A Conversation with Inspiring Artist Abby Carlson of Waiting in the Wings: The Musical
Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Abby Carlson (she/her)
Current Location: Redondo Beach, Ca
Abby, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I basically came out of the womb singing and dancing, but somehow I didn't know what musical theatre was until I was 13. I had taken piano lessons starting at 7, and been in band, playing percussion, since I was 9; I sang in the kids choir at my church, and I'd taken a random dance class every once in a while at our local community center, but I didn't know that there was this WORLD of theatre out there. Suddenly this super socially awkward kid had a home with goofy friends, and all of the things I loved came together in beautiful collaborative art.
Fullerton Union High School had the Academy of the Arts, so I got an intra-district transfer, and while there, I was really pushed to be my best in all areas of the arts and in life. In addition to doing all of the musicals, I was on the comedy improv team, and sang in as many choirs as possible. I fell in love with Jazz music because of my jazz choir director, Mrs. Jill DeWeese, and ultimately decided to go to her alma mater, CSULB to pursue that.
I THOUGHT I wanted to be a full-time choir director, sing with a big band, and do theatre on the side... so I took a break from theatre for 5 years while I was an undergrad, double majoring in Music Education and Vocal Jazz Studies... and much to my guidance counselor's dismay, taking 1-3 dance classes every semester.
I began teaching classroom music when I was a sophomore in college, and the teaching jobs just kept coming, so I decided to get my K-12 teaching credential in Music. Over the course of 13 years, I taught elementary general music & choir, middle school choir & band, high school music theory, high school choir & band, recorders, percussion, piano, and the list truly goes on. Most notably, I taught at the Orange County School of the Arts, teaching Musical Theatre Voice, for 8 years. During this time, I kept one foot in musical theatre, sang with various bands and groups, and did a bit of studio singing, but I wasn't actively pursuing a career in performing.
In early 2018, I was cast in the LA Premiere of Ahren's & Flaherty's Dessa Rose as Ruth, the white female lead. The acting challenges that the show presented, the relationships that I made through that production, the accolades we received, and the opportunity to establish myself as one of the leading ladies in LA theatre were all pivotal. After much prayer, many conversations with friends, family, and colleagues, and many tears, I decided to "retire" from teaching at the end of that school year in order to fully pursue a performing career. Around the same time, my husband quit his office job to become a full-time composer/musician. It was definitely a leap of faith for both of us, but we're SO happy we did it.
Almost immediately, I signed with a commercial agent, and have since had some great opportunities come my way as a singer, actor, dancer, and model. Covid definitely lodged a wrench in our momentum, which had just been picking up some really awesome steam, but we've kept our heads up and our hearts full, and we are looking forward to seeing what this next season has in store. My next step is to find theatrical representation, and the ultimate goal is to be doing movie musicals.
The life of an Artist can be a hard one. Can you tell us what you think are the biggest barrier(s) or challenges to you being an artist, and how you've worked or are working to overcome them?
My biggest personal challenge is navigating how to thrive while having ADHD. I learn material quickly, but it takes a lot of intentional practice to really retain it. I also have innately horrible time management skills, so I surround myself with various reminders and supportive people who help me stay on-task. Meisner techniques help me stay present in my scene work, and becoming an advocate for neurodiversity in the arts and in education has been incredibly empowering.
I think a lot of artists also often feel imposter syndrome when we succeed. We get told "no" in this industry so much more than anything else, so it's easy to develop a thick, defensive skin. I'm learning to own my talent, rely on my training, and trust that each opportunity is meant to be.
What piece of advice would you share with the next generation of Artists?
Above all, keep chasing joy. Not success, not fame, not money, and I dare say not even love. Do what brings you JOY, and those other things will fall into place. Read "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron! That book has been the single most transformative and empowering tool I've ever used. Trust me. Build a support system. Be part of someone else's support system. Know that it's ok to have different groups of friends for different aspects of your life and your art. Always keep practicing your craft. Take classes, audition for everything, create your own content, and most importantly, keep reminding yourself how much FUN it is!
Can you share with us what your creative process looks like?
It all goes back to having fun. When I allow myself to let go of what I think "should" happen, and instead just focus on being present and grateful, magical things happen. Whether I'm writing music, choreographing, developing a character, or anything else, I have to first just let go. Once the concept is there, I rely on my training and technique to fine-tune it, but I am constantly checking back in with my inner child to make sure she's still having fun. Even if it's a serious piece, there can be joy in creating beauty, and joy in the knowledge that someday this piece may pull on someone else's heartstrings.
Creating a community can be beneficial as an Artist. Do you have a network of other artists you rely on? In what ways do you support each other?
Yes! Two dear friends and I met online weekly during the pandemic, and read through The Artist's Way together, and we still check in with each other about once a month to share our wins, goals, and game plans. I also have a small group of friends on a text thread, and we support each other through thick and thin. My husband is my best friend and biggest supporter, and we help each other with projects, and encourage each other to keep pursuing our dreams.
Who has influenced you the most on your journey as an Artist? Where do you draw inspiration from when creating Art?
The list is far too long. Some of my biggest inspirations include Ella Fitzgerald, Julie Andrews, Kristin Chenoweth, and Sutton Foster. As far as where I draw inspiration from, I'd have to say my own heart and imagination. We MUST love what we create, so it must come from within.
How do you seek out new opportunities to create?
I love collaborating with other artists, but I also love creating my own content. I have profiles on about 4 different casting websites, and my agent & I submit for projects on those regularly. Also just letting other creatives know that I'm available to play has been a big factor.
What are your hopes, either personal or overall, for the future of the Arts & Entertainment industry?
I think that a lot of artists were able to reassess, reprioritize, and reflect during the pandemic. My hope is that we continue to come back kinder, and that we would be more mindful, present, and intentional both in the art we create and in how we treat each other.