Continuing on with the What’s Your Story? feature I started a few weeks ago… a brief recap: I posted a call for your individual stories as artists in this business, whatever your trade is; whether stories of triumph, tragedy, lessons learned, regrets, etc.
Your responses have been coming in, which is great! Keep’em coming. I’ll continue to post as many as I can.
The 4th submission comes from Canadian-born actress/singer Andrea Lewis, an alum of Degrassi The Next Generation, a teen TV drama series set in the Degrassi universe that I’m sure some of you are familiar with. It began its run in 2001 and is still on the air.
Over the years, Andrea has appeared in parts here and there on film, TV and stage, and also released an album. And she’s now a web-entrepreneur, creating a content-based online space called ThoseGirlsAreWild.com, with her best friend.
But I’ll let her tell her story, which also includes a video that she created for this purpose; so you can either watch the video, or read her entry, or do both. It’s up to you.
First, the video, and then underneath, in her own written words:
And here’s her story in written form:
To Shadow and Act,
Thank you for your continued support and for giving actors, actresses, directors, and writers a chance to share their story with your growing community. Here is my story.
I began in the entertainment industry as a toddler. My mom was approached by a casting director while walking around with me in the mall when I was only a year old. She didn’t know anything about acting or entertainment and the way it would eventually take over her life but all she did know was that she had a cute baby and some free time on her hands so why not give it try.
The first job I booked was a cookie commercial when I was 2 years old. It was a long but simple day of playing make believe and feeding cookies to stuffed animals and I guess it’s there that you can say I "caught the bug". I quickly booked more commercials and did a range of print ads for sears and pampers and everything in between that a kid could advertise.
From there my acting adventures progressed and I started to book guest spots on television shows and lead roles in "movie’s of the week". All the while being a full time child actor I was a singing dancing machine in my "normal life" I started singing as early as I started acting so that’s why it’s difficult for me to answer when people ask me which one I like more or would choose over the other. I’ve always done both so I look at my self as an entertainer.
When I was teenager I hit my sweet spot and booked back to back jobs for Disney, ABC, NBC and Nickelodeon and then I landed on my longest and most notable job to date; Degrassi The Next Generation. I was fortunate to play, "Hazel the go-to girl" for 6 seasons and as excited as I was to be on a such a large and respected series I was often frustrated with my character because she was usually treated as the "dose of colour". She rarely had lead story lines and barely had anything important to say but at the same time she was in majority of the episodes and it gave me a ton of exposure across North America.
When my character "graduated" from Degrassi, I recorded my first album, Float Away with Universal Music Canada and also landed on another Canadian series where I played a singer. Things were moving along exactly as I imagined them, my music and acting were being combined and my new character was a lot juicier than when I played "Hazel" so I was finally getting to "act".
When I turned 20 I made the big move to Los Angeles in hopes of making a bigger name for myself. I was excited and determined when I got to LA but many people told me that just because I was in a city with more opportunities did not mean there was any for a black girl and just because I was a known name and face in Canada didn’t mean it would transfer over to the US. I spent a few years in Los Angeles doing a movie for Nickelodeon, and 2 musicals on stage but still continuing to struggle to land roles, and convince any agent, or casting director to truly take a risk on me. The roles for a black actress don’t come every day and when they did they only wanted to use the name and face that they’ve already seen before. I can’t tell you how many auditions I went to in a room full of new face black girls and I’d over hear the casting director asking for someone like "Raven Simone" or someone that was "known". As much as I support and love the actresses of colour that have made it, I would still like to see some new faces and names!
Through my struggles though I made something beautiful. My best friend and I created the website ThoseGirlsAreWild.com and it seem to be the answer and relief that I needed. We created a world where we didn’t have to wait on approvals or money or "the machine". We were able to just be ourselves and produce our own content that represented us and what we believed in. I stopped worrying about where my next part was coming from and started focusing on the parts I could create from ThoseGirlsAreWild. In my opinion it was effortless beauty and it was in this space that I was able to re-connect with my fans and make some of the my best and most creative work with my album, 54321. I gave it away as a free download and within the first week it had over 100,000 downloads all from people that were apart and supported the independent movement of TGAW. With the release of my album I went all over the world (Canada, US, UK) doing shows and promoting it and it felt good that the only person in control of it’s success was me.
Being the independent lioness that I am my best friend and partner continued to on our journey and decided to take our brand of WILD girls to the next level by shooting our first scripted pilot. We’d always made skits and many people had told us we needed our own show but we both knew the struggles and how hard it is to get seen, especially with 2 women of colour as the leads but we did it anyway. We’re currently working on our show and in the midst of it I made another big move to New York to attend film school. I’ve always wanted to produce my own projects but filming our pilot made it more clear that this is where I need to be. I’ve learned a lot being in front of the camera but there’s even more I need to know about being behind the camera.
I look at myself as an advocate for women of colour and I believe in and love our stories but I’m sick of hearing "no" and not seeing our faces any where on the screen. There’s nothing on TV or film right now that I think represents my experience or that of my friends so that is why I do what I do. I want to change the out look and not have to wait. With ThoseGirlsAreWild and by going to film school I’m going to be able to produce ALL of the projects whether in music or film that I’ve always dreamed. With the power of the internet this is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur especially for people of colour. Yes the journey is hard but with determination the final result will be well worth it.