Today we’d like to introduce you to Aidan Elyse McCollough.
Aidan Elyse, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I was not unfamiliar with artists involved in many sides of the industry from performers to creators. It seemed everywhere I went that someone somewhere was connected to some aspect of the arts, the industry, or developing their own creative work. At a young age, I too was drawn to the magic of movies, the glamour of Hollywood, and the joyous sensations of the stage. However, surrounded by so many striving artists, I soon became aware of the struggles, disappointments, and unpredictability this lifestyle offered. Seeing so many talented creators and performers, who in my opinion deserved greater recognition than the industry seemed to allow, instilled in me a deep resistance to pursuing a career in the arts. Even though my childhood soul found its greatest joy in creating stories and characters, I felt I should choose a more pragmatic and stable life.
Instead, I threw myself into gymnastics, thinking a sport perhaps even more selective and short-lived than many artistic pursuits would be my answer to resisting my creative passions. After training for some years, at the age of fourteen, I broke my back. In a moment of my youth where I felt most strong, invincible, and powerful, life revealed how truly vulnerable I was. Within an instant, not only could I no longer flip through the air, but I couldn’t even do the most basic tasks from walking to sitting, to taking a shower by myself. On bedrest for many months, my only comfort was movies, particularly the TCM, Turner Classic Movie Channel. The once repressed passion for film and performing began brewing inside my bed-bound heart and I realized: life is too short to resist your dreams.
In pursuing my artistic passions, I was lucky enough to attend the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), a public audition based arts high school, where I studied theatre, musical theatre, and film. Following LACHSA, I was even more fortunate to receive my BFA in Film and Television Production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. I owe my current career to both of these incredible institutions, whom without I don’t think I could have ever found my path as an artist.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
As with most artists, you learn quickly that the industry doesn’t necessarily recognize talent and hard work, but rather values politics and business. Although this can be tough to navigate while maintaining artistic integrity, it isn’t impossible to continue to create fulfilling work and also earn a living. While this is something all creatives face, personally growing up with a single mother certainly changed the financial options and opportunities available. Perhaps having seen the struggles my mother faced raising and providing for me on her own, there was always a pressure to find fiscal success as soon as possible so I could contribute towards our family’s financial stability. However, the arts don’t always provide such fruitful monetary prosperity, especially when starting out. While these financial realities do often loom in the back and sometimes the front of my head, I am learning that life is too short to resist fulfilling your passions. This life has taught me, yes you must make sure you can pay your bills, but if you truly love something, you can find a way to manifest those goals. Even if it requires immense patience, dreams are always possible.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Though I wear many creative hats, first and foremost, I am an actor. Currently, I am an associate member of the Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles and have worked in association with The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, Leonix Movement Theatre, The Inkwell Theater, and among many other Los Angeles theatre companies. While I was still studying at LACHSA, an acting teacher told me that when you are starting out as an actor, no one writes for you. This profound realization inspired me to attend USC and pursue film producing, writing and directing. Behind the scenes, I’ve worked in many different departments from camera to production design, to even assistant directing a music video for Universal Music Group. While balancing acting on the stage, school, and working on sets, I also ran a photography business for many years. Photographing mainly portraits and fashion, featuring actors, artists, and my favorite, drag queens, I fell in love with telling stories and creating narratives through imagery. While I have greatly enjoyed my years working on sets and my time photographing magical humans, my greatest passion is creating worlds.
In 2017, I started my own production company and launched my first TV show Ish on Amazon Prime. The show is a mockumentary- reality comedy about a Gen Z influencer who is selfishly unaware of her own ridiculousness. Not only is this a series that I write, produce, and direct, I also star as the lead, Ish. Though producing anything independently is certainly a challenge, developing a brand and world from all sides allows for a control and creativity that doesn’t always occur when working either in front or behind the camera. Through Ish, I’ve been able to delve into other mediums, including gaming, releasing “Ish Dress Up”, a colorful dress up game featuring clothing by the talented Japanese designer Saori Mitome of Mitome Certified Swag. Ish has even allowed me to continue my passion for photography as I design and photograph all the Ish social media posts. While I continue to develop Ish, I am also in pre-production for other works including independent projects. Most recently, a period-Spanish short taking place in 1930s Mexico. This allowed me to write and act in Spanish to not only pay tribute to my heritage but also invest in my passion for Spanish language media and representation. Even though I enjoy and continue to work both as crew and an actor, my greatest love is producing and starring in my own work. Perhaps it’s slightly ego-centric, but as my teacher informed me, the only way to find the work you want to do as an actor is to create it yourself.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I have to thank the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts for providing me with an inspiring and free arts education. In particular, to the Theatre Department chair, Lois Hunter for seeing something in me and accepting me into the program which forever changed my life. As well, I must thank the USC School of Cinematic Arts for teaching me professionalism and how to navigate the film industry, without which I could never have learned how to produce. Also, I must give a huge thank you to the Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles for being my theatre home and artistic community since I was fifteen. And I am so grateful to The Klub Gymnastics, of which I spent many years training and to the owners, Edward Yonek and Mike Eschenbrenner, who have been some of my biggest artistic supporters. Thank you to all the beautiful humans I have ever photographed, worked with, and who have ever supported my work in anyway. And thank you to my family. And of course, to my mother who made everything possible.