Heartfelt inspiration from 2005 alumna Vanessa Reseland

Vanessa Reseland

What are you excited about at the moment?

At this exact moment, I am very excited about work. I love the theatre, but it's a hard business. I am currently working, which is not a statement I have been able to make often throughout my career. When I can, I feel like a plant that finally receives sunlight. It makes the rest of my life a little more palatable. It makes breathing a little easier. It makes my whole perspective on living in New York City more optimistic, and it provides hindsight for some of the challenges I've faced up until this point. If jobs were handed to me right off the bat, I don't think I would have the stamina or the amount of gratitude I do now. I certainly wouldn't have the same sense of self. I am more than my job title. I am a human being with many interests and, thankfully, the freedom to express those interests creatively without the approval of anyone else. There are many people I admire in the theatre, and I cherish time collaborating with them, but I have learned that if I never get hired again, I am no less talented, no less worthy, and I will not disappear. I will make my own opportunities. I know many other incredible people doing the same thing these days and finding their voices in all different ways. It is thoroughly inspiring and exciting.

I'm obsessed with your band WIFEY! Tell me about how that started, how you would compare it to your experiences working in musical theatre, and your dreams for this project.

That is so kind of you to say! I have written music since I was a kid. I think I was 12 when I wrote my first full song and 16 when I started playing them at coffeehouses. I started writing music as a way to be more honest, but not necessarily literal. Each song triggers memories from the specific instances that inspired them, so I get to wrap up a moment in my memory, be brutally honest, connect with other people, and sing. WIFEY was spawned after a previous band dismantled in a way that left me totally deflated. After two years of stitching my self-esteem back together, I wanted to take charge of a musical project that would fill me up. I found superb musicians who were excited about my solo work and eager to play it, and we started rehearsing. We just met up and did it, though I was somewhat intimidated at first. Over time, I gained confidence and learned how to get my point across to each musician, and they stayed because they genuinely liked playing the music. It is a high like nothing I've ever felt. To hear my own songs come to life like that is still a very moving thing for me. My band is awesome, and I would love for us to keep playing together for a long time. Our debut CD comes out December 16, and I can say that I did it all just the way I wanted to do it. What a gift. I would love to be able to eventually tour with the band and play festivals and make more albums. I adore the fans we already have, and I would be thrilled to know that more people keep listening. 

You are part of the new Into the Woods at Roundabout! Tell me about that audition process, and how you feel about being a part of the show. 

Ha! Believe it or not, I went to an EPA! I have representation, but you can never stop hustling in this line of work, so I have gone to EPAs (union open-calls) on and off since I moved to New York ten years ago. I have never gotten anything besides audition experience from them, but Roundabout is very open to new talent. They always produce top-notch, varied works, so I have been trying to get in their doors for a long time. I went to two more callbacks after my first audition and had some version of a panic attack when I found out I got the offer. Once my vision cleared up and my hands stopped shaking, I couldn't have been more thrilled. This particular production is extremely unique. Fiasco Theatre Company has produced this show twice in the last couple of years at McCarter Theatre and The Old Globe respectively. They are a classical theatre company, and this is their first venture outside of Shakespeare. Seeing many similarities between Shakespeare's stories and this musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, they wanted to take a crack at it. It has been a tremendous success so far, and now it comes to New York. They are an exceptional group of actors and collaborators and have been so welcoming. Into the Woods has been a part of my life since I did it when I was 16 years old at Act One Theatre School in Pittsburgh, and it has always been my dream show. There is magic in the air at every rehearsal, and these people are going deep. I can't wait to see where it goes, and I am over the moon that I get to go with them.

What would you tell your college self now?

Oh mama. I would say, “hold on tight, babycakes.”

What advice would you give to someone just starting a career in musical theatre?

Work really hard, and don't let other people's opinions get you down. Everyone's got something to say, and just about everyone is wrong. That, unfortunately, goes for praise as well. You're never as good or bad as anyone says, but if you share your truth, you can sleep at night. Be good to yourself, be good to other people, and don't be afraid to go down a path that might be controversial or confusing to someone else if you feel it's right for you. There is no secret to success, so focus on what truly makes you happy and put in the work to get there. Also, keep yourself as open as you can be. The audition process and a struggling life in New York City can make you want to turn inward or build walls to protect yourself. It won't serve you. Do yoga, meditate, find a therapist, laugh a lot, love people hard. Do whatever you can do to be a giving and receptive artist and human being.

How has the Penn State community made an impact on your life?

There is a bond with my Penn State classmates that is undeniable. What an intense four years of life we all shared! Loves, losses, learning...more L words. I actually needed a little time to step away from the old gang after I moved to New York. I think a lot of us did. I needed new experiences and new people; I needed a break from theatre, too, at times! But there is that bond. And now, I have come to find even stronger friendships with many of my fellow Penn State alums that extend beyond our memories of campus life. I admire so many of my former classmates, and it thrills me to see what steps they take on their journeys. Just going to your CD release party last week, Addi, was such a thrill. What an enchanting and moving evening. The place was filled with Penn Staters, and to see that kind of commitment years after graduation was absolutely heartwarming.

Anything you learned in school that you still apply to your work/life?

Jim Wise was one of my favorite acting teachers. He taught me that there is a certain freedom in not taking seriously the one thing you take seriously. I don't mean the material. I mean the self. The self in work mode. If you can recognize your own garbage, you can clean it up. He took the ego out of it and focused on the truth, and for that, I am forever grateful.

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