Take the Risk to Advocate for Yourself

Eleni Kelakos Peak Performance, Problem Solving, Self Help, Women in Leadership

I was in my twenties, pursuing my dream of being a professional actress in New York City. Auditions—and rejections—were challenging and discouraging. To fuel my bruised creative spirit, I took supportive acting classes; and I soaked in every piece of theater I could afford to see on my limited budget.

That’s how I found myself in the basement of a small church in downtown Manhattan, stunned and spellbound by an explosive production of a play called Cinderella/Cendrillon. The production, based on Massenet’s opera, Cendrillon, combined elements of opera, dance and theater in ways that both twisted and deepened the standard Cinderella story. It was so innovative, so viscerally stirring to watch, hear and experience, that my soul burst instantly into extreme aliveness. As I recall, the character of Cinderalla was split in two: Lucette, ash-smeared and cringing, and Cendrillon, the confident beauty at the ball. I still remember the awe I felt watching the actress playing Lucette brilliantly unspool a long, disjointed, emotionally unraveled monologue in English while the opera singer playing Cendrillon trilled an aria in French and dancers rocketed around the stage. I was so transfixed, that when the play was over, I could barely get out of my seat (or out of my head) to re-enter the “real world”.

The experience made me certain about four things:

1. I would remember this play for the rest of my life.

2. I wanted to be in plays like this and have that kind of soul-stirring impact on others.

3. the director of the play, was a disruptive, creative genius.

4. I absolutely had to work Anne Bogart. Because it was this kind of bold, inspiring, fiercely creative person—and this kind of bold, inspiring, fiercely creative production—that made me want to forge ahead and light up the world with my own unique flame.

And so I wrote an impassioned letter to Anne Bogart, fervently laying out why I was the perfect sort of actress and singer to be working with her. Then I slipped it into an envelope, along with a copy of my theatrical head-shot and resume, and sent it to Anne posthaste.

I waited for her reply, knowing in my heart she would respond to my words with an equal fervor.

Days passed, with no response from Anne.

“Well,” I thought. “At least I tried.”

More days went by. Then weeks. Eventually, thoughts of Anne Bogart and her soul-stirring work pushed deep into the recesses of my brain.

Several years later, after I’d moved to Los Angeles to expand my reach as an actress, I happened upon a casting notice for a production of Claire Booth Luce’s play, The Women. It was going to be produced at the San Diego Repertory Theater, and directed by none other than Anne Bogart. Holy Cow! I thought, this is my chance to work with her!

Immediately, I called my agent and asked him to snag me an audition for the play. He just shrugged me off, explaining that my potential involvement in a theatrical project would make us (meaning him) very little money compared to my being cast in a film or TV project.

Undeterred, I then did something I hadn’t done since I’d started out as an actress years before: I went to the open casting call for the play. This meant standing in line for several hours along with a couple of hundred other actresses, and being given a sliver of time to audition for a low-level casting rep who was mostly holding the auditions because it was a union requirement. Though it was a total crapshoot, I knew that if I didn’t take the risk to put myself out there, I might never have the chance to meet Anne and realize my dream of working with her.

My audition lasted less than two minutes. When I was done, the casting person looked me up and down and said “Callbacks are in being held San Diego. That’s two and a half hours’ drive from here. Would you be willing to go there for a callback for Ms. Bogart?

“In a heartbeat,” I replied.

Within two weeks, I made the long drive to San Diego, as prepared as I could ever be to meet Anne Bogart and give a memorable audition.

As I read from the script and sang a song, Anne watched me with warm, appraising eyes.

“That was terrific” she said, “You’re my kind of actress.”

I had known that in my soul ever since I’d seen Anne’s amazing production of Cinderalla/Cendrillon, years back. Still, it was great to hear it from her lips.

“Anne, I said, with a big grin, “Let me be really clear: I would crawl naked, on my knees, through broken glass, through the Sahara desert to work with you.”

Anne laughed.

And then she cast me in the play. In a fabulous role, I might ad (that’s me, on the left, in the photo above).

Working with Anne was everything I had hoped it would be. She was challenging, creative, wryly funny, and skilled at nudging out the best in me. The production we created was provocative, highly stylized, and unmistakably marked by Anne’s unique approach. Like Cinderella/Cendrillon, it raised eyebrows tickled souls, and broke barriers. I loved every moment of it.

But what I especially loved was the knowledge that I had made this incredible experience happen by advocating for myself at every turn: From writing my initial letter to Anne (unanswered, I know, but still a focused effort to help her know of my existence), to calling my agent in hopes of scheduling an audition for The Women, to attending the initial open call, to driving down to San Diego for the callback, to telling Anne how strongly I felt about working with her. Had I not advocated for myself, strongly and persistently, I would never have fulfilled one my greatest dreams.

That experience taught me the importance of showing up, stepping up and speaking up for myself. Years later, I find myself reinforcing this principle with many of , pushing them to ask for what they need and want so they can fulfill their dreams and desires

What about you? How willing are you to do the hard work of speaking up for yourself and asking for what you need and want?

Instead of waiting around for other people to notice you, or to push you forward, take the risk to advocate for yourself. The more you advocate for yourself, the more chance you’ll have to fulfill your dreams, utilize your unique talents, and make your difference as a woman and as a leader.