the coffee chronicles: gossip

the coffee chronicles

Let’s Gossip.

I basked in the first day of 2017 with an astonishingly horrific hangover as I sat across from one of my best gals, Hailei, in Astoria, Queens following a New Years Eve that was overflowing with many different types of liquor and a night for the books.  After trying to stomach a breakfast burrito at Queen’s Comfort (key word — trying.  I tolerated maybe two bites), she took me to the promise land: a little coffeeshop on 30th Avenue called Gossip Coffee.


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I live for a great aesthetic and, despite my aversion to anything bright that morning, I was living for this houndstooth-coated coffee shop.

It’s been well over a year since my first visit, but today I share with you my return to Gossip Coffee in Astoria, where I enjoyed a decadent oat milk latte with my beautiful Hailei (where neither I nor she felt like a tiny man was mining for coal inside our heads).

*It’s important to note that Gossip Coffee passes the Oatly test: They have it. That’s the only question on the test.

Our barista was wonderfully weird — fun and chill and jumping into our photos while she made us lattes and convinced us that doughnuts would perfectly accompany our drinks (There was no real arm-twisting here). Gossip has Chef Scottish Francis’s hashtag-shaped doughnuts for sale, but I opted for a vanilla frosted with rainbow sprinkles (my fave).  If you’ve just finished a Whole30 stint, do yourself a favor and only eat half the doughnut. I have zero shame in admitting that I could not stomach the whole thing.

Hailei and I sat in the courtyard behind the glass double doors for a bit; which was bearable despite the weather, and will be perfect come summertime (If we ever get a summertime…). It’s home to many plants, benches, and a mini tricycle that I attempted to sit on but was too scared to actually ride.

Gossip was filled to the brim with patrons without being overly crowded. It’s great to see that a local coffee shop is getting the traction it deserves. The aesthetic, baristas, doughnuts, and in-house espresso blend make it worth a return visit.

xo,

T

*It’s also important to note that the closest subway station to Gossip Coffee (30 Av) is closed for the time being as the MTA exists only to create chaos in our lives rather than to simplify it. I walked from the Broadway stop and it was less than desirable, but totally doable.

t h e   l o o k

Bagatelle Heritage Red Bell Sleeve Jacket:

I found this jacket on super clearance for $18 at Marshalls Stores  all because one of the snaps were falling off.  It was a steal.

Cynthia Rowley Cream Sweater:

I got this sweater as a gift and I live in it!  Cynthia Rowley is one of my favorite designers, and many of her items are sold at TJX stores; which I can only assume is where this is from…

H & M Black High-Rise Skinny Jeans:

I’m a high-rise gal all the way.  And while many of my denim comes from TJMaxx, I also dig a good high-rise skinny from H&M.  They’re $20, they make your tush look great, but they’ll last you maybe the year before they start to fall apart.  You’ve been warned.

Style & Co. Venesa Riding Boots:

These boots are originally from Macy’s with their Style&Co Brand marked at $80.  I happened to break my lace-up black boots a few weeks ago while visiting family in Connecticut and stumbled upon these at a second-hand store, Plato’s Closet Danbury, brand new, with tags, for $12.

photos people take of your head

lifestyle, personal

Let’s talk about headshots because I just got them done for the third time in my adult life and it’s amazing to see what changes in our faces as time goes on. I briefly touched on this in my post about (my queen) Jenna Fischer’s recently-published book The Actors Life; but that was almost six months ago, and many facets of my world and body have since changed.

Prior to 2013, I had never gotten headshots taken by a true “headshot photographer” — believe me, there’s a difference. I had photos taken of me, and they were more than sufficient for youth community theatre productions, but they weren’t professional headshots. Let’s take a gander:

2005: The Pre-Highlight Days I will give a shout-out to Donna Korb for giving me a very professional-looking shot for a few years. But after my hair went super-blonde and I went through, ya know, puberty, I needed something more up-to-date.

Cut to 2009: The year of the freshman fifteen and when her teeth clearly became addicted to Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee Western Connecticut State University’s Theater Department forced us all to get headshots taken by the Western Connecticut State University’s Photography Department. It made sense in theory, and it was completely free, but I’m pretty positive I rolled out of bed ten minutes before these were taken and that the man taking my photo was standing six feet above the top of my head on a stool. I had to crop and edit the crap out of this (I will spare you the original).

2011: The Year of the Stacked Bob. I loved this haircut — it was $5, and I wish I was lying but it was the best haircut I’ve ever gotten.  This was clearly a far cry from my first round of free WCSU headshots in 2009. But even so, I couldn’t use this come senior year, when I needed to dive head-first into the real world.

Which brings us to the first round of professional headshots I ever shelled out money for. Most of my college senior class went to Taylor Hooper Photography in New York (who takes stunning headshots); I opted for Julia Gerace Photography in Shelton, Connecticut. She is a legitimate headshot photographer, extremely cost-effective, and also takes great shots. Though I did not choose to have this photo retouched, for comparison moving forward, this was one of my proofs:

2013: The Year of Strawberry Blonde. At the tail-end of 2012 into 2013, I was a redhead. I loved it just as much as my $5 2011 bob, but the upkeep was too much and, let’s face it, I’m a blonde. So, right before getting my headshots done with Julia, I started the journey back to blonde. You would never be able to tell, because here I look like little orphan Annie, but there are a whole lot of blonde highlights trying their hardest to peak out.  I used these headshots for about three years.  Three years before I decided they could no longer appropriately represent me; and not because of the photos themselves, but by Summer of 2014, I was fully blonde again, and these were not the same women:

2016: The Year I Finally Started Getting Callbacks January of 2016, I scheduled a shoot with Curtis & Cort Photography in New York (talk about a dream team).  Curtis Holbrook and Cortney Wolfson are a dynamic duo of Broadway performers who know what you need in a quality headshot (and know you shouldn’t need to offer up your first born child to get one).  Cortney does the hair and make up, Curtis takes the photos, and they make you feel like you feel, not only like a model, but like a friend they’ve welcomed into their home.  Shooting with them was a dream come true, and these new headshots got me so much further in my audition season…

I finally felt like I was representing and branding myself appropriately.  No more questions from casting directors about why the girl in the picture had red hair and the one standing in from was platinum blonde.  No more wondering how old I really was since I was using such a dated photo of myself.  Curtis & Cort captured me beautifully.

And here we are, two years later, and I felt I still looked pretty much the same as my gorgeous, two-year-old Curtis & Cort shots; and, in all fairness, at the beginning of this calendar year, I did.  But I kept getting typed-out of open calls based on my headshot and I could not figure out why.  So I decided to go to a casting seminar at Actor’s Connection that had a Q & A with one of the casting directors (who shall remain nameless, but is a genuine dream) who had been typing me out of calls for shows such as Kinky Boots, RENT, etc.  I handed her the same headshot I had thrown in the pile with hundreds of other girls, sang my song, and waited for her feedback.  The first thing she asked me was how old my headshots were and if I had lost weight since getting my them taken.  I was very surprised, since I thought this was a pretty fair representation of me:

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She said after seeing me, she can see my body in this photo, but the way I’m positioned and the cut of my top makes me look a lot bigger than I am.  She said she would call this girl in the photo in for a role like Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, and, after seeing me in person, knows that isn’t a part she would cast me in.

It was incredibly eye-opening.  I never would have seen that in this photo without her pointing it out to me.  So I decided it was time for new headshots; I felt due for them anyway.  My hair was longer, I wanted to bring more of my natural dark blonde out than my usual platinum blonde, and I needed something a little more vibrant.

2018: The Year of Whole30ing (Again) I scheduled a shoot with Sub/Urban Photography.  I felt like their shots were a more vibrant and cost-effective alternative to that of David Noles Photography, one of the top and most expensive headshot photographers in this business.  I fell in love with Sub/Urban’s vibe, and better yet, their team is also amazing.  Amanda and Jake, the photographers, are another dream team (much like Curtis and Cortney) and Alex, the hair and make up stylist, is literally a magician.

I had been on the Whole30 Challenge for the month of March prior to my shoot with Sub/Urban and, let me tell you, it was the best decision I ever made, not only looking at the outcome of this shoot, but the comparison between my face in 2016 and my face now.

*Photos are not edited by the photographers
*Photos are not edited by the photographers

I asked my friends who I had eaten in 2016, and, looking back, I don’t think my weight was that much different.  It’s my face.  I had probably been eating whatever I wanted before my shoot in 2016; but being on the Whole30 leading up to my headshot session made me less bloated, fresher, and cleaner-looking.  And while I will give credit where credit is due to the photographers, the shots I had done by Curtis & Cort were equally as beautiful as the shots I just got by Sub/Urban — I just wasn’t taking as great care of myself as I am now.

Yet another reason to try the Whole30 Challenge, friends!  I’m serious, it will rock your world.

xo,

T

week three

lifestyle, personal

Three weeks into my Whole30 Challenge and this has been, by far, my most action-packed week of the month.  I have climbed mountains, walked over hot coals, and successfully saved a kitten from a burning building (actually I did none of those things, but it got your attention, didn’t it?).

My week consisted of multiple camera angles, starting new projects, celebrating friends, and anticipating yet another nor’easter (that ended up being a huge letdown, might I add).  It was filled with lots of laughs, making new friends, and a lot of iced lattes.  Feel free to watch and/or read below (or you can settle for the vague, Reader’s Digest version I just gave you and go about your day).

“Drag Night” celebrating RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars at At The Wallace in Harlem have become Tara’s unemployed Thursday evening ritual.  This week, that tradition, along with the season, came to an end; for my Thursday evenings will soon be filled with rehearsals (more on that later).  After the season finale, I walked home and called the wardrobe number for my background stint on Blue Bloods the following morning.  “Khaki pants.”  I was playing a nurse, and they wanted me to bring khaki pants.  Let me tell you something Blue Bloods, I am not at my mother’s house, nor do I have the arsenal of pants I was forced to wear when I worked at Office Max many moons ago.  Also, it’s 10 P.M. (do you know where your children are?) and I cannot go out and buy khaki pants that I will likely never wear again (unless you want me to be a reoccurring role, then it may be worth it).

I probably texted every woman I know within a one mile radius (it was 10 P.M., I was not traveling far).  But, shockingly (sarcasm), nobody seemed to have khaki pants at their disposal.  Luckily, my friend Ty told me that he had pants I could borrow and voila!  Khaki pants.

Of course, they had a full costume ready for me when I walked in on Friday morning, and I didn’t even need the khaki pants.

After our shoot wrapped in Brooklyn, I made it home with enough time to eat something (and change out of the khaki pants) before babysitting on the UWS. I took a car home around midnight. I earned that car home around midnight.

St. Patrick’s Day in New York City can be extremely hit or miss — especially on a Saturday. My mom told me about something called “Leprecon” (like Santacon, but a far better play on words) happening in New York, so I had braced myself to see thousands of grown men dressed like leprechauns throwing up on the side of a bus outside the nearest Starbucks. But, alas, I managed to miss those sightings.

I spent Saturday afternoon at the first rehearsal for a musical called Chess in Brooklyn. Each year on St. Patrick’s Day, I am grateful to say I am working on a show in some capacity — most years it’s been wardrobe. This year, it’s a musical I’m in, which is pretty snazzy. Saturday night was filled with Irish music and birthday celebrations for one of my best guys, Oliver. The bar he chose was super mellow and void of Leprecon-participants. Praise.

Sunday was marathon day. It started at morning daywork for Kinky Boots, took me down to Brooklyn in the afternoon for another Chess rehearsal, and rounded out at The Blue Note in the West Village celebrating my buddy Chris’s birthday; sitting front and center (actually, a little to the right) for Roy Haynes’ 93rd Birthday Celebration. I got to sing with him (you should really watch the video now) and Jon Batiste was there!

(Just another Manic) Monday began with an 8:30 A.M. call to a bar (yes, a bar) in Hell’s Kitchen where I shot an episodic called The So-So You Don’t Know for a few hours. It was a lot of fun; and the girl I was paired to play best friends with ended up being someone I could probably become best friends with. After some brief babysitting, Manic Monday ended with me laying on the floor of my apartment watching Gilmore Girls, eating plantain chips, and reflecting on the fact that I had just done two weeks’ worth of activities in four days.

Tuesday I had two goals: make my audition, make my train home. I accomplished both, in heels yet. Connecticut was expecting its fourth nor’easter of the month; which was perfectly timed, seeing as I was coming home to multiple appointments on Wednesday that I needed to take care of. But alas, all appointments were cancelled due to the impending storm, where most parts of New England were expected to get 12-18 inches of snow before Thursday morning.

By 3:30 P.M. on Wednesday, there was not an ounce of fresh snow to the name of Brookfield, Connecticut. So I went shopping. And the grand total of three inches of snow we received did not start falling until around 6:00 P.M.

Mama Llew made a delish Whole30 din for us, which is pretty self-explanatory in the video. But so much happened this week, I was fresh out of time to make any Whole30 food-making videos. You’re welcome.

My heart is full and I am ready for these last ten days!

xo,

T

net worth = six dollars + $2.99 shipping

personal

A year ago, almost to the day, an envelope arrived at my home in Connecticut (creepy) from a student named “Jackie” asking if I would sign my autograph on the enclosed blank sheets of paper for a “Broadway Autograph Collection” project at her school called “Monte Special Education School.”

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Obviously, I was smart enough to recognize that this wasn’t legit.  The handwriting was very clearly written by an adult trying to disguise themselves as a child.  Better yet, it was stamped with the name of the school, which I promptly looked up along with the return address and discovered did not exist but, hey, it was flattering that some random human walking around this world wanted my autograph.

I sat on sending something back; on the off-chance that all the conclusions I had drawn were wrong and this was in fact a student named Jackie from a Special Education school asking me to participate in their Broadway project and I did not respond, I would have felt badly (not that I would have ever found out).  Also, at least one of my ensemble girls had also received the same letter, and felt comfortable sending something back,  so I threw them a bone, and I signed the signature I was using on the CATS company posters (not my signature for legit documents, credit cards, etc., because that would be foolish).

To be completely honest, I forgot this even happened.  In a weird series of events, I happened to google myself this morning in hopes of adding some undiscovered gems to my website.  If you Google “Tara Llewellyn Actress” the third result that comes up on Page 2 is this:

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A recently expired eBay listing of my very professional signature (equipped with a small heart and all) available for $6.00 (plus $2.99 shipping) sold by prettyboy45220, an eBay member since 2003 (I find it impressive that Jackie is experienced enough to have had an eBay account since Outkast’s “Hey Ya” was number one on the charts and can still manage to snag a spot in Monte Special Education school’s Class of 2017).

Mama Llew and I haven’t stopped laughing for the last half hour.  Thank you, prettyboy45220, for not only giving me a chuckle today but an inevitable title for a chapter in my forthcoming memoir somewhere down the line in my career.

xo,

T

academy musings

personal

Regrettably, I haven’t seen a single movie that’s been nominated for this year’s 90th Academy Awards.  Even so, I love a good awards show.  I vividly remember coming home early from my waitressing job four years ago, sitting on my couch in my first New York apartment, and watching as John Travolta called Idina Menzel “Adele Dazeem.”  It was brilliantly horrifying, and I got to watch it live.

I also live for the live-tweeting on Twitter that occurs during awards shows; from friends, celebrities, even people I don’t know.  Since I’m not on social media this month, I decided to share my Academy Award Musings.

There needs to be a Barbie modeled after Viola Davis IN THAT HOT PINK DRESS HELLO.

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Sam Rockwell, you will not be winning the jetski, sir.

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Taraji, you are my queen, those legs are OUT.

90th Annual Academy Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 04 Mar 2018

I literally cannot wait for “Splitting Up Together.” Jenna Fischer is a damn goddess.

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Allison Janney deserves all the nominations because she is sheer BRILLIANCE.

Jimmy Kimmel is not 50.

THERE IS A BB8 ON STAGE WHERE CAN I MEET HIM?

Could Matthew McConaughey be any less animated on this stage right now?

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The oscar nominees holding the hotdog cannons in the movie theatre may be a close second to Ellen’s 2014 selfie.

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Jennifer Garner will never age nor be less than radiant always.

The recognition of women tonight is outstanding and overwhelming. Yes yes yes Frances McDormand. Yes all women.

I knew they would bring Warren and Faye back for Round 2.

the actor’s life: a survival guide

Books

Upon its release last week, I rapidly ordered a copy of Jenna Fischer’s new book The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide.  As a newly-obsessed fanatic of The Office, you can only imagine my level of excitement when it arrived on my doorstep two days later (Bless you, Amazon Prime).

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My intuition was right – I couldn’t put it down.  And not because she spent 250 pages gushing about her time on The Office and guaranteeing the dreamers that, one day, they’ll too find their own Pam Beesly and live happily ever after in the magical world of Hollywood — no. While her eight-year stint on The Office was indeed life-changing, Jenna spent just as many years fighting for screen time before and after Pam.  Every struggle was a stepping stone towards a career that brought her dreams to fruition in unexpected ways.  This book is a testimony to the fact that, despite her success, she too experienced failure, confusion, doubt, and rejection along the way.  Reading Jenna’s words felt very much like reading a heartfelt, encouraging, and honest letter from a mentor or close friend who shares in your struggle and simply gets it.

If you are an aspiring and/or working actor read this book.  Read it now.  Read it next month.  Read it next year when you’ve hit a low point and you need a reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing.

After personally spending the past year feeling artistically stifled and struggling to find my rhythm again, Jenna’s book came at the perfect time to reignite my momentum as a new year of new possibilities and adventure approaches.

Below are my favorite takeaway moments from The Actors Life: A Survival Guide — moments that I connected to and gave me permission to feel the range of emotions that come with the pursuit of an artistic career.

T   H   E     S   T   R   U   G   G   L   E

Before I moved to Los Angeles, I thought the life of an actor seemed easy.  And now, years later, I am telling you it’s not.  It can be rewarding, inspiring, magical, intense, terrifying, consuming, passionate and unique.  But it is not, and will not, be easy.  However, just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

I can’t even begin to list the times I’ve questioned whether or not I have the strength to “make it” in this industry; or how often I’ve thought of giving into the struggles that come with pursuing a career in the arts.  It is hard.  Others will try to convince you that what you do is easy; because many people on the outside rest under the misconception that being an actor is a cake walk. This is why they’re on the outside.

For me, what made the struggle even harder was the fact that my friends and family back home couldn’t understand “what was taking so long.”  They couldn’t see the value of these small milestones.  They just wanted to know when I would be on TV.  Because that’s what translated as success to them.

I am incredibly lucky to have a family comprised of tireless cheerleaders.  Whether I’m in the back row of the ensemble or standing center stage as the star, they are at every performance of mine.  My family is a vessel of encouragement, love, and support, without whom I would not have the strength to persevere through the low points in my career.  Every endeavor of mine since moving to New York has been applauded or met with excitement. But everyone’s measurement for success is different.

For anyone reading this who may not know me, I work in wardrobe as my “day job.” It has kept me artistically connected these past four years while I pursue a career as a performer.  Currently, I’m a dresser at the Broadway Revival of CATS.  Many people consider what I do to be “successful.” Sometimes, I fail to see the see it the same way.

I vividly remember the moment I told my entire family about this job opportunity at a holiday dinner two months prior to the remount of CATS.  My aunt burst into tears, hugged me, and texted everyone she knew. My uncle started singing “Memory,” and my grandma turned to my grandpa and asked if he remembered seeing the show in 1987 (he nodded vigorously, but I don’t blame him if he didn’t).  And even after their glowing reaction, I quickly followed it up with, “This doesn’t mean I’m giving up on performing just because I’m working on a Broadway show doing wardrobe.”

Why, Tara?  Why did you just say that? Why did you feel the need to justify that to your family?  This huge beacon of enormous faith in my talent, and I still felt the need to blurt out that finding success in one area of this industry did not negate the success I still sought as a performer.  Of course they knew that.  Of course I knew that they knew that.  Why was I so fixated on saying it aloud?

Sometimes, we have to remind ourselves by reminding others.  It’s not because my family asks the question of “when?”– it’s because I do.  And I don’t just blurt out to my family, I blurt it out to friends, colleagues, working professionals who learn that I simultaneously work in two facets of this business.  I will tell anyone who will listen that I am an actor because reminding myself of who I am is crucial to how I operate moving forward in this industry.  I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m “just a dresser.”  But just as much, I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m “just an actor” either. Because of this job, I have become more educated, multi-faceted, and valuable. And while it’s taken a while to embrace it, that has become my measurement for success.

The cool thing about the life of an actor is that many pointless and mundane experiences actually become important moments that you’ll reference later in your career.  You may not know now, but in a magical twist of fate, what you’re dreading doing today could inspire a role years from now.  

When you are able to use your experiences to feed your creativity and passion for acting, it doesn’t seem as hard.  Mining for gold is not easy.  But if you do it l on enough, you get to be the person who found gold.

  A   U   D   I   T   I   O   N   S    &                            S  U  R  V  I  V  I  N  G         R  E  J  E  C  T  I  O  N

You cannot possibly get every role you audition for, so don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. 

This is the best damn sentence in the book.  Hello, of course we should not be putting that kind of pressure on ourselves.  But do we do it anyway?  I certainly do.  Almost every audition I walk into, I’ve already envisioned what opportunities the role could bring me, or how much time I would have to take off to accommodate rehearsals, or how excited I would be to share that I’ve booked this job.

That is a mindset that just breeds disappointment before even walking in the door.  Much of the defeat I’ve felt over the past four years stems from the pressure I put on myself to book shows in hopes that it will fulfill a certain level of happiness and curb the satisfaction of knowing that I haven’t failed myself in my endeavors to become a working actor.

No job really changes everything. Nothing removes the struggle completely.

Every audition is a chance to learn, practice, and grow as an actor.  The success is not always in getting the part but in the seed that is planted.

Failure cannot exist in persistence.  If I’m still auditioning, I have yet to give in to the fear of failing myself as an artist.  Auditioning and rejection are both an unfortunate part of the process.  But if we weren’t rejected from the auditions we don’t book, there wouldn’t be room for the opportunities that are meant for us.

Your job as an actor is to create a consistent body of work.  It is not to book jobs.  It is not to worry and beat yourself up over every job you didn’t book.  Those decisions are out of your control.  What is in your control is your approach to auditioning.  So just because you didn’t book a certain role, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed.  More often than not, getting or not getting a role has very little to do with how well you performed at that particular audition.  It boils down to who you fit into a bigger picture they are painting.

Living the life of a working actor requires a very special emotional constitution.  You must have a strong will, you must be determined, and you must be able to withstand countless rejections without becoming depressed, cynical, or self-destructive.  Because the hard truth is that it often takes more than good work to get the job.  It’s about doing good work, certainly, but it’s also about timing, luck, being the right height, the right weight, having the right hair color, being the right race — any number of arbitrary factors.

So what if you never fit into the bigger picture?  You’re relentlessly putting yourself out there, day after day, to find out where you fit in, and the offers seem to be few and far between, if they come at all.  Does this mean you’re not giving the industry what it wants?  Do you have to go back to the drawing board and rebrand who you are in order to find your place?  Are you required to be someone you’re not to fit into the bigger picture or are you, as you are, enough?

So often we worry that we have to bring some amazing razzle dazzle to a role to stand out.  We try to figure out what they are “looking for” when really we need to figure out how to bring ourselves to the role.  Only you can give your performance.  Only you have your unique set of experiences, emotions, and way of expressing yourself.  Trust that you are enough.

It was hard to keep putting myself out there over and over, only to not get the part.

I found this Chuck Norris quote and put it on my bathroom mirror: “A lot of people give up just before they’re about to make it.  You know, you never know when the next obstacle is going to be the last one.”  I defiantly told my representatives that I would give it one more year, and after that I was calling it quits.  And, wouldn’t you know it, that was the year Allison called me in to audition for The Office.

H   E   A   D   S   H   O   T   S

If acting is the business, you are the product, and your headshot is the packaging.  You can be the most talented actor on the planet, but if you have a crappy headshot, you may never get the chance to show off your chops. 

[Casting Director] Mara Casey suggests picking five adjectives that best describe the kind of characters you might easily play.  And then ask yourself, does your headshot convey those five adjectives?

Jenna goes on to show examples of her prior headshots and the mistakes she made when choosing the right one to print and send out to agents, casting directors, etc.  So I thought I would do the same:

I’m no more than thirteen in these photos and absolutely used them the entirety of my high school years.  What is happening?  I look like a small child.  I am a small child.  I also seemingly have auburn hair when in actuality it was dark blonde.  S.O.S.

Cut to the college years, when my theatre program required us to get headshots done by the photography department at the beginning of each school year.

2009 vs 2011.  Talk about an awkward first-day-of-college photo disguised as a “headshot.”  They weren’t great, but at least I looked my age.  They were also a far cry from the small child straddling the white chair above circa 2005.  Even so, I shamelessly sent these shots along with a barebones, unimpressive resume to professional casting directors and producers in New York while I was in school.  What on earth was I thinking?

In 2012, my senior year of college, my school was blessed with a miracle named Julio Agustin Matos, who served as the first head of our Musical Theatre program and completely changed my life.  Fresh off the Broadway stage, Julio created an intensive called The Transition Workshop — a guiding light for college seniors and recent graduates who were making their move from an educational setting to the “real world”.  Many of his teachings mirror everything Jenna discusses in her book; Julio’s background is just more rooted in stage work.  He too published a book entitled The Professional Actors Handbook: From Casting Call To Curtain Call  (which I strongly recommend if you are actively pursuing a career on stage — it’s worth every penny).

Julio rapidly shut down the free school headshots we were getting and rattled off a list of professional New York headshot photographers we needed to schedule shoots with.  I found a local headshot photographer (Julia Gerace Photography) in Connecticut who turned out some pretty comparable work.  Here’s what I came to him with:

Not too shabby for a couple hundred dollars, huh?  My hair still looks auburn, but these were my post-red-head days as I was transitioning back into my blonde locks.  So as in love with these shots as I was, they were only going to last me about a year or so as I continued the journey back to blonde; but I finally found something that worked.

And you know what?  I used these for three years.  THREE WHOLE YEARS.  Six months after these photos were taken, my hair was longer and blonder and my energy was completely different.  So you can only imagine how mistaken most casting directors were when I walked into a room two years later and placed these photos in front of them.  I was a completely different person, with a completely different look, and a completely different mindset.

Just before audition season approached in 2016, I wised-up and went to Curtis & Cort Photography in New York.

Hallelujah!  I finally looked like myself.  Let’s do a little side-by-side, shall we?

How did I go this long without new headshots?  How did I pass around a shot from early 2013 almost three years later?  HOW?!  These are two completely different women.  The one on the right is confident about what she’s selling.  She’s got energy, she’s self-assured, she’s wise.  She is ready to take the audition season by storm.

And you know what?  2016 was my best audition season to date.  I didn’t book anything, but I was getting appointments and callbacks and more callbacks (oh my!).  Rebranding myself was a giant step in the right direction towards getting in the room with the people who needed to see me.

Even the best actors need seasoning and time to grow into their potential.  View this period as your time to grow and gain experience. 

S   E   L   F   –  C   A   R   E    &                             T   R   U   S   T    I   N   G          T   H   E                   J   O   U   R   N   E   Y

Your body is your instrument.  You need to treat it kindly.  People come in all shapes and sizes, and so do characters.  Embrace a healthy size that feels easy to maintain and go from there.

Too easily in this business, we fall into a pit of comparison on many levels — career-wise, success-wise, and most commonly — the physical comparison.  Eating disorders develop, thoughts of plastic surgery ensue, and Planet Fitness is tired of seeing you three times a day.  When did becoming a carbon-copy of someone else start manifesting success?  Sure, there are many women I compare myself to, admittedly, on a daily basis — especially actresses.  She’s in better shape than I am.  Her hair is styled perfectly every day.  She’s got everything I want.  But, does she?  Does anybody?  Why do we think that having what someone else has will fulfill our own needs?  We are all so unbelievably unique with a completely different set of goals and skill sets to bring into this business.  And that can, in turn, be the hardest logic to maintain in an industry where everyone is competing with one another for their next big break.

First, I needed to accept that things weren’t going to happen quickly.  A lot of my anxiety was coming from my belief that I was failing because things were “taking so long.”  I needed to stop comparing myself to other people and commit to an actors life, with all its ups and downs.

All too often, we compare ourselves to the results we see in other artists without the knowledge of the full journey it took to achieve those results.

Listen, it’s going to seem easier for other people than it is for you.  That’s the harsh reality of this business.  I cannot count on New York City’s fingers and toes how many times I have looked at someone else’s career and thought, “Wow, how has it been so much easier for them than it’s been for me?”  But this is what we signed up for.  We signed on to face rejection and comparison because that is part of what makes this business a business.  Sometimes you get the part, sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes you work for months, years even; sometimes you rest in the drought for just as long. Facing that truth is so crucial; because it’s easier to take out the frustrations of the inner workings of this industry on other artists who are reaping the benefits of a seemingly “successful career” rather than using the rejection to propel us forward so that we may share in the success one day too.

Every artist has a different journey, and you’ll have to figure out yours — you’ll have to determine how much you can endure.  Because the roadblocks, doubts, and insecurity are all part of living an artistic life.

Resist the temptation to become cynical, judgmental, and negative about your fellow artists.  Most importantly, don’t be judgmental about what you need to thrive as an artist either.  Don’t be afraid to be a little self-indulgent.  It’s okay to have rituals,  It’s okay to have needs.  The important thing is that we find a way to create a mutually satisfying environment.

C   R   E   A   T    I   N   G     T   H   E                    W   O   R   K

If you want to be an actor, you must live an artistic life.  You must find ways to express your artistic life with others.  Artistic lives are full of risk.

Being able to generate work for yourself is an essential part of the process of becoming a working actor.

Sustaining work as an actor starts with the relationships you make with other artists…Building a successful career is not about getting in good with the people who are already established.  It’s about creating the next big thing with people just like you.

In 2014, I met an actress by the name of Emm O’Connor doing a poorly-run production of Grease here in New York.  I was playing Marty, she played Jan. Emm was goofy, wonderful, talented, hilarious — the total package.  Shortly before the run of our show, she shared that she was considering straying from acting to pursue screenwriting and asked me join a table read for a pilot she wrote called Capital Advice.  It was a laugh-out-loud series about a quirky overnight radio host named Gwen who tries to “Delilah” her way through a conversation with a caller who dials the wrong number looking for her cheating boyfriend at the local pizza joint. Gwen awakes the following morning to learn that her words of encouragement inadvertently inspired the caller to burn down said pizza joint. Thinking that these unfortunate events will ruin her career, Gwen’s show starts getting more traction and attention than any other segment, and she defies her boss’s orders to refrain from taking calls beyond song requests and turns her late-night playlist into a talk-back called Capital Advice.  It was certainly impressive to read something so cleverly crafted, filled to the brim with massive potential from someone as young as Emm. And wouldn’t you know, eleven months later, we filmed the damn thing.

The single best thing an actor can do, both professionally and personally, is to create their own work.  Whatever you do, I promise it will create momentum.

Every project you finish has value.  Whether it’s the one-woman show you wrote, the web series with only twenty-four views, the pilot you wrote with your friend, all are important and will pay off somehow.

Shooting the pilot of Capital Advice inspired me in many ways to create more work of my own.  Watching Emm fearlessly pursue her desire to be a screenwriter inspired me to create work of my own.  Two months later, Emm and I began collaborating on a new series called Technical Difficulties.  It was the first time I had written a finished product that I was proud of.  Six months after that, I wrote my first one-woman show, and performed it twice over the course of the following year.  Since then, my mind has been overflowing with new ideas and ways to create my own work — and it started by meeting someone who showed me that you can go out there and make it happen for yourself.

It’s completely normal to want others to see something special enough in your talent to create opportunities for you.  But if we’re not simultaneously creating opportunities for ourselves, we’ll just be sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring.  Be the call you’re hoping for and put your talent into the ether.  You never know if your idea could be the next sensation.

The very best way to advance your career is to be seen.  Nobody will see you in your kitchen, expect your creepy neighbor!  Student films, short films, showcases, improv shows, web series, standup, YouTube videos, play readings, street performing — you never know where they’re going to lead.  The more work you do, the more people see you, the more likely the right people are to find you.

Establishing good luck isn’t just about being in the right place at the right time.  It’s about making the kinds of choices that put you in the right place at the right time.

As actors, artists, and performers, we are undoubtedly going to face discouragement and obstacles.  But moreover, we will also experience triumphs and elation if we persevere.  Jenna’s words provided me with that reassurance and confidence, and I hope it can do the same for you. The Actors Life: A Survival Guide is a must-read, must-know, must-feel.

You’ve chosen an unpredictable life, but certainly a life worth living.  Go forward, embrace the journey head-on, with all of its ups and downs.  More than at any time in recent memory, we are in need of artists and stories to remind us of our shared humanity.  As you go forward, though you may get discouraged, please don’t hold back your gift.  Because the world needs actors.  The world needs you.

showering the bride

weddings

I know what I’m about to say will shock you, but weddings are stressful.  I’m not even getting married and it’s overwhelming!

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I’m the Maid of Honor in my best friend’s wedding this upcoming October, which is a much more complicated job than meets the eye.  Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to be such a special part of her day, but I’ve learned that the MOH title comes with many more responsibilities than simply holding the bride’s bouquet and planning a wild weekend in Vegas.

One of the biggest undertakings as Maid of Honor has been the planning of the Bridal Shower.  It’s always easier when you have help from your fellow bridesmaids.  But as a person who loves solitary planning and executing, I have spent months preparing and researching the best, and most cost effective, ways to go about popping my bridal-shower-planning cherry.

Before I dive into this, I just have to offer the best general advice I can to any first time MOH planning a shower:  It’s going to be what it’s going to be.  Planning a shower is a huge undertaking, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself – you’re only human!  You can plan every single detail down to a tee, but no matter what goes right or wrong, your bride will leave feeling showered with love simply by surrounding her with the people who love her (and maybe a cocktail).

I N V I T A T I O N S 

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I ended up going with VistaPrint for my invitations.  I got the best bank for my buck there, and the shower invitation options were endless.  However, I did shop around before settling on the invitation manufacturer.

Wedding Paper Divas was high on the list.  For just $1, they sent me a sample of the shower invitation I was considering so I could get a tangible idea of what exactly I was spending my time and money on.  While they tend to be a bit pricey, if WPD is running a great sale, it’s just about as much as VistaPrint.  Zazzle also had some beautiful options, and are also worth ordering from with a great sale.

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Enclosed with each invitation, I decided to put these sweet recipe cards I ordered from Paper Sushi on Etsy (I did price them out on Vista Print, but with the difference of only a few dollars, I opted to go with these guys.  They were prettier and I would rather give my business to a small shop that sells handmade items like this one!).  I asked our guests to fill out this recipe card and bring it to the shower instead of a card.  This way, our bride can put these to good use rather than feeling obligated to keep a bunch of cards that will sit in a box until the end of time.

 

D E C O R A T I O N S

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Okay, this is a big one.  The aesthetic of your shower is key.  It’s the first thing people see when they walk in and ultimately sets the tone for the day.  I am the very first to admit that I used Pinterest to storyboard my ideas (who doesn’t?).  Pinterest really helped me to bring those visions rolling around in my brain to fruition.

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I found this cute “Bride To Be” sign at TJMaxx for $4 and paired it with an ivory chair cover I purchased at The Christmas Tree Shops for $2.  By simply tacking the ends of this banner to the chair cover, I turned a simple folding chair into the head-of-the-table for our Bride-To-Be.

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The centerpieces were my biggest undertaking, and totally worth it because people made a huge fuss over them.  I got the glass vases from Goodwill during a super sticker sale for only $1 each and filled them with a ton of dollar store glass pebbles (Dollar Tree will truly only charge you $1 per bag).  I got the hydrangeas from Michaels by scouring the clearance/sale section for two months leading up to the big day.  Michaels will also provide a 40% Off coupon every day on their website for one regular price item, so that also saved me a good chunk of change.

The tables were lined with lace-detail plastic tablecloths I got at Michaels on clearance for $2/each, and I covered each food/beverage table with plastic table skirts to keep it all looking clean and organized (secret’s out — there were a ton of extra bags and thing we found we didn’t need hidden beautifully under those tables).

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G A M E S  &  A C T I V I T I E S

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What ended up simultaneously serving as a stellar backdrop for our Bride-To-Be to open her gifts was also a Photo Booth area.  I found a giant gold and white sheer curtain at Goodwill for $6 and tacked it to the wall (I picked a spot that already had a hanging photo to hide any tack holes from being seen once we cleaned up).  I then taped a few gold and white tissue pom-poms I had purchased at various places (BIG mistake I made: I first purchased these from Michaels and Amazon thinking I wouldn’t find them anywhere else and spent way too much money on them.  The best prices were at The Christmas Tree Shops and Dollar Tree…for $1 each).  But the tissue pom-poms ended up hiding the top of the curtain beautifully.  The banner was a Marshalls find in their paper good and stationary section for $7.99.  I also provided a few Photo Booth Props so people could take pictures with their phones.

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So, I cannot tell a lie — given everything I had already planned, I wasn’t into the idea of playing any tacky bridal shower games.  Sure, they’re a great ice breaker, but I didn’t want to go through the ordeal of buying prizes as incentives for the winners.  But the Bride-To-Be had her heart set on playing some games.  So at the 11th hour (and I do mean the 11th hour…I’m talking midnight the night before), I cut up some extra banner letters, recycled some blank envelopes and pulled a Jeopardy game out of my tush.

And I must admit, it was a really fun time.  I’m so glad we had this game to keep the energy of the party alive.  The guests got really into it and I even stumped them with a few questions (toss toss).  In addition to Jeopardy, we also played Bridal Shower Bingo and How Many Kisses?.

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F O O D,  B E V E R A G E S,  &  D E S S E R T

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Because I had planned a Sunday-Early-Afternoon-Shower, one word came to mind: brunch (duh).  So I wanted there to be as many brunch options as possible while still keeping people full for the day.

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There were two waffle irons going for DIY waffles accompanied by Nutella, whipped cream, butter and various syrup options.  Tons of bagels from Bagleman (best bagels in Connecticut) with spread options sat at the opposite end of the table.  And in the middle, there were three different quiche options for guests to enjoy.  I figured quiche satisfied the egg-breakfast craving without having to make trays of scrambled eggs.

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What’s a Bridal Shower Brunch without a little bubbly?  The following table held the Mimosa Bar and Fruit Platter for people to enjoy.  This giant stainless steel bucket that held the Prosecco over ice was found on clearance at Walgreens.  Both the carafes holding the OJ and the plastic champagne glasses were a steal from Dollar Tree.

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The adjacent table to the food held other beverages like coffee, tea, water, iced tea, lemonade, and most of the desserts.  One of the bridesmaids made these amazing “eat me” cookies to accompany our Plastic Tea Cups that had little DIY tags reading “drink me” (our Bride-To-Be has always had a soft spot for Alice in Wonderland).

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Other desserts included a variety of cookies, cupcakes, chocolate walnut banana bread, another fruit platter, and watermelon slices.  Needless to say, we sent a lot of food home with our guests.

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Weddings are stressful.  Showers can be equally as stressful if you don’t plan accordingly (and sometimes even if you do).  But it doesn’t have to cost you your first born child to put something beautiful together.  You just have to know what you’re looking for, set a budget, and ask for help from your fellow bridesmaids.

I will reiterate my best advice for any and all MOH’s getting themselves tangled up in bridal shower planning:  Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Get a good night’s sleep the night before, trust the work you’ve done, and let it be what it’s going to be.  Your bride will love what you do because she loves you and your friendship, which is why you were chosen to be her Maid of Honor.

Oh, and put on some good music.  People love a party with good music.

tj maxx, you should go

lifestyle

So anyone who knows me is well-aware — I am undoubtedly a Maxxinista. Most of my wardrobe, from my dresses, to my shoes, down to my underwear, is from one of the TJX stores.

Well, last week, I had the most outrageous experience with a $10 shirt that I purchased from the 57th Street TJMaxx in Manhattan earlier last month. It was a simple, pink, cotton shirt that was stylish without breaking the bank (as most items at TJMaxx are) manufactured by a brand named Lavender Field.

By the time I reached work at noon on Saturday, this shirt had stained everything I was wearing including my bra, my new purse, my Levi jeans and even my skin.


It was WILD. So I did what any millennial would, and I tweeted about it — pictures and all.

I was met in the days following with flawless customer service. Theresa, Andre, and Kevin were so incredibly helpful, kind, and generous with my situation. Since, of course, every item that was damaged came from their store, I was able to go in to the 57th street location in Manhattan and get store credit for, not just the culprit shirt itself, but every single item that it dyed (except my skin, cause they don’t sell that there).

I just had to write about this. The TJX corporation has always been one of my faves and it was so comforting to know how highly they prioritize customer satisfaction. They will forever have my business because their customer service is MAGICAL.

tony

Uncategorized

The Tony Awards have held a special place in my heart since I started watching them in my adolescence, and it has been my dream to attend one day in some capacity.  This past year, when I was asked to join the company of CATS as a dresser, I truly thought that I would have the opportunity to be involved with the 71st Annual Tony Awards.

When the revivals started popping up like weeds in the Spring, I surely thought our show could never be passed over.  I mean, come on, we’re CATS.  Reviving this show was huge for the theatrical community.  And when we did not receive a nomination, for anything, I was admittedly surprised, but took solace in the fact that we were not alone.  Many shows got snubbed – namely a fellow ALW revival, Sunset Boulevard.

Despite being disappointed, I quickly reached a place of acceptance – we were walking into a ten-day work week leading up to the Tony Awards and on top of our fourteen consecutive shows, had to put in four new actors before Monday.  A Tony performance would have annihilated us.  It was a blessing in disguise.

But as I watched tonight’s Tony Awards Broadcast, I realized that, despite zero recognition from the American Theatre Wing, CATS is one of the most resilient and hardest-working companies on Broadway today.  We put forth one of the most physically demanding shows, on a raked stage, on one of the most difficult schedules, every single week.  And we don’t need a nod from anyone to tell us that.

Congratulations to my friend Philip Heckmana fellow dresser at CATS who had the honor of dressing Mr. Kevin Spacey tonight as he brilliantly hosted these awards.  A huge shout out to Daniel Gaymon, our Macavity in CATS and one of the kindest and most enjoyable colleagues I have at the pleasure of working with each night at the Neil Simon who was one of those delicious men in the opening number.  Kudos to Andy Blankenbuehler, who probably couldn’t pick me out of a line-up, but still says hello to me every time he visits our theatre.  Who brought us boxes on boxes of incredible doughnuts yesterday with a message reminding us that we deserved to be performing on the Tony’s tonight.  Who revamped this iconic show and made it possible for me to have a job, and who won the Best Choreography Award for Bandstand, where in my old colleague Drew McVety performed while my buddy Zak Jacobs cheered in the wings as Assistant Company Manager to this new musical.  A huge congratulations to my girl Kate Baldwin, who I dressed in Songbird, and was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical for Hello, Dolly! which I absolutely cannot wait to see.  I was tickled to see Gavin Creel win for Supporting Actor in Hello, Dolly!, a genuinely brilliant man who educated me in an hour-long masterclass about acting through song and cheered me on as he steered my performance in a productive direction back in 2012, which I will never forget.  To see Kristolyn Lloyd performing alongside the cast of Dear Evan Hansen after dressing her years ago in Heathers and knowing her warm spirit was such a proud mama moment.  And Zach Prince making the goofiest face next to his man on-screen during the line-up for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical, was nothing short of typical and fabulous.  It has been an honor to work with all of you in some capacity throughout my time in Manhattan and even more exciting to see your success on screen tonight.

 

Congratulations to everyone who has poured their soul into these productions, both on and off the stage.  The nominations and winners were beyond well-deserved, and I am so grateful to be a part of the theatrical community as the small fraction that I am.

top five

Uncategorized

Last night, three karafs of sangria in with my two girlfriends from college, we started discussing our top five favorite artists.  I’ve already touched on my love for Ed Sheeran (see before i dive right into you), but I got to thinking about my personal top five, and wanted to share them with you (in no particular order) —

S A R A   B A R E I L L E S

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My heart has been beating for Sara Bareilles since high school.  I’ve seen her in concert twice, and went to her opening night as Jenna in Waitress.  That is how much I adore her.

F A V O R I T E   A L B U M

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T O P   F I V E   F A V O R I T E   S O N G S

Uncharted — Kaleidoscope Heart

Many The Miles — Little Voice

Goodbye Song

Free Ride

Casseopia — The Blessed Unrest

D A V E   M A T T H E W S   B A N D

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Another one of baby Tara’s favorites.  It all started when I was a freshman in high school trying to impress my senior boyfriend who loved DMB; and then I actually fell in love with his music and carried it with me into college and beyond.  I’ve never seen him perform live, which is shocking, but I will one day.

F A V O R I T E   A L B U M

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T O P   F I V E   F A V O R I T E   S O N G S

Satellite – Under The Table And Dreaming

Why I Am – Big Whiskey and the Gru Grux King

Ants Marching – Under The Table And Dreaming

Grey Street – Busted Stuff

Crash Into Me – Crash

M U M F O R D   &   S O N S

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My Mumf love started in the autumn of my senior year of college back in 2012.  Ever since then, Mumford and Sons forever holds my fall-time anthems.  I have tried many times to see them live, but have yet to succeed.

F A V O R I T E   A L B U M

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T O P   F I V E   F A V O R I T E   S O N G S

I Will Wait – Babel

Little Lion Man – Sigh No More

Lover of the Light – Babel

The Cave – Sigh No More

Winter Winds – Sigh No More

J A S O N   M R A Z

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What can I even say about Mr. Az?  I love him, I love what he stands for, I love his music – all of it.  He is a brilliant artist and his affiliation with Sara Bareilles makes my heart beat for him even more.

F A V O R I T E   A L B U M

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T O P   F I V E   F A V O R I T E   S O N G S

Butterfly – We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things

Traveler/Make It Mine – Beautiful Mess: Live On Earth

You F*ckin Did It – LOVE Is A Four Letter Word

Welcome to Saratoga: Older Lover Undercover – Selections for Friends

Live High – Beautiful Mess: Live On Earth

E D   S H E E R AN

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This is the newest addition to the top five family.  Thinking Out Loud struck a chord in me, as it did with many people back in 2014, and from there I just fell in love with Ed Sheeran’s music.  I bet you’re starting to sense the trend I have with male guitarists.

F A V O R I T E   A L B U M

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T O P   F I V E   F A V O R I T E   S O N G S

Dive –  Divide

Thinking Out Loud – X

One – X

Photograph – X

Galway Girl – Divide

O T H E R    F A V E S