When I began acting after graduating early from Barnard College, Columbia University in Manhattan, I knew one thing for sure. I wanted to act. I always had. And I wanted to be with the William Morris Agency. They were the only agency I’d really heard of growing up in Princeton, NJ and I wanted to be with them. Also, I had a crush on theater. I always had.
And so, upon graduation, I worked at a restaurant in Tribeca where I sat in my little coat check area and I read plays while munching on the bread the waiters would bring me and sipping on the tea they’d swing by as well.
Always, plays. So, when a year after I met with the commercial department at WMA, as it was known back then, I scored a meeting with the “Legit” department in Manhattan. I blew them away! I was ready. I wanted this with the clarity and confidence I’ve come to envy in my lonelier moments as an actress.
Within 3 days of my meeting with these 5 agents, I had an audition on Broadway for Neil Simon. And though that one didn’t work out, I spotted a role in Backstage a few days later for “The Diary of Anne Frank” and I circled the role of Margot Frank, called my WMA agent’s office, spoke with his assistant with whom I’d become good friends and boom. I had an audition.
It was a 3 month process. But, I booked the role. I played Natalie Portman’s sister on stage for 8 1/2 months. 23 times. I booked 3 roles on Broadway for my first gig as an actress. James Lapine directed us and we were nominated for a Tony Award.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I was told repeatedly, no one sees theater in L.A. But, when I began acting here, I co-produced a one-act festival where I starred in one play and directed and wrote another one. I did this with my closest friends, at the time.
One day, one of our playwrights came up to me and told me he loved what I was doing. I said, “Thank you!” He said, “I want my best friend to come see you.” I said, “Oh my gosh. I want your grandmother to come.” I was a producer – I needed to fill seats. “My best friend,” he continued, “is Alec Baldwin.” “Oh. I want him to come,” I said without missing a beat.
Sure enough, two weeks later, we had a benefit performance. And Alec came. The following day, he called Lorne Michaels and 3 days later, NBC called me. Lindsay Shookus.
I cobbled together some characters and impressions I’d created in a span of a day. My friend’s husband filmed me and put it all together on a link. NBC called me the following day to tell me that they were flying me out to NYC. I would be testing for “Saturday Night Live” the following night.
Now, I never had remotely fathomed that anything like this could happen from a tin play in a tiny theater in a town that purportedly does not go to theater. But, it did. Alec became a friend and many opportunities came my way as a result of this one one-act play on this one night in a tiny theater in this wilding town.
It pretty much changed my life. And continues to do so.
And here I am, a few years later, pitching an animated series and continuing to follow my gut as an actress/writer/director/producer. I remind myself of the words I always heard growing up, at college and the ones I have come to whisper to myself in moments of doubt: Follow your gut. For all you know, you’ll end up on the SNL stage at NBC in front of Lorne Michaels, acting your little big heart out.