Analisa Leaming: It’s a Balancing Act between “I Want This” & “I Don’t Need This”

analisa leaming

On our first ever SKYPE interview after a pretty large “coffee break,” I had the insane honor of chatting with, Analisa Leaming, the voice behind the incredibly popular podcast, A Balancing Act.  I started listening to this inspirational and uplifting podcast a few years ago shortly after starting my own blog and so it feels fitting to get to interview HER now. She is currently wearing Ribbons across America playing Irene Molloy in the First National Tour of Hello, Dolly! (hence the reason for our SKYPE interview). Before hitting the road you may have seen her on Broadway as Rosalie Mullins in School of Rock. Her other fun Broadway credits include: Hello, Dolly, The King and I, and On the Twentieth Century. In this interview we unpack her unconventional road to Broadway, s her balancing act, and that while this career IS hard, we can make it easier on ourselves by releasing the grippy-ness, and recognizing how we can show up in the world. Enjoy!

Drink of Choice: Fair Trade Organic (the good stuff) with a little half and half. 

AF: Okay voice recorder is ON! I’ve never done a Skype interview before, this is so exciting!

AL: Yeah!

AF: So how are you? How’s tour? (AL is currently appearing as Irene Molloy in the First National Tour of Hello Dolly).

AL: It’s good! We just started back up yesterday after two weeks off, so getting back into it but it’s good!

AF: Getting back into the groove! I see you’re drinking your coffee!

AL: Yessss, I had to! It’s actually my second cup which I don’t usually do but today is one of those days!

AF: Today is one of those days! I always start by asking…what is your coffee drink of choice?

AL: If I could drink coffee any way it would be organic, fair trade with a bit of half and half…the good stuff. However, right now I’m not drinking that! Have you heard of Four Sigmatic?

AF: Yes!

AL: Well that’s what I’m drinking these days because I had to cut back on caffeine… because your brain adjusts to the caffeine and then it doesn’t work the same way, so you need more to feel the same effect. I was noticing I wasn’t feeling well in the mornings so I was going to try and cut it out completely but then I thought what if I just cut it back and do Four Sigmatic since it’s half the amount of caffeine and it’s made such a difference! I’ve noticed such a difference in my energy in the mornings. I won’t go without my half and half though…

AF: That’s awesome and good to know! Well- I am just so grateful that you started your podcast A Balancing Act because it really did change my life and my perspective on theatre and the audition game and making it less of a game and more of a creative journey. It’s really cool to be talking to you right now because I know you’ve interviewed so many people and so I always start by asking, what is your backstory?

AL: Well I have to ask you because I was stalking you!- are you from Tennessee?!

AF: I went to school in Nashville at Belmont University!

AL: That’s so crazy! I saw you guys were just there!

AF: Yes! My husband wrote this amazing folk musical and we were workshopping it at Studio Tenn!

AL: Yes and that music is my life and so I saw that music video and was like, “This is so cool!”

AF: Wow, it’s such a small world!

AL: Yes! I’m from Murfreesboro, my family is in Nashville now.

AF: That is so ironic!

AL: Yes! My mom teaches at Vanderbilt. I think it’s kind of interesting and maybe you can relate to this… I had two main influences in high school and one was my choir director and he sent me home with a VHS of “Opera Great Performances” and he was like, “This is what you’re going to do one day.” I was fifteen at the time and was like, “What!?” My other influence was the voice teacher I switched to who was a Soprano at the Nashville Opera. I didn’t really have any influences from the Musical Theatre world, even though that was really what I wanted to do. I grew up listening to Julie Andrews! She’s my hero…!

AF: I love her. You sound like her!

AL: Thank you. That was the trajectory that the universe put me on and my voice teacher was like, “You cannot study Musical Theatre in college, you’ll ruin your voice” which is so the attitude opera singers have about Musical Theatre singers.  I went to University of Memphis for a short time, but I knew I needed a more competitive program that would push me so that’s how I found The Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York and it was amazing. I am so grateful for the time I had there. I got incredible training, I was surrounded by these prodigies. Kids with perfect pitch from all over the world playing the violin like masters. I did Vocal Performance and studied Opera but I was the one in the practice rooms, covering the window of course so nobody would know it was me, trying to sing Last Five YearsLight in the Piazza, and Wicked….attempting to emulate those sounds because I had nobody to teach me how to make them! It was through the Lotte Lenya Competition that I got on to the Musical Theatre trajectory. Ted Sperling and Ted Chapin were both judges my senior year of college and that’s how I got to New York! I was going to get my Masters at CCM and I wrote to Ted Sperling and asked, “What do you think? I kind of what to just come to New York…” and he responded, “I think you would do very well if you came to New York, school will always be there…” and I said “OK.” I reached out to Ted Chapin, who is the head of the Rodgers and Hammerstein foundation, and was like “I see this audition for the Sound of Music tour in Asia…is it worth my time to go to New York for this?” and he was like, “Yes, I think so. Hold tight” and all of a sudden I had a callback for MARIA and so I HAD to go to New York for the callbacks and I ended up understudying Maria and playing Sister Sophia in the International tour of Sound of Music when I was twenty-two! That’s how I got to New York! It took me longer than I suspected or hoped it would to make it to Broadway which is the dream, which of course if you listen to my podcast you know that I am very adamant about how that is not the answer…it’s the journey!

AF: That is amazing. I didn’t realize a tour brought you to the city!

AL: Yes, I didn’t even come to New York! I actually moved to Nashville right after I graduated. I didn’t have the money to come to New York! I was waiting tables and I saw that audition and had no idea how it would even work. I was wondering, “Will I audition and fly home or will there be callbacks right away?” so Ted really made it happen for me and got me that callback. I flew to China by myself and I met up with the tour there. We rehearsed in Chung Nu, China. I met some great friends who I still have to this day! They had all graduated from NYU, or OCU, so they were talking about their “books” and I was like, “What book!?” That was my Musical Theatre education! They would tell me what songs to sing, I was their pet project! They were like, “You should sing this song, you should play this role, you’re going to do this…” I came to New York right after the tour, with money saved and immediately booked the Non-Union tour of Annie playing Grace Farrell. That was a bit of a wake up call. There is no union jurisdiction overseas so I was understudying a gal in her later twenties who had her Equity card, so actors were a bit more professional. When I went out on this tour it was all actors who were in their early twenties, fresh out of school, and not very professional. I am in no way talking down on all people who are Non-Equity by any means but it was just my experience and there was a lack of seriousness. I just have this insatiable drive, I always have and I have chilled out a lot since then but I didn’t understand why everyone wasn’t trying to make it the best every single show and I was like, “Where am I!?” When I got back to the city, I set that intention for myself to wait tables and made money and audition. I jumped into the Terry Scriber studio and did an acting intensive. I realized I have the singing training, I don’t have the acting training and that’s what I was most excited about. I spent most of my early twenties in New York taking tons of acting classes and honing that skill. I do think they choose the better actor of the singer…now I feel the actors would think the opposite but….

AF: I know! It’s the either or… what a cool journey! So then when did you conceive the idea for your podcast? What sparked something in you that was like, “these things need to be said, these things need to be heard…”? What happened in your trajectory that inspired that?

AL: That’s such a good question. There are two moments that I can remember to this day- it was quite a while ago. I was standing in line at a Non-Union audition and I was actually talking with some friends who I’d done a show with a couples years before and they were so miserable. I watched them put all their eggs in one basket because they saw some tour was happening and they wanted it so badly and they were obsessed. They would reach out to this person because they had some small connection from school and it didn’t go their way and it was as if the world was shattered. They were talking about it at this audition. I just had this knowing of, I don’t think it has to be this hard. I mean I know this career is filled with ups and downs but if we don’t find a way to manage our minds and souls then we are going to just stay miserable. That was the first moment. The second moment was at a conference in the middle of Manhattan with all these incredible thought leaders and spiritual teachers, Jeanine Roth and Debbie Ford and Byron Katie and it was hundreds of dollars but I was always so into that so I reached out and asked about scholarships and they said I could work in the bookshop for four hours over the weekend and then I could attend as many events as I wanted for free. So I did that and again I was just sitting there in all these incredible talks and I had that moment of wanting to create a space for artists to go. We don’t have a space for artists to go and connect in this way. I told a friend about this idea and he happened to be working at the Stella Adler Studio and he said, “I think this would really be in line with the director of Stella Adler, I’m going to talk to him about this idea.” I had the idea of it being called A Balancing Act or Egoless Actor always came up… but I felt people wouldn’t go with me on Egoless Actor because ‘of course we’re all going to have egos’ but the idea of striving towards it…

AF: Totally.

AL: So he came back to me and said they wanted to offer me a space on Sunday nights for two hours, for free if you want to come do this, and if it can be open to their students too. I agreed! So we met in New York for two years off and on, I would maybe take a week off for a show or for the holidays, but it was Sunday nights and it was free and I would lead guided meditations and bring in a new topic every week and it would just be a safe space. We always did a check in and people could share where they were or what people needed support on and then we’d have a topic. Maybe we’d do a goal setting, or a letting go, or a self-love exercise and just support each other. That’s how it all started!

AF: There’s so much behind the scenes. It’s so interesting. Because I see the finished product of the podcast and I’m like, “It’s been two years right?” But no…it’s been growing for so long!

AL: I think its what’s kept me going too. I’ve been on this search since I’ve been in New York. It’s my balancing act! I was really, really big on manifesting goals. I think there are seasons in life for that. I was in a very big season and everything I was writing down was happening. Obviously one of them I was writing down all the time was Broadway and then I booked my first Broadway show when I was twenty-five…and was so excited and then it got cancelled the day before rehearsals were supposed to start.

AF: You talk about this on your podcast.

AL: Yes, it’s what Sierra (Boggess) and I talk about on our episode because she was supposed to star in it and I was her going to understudy her….

AF: This was Rebecca?

AL: Yes. That really hit me hard. I needed to take a break. I took a break from ABA. I felt like I had nothing to give, I just needed to take care of myself and go within and that’s what I did. I always knew that ABA would come back in some way. I really, really want to go to colleges more because I wish I would have had these tools!

AF: Me too!

AL: I’m really passionate about that. But when I started doing The King and I, I replaced Betsy Morgan and she is a quilter, and when you’re a Standby you just hang out in the dressing room, especially once you know the role, and she said “you have to have a project!” And she was always making quilts in her dressing room and so I’m not a crafter but I was an avid podcast listener and I told her, “I think I’m going to start a podcast called A Balancing Act and that’s how it came back. My Season One, I know the sound is not great and I need to go back and fix it, but all those interviews take place in my little hole in the wall dressing room at Lincoln Center. Rebecca Luker came in my dressing room and we just chatted, no big deal…. And that’s how it started. From my three seasons that I’ve done now, I do generally take quite a big break in between because its very, very time consuming.

AF: OH yeah! Well you do all the editing….

AL: This last season I hired an editor…

AF: I can’t even find the will power to edit a voice over reel…what is garage band? I don’t have the patience! I can only imagine! That’s incredible. So in all of this what would you say has been a high and what has been a low?

AL: In my career the hardest thing to work through was…Rebecca. But in hindsight it was the biggest blessing. I like to say it’s one of my favorite failures because it’s through that that caused me to look deeply into the fact that it’s not these external things that bring us joy… true joy. That’s what we’re really seeking. Of course we have desires and pleasurable experiences but I think it’s so important to know those are temporary…anything external is temporary. I’m not saying don’t go after anything because it’s not going to bring you happiness because I think that’s a misconception of this work… have desires that’s how we move forward and evolve as a species, but how can we learn to just enjoy the journey and process? Doing the Non-Union tour and waiting tables in midtown….it’s all a gift. I’ve seen people get to Broadway, or get married, and have a kid… and it was that shiny penny and it’s awesome but its hard, that’s life. I just look at people who haven’t gotten the thing they want which is most of the time in our career, Broadway, and I see the angst. That’s the message that I want to share more than anything that that freedom to release the grippy-ness and that angst and that struggling artist thing. In some ways the low also brought the high.

AF: I know what you mean about the angst. There has to be a certain shift in our minds where we can let it go and just separate from the idea of “booking.” That’s when magic starts to happen. The desperation is gone. This is FUN. We’re artists, that’s why we are doing this. People forget that we started doing all of this to be creative, it’s a performance opportunity. It’s really frustrating on contracts when there are those people whining about that job. We are so lucky to be doing this regardless of the theatre, or caliber… how lucky are we!? Now to close…I always ask, what are your words to live by? You are the quoting queen, so I’m sure there are many!

AL: It’s that false understanding that something out there is going to make you feel whole and complete and like you did it and got there. I think what you said is true… there is a shift in our minds and we can disassociate from it all but it’s just as important to recognize we are human and we are going to feel that way sometimes. It doesn’t mean that I’ve not learned that lesson, I’m going to have that grippy-ness and I’m going to want that show so badly… it’s that balancing act- SORRY- between leaning into this “I want this” and “I don’t need it.” If we can find that difference between wanting and needing… of course I want everyone to like me, I want the whole cast to be like, “Oh Analisa I’m so glad she’s here!” and that helps me strive to be a better person but I don’t need anybody’s approval. I can find that within. I am worthy because I’m here and then I want to show up in the world in that way. Whenever we feel grip it’s that release, “I think I need this…but I don’t.”

AF: I feel like I just had a therapy session! Haha!

AL: I always feel like that when I talk with my friends! That’s just how I roll.

AF: That is so great. Well it’s so nice to meet you via Skype!

AL: Yes you too! Thank you for listening and being a supporter of the podcast. I think what you’re doing is so fun! I think it’s so great to have other things that you enjoy doing and that fill you up.

AF: Yes! Something that sparks joy that’s not necessarily performing…!

AL: Totally.

AF: Well with that- cheers and have a great day!

AL: Take care!

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