On February 23rd, on what thankfully turned out to be a sunny day in Los Angeles, I walked into the heavily guarded, star-studded gates of what is possibly The Oscars for some in attendance: The Film Independent Spirit Awards.
Thanks to our dear friends and Matt’s co-workers over at Lagralane Group, we were graciously extended the golden invitation to attend. Once I learned I was going, I waited with anticipation for what was sure to be my most sparkling Hollywood moment thus far. Truth be told, I felt like I’d arrived. Sort of. Let me explain.
The Film Independent Spirit Awards (aired on IFC Channel) are for the best and the brightest and the boldest independent filmmakers of the year. So, yeah, for the Indie world, in my opinion, this IS the Oscars. And let me tell you, when we discovered our table was two tables away from Tilda Swinton to the North, one table away from Marcia Gay Harden to the South, one table away from Regina King to the East and right behind Marisa Tomei, I was giddy with Oscar-worthy excitement.
I wasn’t on screen, I hadn’t done any work to be lauded, so why did I feel as though I’d arrived? Because for once, I’d been invited to a table! I wasn’t at the event because I was a PA wrangling talent. I wasn’t an assistant managing “+1s”. I wasn’t a driver parking a celeb’s SUV (like a I did for J-Lo’s set visit when I was a 2nd 2nd AD on the film 48 Hours To Live.) I was there for the purpose intended, to celebrate! And that gave me a fun sense of arrival. Plus, I was able to hug it out with some old sketch comedy friends, Diallo and his wife Brittney, and that truly felt amazing.
The spirit of the Spirit Awards is a lot like senior year graduation. There’s a lotta genuine joy in the room; lots of hugs and laughter and happy tears. It’s a “hello”, a “goodbye”, a “how ya been?”, a “what’s next?” and a “I hope I win!” for many in attendance. For me, having been at Sundance a month prior, where I saw the world-wide premiere of The Farewell by Lulu Wang and attended a panel featuring her, it was awesome to be “reunited” with her again at the Spirit Awards, dressed cute but casual in a pants outfit. It was equally awesome to reunite with Boots Riley and watch him win Best First Screenplay for Sorry to Bother You and watch Barry Jenkins win Best Feature, Director and Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk when just a week prior I had heard both of them speak on a director’s panel. As an observer, as somebody’s +1, it was all pretty awesome.
I think this experience is no different than those of you who go to sales conferences where you brush elbows with the top regional seller who you may or may not have a photo of on your vision board; or for the dentists who attend continuing education workshop weekends in Vegas and you’re reunited with a rock star dentist whose techniques have inspired you; or for the writers who attend book festivals only to see J.K. Rowling strolling down the hallway coming right at you. It’s all the same and what I learned from going to the Spirit Awards is that in order to be inspired to be the best at your craft, you’ve gotta be in the room. You’ve gotta get there and while there, you’ve gotta show UP!
What does this mean, exactly? Two things.
You all know I’m an entertainer. I’m over twenty years in this industry as a writer/dancer/actor/producer/director. Of COURSE I want to be up there winning something and making a speech. But there’s a time and a place and this one wasn’t mine. Accepting that makes it a lot more fun to simply be in the room rather than wishing you could have somebody else’s ice cream. (It has taken over twenty years to reach this mature, enlightened perspective.) Howeves, friends. I have always learned by watching, doing and following. I’m inspired by it. When I entered Marquette as a freshman, there was a graduating senior there at the university who was from my high school in Kenosha. We ran into each other in the commons and he was super excited because he just found out he was going to be the Senior Speaker. I was like, “What’s that?” And he told me it’s an honor like valedictorian but you’re sort of nominated by and voted on by peers and faculty. I was like, “Cool! I want that too.” And four years later, I got it. He inspired me. I did the work, I showed up during my college career and boom!
I’m not famous and I didn’t have a film project to talk about while munching shrimp hors d’oeuvres and sipping Moscow mules while mingling outside pre-show with hundreds of people. This sort of “not-having” thing can make you feel less-than, like you haven’t done the work and you haven’t shown up to your own talent. You have to be where you are … where you are. (Feel me?) You may not be the superstar of the moment. But you’ve gotta remember you ARE a superstar. You DO shine just by being present and compassionate and you. I know I’m a great connector. I know I’m fantastic at making people feel comfortable and included. I know my dazzling smile can be a beacon of light in a sea of faces who aren’t. So this is where I show up. Where I stand in my power and in my worth, because it is mine. Where I am right now. I encourage you to do the same. I don’t care if your Spirit Awards is your monthly book club, quarterly parent-teacher’s dinner, Wednesday night yoga class or a +1 to a Black Tie Gala. Show up as you are.
And I’m gonna tell you, I had to remind myself of this even while I was there. I was heading back to my table from a between-awards bathroom run and there in front of me was the fabulous Marisa Tomei, dressed in fab, black full skirt and what seemed like a punk rock t-shirt. My heart started to race, because I love her so much, but I had to act like I was sort of a peer and not a fan, because its the spirit of the Spirit Awards so I stood really tall (taller than her) on my red stilettos and did the polite “Hollywood Look Away”. But I couldn’t help it; when I passed her I sooo wanted to be her senior graduation best friend, that I literally, like hung my head a little and whispered, “Hey Marisa.” I’m certain next time we see each other we’ll be BFFs and sign each other’s cell phone cases.
One more thing, please? I know this is long.
When you do show up, look amazing. Why? Because, looking good really does make you feel good. For this year’s Spirit Awards, I wore this navy blue long gown accompanied with my mom’s vintage jacket she has had since I was a baby. Now, I hadn’t worn that dress since Landi’s 40th birthday ball, which means I hadn’t really worn the dress for five years ago. As I was getting dressed, I remembered how great my curves used to look in the dress, but now I had a speedbump in my stomach area that wasn’t there before. Grrrr. I had to wear the jacket to cover the eight pounds I’m not used to having.
Fortunately and unfortunately, I still see myself as a 40 year old, so really, I’m doing myself a disservice to think I’m the same body from that time. I’m not dancing in my underwear regularly; my life is different, I’ve been through a lot of different stuff, so why wouldn’t my body look different? After that struggle of acceptance, I had to deal with my face. Argh.
Based on my experience in this industry, one subtle difference between a celebrity person, or a person who’s meant to be somewhere is their makeup. Don’t judge me. It’s a truth in this industry. Think of it as a track athlete who shows up to a meet in Keds versus spikes. Or when I showed up for my first Luvabull’s audition in shorts and a tank top. Doesn’t mean the person ain’t worth nothin’, just means they aren’t ready, haven’t gotten the memo, and ain’t gonna be on the red carpet today.
Somehow I expertly sabotaged myself and didn’t give myself enough time to do my own makeup properly. So, I never got my lashes on. I never found my liquid base which magically disappeared and resulted in me turning the bathroom upside down only to accept defeat of not having it and succumbing to using primer and powder (so not dewy!)….and being late. Honestly guys, looking and feeling your best is a form of showing up. This sort of thing is something we can control. I know it is hard to show up well when some of these things cost money; especially when that money is needed to go towards rent and not a cut, color and blow dry. To that end, I urge you to get creative. On Facebook, I’m in a support group for women artists and the like. Lots of times, a makeup artist will barter her brush for services from a videographer or editor to help her make branded tutorial videos. Or a person who knows how to garden will barter her green thumb for pet sitting from a dog walker. The list goes on. Find a way.
My friend Yvonne showed up. She had a makeup person and she looked and I imagine, felt fab. And right when we arrived, she seriously was whisked aside by a photographer for a photo! #winning. This is how you learn from your friends and get inspired.
Ok, that’s the end of my lesson of “What I learned by showing up at The Spirit Awards”. I hope you’re fulfilled and inspired. Until next time.