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Actress Natalie Holly Tells Her Story. What's Yours?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act September 10, 2013 at 11:19AM

Recapping... I did this in February of last year (2012), and got a few response, so I figured, a year-and-a-half later, with the site's audience now larger than it was back then, that I'd try it again.
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Natalie Holly

Recapping... I did this in February of last year (2012), and got a few response, so I figured, a year-and-a-half later, with the site's audience now larger than it was back then, that I'd try it again.

I know that a significant chunk of S&A's audience comprises of actors, actresses, directors, DPs, editors, etc, etc, etc. Some are able to earn a paycheck utilizing their artistic and/or technical skills; others - and I'd say the majority - are what we've labeled the proverbial *starving artists*, working diligently, relentlessly, struggling to climb this incredibly steep hill, trying to reach some pinnacle of success - whether personal or professional. And still others exist somewhere between the former and the latter.

Where do you fall? And, as the title of this post states, what's YOUR story, and would you like to share it with the rest of the world?

Think of it as an extension of the successful S&A Filmmaker Diary series we launched almost 2 years ago. I'm looking for your individual stories of struggle and/or success, regardless of what rung on the ladder you are currently on, after all, not only is S&A just a source for news, its goal is also to become a community of cinema lovers where we can all share/debate/discuss/learn/teach/commiserate/etc.

Here's your chance. You might learn something; you might teach someone something.

What's YOUR story? You can email me (obensont@gmail.com). You can submit your story in any format - written, or even documented on video. I'll post as many of them as I can. Substance and presentation are key for consideration. 

And be sure to attach a photo (large size) for me to include, and if you have samples of your work, include them as well.

It could be a story about a current situation you find yourself in; or it could cover several days, weeks, months, or years of your career. It could be that you just want to vent your frustrations; aspects of, or people in this business that piss you off; aspects of, or people in the industry that encourage you. It doesn't have to be all negative, nor all positive. We're complex people, and so I assume our stories are as well.

In today's post, actress Natalie Holly shares her story:

I never gave my acting career the dedication it required.

Instead, I often worried about everything from my losing battle with acne to my loosening grasp of Shakespeare. I was getting punked every month by Sallie Mae, and seriously questioned the logic in pursuing an MFA in Acting.  Worrying, was a full-time gig.

Working with a manager, I auditioned and booked small roles, becoming increasingly drawn to writing and producing. I took classes, interned, worked with a mentor, and was an Associate Producer for the short film, WHITE, which premiered as part of PBS’ Independent Television Service (ITVS) Futurestates series.

My bread and butter came from working in hospitality until that spun itself into a career of nearly ten years. Providing concierge services whether in a private equity firm or a boutique hotel came easy to me and I was good at it. Still, a sense of fulfillment continued to elude me. I needed some measurable success so I could live out my dream of retreating to a mountain or beach front property where I’d make goat cheese or signature cocktails. I’d write novels and screenplays in nothing more than my bare feet and a bathing suit.

In 2010, an earthquake hit Haiti and I, like many Haitians in the diaspora, scoured social media and news outlets for updates. As the country began its slow process of recovery, I was drawn to what was to come from the rubble, and was inspired to write a screenplay. It would be an ensemble piece following earthquake survivors and their loved ones in Haiti and abroad.

Having only visited my parents’ country as a tourist, skewed my perspective. I was convinced I could never authentically tell this story without having lived there. Three years after the disaster, when an opportunity to teach Leadership for a college scholarship program in Port-au-Prince presented itself, I leaped at the chance.

Living here has given me invaluable insights into my characters, which I couldn’t have learned without uprooting myself from what had become a banal existence. It’s been a few months since my teaching commitment came to an end and amidst the growing pains, everyday sights and conversations continue to fuel me. I found my students were most engaged in classes that incorporated the arts and discussion. I coordinated talks, debates, and film screenings, including director Philippe Niang’s “Toussaint L’Ouverture” with lead Haitian actor Jimmy Jean-Louis in attendance. The Local Leaders series I developed brought Haitian professionals from various disciplines, into the classroom to share their perspective on leadership and rebuilding Haiti. I managed to finish a first, albeit mediocre, draft of my screenplay, and have accepted the long-haul of rewrites that lies ahead.

In the weeks after my contract ended, I decided to shoot a short film. I wrote a script based on one of my favorite poems by notable Haitian writer, Jacques Roumain, and relied on the resourcefulness of my younger self to get it done. Little “Talie” had a knack for coercing her cousins into creating some of the most glorious (dare I say epic) performances based on re-imagined Greek tragedies, and deliciously sinful characters who later found redemption. With this in mind, I strapped my handheld high-definition camera to an old tripod, enlisted a cousin with a short memory; and together we climbed up rooftops in a mountain village and made a movie. To keep things simple, we shot it as a silent film, over which I layered a wild track and narration.

And that career in hospitality? With the help of a friend, I partnered with an entrepreneur and together, we are running a restaurant and guest house. I’m not yet in the mountains or on a beach front property, but I’m so close I can smell the saltwater and the goats, depending on which direction my motorcycle taxi takes me.  

As we say in Haitian-Creole, “piti piti wazo fe nich li”, or “little by little the bird builds its nest.” To a certain extent, I’ve seen Haitians do what is necessary to survive without worrying about how the chips will fall. Folks take chances. The starkness of what that looks like here is compelling. The American in me mentally raps, “can’t stop, won’t stop,” over a soundtrack of Haitian tap-tap drivers and merchants calling out their stops and daily wares.

My dad recently wrote me: “Ernest Hemingway lived in Paris and later in Cuba. His travels to Spain, England and Africa as a journalist also made him a greater poet and novelist. Didn't [Haitian writer] Roussan Camille write his famous poem “Nedje” while traveling in Casablanca?” Bless him.  

I’m building a life that allows my artistry to transcend the confines of mere survival. My cup runneth over. I have more inspiration now, than I’ve had in a long time and my appetite for it is insatiable. Nom, nom, nom….

Please feel free to contact me at Natalie.C.Holly@gmail.com if you’d like to read an excerpt of my full-length screenplay.

This article is related to: Natalie Holly, What's Your Story?


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