How would you like to introduce yourself to our audience?
I am a singer, actor, writer, and voice teacher living and working in New York City.
When did your passion for the arts begin and how was it manifested in its initial phase?
My parents were musicians so I grew up in a home that really valued the arts. We often had family outings to concerts, museums, and theater. I grew up in Costa Mesa, CA and started taking acting classes at South Coast Repertory (a great regional theater in Southern California) when I was 8. I then went to an arts High School, The Orange County High School for the Arts, and then to NYU where I studied Drama and Art History. It wasn’t until a few years after I graduated that I started writing music, and a few years after that I started working with a band. Acting was my first passion, and I came to it as a refuge and safe place for me to express myself. I grew up in a quite conservative family, and I only really felt comfortable expressing and exploring complicated feelings and stories on stage.
You’ve been performing for many years throughout the U.S. and around the world. How have these performing experiences in diverse territories and in front of various audiences affected you as a multitalented artist?
Getting to travel as an artist has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I’ve been to places I probably would never have gone to on my own, and have gotten to experience the culture of these places in an intimate and experiential way that is different than I think travel as a tourist offers. When I went to Pakistan with my band we were a part of a 3 day music festival featuring groups from all over the country - the only other foreign group was a traditional folk group from Poland. While we were there we met some incredible Pakistani musicians who joined us on stage to riff and interpret some of my original music, and I’ve stayed in touch with them to this day. When I went to Serbia performing a concert piece about the life of Ellen Stewart, founder of La MaMa Experimental Theater Club in New York, I got to be a part of workshops and discussions with young artists in that country and was reminded that while Ellen’s story as a powerful boundary pusher and theatrical entrepreneur is inspiring, there are still barriers and boundaries to the pursuit of artistic expression in certain parts of the world that I cannot imagine. And this raises the question for me as an artist who has the privilege to travel and share my voice, what is my responsibility to certain artists who may not be able to share their voices as loudly? Is my ear enough?
Your website includes one of Judy Garland’s quotes, “Always be a first rate version of yourself, instead of a second rate version of somebody else.” That’s a fantastic quote by a beautiful artist like Judy Garland. Is she one of the artists you’ve looked up to when trying to figure out what type of artist you wanted to become? Who are some of your other idols?
I love this quote from Judy Garland, because it absolutely speaks to the kind of work I want to do. And it’s something I am constantly asking myself as I grow as a person and an artist, what is it that I truly care about and how is that informing the work? What will keep me honest and how can I make work with integrity? I always feel like I need to have a love affair with the work I’m involved in, especially if it’s not of my creation, and honestly sometimes falling in love can be a trial. Sometimes it’s not an “at first sight” situation, but an excavation and a searching for the core, the truth in the work that allows me to feel safe enough to be vulnerable with it. I love Tolstoy for the passion, humanity, history, and philosophy he weaves throughout each of his works. I love the Marx Brothers for the craft and ingenuity in their comedy. I love Rebecca Solnit for her questions, honesty, her poetic prose. Reggie Watts for his unapologetic silly genius id. Roomful of Teeth for their commitment to the unexpected. Regina Spektor for telling big stories about small things.
In addition to being an actress-singer-writer-teacher, you are also dedicated to writing original music and performing with your band Grace McLean & Them Apples. That’s a cool name for a band. Is there a story behind it?
Honestly, it was a suggestion I made for my boyfriend at the time’s band! They didn’t like it, so when I formed my own band later I snatched it up for myself.
What are some of your upcoming projects that you’re most excited about?
I’m currently in a new musical adaptation of CYRANO with The New Group starring Peter Dinklage and with music by The National. It runs through the end of 2019. And then next year is a bit up in the air but I have an album I’m preparing to release with my band and I’m working on a few writing projects, one inspired by Victorian era medical texts warning against music and its nefarious effects on the female body, and another inspired by the back story around the making of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto.
What’s your attitude towards social media and how do you make use of it?
Ooh I see social media as a necessary evil. I’m not very “good” at it, and don’t really intend to get better. I use it to post about events going on in my life that I want people to know about and support and attend, but I don’t do much to feed my online avatar beyond the professional sphere. I do have a private Instagram account where I’ll post things from vacations and with family and friends, because I don’t really want my private life and people with whom I’m intimate to be exposed. I save content that for the people I’m closest with. I myself get sucked into the social media work as an observer far more than I’m comfortable with. It starts with an absent minded scroll and suddenly it’s been 15, 20, 30 minutes and I can feel my brain rotting and atrophying from exposure to such quick and easy and shiny images. I have to remind myself that slow and steady contemplation is worthwhile because it deepens and strengthens neural pathways, as opposed to the scroll addiction which I think dulls those grooves.
#WhatMatters to you the most at this point in time?
Gratitude and Love and the expression of these through Generosity have become very important to me. This past year I birthed a project that I had been working on for many years and that dealt with some difficult personal traumatic themes and had been through many permeations and had damaged at least one friendship and had challenged me as a creator and thinker and person and I learned A LOT especially in the final contractions of this last year before pushing my little girl out into the world to be scrutinized and judged by strangers and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’m so glad I did it. Because while my pendulum was swinging wildly and forcefully between pride and shame I clung to the realization that no matter the reception of the product itself, it was through a community of Love and Trust that this thing was able to Be. And I found that that was more important to me than public reception or perception (although when a stranger reached out to me to say that Got It or felt Seen because of it, that was pretty fucking great too) was that a group of people came together to Support and Love and Nurture and Believe In something I was thinking about, and I have come to recognize that that is an act of Healing. Now that my baby is born and out in the world, I am so excited to do what I can to assist in someone else’s Birth/Healing, to show MY Support and Love and Gratitude for the little Athenas popping out of heads and to lend a hand to stir the pot of alchemy cooking up something new for someone else. And, how do you find ways to #BeatTheBlues?
Darkness is necessary. But it is not eternal and it is not everything. I try to remind myself of this when I am in it. It doesn’t necessarily change much when I tell myself this, but I tell myself anyway. I tell myself this all the time when I’m not in the darkness too. I try to respect the darkness and it’s inevitability. And I try to embrace it when it comes, to go along for the ride. I’m learning to allow myself to feel all the things it wants me to feel because they need to be felt in order to move through that darkness, that’s its path. In The Red Book by CG Jung (which was basically his journal while he was going through a psychotic episode), he says that however large God is, it casts an equally large shadow. And that to find the light you must first fall into an even deeper darkness. The darkness can be a teacher, and can ultimately expand understanding of our existence, one shadow at a time. I think one key to moving through the darkness is to find at least one other person who can hold your hand when you need it. They don’t need to do more than that. They don’t need to help or fix or change anything. But just having a hand to hold I think is helpful in finding the ground when you can’t see it yourself. Thank you and Good luck!