How did you start dancing?
My mom put me in ballet when I was 3. They put my cousin and I in both gymnastics and ballet. After a couple years, my cousin kept going to gymnastics, and I couldn’t do a somersault so I stayed with ballet [laughs]. I am from outside of Seattle and grew up in a dance studio. I was a competition kid. I did jazz, ballet, tap, hip-hop (if you can believe it), lyrical. I did that all the way through high school.
What happened from there?
In high school, I joined drama club, basically as a way to make friends. I was really quiet—I was a big bookworm. I joined drama club and fell in love with it. Dance was my thing, but I'd never really thought I could pursue it as a career. And then something kinda hit me in drama club doing shows, and I just knew that I wanted to do it, I had to do theatre. So I actually ended up going to Ball State University and got my BFA in Musical Theatre. I hadn’t had a voice lesson before I got to college—I just dove into the deep end. That was really good for me. It was hard. It was a whole new world. I did a couple musicals in high school, but then all of a sudden I was in classes with kids who had been doing musicals since they were three and were so much more knowledgeable. They have a great dance program at Ball State, but I was on the other side, doing Shakespeare and song analysis and doing shows that really weren't dance-heavy. It stretched me like crazy. I did improv and straight plays—things I never thought I would be capable of, which is so important.
So a lot of people get involved in theatre when they’re in high school, and then that’s it. What made you stick with it?
Well, we just kinda had this little student-run high school theatre program. It wasn’t a performing arts high school. We were more of a football high school. But we had this great director who came in from outside the school, and he treated us like adults, and that's what made it work. We did two shows a year and improv skits. It was make-it-your-own and learn-from-the-ground. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was this weird, quirky group of people and it became a home for me, and something about that haven and that feeling of belonging and creating something special stuck with me.
What about it did you like?
This sounds cheesy, but it gave me a voice. I was (and am) very into writing. I’ve always journaled and danced—those are two ways I can express. Theatre was so scary, and the fact that it was scary made me want to do it. It’s similar to how I hate horror movies but I always like to read the synopsis and watch the trailers. It just scared the crap out of me, so maybe it started as my teenage rebellion. I had to do it. My parents took me and my brothers to see theatre, and we all loved to watch it. But it became something more for me. I would just fall in love with the stories and the characters. It was like, “books are alive!” Everything I loved about writing and reading, and I could actually participate and be in those worlds. I really liked that. I like surprising people. I liked surprising myself.
So Washington State is on the other side of the country. How did you decide to come to New York?
Honestly, when I graduated from college, I wasn’t planning on “the move”. My school was in Indiana, so I did a couple regional gigs, and then I moved back home for a few months. I was working at Cinnabon during the day and driving over an hour to do a production of ‘Peter Pan’ at night. I hadn’t really figured out what I wanted “next”. I think New York was just a dream in the back of my mind. I think I just kept doing the self-doubt thing of “well, they can do it, but I don’t know if I can.”
My friend Maren, who I went to school with, was in Michigan, and I was in Washington—both doing the grind at our retail jobs. She called me one night, and she said, “Okay, January 1. We’re buying plane tickets, and we’re just going to go.” And I said, “What?” She said, “we’re going find a sublet and we’re going to do it. I can’t do it alone, and you can’t do it alone. We’re just going to go together.” I don't know why, but I just said, “Okay.” So we did.
Right after Christmas 2011, we moved. I kept thinking that it was going to be temporary. I’d try it out and do the audition season--so that I could say that I did it so that I didn’t have regret. I’d feel good about that, and I’d just move back to Seattle. But I fell in love with the city. I'm still here. I keep saying that. Every month, I am like, “Well, I’m still here.” I am so glad that I am still here, and hey, I will continue to still be here. The city hasn’t kicked me out yet.
What did your parents think about it?
They were just like, “Go for it.” They never said anything against it. They are really, really supportive of me. They know that I am a very cautious person, so if I decide to do something bold, then clearly, I’ve thought it through. So they just said, why not, it makes sense. It’s where you should be. It’s where dance is. It’s where the auditions are. If you really want to do this and think that it’s going to serve you better, then absolutely.
What was your first move like?
This goes against what so many people say, but I think everybody built it up as the hardest place on earth to live. Everybody in college warned us that it’s so hard and so tough and it gets you down. So we were expecting the absolute worst when we got here that January. But, surprisingly, humans here, they can be pretty nice, and you get a job here like anywhere else, you get an apartment here like anywhere else. I’ve worked every survival job you can think of since I’ve moved here. You just make it work. You grow a small circle of friends, find a coffee shop you like, and then you go from there. I’ve been in the city a lot, but have had enough breaks, leaving for a summer stock gig or a regional gig and then it’s back to the city for another six months. I think that has kept me sane, and kept me from seeing the city as this big bad thing. I kinda love the grime of it. All of the crap of it is still part of New York.
What are you up to now?
I am auditioning, taking class, working. I hate saying the “I am waiting for my next job” part. I am still living my life. I worked three jobs this December. I am a Christmas elf, work the Hamilton lottery, and I sell drinks at Broadway theaters. It’s great because I get to be around the theatre and get to see a lot of shows. I work-study at Broadway Dance Center, so I feel like I stay connected enough to dance that I don’t go crazy. But yeah, it’s a marathon. I have friends who seem to work job after job, and that's fantastic. For me, it’s been very much like a job, a long break, a job, a long break. But the fact is, there ARE jobs. I am so glad for that and I am always just hopeful that there’ll be another. I think there will be, but it could be ten years from now. I don’t know. I don’t care. I am still here. I’ll figure it out step by step. When I start to feel anxious, then I go take a ballet class.
I always jokingly say, “I am living the dream.” But I am. It’s not a dream that most people might think of, but to me, getting up everyday and figuring it out, putting on my lipstick, walking to the subway, that’s my dream. That to me is so much more than I ever thought I could have when I was 16. I don’t think I ever would have pictured myself in New York City.
What are your aspirations?
In a nutshell, to work. To keep working in this career path, in this field. In a more detailed way, I like a lot of different works and different arts. I love good old musical theatre just as much as I love concert dance. I love straight theatre, comedy, stand-up comedy. I hope that I am lucky enough to keep going. When something is just not working out, I can try something else that’s in the same realm. I just hope that I keep working and stay in this field.
What’s your favorite part about living in the city?
I don’t think there's anywhere else you can get up and hit two auditions in the morning, and then see a mariachi band on the subway, and then go and be shouted at in German at the next restaurant you go to. Every single place is filled with completely different people. It’s weirdly comforting. No matter what you do or what kind of day you’re having—if you make mistakes, no one will remember or notice. Not in a sad, “I am anonymous” way. But in a very freeing way. I can be Caitlin, and people either don’t see it at all, which is great, or they celebrate it, which is even better. There are so many opportunities to dance here and be a part of art.
Least favorite part?
People can be really mean. It’s really ironic because people think New Yorkers are so rude, but it’s not even the New Yorkers who are. All of my jobs involve customer service and working with the public, and I just feel like there’s so much going on in the world right now that it drives me crazy when people can get really upset at you over small things. I am selling them wine that’s too expensive, so obviously I’ve ended their world. Or they didn’t win the lottery that night, and it's my fault. That can be really wearing and it had to make me a bit tougher and not care as much, which is hard for me because every instinct growing up was to be nice. I’ve learned that sometimes that isn’t enough. So that can be tough.
Toughest time in New York?
Last summer, I spent the whole summer in the city. I felt like all these doors were opening every summer, so I took it for granted that summer was a time when actors work. So last summer I wasn’t working, and I was in the city, living that grind. It was hot, people were cranky. It felt like every single human I knew was out on a job. That was a really long summer without air-conditioning, and setting the same alarms every morning. It was hard to stay motivated. You question and think “I’ve been so patient and feel like I'm doing everything right, but did I get too confident too early? Is there going to be another job?” But it could be longer than that summer. Just facing that reality of that can be tough. But you keep going. You get to decide how it is. You get to decide how it ends. You get to decide how the next step goes.
Number one advice?
Take a breath. In any situation. In the audition, take a breath. When you get rejected, take a breath. If something great is happening, take a breath, because it might not have happened to the people around you. Humility. Take a step back and look at what you have now, and where you’re going next. And breathe.
And it’s so hard to do that with so much going on around you.
Yeah. But the world is going to keep spinning around no matter what, so if we slowed down a little bit, we'd remember that everything is going to be okay, at some point. It’s a marathon and you've keep your head up in this thing. It’s hopefully a long, long career. You have to commit to that. You can’t assume you're going to be successful every single day of your life. You can't assume anything. So let yourself celebrate the little things.
Is there any last thing you want to share?
I am very thankful to a lot of people who are in my life. I am very determined that there’s so much more out there for me. For everybody. We all just have to keep going. It’s important to remember that what we’re doing makes us happy and makes other people happy. It might not feel like very much, but it could be a huge difference to someone. I am just really thankful that I get to do this.