partner, and brought such light to our show. Her energy is irreplaceable, both on and off screen. And, if you know her, you can hear her voice throughout this wildly authentic recount of her time staying creatively balanced during the pandemic. She is a hustler, as is her dog Barkley, and together, quarantine or not, they’re still makin’ magic.

Dear Sweet, Creative Chickadee,

by Frankie Ann Marcille

Photograph by Alex Colavecchio Photography

I have spent my entire life trying to define creativity.

Like so many others, I thought being creative meant just doing something in the arts. Being a dancer, singer, actor, visual art, writing. And as a women, I felt like the only way I would be successful as a creative was by fitting into this perfect type we saw represented-this thin, doll-like stereotype that had been labeled as the “perfect” look and attitude for women. So in my mind, being creative meant looking like those women in magazines, in movies, or on the stage. Fitting into the “perfect” look and attitude of being a star. 

FALSE!!!! This is far from what the true definition of creativity is. Creativity goes far beyond the stereotypes we have been conditioned to associate with the term. We have been conditioned to believe that the only people who are creative are the “perfect” people of the arts- people who sing, dance, perform. And while some of the most talented and creative people I’ve ever met are artists, their artistic talent is not the main thing that makes them creative.

I realize now that being creative is how you take the life you’ve been given and make the most of it. As our favorite chickadee, Tara, says “let’s make our own puzzle instead of trying to be a piece in someone else’s”.

I also realize now that I have been putting my own creative puzzle together since the day I was born.

First piece: It’s not about what you see, it’s about what you do.

I was born with septo-optic dysplasia, a condition that resulted in legal blindness that cannot be cured. Because of this, I have spent my entire life learning to adapt to the world around me; finding creative ways to do ordinary tasks I otherwise wouldn’t be able to because of my vision impairment. I had to learn to exist in an overwhelming, visual world without being able to see a good amount of it. This was difficult to understand, but I was very fortunate to have parents and teachers who always encouraged me to try. Who encouraged me to get out there and experience the world for myself even if I couldn’t see as well. Who told me “Yes”.

That simple word pushed me to do so many things. I quickly learned to read even though many thought I wouldn’t be able to. I started writing my own stories for fun. And my parents signed me up for dance classes when I was just two years old.

Second piece: Dancing through life.

I quickly fell in love with dance. Being a blind dancer came with it’s fair share of challenges and creative adaptations. I had to stand at the first barre next to the teacher in ballet class so I could see the movements. I would need to be in the front center spot for jazz class to see the combinations. But I did it. 

The dance style I fell in love with the most was tap. I started tap late, didn’t get into it until i was about eight years old. I was clearly way behind the other dancers my age. So when I decided to take class, the instructor put me in the class with my age group but also gave me private lessons. And it just clicked. With tap, once I learned a step, I could identify it by sound. I didn’t have to see the movement so much in order to know what was expected. I quickly caught up to my peers and tap became not just my favorite, but my best dance style!

Dance provided me with an outlet to express my feelings creatively. When I was dancing, I didn’t feel different. I wasn’t focused on the fact that I was blind. It was just me, out on the stage, making something beautiful. And it was the best feeling in the world.

I had several amazing opportunities as a dancer. In middle school, I got to dance at TD Garden as a part of the pregame show for the Boston Celtics. In high school I performed at Hershey Park and participated in the Rockette Summer Dance Intensive in NYC. In college I had the pleasure of studying under Tony nominee Elizabeth Parkinson. 

Now, dance is what I do to stay active. It is still a vital piece of my creative puzzle. But as I add more pieces to that puzzle, dance has become something that is more recreational and cathartic. I will always be a dancer in one way or another, and I am so proud of that!

Third Piece: Blind Ambition

After moving the the city four years ago, I found myself on a different path than the one I originally thought I would be taking. I moved to the city to pursue a career in the arts, and found myself teaching. And though I loved my job, I found myself craving more creativity.

Teaching allowed me to be creative every day, but for other people. I was creative for my students and for my teammates. I needed something that was purely creative for myself.

So I started Blind Taste Test, an Instagram blog devoted to my love of food. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have a true idea. I just thought, “Hey I love food and I want to try cooking more. Maybe documenting it will help me stay on track”. That idea evolved into sharing my experiences and cooking tips as a blind person. I then started writing about restaurants I would visit, how accessible they are, etc.

Now, after two years of blogging, the account has become something beyond what I could have imagined. I changed the name to “Blind Ambition” and I now write about every aspect of my life as a blind individual. I still feature blind taste tests from time to time, but they focus more heavily on my own cooking experiences. I’ve written about my teaching experiences, assistive technology, general accessibility, advocacy, and self-care. “Blind Ambition” has become a huge creative outlet for me. I love that this silly idea I had for myself has turned into a way for me to connect with other blind individuals, and share some helpful information. I love this little piece of my puzzle and I hope I can continue to develop it further!

Fourth Piece: The Power of “Yes”

This piece of my creative puzzle is still in the works. One day, I was sitting at home and thinking about my childhood. I thought about all of the people who told me “no”- that i couldn’t be successful and creative because of my vision. And then I thought about the first person (other than my parents) who told me yes.

Writing has always been something I loved  doing. I loved creating stories, poems; I’ve done a lot of journaling throughout my life. So as I sat and thought about all of this, I began to write it down in a note on my phone – 2017’s version of scribbling on a napkin. When I had gotten it all out, I closed the note and didn’t think about it again until a few months later. I stumbled upon the note, read it, and thought to myself hey…maybe this could be something. 

So I brought it to my computer, formatted it out, and created the first draft of a children’s book. 

It would be a few more months before I let anyone read it. I was surprised by the positive response I got from it. And now, three years after writing it, I’m very excited to say that my first book “Yes” is in the process of getting published! I am so excited to have my lifelong friend Patrick Regan working on illustrations and cannot wait to share it with the world when it is ready!

What I think is important to take away from this piece is to not hide your puzzle pieces. Yes, some things we create for ourselves. Somethings are meant to be private. But when you create something and share it, you never know where it could take you or who you could impact!

Fifth Piece: “Lights! Camera! Advocate!”

The most recent piece of my puzzle is one that feels truly like a dream come true. My whole life I have been pursuing the perfect position that combines my love of the arts and passion for accessibility. And it just so happens that in the midst of the chaos that is 2020, I have been able to find it.

I have just joined the incredible women led team at Elle Jones Casting Company as a Casting Associate and Accessibility Specialist. Moving forward, I will be working to create accessible conditions on TV/Film sets for actors and crew members. I will be helping professionals of all abilities speak up for their needs and helping cast inclusive productions to diversify our industry. I am going to literally be living my dream.

So my point, ladies, is this:

I didn’t write this letter to gush about myself and my accomplishments. I wrote this letter to show you that creativity cannot be defined simply. My definition of creativity is different from yours. How I have built my puzzle is different than how any of you will. My point, however, is that I let go of the idea that I need to shape my piece to perfectly fit in someone else’s puzzle and went out and found ways to build my own.

Creativity is all about how you express yourself. It’s about your personal interests. It’s about your ways of problem solving. Whether you’re finding ways to adapt to the curve balls life throws at you, dancing on stage, starting an Insta blog, writing a book, or even just taking a step towards a dream…. it’s all up to you, girl. Don’t let someone else dictate how you put your puzzle together, how many pieces it has, how long it takes you to put it together. This is your life. This is your puzzle.

Now get ready. Get set…

Create!!

Xo, Frankie Ann

Photograph by Alex Colavecchio Photography

A note from the Editor:

I met Frankie in 2012 during my senior year of college where we became fast friends. I am so grateful that she has remained an unwavering cheerleader for, not only my success, but for my ambition. She has always been an advocate for women and individuals with disabilities, especially in the arts; and I am elated that she has grown so rapidly into such a well-rounded artist. The world is lucky to share in her many talents.

Step Ball Change and Pivot: A New Dream

by Annabelle Fox

If you had told me four months ago that a pandemic would wipe out the theatre industry and I would need to reconsider my entire life’s timeline, I would have either laughed in your face or had a panic attack. Probably both. Well, here we are…

But it’s not the end of a dream, it’s just the beginning of another one.

With theatre on pause, I have the bittersweet luxury of digging deep and, in the words of Marie Kondo, reassessing what “sparks joy”.

I have always loved fashion and home design. While quarantining with my parents in Connecticut, I completely redecorated and repurposed their sun room. It became a café by day, restaurant by night, and haven of solace away from the madness in between. It was exciting to see the space come to life in these useful yet stylish forms.

My hunger to design accompanied me to the new apartment I now share with my husband in Nashville. You heard right, we moved all of our belongings and ourselves across the country to the city where we first met. As former musical theatre majors at Belmont University, we always planned to end up in Nashville. Due to COVID-19, the move came sooner than we’d imagined, but but we’re so happy we took the leap of faith. I began pouring over design blogs and Pinterest boards in the U-Haul so I could perfect our farmhouse/western aesthetic as soon as we re-opened the first moving box! It’s been a fun distraction away from the palpable sadness pervading New York City and our Broadway community.

Annabelle’s new home in Nashville

Job-hunting became another distraction from what was happening in the world and in the arts. I searched nonstop for potential jobs, exploring wild options, looking hard at what I could do. I had all the alert notifications from Indeed set and applied to hundreds of notices. Nothing clicked until I set my eyes on Vow’d, the new bridal sister-store to Altar’d State.

Annabelle on her wedding day | Photo by Ingrid Heres

Weddings are magical. As a young girl I often imagined myself, flowing white dress in toe, smiling groom at the other end, walking down the aisle. Like most 90’s girls obsessed with Parent Trap I was incredibly intrigued by the elegance and poise of fictitious wedding designer Elizabeth James. Then later when I babysat for the CEO of LoveShackFancy I further developed an appreciation for lush lace and creams. Being in such proximity to beautiful fabrics and patterns made me recognize the power in fashion and the finer things in life. In 2016, when I got to plan my own wedding, I relished in everything from the dress to the food to the venue to the color scheme and voraciously attacked every DIY project in between. It was a production, and I was the stage manager, director, and star! I’d never considered exploring the bridal industry as a career until the opportunity found me.

I am pivoting away from theatre for now and stepping into my newest role, (and superpower) as wedding stylist for the dreamiest bridal boutique ever to grace Nashville, VOW’d. I will be part of the Nashville store launch! I am so excited to support new brides as they step into this important season of their lives especially during such uncertain times.

Pre-COVID, I was always on the go. I was hustling to auditions, side jobs, and rehearsals; not to mention producing concerts, prepping for callbacks, and meeting with friends just to stay sane. Without the busyness, I have been forced to reevaluate my life-goals. I have started writing more and have become more in tune with my thoughts. My husband and I were planning for a workshop production of his musical right before COVID hit. It was to be the culmination of five years of blood, sweat, and tears. When it was cancelled we grieved. It was a devastating realization that theatre is never certain and nothing in this life is guaranteed. It was hard for me to turn away from my dreams because it felt like my failure, when in reality I haven’t failed, theatre has, and for very serious reasons.

I see now that shifting the perspective is just a temporary shift of a dream. Dreams can change and the skills needed for one task can be applied to the next.

Perhaps this pivot is a blessing when grappling with this kind of heartbreak. I’m not saying I will never go back to performing, but I am hopeful this new avenue will become a career. I will be contributing my creative ideas and artistic talents to curate the stores’ aesthetic and design, navigating vendor networking, and planting pop-ups. This role feels like a solid parallel to performance. After all, as artists we are constantly gauging how things make us feel, building community and relationships and thinking outside the box, just to keep things interesting.

As actors a part of our job is pretending. Let me be honest, taking this job and shifting gears is scary. Letting go of my timelines is terrifying, and stepping into a totally different world of work brings out my deepest imposter syndrome insecurities. But, I am choosing to walk through life with transparency and empathy to connect with and help people. I don’t want to pretend that this life isn’t hard; I want to encourage people through the challenges. Embracing the difficulties and then forging my own way with my unique skills; that’s a new dream and that’s beautiful. While I’m not preparing for a musical production or show or role, I will be walking alongside brides preparing for the biggest event of their life. I can’t wait!

A note from the Editor:

I met Annabelle on set of my pilot “Under the Influence” last fall. We were looking for background actors and her name was passed along to me by a Connecticut friend. I didn’t realize I would find such a vibrant, talented, kindred spirit and friend in her. Outside of performing and cultivating a new career in the wedding circuit, Annabelle also used her creative mind and connections in the industry to create her blog Actor Meets Coffee, where she sits down with members of the industry to share stories and commiserate over something that brings (mostly) all of us together – coffee. Our interview is still one of my favorite memories from last year. New York will certainly miss her light as she rediscovers her former home in Nashville, but we’ll be ready to welcome her back with open arms when the time is right.