Actress Shara Ashley Zeiger: “If I had a movement I think it would be about celebrating people, their uniqueness, and bringing people together to accept each other”
My work is often about people going on journeys to shine and embrace who they are and where they are on their paths. If I had a movement I think it would be about that. Celebrating people, their uniqueness, and bringing people together to accept each other in that way to make everyone’s journey a little easier, whatever it is.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Shara Ashley Zeiger. Shara is an Actress, Writer, and Producer who has acted in many festival films, on TV recently in Bull & The Last O.G. and on the stage in many productions in NYC and regionally. She produces many of her own projects through her fiscally sponsored entity The Platform Group including the film The Red Lotus, the pilot for JOE, and her critically acclaimed play with rap Roughly Speaking.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thanks for having me! My journey is kind of interesting. As a kid I always wanted to be an animator for Disney, so while I did plays and musicals and took dance from when I was really young, I was more focused on fine art as my career path. I wanted to create characters. One summer in high school when I was taking classes at Moore College of Art & Design I had a realization that if I did this, I would have a monotonous job behind a desk and had an epiphany that this wasn’t me. I still wanted to create characters, but I wanted to use my body as my instrument not a pencil or paint brush. At the time I was also doing lots of theatre in school and regionally at Bucks County playhouse and Bristol Riverside Theater and it became clear that I had wanted to be an actor. Quickly everything took a flip flop and the career path became the hobby and the hobby became the career path. I wound up on a whirlwind journey to Ithaca College and studying theatre along with a semester in London, a semester with the National Theater Institute at the O’Neill Theater Center and graduated early, thrusting myself on NYC one January 2nd many moons ago, and beginning the professional journey I’m still on today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I have learned that following your gut is always the way to go. One of the most interesting things that happened to me was when I co-produced a production of John Patrick Shanley’s Savage in Limbo, the first thing I ever produced, as a means to get people in the industry to see me in the light I wanted to be seen. I had done scene work as Linda in college and always wanted to do the whole show. I fell on my face a lot in the beginning of producing this, but wound up partnering with an amazing producer, Abigail Rose Solomon, and we together sold out an Equity Showcase Code Off Off-Broadway run by the end of our opening weekend. I was the only non-equity member of the cast and I felt I needed to work harder than everyone to prove I was capable of acting with the “big boys.” The show was so successful and we were running as long as we were allowed to on a showcase code, so we moved the production to an Off-Broadway contract so we could continue with more shows and sold out that run as well. Everyone you would want to see your work came to that show….casting directors, Broadway directors & producers, Film/TV directors & producers, playwrights etc. I was asked to do a reading of a new play after someone saw my work in it. One of my cast mates booked 30 Rock because of it, and the sweetest thing was since I was now on an Off-Broadway contract I became union and got my Equity card. It was magical. It’s also one of the roles I’m most proud of.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve made a ton of mistakes. Most of them aren’t funny. I learned from all of them though. One time I did have a casting director reach out asking me to put myself on tape doing some mime work and I didn’t have any white makeup, so I used a white Neutrogena mask I had in my bathroom. Recording the tape took a lot longer than the 10min the masks suggests and I wound up with a terrible red rash on my face for a few days. Whoops!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now I’m doing a lot of creating my own work (while being really blessed to be getting in the room to audition for some other people’s big projects too!). I have a feature version of my short film The Red Lotus about an underground abortion clinic I’ve been working on. I have 2 new episodic projects I’ve been working on. One is called Oy..a new comedy series, about suburban Jewish American life through the point of view of an international Jewish high school sorority. The other is Yo Sidekicks! A story about three super hero sidekicks who are out of work and come together to create their own opportunities. I’m also in pre-production for a silent clown film about an agoraphobic named Abby Finklemanstein we’re shooting sometime in the Spring.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Working in this industry I’ve met a lot of people that are very successful. People are people and “famous” people are the same way. Some are nice, some aren’t, some are giving, some aren’t. It takes all kinds. Watching people I admire and how they interact helps teach me how I want to be when I get there.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
You have to love it. If you don’t, I wouldn’t call it burning out but more of a blessing. Don’t waste your life doing something just because you think you’re supposed to or you don’t want to be a “quitter.” Personally I find what helps is making my own work. In addition to acting, I love to write. I’m not relying on other people to create my own happiness. I love crafting characters and telling stories, and I will do that till the end of my days because I say so. Also if you don’t feel like people are “seeing you” create ways to be seen. You are in control of that. This business is hard and full of tons of egos but if you keep your head down and do the work, people will notice. I’m going in for roles this year I used to only dream of and it’s because I’ve made my own work that people see me differently now. You can’t sit around and say “I want something”. You have to do something about it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
That’s a tricky one! There’s so much that needs moving today! In general I love making art that inspires people to do something or challenges how people think. My play Roughly Speaking sheds a lot of light on the realities of homelessness in NYC. My film The Red Lotus sparks a lot of conversation around Roe vs. Wade and Women’s Rights. I think though, when it comes down to it, my work is often about people going on journeys to shine and embrace who they are and where they are on their paths. If I had a movement I think it would be about that. Celebrating people, their uniqueness, and bringing people together to accept each other in that way to make everyone’s journey a little easier, whatever it is.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Your talent and your ability to work is not directly linked to what the scale says. I used to be so concerned with body image, and I look back at my young 20s and I looked awesome though I didn’t think I did, but I’m also more successful now in my 30s.
2. The industry is full of people who don’t want to do the work or don’t operate with integrity. It’s not just you. Everyone has a bad collaboration story.
3. Stop caring what everyone else thinks about you. (I’m still working on learning this one!)
4. You are in the biggest city in the whole world, paying your own rent, and getting to do what you love. There are people with dead end jobs around the world who would kill to be in your shoes. It’s this perspective that helps get out of your own head and remember how lucky you are.
5. Follow your instincts. They can lead to wonderful places. Listening to this has lead me down paths working as a stand-up comic, diving into improv at UCB, and exploring clowning after a radical journey auditioning for Cirque du Soleil. I never thought I’d explore any of those things when I started.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I’m slowly coming around to the realization that my demons are deities and gods dressed up in funny costumes. They’re your pals, too. And you’re never going to get rid of them. If you learn to dance with them and work with them, they can take you to some really wonderful places. ”
-Jeff Bridges — Backstage interview
All of that stuff that makes you YOU makes you unique and different and makes people want to cast YOU and work with you over others. I used to get really self-conscience about going in for certain roles and then I realized because I don’t look like everyone else is why I get the opportunities I get that others don’t. It’s an asset!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My elementary school gifted teacher Barbara (Bobbi) Schoenstadt. I was the only girl in a gifted program as a kid and the teacher I had that pulled me out of classes to work on more creative and advanced things was a godsend. Being the only girl in a program like this was hard as a kid. I was an outsider. I was a weird kid. I liked weird things. I knew about weird things. Bobbi was the first person to ever get me for me and taught me to embrace my quirks and my love of the arts which is the foundation for everything I am today. I’ll never forget writing a poem in her classroom when I was 9 years old. People criticized me and claimed I forged it but couldn’t come up with where I forged it from. Bobbi had my back and told people how she watched me write it. My mom eventually had her friend calligrapher it and it’s still on my wall today.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
There are so many people I’d love to have breakfast with! Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon, Oprah etc. I admire these powerful women in the entertainment industry who have really played by their own rules and while work on other people’s projects sometimes really make their own projects happen and carve out the work they want to see in the world. That’s the kind of creator I want to be.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on Twitter and Instagram at @SharaAshleyZ and my entity The Platform Group is on both at @PlatformGroup I have facebook pages for myself an Platform too.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!