New York City, two thousand and...something.
I am a young enthusiastic actress, fresh off the boat foreigner with big dreams and 'chutzpah'.
I go to an acting conservatory in Times Square during the day, and watch theatre on and off Broadway, at night. My life revolves around theatre. I left a country behind, a language behind, a boyfriend behind, an actual acting career behind in Israel, to hone my craft in NYC because 'If ya make it there, ya make it anywhere.'
If this sounds familiar, it's because there are millions of others like me. Millions of young dreamers, setting foot in the city that never sleeps. The city that may be the answer to their prayers, the starting off point of their careers. Be it in theatre, music, art, or even wall street.
Embarking on my journey to the United states, wasn't a thought I had to dwell on. Not even for a second. It was something I knew I'd do years before. Back when I was a little girl in Jerusalem, I adopted the American dream as my own, and as an actress - I knew I had to be in New York City.
So here I was, living my dream as an international theatre student in the big apple.
It sounds magical in retrospect, but it was a bit of a grind in reality.
I went through a healthy portion of hurdles in those days, but a particular one is important to mention: The English Language. How to speak it. And how to sound native to it.
As someone who was born and raised in another country, speaking Hebrew as my first (and only fluent) language, I had to overcome loads of language barriers (Um, occasionally I STILL have to), and learn how to eliminate my non-American accent. (something I STILL work at, though I can fool most people as being American nowadays). And I wasn't going to let the hurdles of speaking with a foreign accent, and having a limited vocabulary, stand in my way. After all, I was driven by fearless ambition and 'chutzpah', remember?
So I began...
Reading ONLY English. Speaking ONLY English.
Studying speech & dialects diligently with the help of a dialect coach (Leigh Dillon, I'll shout-out your name forever 'cause you're the BEST!), and re-training my tongue and mouth as if they were muscles. (Because, well, they ARE.)
I would practice daily.
In the subway, to the mirror, with a cork in my mouth. Whenever, wherever. I was hungry to learn. I was hungry to succeed. And mostly, I was hungry to disappear into another identity.
Bear with me as I fast forward to some years later: I am in the City of Angels, I am a working actress (working sometimes, I mean - the ups and downs of this industry are things I know all too well. Sigh..) and among my many supplemental jobs, I am finding myself coaching a Ukrainian actress on how to reduce her accent. She has a great ear, and can repeat sounds perfectly, but retreats back to her Ukrainian accent when she forms words and sentences. Although she has all the technical skills needed, she is clearly resistant to reducing her accent. In a heartfelt chat, we discover why: She doesn't want to let go of her identity.
And in that moment, I realize: I DID.
In fact, It seems as though I wanted to let go of my identity more than anything.
Speaking and sounding American, was sort of like a 'mask', or a self-given permission to BELONG to the new environment I was in.
That 'mask' fits well, and believe me - I get immense pleasure when people are surprised by my country of origin. But underneath the mask of 'Perfectly sounding American accent'?
Underneath, I am an outsider. An 'other.'
One who is still seeking to belong, but accepting that I may never will.
To be continued...
*Photo: 'Lunch Atop A Skyscraper'
In April 2020, while experiencing her first ever global pandemic, Tamar Pelzig pledged to write something every day, even if it's only a word, so she welcomed to the world a daily blog to keep her creative writing wheels rolling.
Header Art: Daniel Landerman