Living an Aligned Life as an Artist | with Analisa LeamingJan 09, 2024
Written By: Chelsea & Cynthia
Featuring: Analisa Leaming
"We think we know emotion because we are playing other characters, but most of the people I work with aren't actually that tuned into their own emotional body. Imagine how this will affect our art, the more we can come into our body and feel our own feelings and our own intuition and our own guidance and then bring that into our art."
Analisa Leaming is a performer turned "soulful coach" for actors, the host of the podcast A Balancing Act, and passionate about supporting artists mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as they pursue their dreams.
We had the privilege to sit down with Analisa and have a conversation about the roadblocks we often encounter in the industry and the breakthroughs we can make as we strive to live a life more aligned with our creativity and our dreams.
Let's dive right in!
Q: Please share with us some background to your career - how did you get started in performing and when did you know it was time to pivot to something new?
A: I'm from Tennessee and I grew up on Julie Andrews and that's what I wanted to do, so I was very firmly told I had to study opera because "musical theater teachers will ruin your voice", so my voice teacher was a trained opera singer.
From there, I ended up at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and did my undergraduate in classical vocal performance. I would also do summer stock and be in practice rooms with paper over my window attempting to belt and trying to figure out what that sound was because it was so frowned upon in my school. But I had an incredible voice teacher who loved musical theater and supported me by bringing in songs by people like Ricky Ian Gordon and Adam Guettel.
The Lotte Lenya competition was always hosted at Eastman, so from my first year I was watching Eric Lieberman, Morgan James, Lauren Worsham, and all of these incredible people who now have fantastic careers on Broadway. I was so inspired that by my senior year, I decided I was going to do that too.
I worked for about a year and a half gathering my Kurt Weill repertoire and preparing. The judges the year i competed were Teresa Stratas, Ted Sperling, and Ted Chapin. I feel like those were my guardian angels and getting me on the path that I was meant for, which was performing in musical theater. I won second prize, and from there, I got a phone call directly to my phone from Bernie Telsey's office asking if I would come down to Lincoln Center and audition to cover the role of Nellie Forbush in South Pacific.
At the time, nobody in my life knew how to help me prepare for this kind of audition. I showed up having memorized the songs, and the scene and I held my binder choral singing style for the whole audition in the basement of Lincoln Center for the entire team. I got a callback, but ultimately I didn't book it.
I kept getting phone calls from those folks at Telsey to come in for different things, and I was preparing to study for my master's at CCM, like you do when you're a singer. But I just finished at Eastman and saw an audition for The Sound of Music in Asia. I was like, "Hmm, maybe I should do that. But, do I fly to New York City? And what about callbacks? How does that work?" So I emailed Ted Chapin, and asked for his advice.
He said, "Hold please" and I got an email from that casting office saying they had a call back for me for Maria in The Sound of Music on this tour. I ended up going to China to rehearse Sound of Music, and that is what I call my conservatory program because everybody that was in that show with me had just finished at NYU, so they taught me what my book was, what songs I should sing at auditions, how to go to EPAs - and just all of the information I needed to create my career. That's how I got to New York.
My story from there is very up and down. The first Broadway show I booked was canceled the night before rehearsals were supposed to start. I met my husband, got married, and then booked my first Broadway show when I was 30, after seven years of pursuing it.
From that point, it just went one show after another until I had my first baby andthe pandemic hit. I'm so grateful for that run. While doing all of that, I had a place in my heart for what it is we do as performers - like what it takes to stay in a healthy emotional state through all of the ups and downs. I was finding things that were helping me and I just knew I had to share them.
So way, way, way back, when I was about 24, I created my first group called A Balancing Act, and we met at the Stella Adler studio on Sunday nights. I would teach meditation, visualization, and journaling together and it was really sweet. During The King and I, I started my podcast, A Balancing Act.
Then while I was doing Hello, Dolly! the tour, I was pregnant and I knew I was going to take a little bit of a break, but there was a part of me that was ready for a break from performing. During the pandemic, I started teaching voice lessons, which I've been doing since I was at Eastman when I studied pedagogy there. But was one of those things where just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.
What I found through the pandemic and teaching 25+ students a week was that it's not my passion. All I want to do is talk to these singers about what's happening in their brain and heart, and I would just talk through their lessons, which I know as somebody who pays for a voice lesson, I don't want my voice teacher to do. That realization set me on a trajectory to pursue training because I wanted to know what I was doing.
I just kept getting coaching clients and beginning to let some voice students go until suddenly, I found myself coaching full-time. That led to my husband suggesting that since I was turning down about every audition I was being sent, we could just leave the city. And that was when we packed up and left.
Q: Do you find that your desire to find healthy ways to talk about how we support ourselves mentally and spiritually in this industry comes from personal experiences or more from recognizing what people around you were experiencing or a combination of both?
A: Definitely both. I remember being like six or seven when one Sunday my family decided not to go to church and I was like, "Oh, I'll have church in my room". I lit candles and brought everybody in to have "Church". That's not necessarily the path that I'm on spiritually more, but it's just been such a part of me to create these spaces and bring the sacred into the mundane.
I've always had rituals in my life, I remember sitting outside of my voice teacher's studio in college and I would get there early to sit and have this sort of time of intention about the voice lesson and ask myself to get out of the way so that I can sing and through it serve others.
And so I remember standing in line at an EPA long before I had my Equity card, so I probably didn't even get seen that day, but I was listening to another actor talk about this nonunion Fiddler On The Roof tour that they had to get, like if they didn't book that, then they don't know what else they could do.
I just remember going like, how are you going to manage your own emotions and well-being if that's really what you believe? Knowing for myself when I would get super attached to something, and because I think I'm just a natural teacher of things I would observe in myself and want to share it with others.
Q: What do you see as some of the most common limiting beliefs that actors have?
A: One of the biggest ones is that anytime the word "need" comes in, my Spidey sense kicks in. Like, "I need that show", "I need to book this", "I need to get to this next level in my career", or "I'm not working on stage, I need it to be happy."
Other big ones are the comparison game, and not knowing how to access your inner voice or intuition. In our society, we're taught to look outside of ourselves to know if we are doing a good job. Especially in our training, we immediately look to teachers after we perform, or for feedback after auditions - it's always outside of ourselves. So that's one of my favorite places to start with people is like finding your inner voice by slowing down enough to hear it, to feel it.
As actors, we think we know emotion because we are playing other characters, but most of the people I work with aren't that tuned into their emotional bodies. We're all living up in our heads and it's very much like the thinking mind is what's leading us - so imagine how this affects our art. The more we can kind of come into our body and feel our feelings, intuition, and guidance, we can then bring that into our art. It's such a freeing experience.
Q: In your work as a coach, you help performers redefine what a successful life means and how to live it. What do see as the biggest roadblocks from being able to accomplish these things in their life? Why can't people often get there on their own?
A: I consider what I'm doing is like being a doula for your dreams. I am holding this vision for you while you birth into the world little creative genius babies. All along the way, through the setbacks that you'll experience, I'll be here to help you remember who you really are. Becuase with every setback, it's easy to forget. For every "rejection", we forget who we are. When we get really attached to something we think we're going to book, we think it's going to change our lives. And then when we don't, it takes the wind out of our sails.
So to have somebody to provide support for your life to help you come back into alignment quicker and quicker and quicker is so magical.
I do this thing called Soulful Study Halls with my clients on Thursday mornings and we show up, say hello, maybe set an intention together, and then we mute ourselves on Zoom and go about our practices. That may look like meditating, singing, or yoga, some are doing crazy weird embodiment practices. We're all just doing our thing together.
Recently, during our ending check-in, one person unmuted and said, "Why don't I do this by myself every week? Why do I only do this when I'm coming on Thursdays?" That's when I was like, we're pack animals, you know, we're meant to do this together. We don't have to do this by ourselves.
Q: When you decided to move your family away from New York, what did it feel like to physically remove yourself from the "heartbeat of the industry"?
A: Oh yeah, this was not an easy thing. It was not a decision we were quick to make, and we took a lot of time and exploration to eventually decide to leave. But when we did decide to go, my agents were incredible. I thought I was breaking up with them when I called and I was so nervous. I'd been with them for over 10 years, but I called and said, "Hey, we're leaving New York". And my agent said, "Good for you. There's more life than theater", which was not the response that I was expecting at all.
He shared that he'd seen the stuff I was doing on Facebook and thought it was awesome that I had other things that I was passionate about. But then he asked if I wanted to keep working together because if I ended up in Salt Lake or Denver, they knew those people and could help me if I wanted to perform there.
When we lived in Salt Lake, I had just asked my agents about submitting me for A Christmas Story at Pioneer Theatre. But then I came down with a sickness that wasn't a sickness, it was morning sickness and I was surprisingly pregnant with baby number two. So, knowing that, I realized I needed some stability in my life and I knew Salt Lake City wasn't it and I was ready to find home. So we ended up in the Denver area again, because they have a wonderful theater here.
I'm leaving soon to go do a gig with the Tulsa Ballet, I'm going to sing in their Strictly Gershwin show. So, I'm not done, right? But when we left, the Broadway show that I had turned down, ran for a very long time and was very successful post-pandemic. But not one day did I wish I was there, which gave me this peace that I was done for now.
But it wasn't always easy. When we first got to Salt Lake City, the Tonys were happening and I cried watching them because it was so identity-shedding, which is really how that whole summer felt.
I remember just hiking by myself, crying, and praying to my inner guides. Like, what is happening? What is this about? The gift that that gave me was that my inner landscape became richer, deeper and more beautiful. My connection to my soul became this soulful coaching because I found an inner voice and a place and connection with something deep within.
If you're interested in diving deeper into this interview or exploring other interesting musical theatre conversations - check out the Broadway Vocal Coach podcast! Or check us out on Instagram, and get involved in the conversation!
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