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Check Out Heather Tyler’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Heather Tyler.

Hi Heather, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
It’s interesting to think back on how we started as performers. Martha Graham (modern dancer/choreographer and one of my idols) ends her autobiography with “…I suppose it never ends…it just continues. And, one…” The philosophical geek in me likes to think we pick up on that 8-count and make it our own. I’ve always been a hybrid. Introspective and extroverted, a true Gemini. The middle child. Physically weak turned fitness professional. Insurance broker and stage performer. Duality has been my staple, and at times my foe. Hi, I’m Heather, and I’m an actor, a dancer, a writer, a producer, a fitness professional and a mom. I grew up in Arkansas (when it was a blue state), studied theatre at Rhodes (when Judge Amy Coney Barrett was there, but we weren’t friends), worked in Chicago for a decade (lots of comedy) and now call L.A. home.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The challenges can sneak up on you like ocean waves. There have been many over the years: ageism, sexism, harassment, objectification. Sadly, I know these unite too many of us. There’s also the internal challenge I put on myself to address the systemic racism in our world, our industry, ourselves. I’m trying to listen with an open heart and mind. And, you know, being an artist puts you on a path that requires constant attention. It’s a balance of tending to life, to career, to the art (they’re not always the same) and to self. I struggled once I became a parent. I was working well into pregnancy, but once my son arrived, everything changed – perspectives, priorities, practicalities. It’s insanely expensive to raise a child in this city if you have no family living here. I learned I’m not someone who can put my career before my child, not in the ways it would’ve required.

There were moments of support, from theatre companies posting “Caution: PUMPING” signs in dressing rooms to commercial productions accommodating my needs. Often, between the oxytocin hormones and baby cooing smiles, life couldn’t get any better. But, the reality was that I had changed. I stopped booking work. I couldn’t focus or deliver my best performance. I was lonely and felt unwanted. It felt as if everything I offered as a performer to Casting Directors, my Agents, Producers was no longer desirable or like I was giving it all to my child instead. Around that time, I began having deep anxiety-driven visions of terrifying things happening to my son: explosions, car crashes, hiking accidents. I bottled it all up, for a long time, out of fear. I was experiencing postpartum anxiety. When it all came to a head, as was inevitable, I started writing about it. The result was postpartumm… a dramedy that is now an award-winning short on the festival circuit.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I’m very attuned to my body. I come from a dance background, and I overcame physical limitations due to a chronic childhood illness. So, I approach my work from the outside in. If I can nail the physicality of a character or even pinpoint one specific trait, I find so much to explore inwardly. As I’ve matured, I appreciate movement work in a more subtle way for naturalistic roles on screen. But, give me the opportunity for broad comedy or bigger theatrical shows, and I’ll go until the Director says stop. I also love putting what goes on in our heads when we’re having little conversations with ourselves onto the stage and screen. When I write, my main characters always do this – it’s a little fantastical, I suppose, and there’s usually an element of dance and comedy involved. I process this way in real life and find it irresistible to explore when I’m in charge, it’s just so much fun – we have two dance scenes, including one underwater, in postpartumm…

That duality I mentioned at the start, it informs my work. My strength as a comedic and improv performer helps me book commercials. My physical fitness and dramatic work are on display in projects like Sacred Fools’ A Gulag Mouse, award-winning Je Suis and series such as FX’s The Bridge. Character work in Rogue Machine and The Factory Theatre productions are among my favorites, as is anything that is spectacle and/or farce. I understudied 30+ roles for Dan Castellenata’s production For Piano and Harpo at The Garry Marshall Theatre. Watching these veteran character actors work was such a treat. And, I’m proud of myself for publicly embracing my mental health. I look forward to sharing our work on postpartumm… with a wider audience.

The crisis has affected us all in different ways. How has it affected you and any important lessons or epiphanies you can share with us?
One of the joys of being a creative artist is that we constantly explore things. Discover, rediscover, ask questions. What does it mean to be human? The coronavirus challenged us as a people. Many creatives left this city. Those that endure are meant to. To me, this crisis reaffirms our innate human need to tell stories. It reminds me that we’ve done so since the beginning of time – visually, auditory, on the page, in person, on screen and virtually. We want to tell and receive stories.

I’m looking at this last year as the time between waves. It’s true, all stage and screen performers have waves of success and failure. Most of us paddle back out, eyes scanning the horizon for the next one, choosing to either ride what comes along or waiting for the one with our name on it. At times, I take the chance wave, not knowing for sure if it will be big enough to take me in. I do it because it feels right or because it scares me. I have been thrilled in those moments. I have also felt the strength of the ocean hold me under. Sometimes, I take a quick and easy ride because I need it to be that way.

I’m sitting on my board now, actually, scanning…waiting for the one meant for me. Not because I think I deserve it. Because I trust that it is there. As it is for each of us.

Oh, and because I don’t think I did him justice earlier, I’d just like to say that my son, Rex, is really awesome and very, very funny.

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Image Credits

John Perrin Flynn/Rogue Machine Theatre; Jessica Sherman/Sacred Fools Theatre; Alex Lombardi; Faith Strongheart; Little Fish Theatre.

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