Today I welcome back to my blog actress, artist, author and radio host Nancy Wait. Nancy kindly agreed to an interview… and here it is!
Hi Nancy and thanks so much for whizzing in from New York to join us.
Haha! Thank you so much for inviting me to share. I really appreciate it.
So, Nancy, I know that you are actually a former actress, but I’ve never had a real live actress on my blog before so I hope you don’t mind me listing you as such here.
Not at all. In fact my short-lived acting career in the UK is still my only claim to fame thus far.
I have to ask you Nancy, actress or drama queen?
Actress, please! In fact I was very serious about my career until I discovered that others did not take me seriously. That was my fault of course. I can be so dense at times! I thought that others would see me as I saw myself inside, but of course a lot of people just look at your exterior—especially in the performing arts. When I was young my interior and exterior were at odds. It made me feel I was born into the wrong body! I bet I’m not alone in that feeling either. But as I’ve gotten older it’s all come out in the wash as they say. And I’m certainly more conscious of what I project. (I hope so!)
Initially, I was ultra serious about “the art of acting.” I was sent to acting school as a child because I was what was called “painfully shy,” never speaking up in class, and the teachers complained to my parents. My father had been an actor at one time, and he had a great love for the theatre, so off I went to Saturday morning classes to learn how to pretend to be an extrovert. Very good training it was, too!
They say that underneath every introvert is an extrovert. Perhaps not someone as flamboyant as I turned out to be, but there all the same. I continued to study at a special high school in Manhattan, then at Carnegie-Mellon’s excellent drama department—but I was never what you would call a drama queen. I think being one of five children gave me the need to be recognized and set apart from the crowd, so to speak. But I wouldn’t call myself a drama queen, as that conjures up an image of someone filled with a sense of their own importance—and that was quite the opposite of yours truly! The confidence it took to go out on stage or in front of the cameras was just as much of an act as the part I was playing.
I know that you lived in London during the 1970’s and you were also involved in the British film industry…. So would we have seen, circa 1976, a scantily clad Nancy running from the clutches of a lecherous Syd James in Carry On Camping?
I don’t think so! Though I did do something of a similar nature, Au-Pair Girls, directed by Val Guest in 1972. My professional name was Nancie Wait, as an astrologer told me it would bring me more luck. Though whether it was good luck or bad is a debatable!
Ahhhh never mind, so what brought you to London?
Such a long story! It goes back to when I was a child in New York and my mother was in her “English” period. I have English ancestry from Yorkshire, and she began with buying Yorkshire antiques and cooking English food, then reading Wuthering Heights aloud to us. Then along came the “Swinging Sixties” and the Beatles and so on, and because I was studying acting at the time and going to Broadway plays—many of which were English—a dream was born to study at Rada. We had no money of course, but I met and fell in love with a boy at college who had the same dream I did, and he brought me to London with him.
It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, having a great deal to do with my eagerness to leave home as well as live in another country, and I tell the whole sad story of that in my book, The Nancy Who Drew.
Were you a diva? Did you demand salami on rye to be flown into Shepperton Studios from your favourite deli in Manhattan?
Honestly, Richard, I think you’ve seen too many movies! I was a working stiff like most actors were and are. It’s funny really, because when I was dreaming up my life as a young teen, I decided on acting as I was hungry for “glamour.” And then what a shock to find the profession was 95% hard work like anything else.
The only time I ever worked at Shepperton was when I was hired as an extra for The Great Gatsby. It was Myrtle’s party. The film with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. And what a treat it was being put in Redford’s dressing room the week before he arrived. I had to share it with two other actresses, but still—what a luxurious dressing room compared to what I was normally used to!
Believe it or not I was in a theatre company once and I’ve performed Shakespeare (didn’t understand it though); have you ever trodden the boards? If so what was your favourite production?
My best performance and favourite production was actually a play I did while still at Rada. A Streetcar Named Desire. I played Blanche. Opportunities in the professional world—at least for an American in London—were few and far between. But I did an American play at the Traverse up in Edinburgh, and then The Country Wife at Oxford, which we took on tour. I played the Cockney maid (Cor blimey guv’nor Ed.) —and didn’t do too badly with the accent I’m told—haha!
I was actually getting called for more auditions at rep companies when I decided to chuck it all in and come back to America. I loved acting at one time, but I found “the life” didn’t agree with me. That can happen, you know.
What made you get into writing?
My father was a writer and I had a love for books. I put writers up on a pedestal. But though I wrote long letters to friends and family, I had no confidence that I could write stories myself. After I gave up acting I took a class here in New York, and the instructor used me as an example of what not to do! Looking back, it’s so clear to me that I wasn’t able to express myself on the page because I had so very little knowledge of who I was in those days. I was aware of my inner life, but I had no confidence in my ability to reveal it to anyone else. I found later that good writing depended so much upon that over-used expression—high self-esteem. You have to think well of yourself and believe that what you have to say is interesting, otherwise you’ll never stick with it. So I let go of the idea of becoming a writer—and took up art instead.
Can you tell us something about your book The Nancy Who Drew?
Well, I’ll tell you this—it took fourteen years to finally get it out there. I spent five of those years going back to college and then grad school to learn how to write. Then another five years revising it and finishing it on my own. Then some time passed looking for an agent and a publisher. Then more revising. But two things were going on in my life at that time. One was that I was raising a son with Asperger’s. He had a mild case, but it was still something to deal with. The other issue was my indecisiveness whether or not to include the idea of reincarnation as the backbone of the challenges I had faced as a young person. I put it in and took it out several times. I patched it onto the beginning and the ending, but found it didn’t really work. The problem was that I was being totally honest in relating the events of my life, and here was this idea of reincarnation I didn’t have any tangible proof for. I felt it was true, but I didn’t want to make assumptions I couldn’t prove.
So I had to get over that. I had to trust myself and believe in myself and my perception—in the clues I’d been given, the knowledge that had come my way—and just go for it. Finally, when my son left for college and I had the space in my head to do it, I just sat down and said this is it! This is my story and I’m going to tell it like it is—and to heck with asking an agent or a publisher for approval. So I self-published last year, 2011. What a relief to finally finish and get it out there!
What writing projects do you have planned for the future?
Well, I ended the story in 1977, when I came back to the States. I had been gone for seven years. My next book is the sequel, telling the story of how and why I became a painter and the tremendous change it wrought in my life. I’m in the process now of making revisions, and I plan to bring it out next year sometime.
Do you want to tell us something about your work as an artist?
Sure. One thing a memoirist doesn’t lack is the eagerness to talk about herself! I studied drawing because I wanted to draw and paint realism. It enabled me to earn my living as a free-lance artist in the 1980s—before scanners and digital cameras and Photoshop became ubiquitous—because there was a market then for architectural renderings, or building portraits as I called them. I also did a fair number of portraits of people. I’ve had some gallery shows of my other work from time to time, but they never really took off or connected with people, which is one of the reasons I feel impelled to write about them. It’s a series actually, called Journey to the Deep. Then a while back I was one of the founders of a group of artists here in Brooklyn called Brooklyn Visions, and we had many group shows. But the most pleasure I got out of it was the series of interviews I did of nine of the artists which we then published in pamphlet form. See how I tend to want to combine writing and art?
I mostly stopped painting after I got into writing, except for a series I did called Little Man. But that was a narrative too. I created a story around him and posted the video on you tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6udkw0odOY4
I find I’m having a resurgence of the urge to draw though, which is good because how can I continue on with the story of The Nancy Who Drew—with a Nancy who stopped drawing?
I’m going to put you on the spot now Nancy… writing, acting or painting; and why?
You know, everything we’re drawn to do or compelled to do I might say, is for a reason. If it’s creative work, then we have a need to express something. And we must keep searching and exploring, and through trial and error, find out what it is and then do it. Give it all we’ve got.
When I was growing up I was so frightened of the world. I felt like an alien soul among the savages! I was crippled, in a metaphorical sense, like Laura in The Glass Menagerie. As retiring and shy as a little mouse! Like Isabelle Huppert’s character in that 70s movie, The Lacemaker. So the acting training was the best thing that could have happened—in order for me to become the person I wanted to be—and am today—someone who could host Blog Talk Radio shows for instance. (Opening her now big mouth when the situation calls for it!) But as I mentioned, the acting life was difficult for me, as it is for many sensitive souls—and naive young women I should add! With painting, I was able to not only connect to myself on a deep level, I was able to access an inherent power I didn’t even know I had. Painting can be quite physical when you’re standing at an easel for hours on end. And then there was the power of creation. One of my favourite titles is Rollo May’s book, The Courage to Create.
Writing is different. I can see how beneficial it’s been for me to save it for my later years. Because now I have the opportunity to put it all together, to try and salvage some wisdom from the chaos and confusion I’ve lived through. Writing things down for other eyes forces a kind of clarity we wouldn’t otherwise labour to employ. Which is something I’m sure you have found also, in your work, Richard.
And last but not least, there is this over-powering urge for communication! For sharing. For saying to people, can you relate? Do you see what I mean? Has this ever happened to you? And so on. Because we know how it is that often we don’t know what we’re even thinking or feeling until we witness someone else thinking or feeling that very same thing. And so it brings us together. We identify. And we know we’re not alone. Someone else has been there too. And the very act of writing our own stories, painting our own pictures, makes us more whole.
Well all that remains is for me to thank author, actress and artist Nancy Wait once again for joining me on my blog today. Before you go Nancy I just want to ask you one more thing. You are obviously a very inspirational and creative person, so do you think you could delve into the vastness of your inner being and leave us with some words of wisdom? Thanks again and do come back soon…
The “vastness of my inner being!” Oh, you do have a way with words, don’t you Richard. Well, I’ll tell you what comes right away to mind—because I’m also a writing coach, is the importance of self-revelation through any creative means. It doesn’t get any better than Socrates phrase, Know Thyself. We are all of us composed of a vastness of riches that lies in wait, as soon as we’re ready and willing to tap into it. The new world we’re entering into is one of Conscious Creation. Whatever artistic field we go into will sharpen our senses and give us a fuller sense of life and who we are in it. Music teaches us to hear. Art teaches us to see. Writing calls on us to observe and describe what we see and feel. Acting calls on us to walk in another character’s shoes, to be them for a while, and so it teaches us compassion. And the Dance! I don’t want to leave out dancing. None of us should want that. Whether we dance with sorrow or joy, or have to sit in a chair and only dance with our eyes, we mustn’t forget the dance of life and love and everything in between—and keep on keeping on! Thank you so much Richard. It’s been a pleasure!