MAKE YOUR SHOW: theCreators
Actor/Filmmaker Tracey B. Wilson

Tracey has worked in New York, Los Angeles, and many places in between, acting in everything from dramatic theatre and soap operas to quirky independent films and sketch comedy. Tracey has been an actor/writer/director for award-winning short films, and toured North America four times with Lady Gaga as a performance art photographer. She then went on to publish the book HEAL THIS WAY – A LOVE STORY with Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters, in support of LGBTQ & bullied teens. She plays the titular role in the newly released feature "Trew Calling" and stars in the spin-off series "Diary of a Lunatic", due out next spring. Tracey is a sought-after live event host, specializing in family entertainment at major sporting events, and high-energy charity events all over the country. During the pandemic, she created the solo series "Characters of the Quarantine," and is currently working on her first documentary feature, "Breeding Awesome". www.traceybwilson.com

John:

Thank you so much.  We're so excited to talk to you.  I don't even know if Jason and I talked about this, but we were part of a group of actors who wanted to make their own work.

 

Jason:

Was it called something?  Did you meet frequently?

 

Tracey:

It was Create Gym with Kristin Hanggi, who was a Broadway producer and director.  She helps push people creatively when they need a little nudge.

 

John:

It was so great.  She also facilitated meetings and community.

 

TW:

It was really all about just supporting each other.  Her whole thing was, which I kind of loved, “You deserve 15 minutes of work on your project, whatever that is, you can find 15 minutes. If you were having a love affair with somebody, you would find 15 minutes to sneak away with them.”

 

John:

I forgot that. That's good.

 

TW:

The idea is can you have a love affair with your art and with this project that you're trying to create.  We were matched up with accountability partners.  You were supposed to just text each other. "I did my 15 minutes" or just check in.  Then John and I were in a group of a few other people. They faded out immediately.  Then we just took it next level.  It started in 2016.  For a few years when the time is right for both of us, we have had these morning accountability meetings.  We say, “What are your wins for yesterday? What are your action items for today?” I gotta say, it's been terrific.  We bring each other like nuggets. Like I read this, did you see this article?  Sometimes it's not necessarily exactly related to what we're doing, but bigger picture, how it relates to our lives, which relates to what we're doing.

 

John:

Right.

 

TW:

But sometimes John will say, "Oh, I didn't really do anything today. I just spent the day playing with my kids all day."  I'm like, that's an amazing day.  And l might say, "All I did was go for a bike ride and read under a tree.  I didn't really do anything," but artistically, that's how we fill our soul.

 

John:

How valuable is that time?

 

TW:

Right. I'm diving right in.

 

Jason:

Dive in. I love that.  Everything has value and brings something to the work we do.

 

 

John:

Every one of these conversations has touched on this idea in different ways.  Make Your Show started because there were actors that came to us and said, “Will you help us make something?  We want to further our acting career.”  Everybody that we've talked to from established creators like you who have made a lot of stuff, to people that haven't made as much stuff but they're writing and their goal is to further (their) career as an actor, what we're talking about (is) ultimate purpose, remembering that true North.

 

TW:

I think when you are in a pandemic and your industry shuts down, all the work you do is gone, your gigs have been canceled, your shoots are over, you sit alone in your apartment and you think, “What do I want with my life?  What is the point?  What am I doing?”  I think that's what most people are going through right now, artists especially.  This idea that you guys are doing with Make Your Show, it's all about how do we make our own content?  How do we create, how do we move ourselves further?  And then it's like, why do we?  I spent a lot of time, especially the very beginning of the pandemic saying, “Do I do work because somebody hires me? Or do I do this because this is what I want to do? And why do I want to do it?  And is it about me expressing my just creativity and my thought process? And my heart as a human.” This is all paradox of living.  This is the worst time, also this very interesting, artistic time.  And a side note, I have to say, the most important thing I learned in therapy, which I am a big fan of, is that I could have two feelings at the same time that can conflict and neither has to win.  I can say this is the worst time ever and this is the best time ever at the same time and both can be right.   

 

I still keep a paper calendar.  I've had them for years and they're diaries.  I put stickers and notes.  I've been doing this for years and years.  I can look at this calendar and say, "Oh my God, there's nothing but white pages and blank, blank, blank for months to come when it used to be filled," or I can look at it and say, "Wow, look at this gigantic opportunity.  Look at the space to say, who am I?  What do I want?  What do I do?  How do I express myself?"  Now, listen, it's not easy, I'm not downplaying how difficult it all is.  I'm not saying that every minute it's roses, but it is a very interesting and unique time to say, “Why do I do these things?”  And for me, I have realized, okay, I have an iPhone and a green screen and I'm going to go to town.  And I have been creating stuff that I wouldn't say exactly, “This is what I've been wanting to do”.  I never had pandemic content on my bucket list. However, a lot of my early days were all sketch and improv.  For a while I was sketch comedian on “David Letterman”.  I did tons of work there but that was a little bit ago.  So now to say to an agent or casting director, "Oh yeah, my whole background is sketch."  And they're like, "Well, can you show us stuff?"  And I'm like, "Well, it's all old.  I don't have anything current and modern stuff I can show you."  I had on my website “Classic Tracy”, acknowledging my history, my background.  But suddenly now, holy crap, I have so much stuff! I can send this one sketch to anyone and say, "Look at the 11 characters that I just played in the sketch that I made during the pandemic.  I did a piece that I call “How to Win Pandemic Squares”. ..

 

Jason:

I just watched it this morning!

 

TW:

Oh, you did?

 

Jason:

I loved it.

 

TW:

Thank you!

"We spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for people to hire us because they have the power. Making our own stuff is the

power that we have."

Several Traceys in "Pandemic Squares"

Jason:

I was thinking to myself, how the hell did she do this all by herself?

 

TW:

Well, I learned a lot along the way and each one of these things has not been super easy.  It's like, how do I do this?  How do I use the green screen?  It's just been figuring it out and learning.

 

Jason:

You just went online and asked and that's how you discovered how to do things?

 

TW:

Yeah.

 

Jason:

That's awesome.

 

TW:

Listen, YouTube is the best resource ever.  There are thousands of videos, tricks to make a green screen, how to do this, how to light that.   Especially when you're talking about technical stuff.  There are a million people who want to show you what they know, and it is free.  It is a great resource.  I say this very cautiously because everyone is different and everybody copes with these things differently, and not everybody has the brain power or the heart, or the emotional capacity to be like, “I'm just going to create stuff today.”  It's not easy.  But what I learned for myself is this is where my joy is.  And when I am struggling, I actually have to put on a costume and a wig and dance around because it is my self-care, for real.  What I learned about myself is I don't do this because, "Oh, I need to be famous", but because this is how I function as a human.  Using my energy to connect with other people is how I function, and I'll share that with you.  And if you like it, awesome.  If you don't, that is okay, but I am creating my way through this pandemic because it's the only thing I how to do.  The best way that I know how to do it.

 

John:

Obviously, you've been creating stuff longer than the pandemic has been around.  When you first started creating your own work, can you tell us about what that looked like and what your purpose was in creating that work?

 

TW:

I think in the beginning, it's all about ‘I need to be seen’.  I need more people to see me.  (That’s) valid because we're artists and we want to get paid so people have to see what we do.  That is part of our marketing.  It's evolved for me a lot over the years, what I create and why, what I want to show or how I want to connect.  In the beginning, I did a lot of those 48-hour film projects.  You're given a line of dialogue, a character, a prop, and then a genre, then you make a five to seven-minute film.  You can say, okay, how do I make the biggest boldest choices in the shortest amount of time possible?  I think this timeframe can be really freeing, these boundaries can actually be okay.  When you say, write a sketch about this, I'm in.  We're all in this pandemic together so it's easier for me to say, “I'm going to make content that addresses where we are right now” because these videos are also almost like my diary through this time.  Even though a lot of them are comedic, they sort of have a sort of serious tone to them, like stay home or like do your mask, or come on people, hang in there.  

 

Making your own stuff is the power that we have. We spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for people to hire us because they have the power.  They have the job, the character, the show, the set, the script, they have the stuff.  We wait to hopefully get one of these things, but then this magic happens.  Make Your Show happens, guys like you come along and say, "Hey, stop waiting for somebody else, do what you want to do. And yes, do it because you want to show people, but also do it because you want it for you, because you want to have made a show.”  I think what you guys are doing is really, really exciting because not everybody has the skill set.  That's not a dig, it's just that not everybody knows how to edit and shoot.  Being a good actor is a huge skill set already in itself and we spend a lot of time working on being good at that craft.  Having something like Make Your Show, where you can plug in with people (who) help you express yourself and your art, is kind of amazing.  And I'm so glad you're doing it.

 

Jason:

It does feel that way.  It's given so much to John and me and our mission.  Being able to collaborate - making films is the ultimate in collaboration - feels like it's really on task about that mission we get to share with people.

 

TW:

Yeah, really exciting.

"I don't need an agent to validate me.  I like what I do.  I like who I am.  I like the stuff I'm putting out.  I can't wait till this is a series. I can't wait till my documentary's done.  I can't wait.  But at the same time, I'm doing it.  I am an artist and an actor that is creating stuff that is making people think and feel.  The end."

John Cramer:

So, some people are better at certain things than others.  That's just a reality of life.  If your primary goal is to be an actor, what's the benefit of writing, directing, learning how to do green screen and shoot?

 

TW:

There are so many benefits.  I believe that everything that you do outside of acting makes you a better actor because you understand it from all the sides and it only also increases your confidence level to be able to go in and say, “Oh, I got this.  I know what we're writing about, or to speak the language of a writer or to understand it from the director's side.  I have done a lot of photography.  A couple years ago, I toured with Lady Gaga as a performance (artist).

 

Jason:

That's incredible.

 

TW:

Yeah, super cool.  I had short platinum hair and I was (a) rock and roll tour photographer.       The idea was to give her fans (the) experience of having their picture

taken for the cover of Rolling Stone prior to a show.  That's what was on paper.  My job was to make people feel amazing and beautiful and it made me cry all the time.  I had thought I had booked a big film.  The big film fell through, I didn't have a job.  I was doing a lot of photography and this opportunity came up to tour with Lady Gaga.  Now, to be fully transparent, I was like, "Oh no! People aren't going to think I'm an actor anymore.  What's going to happen when people think I'm only a photographer?”  Even though it's this performance art thing, it's not really film or television or stage, it's a weird hybrid thing.  What's going to happen?"  And then magic happened.  I got out of my own way and said, "Tracey, you are allowed to express yourself artistically in more than one way.  You can be an actor and you are also allowed to be a photographer.  You can be a filmmaker, you can write, you can direct, you can do whatever you want."  And I started calling myself an artist.  Here are the ways I express myself through my acting, through this, through that, through whatever.  Something different and magical happened when I started doing that.  It didn't feel like I'm an actor and the way that people talk down to us sometimes about being an actor.  I was like, “I am an artist.  Here are the ways I express myself.”  And it felt huge.

 

Jason:

That same thing happened to me years ago when I started saying, “I'm an artist.”  I'm not waiting.  I'm not subscribing to this one path.  And then my acting path changed into a writing path.  I had to tell myself the same thing: “That's okay, you're still creative”.

 

TW:

And you’re allowed to do all the things. And then I actually booked the lead in a film right after that, there was a film I should have written for myself called “Trew Calling”.  It was about my big energy.  I got to play this big, weird energy that I hadn’t gotten to play yet.  A lot of times I would audition for things or meet agents and casting directors and I like to be big and loud.  After a while, some of the roles I was playing, it was always, “Just be less, be quiet.”  And I didn’t really want to be less. I think an actor is an artist who creates.  In looking at it as a creator, there's something about that that's very helpful and freeing, because sometimes we can get wrapped up in the word ‘actor’ mean(ing) waiting for somebody to hire us.  Don't wait.  We hear this all the time.  Every casting director, every agent, every producer says, “create your own stuff, go make your own stuff.” Creating my own stuff has gotten me really in touch with, “Yup, this is what I like to do.  I like to be an actor.  I like to create these roles for myself to play.”  Let people then say, "Oh, now I know what to do with Tracey.  Now we see where this weird energy goes.  Now we see the type of stuff that you do.  I get it."

Jason:

Are you working on something more long form now or are you concentrating on the pandemic films that you're making?

 

TW:

What's interesting is I keep saying (with) every one of these pandemic films, I'm going to do something different.  And then I will get some inspiration to make another one.  I don't have a huge following, but I have a hardy following.  When I post a new thing that I think might cheer them up a little bit, they're always really grateful for it.  So, I'm happy to be doing that.

 

Jason:

That must feel really powerful...

 

TW:

It does.  I'm (also) working on a big documentary project.  I started making a video journal prior to YouTube, prior to blogging, in 2005.  15 years ago, I had a meltdown as an actor.  I had a tiny little Handycam and I cried onto a tape about being frustrated.  Full transparency, because I'm an actor, after I cried on this tape for 20 minutes, I went, “Oh, I should watch what it looks like and analyze how I cry.”  So, I made a deal with myself that I would video journal what it is like to be an actor and to want these things and to want a career and a family and the struggle and the sacrifice and the wins and blah, blah, blah.  I've been doing it for 15 years.

 

Jason:

Wow.

 

TW:

I know. So now I'm at the point where I'm actually compiling and starting to pitch the actual documentary project.  I won't lie.  It's super exciting.  So, when the pandemic hit and I look at my big empty schedule, part of me was like, “Now I can work on the documentary.”  But making the content that I'm making now is part of the documentary.  15 years ago, I'm a much younger actress obviously.  I'm just crying all the time about “I don't have an agent and I don't have this and I don't have that.” And when I watch back, it's a little sad, right?  I see somebody so hungry for validation.  It's not that I want an agent, it's that I want to be validated.  That is what I'm asking for.  That is what I'm screaming about.  And what's exciting today is…I've had some small agents come and go, I don't have huge representation right now, I'm working on it...however, I don't feel that I need them for validation.  I need them for opportunity, right?  I need them to open doors and to get auditions.  But I don't need an agent to validate me.  That is very different, and it feels really different.  And that's something that happened during this pandemic time.  During me creating all of this stuff, I was like, “Oh, I like what I do. I like who I am. I like the stuff I'm putting out.  This is amazing.”  And, of course, I can't wait till this is a series. I can't wait till my documentary's done. I can't wait. But at the same time, I'm doing it.  I am an artist and an actor that is creating stuff that is making people think and feel. The end.

 

Jason:

That's your job, right?

 

TW:

That's my job. And it feels incredible.

 

John:

That's that higher purpose...

 

TW:

Higher purpose, right.  It feels much more purposeful.  My thought process wasn't about, “I hope you hire me”, but my thought process is about, “I hope I get to help use my talents to help tell the story.”  It was much more spiritual and about using art to be of service to the project and to help someone else.  It's not about me, you know?

"Instead of me being like, 'What do I do? I'm not a first responder', I can make videos.  It has made me feel so much more purposeful to make videos that maybe my teacher friends are really happy to get, or other people that are like, 'Oh my God, thank you.  We look so forward to your videos for like a minute.  They make us feel amazing.'  If I can make you feel amazing for a minute with me being silly and doing my weird stuff, great.

Jason:

I think that's a lesson that's hard learned by a lot of actors because it is by nature a very egotistical job that you're going for every day. But once you start servicing a greater thing, namely the story, then your point of view, your perspective on what you're trying to accomplish has changed.

 

TW:

It really, it really does.  When you're auditioning for a smaller role on a big TV show, it really isn't about you.  You're there to serve the story and then it becomes spiritual differently when you're like, “How do I use my art?”  (Now) it's about “How do I, in this pandemic, use my energy and my art to serve a greater good?”  I know a lot of actors can feel like this is a pandemic and I can't help.  I'm not a medical expert.  I had just moved to New York near 9/11 and I remember just being really upset about how dumb my life was and how purposeless I was. I never wanted to do anything different than playing pretend and just have fun.  I can't go be a nurse.  I'm not a firefighter.  I don't have that skillset.  And then I saw a firefighter on TV say, “All I want to do is take my son to a movie. I want to go home and take my son to a movie.”  Then I was like, “Oh my God, I get it.  I can do that.  I will make that movie so that you can take a rest and have an experience with your son and then go back and you can be good at your job. So this time, instead of me being like, “What do I do? I'm not a first responder”, I can make you videos.  It sounds silly, but it has made me feel so much more purposeful to make videos that maybe my teacher friends are really happy to get, or other people that are like, “Oh my God, thank you.  We look so forward to your videos for like a minute.  They make us feel amazing.”  If I can make you feel amazing for a minute with me being silly and doing my weird stuff, great.

 

Jason:

Yeah, it’s important to share that what artists do has meaning.  It's not just about want(ing) to get an agent or getting this job on “Law and Order”.  It's bigger than that.  There's more.

 

TW:

And like I said earlier, we can want both. It's okay to want both. We should want both.  It's okay to say I'm making these really fun things in my living room and also, I can't wait for a casting director to see it because I know they're going to like it.  It's okay to have both.  I'm grateful to get to chat with you guys.  I think what you're doing is really exciting and I think a lot of people are going to benefit from it.  I can't wait to see the rest of the shows you make.

 

John:

Well, we hope so.  Right now, as opposed to making shows for other people, hopefully we'll be helping people make their own shows and realize and understand the importance of trying to do that.

 

TW:

That's right.  Everything we do isn't always magic, but it gets us to the next thing and the next thing.  And that's where we learn and grow and continue to expand as artists.  We just have to keep saying, “Why am I doing this?” and celebrate the wins.

 

Jason:

Thanks for talking to us, Tracey.  It was great.  Keep making stuff!