Session three will be taught by Gabra Zackman, Actress, Audio-book Reader, Published Author, Educator and Prenatal Yogi. I chose Gabra for our February Professor because she’s the Queen of Romance. You can listen to Gabra’s velvety voice read a romance novel to you on Audible.com or any other major audio-bookseller. If you’d rather have a book in hand, check out the spy romance book series she authored, The Bod Squad at Simon and Schuster. To see her on stage or take one of her Prenatal Yoga classes you can follow her on social media or go to her website.
I heard Gabra’s voice before I knew her. It was 2015 and I was about to begin this journey of figuring out how to change my life. She was on a podcast I had stumbled upon called The Good Life Project. I found her story encouraging and her words of wisdom so relevant and practical that I contacted her on Twitter and told her so. Then, during a particularly difficult week, I emailed her for advice. She was so gracious, kind and open to sharing how she experiences life. I am now blessed to call her a friend and look forward to what you all glean from her life experiences and how she sees the world.
Stop Trying to Tame The Shrew
Ebony Vines: Okay, so first question, tell me about your most difficult working experience?
Gabra Zackman: The thing that came right to my mind was a production of Taming of the Shrew that I did about thirteen years ago. It was one of my first really professional productions and I was honored to be a part of it. The actor I was playing opposite of, I was playing Kate in “Taming of the Shrew”, the Actor I was playing opposite of…he was going through some rough personal stuff. He was a bully which is really rough if you are working with someone who is playing Petruchio who’s supposed to be a bully. But you know you really need someone who can, as an Actor, who can work out the story with you and who can be open and compassionate because it can get very abusive if you aren’t careful.
EV: That’s very difficult.
GZ: Yeah, and he was having some trouble in his personal life, he was a bully and he was struggling with drug addiction. So, I just remember that experience for me…one of my teachers described as baptism by fire. It was one of my first leads that I ever played at an Equity theater and I was so honored to have the job. It was so difficult to be working with a partner who was compromised and who at various points I thought put me in actual danger, because there was a lot of physical stuff going on in the piece. So, I would say that’s rare for me because so many of my experiences have been so positive. I have largely worked with the most loving and generous and kind people and this was one of the early ones and one of the toughest ones I’ve ever had. I don’t think I will have another experience like it. And especially I was so young and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Now I know how to deal with it, but then I really did not.
EV: What would you tell your younger self now?
GZ: I would say don’t take any of it. Now I would get the Union involved immediately. I would not have stood for any of it. I was very very generous and allowed a lot of the behavior to take place until it was clear he was having a drug issue, then we did call the Union. But I think even just the issues of sort of bullying and mental abuse, I would not have taken any of it. And I would have probably said, “I can’t work this way. We need to find a different way. Someone needs to protect me because I feel unsafe.” And that’s how I really felt. I felt unsafe and it’s one of the only experiences where I felt unsafe.
Standing in a Forest
EV: Tell me what was your most amazing work experience.
GZ: Mmm, see now that’s harder because there have been so many of them. I have a friend who I met years ago who’s name is John Cariani. He’s a very well-known writer and Actor. And he wrote a play called, “Last Gas”. We did the second production of it up at the Geva Theater Center in Rochester, NY. And there was just something about that. Between his writing, his presence in the process, that director, that cast, that theater, something about it was so warm. And it was in the dead of winter so it was freezing cold up there. I learned so much from doing it and I felt like I was part of something that was bigger than myself. And that my purpose was really being fulfilled. I felt like we were all singing this profound song together. It’s a beautiful play. A very deep play that touches upon sort of loss of innocence. So, it was between issues of loss of innocence and single parent-hood or a child that was never supposed to happen that was sort of a magic child that everyone loves and is trying to bring up together in this small town and an issue of struggling with homosexuality in a town that wouldn’t allow that sort of thing. Something about it made me feel like I was really serving my life’s purpose on this earth. And every piece of that was just as it should be. Every piece of the song was sung just correctly, you know. That doesn’t happen all the time. When all the elements are so brilliant like that.
EV: What is the most important thing that you could say that you learned from that experience about yourself?
GZ: Hmm. There was something about… I have this image in my head…. you know I was playing a forest ranger. In a way, there was a lot of quiet in the piece. A lot of people standing among the great outdoors and I was standing in this beautiful theater. I think there was something about me standing in myself. A lot of the play was a lot about standing in yourself and there was something about me at that moment in my life. I was living in Denver at the time and I had gotten this job by auditioning by video which is almost unheard of. Such simpatico surrounded it and I remember standing back stage and various moments standing on-stage. There was this sense of standing in myself that made me feel like I was serving my purpose on this earth. So, I probably learned that from the play and from that experience.
EV: What do you love most about your work?
GZ: I’ve been very lucky that I’ve lived a life that is like a big creative patchwork. I got this shiver of joy running up my spine sitting alone in my recording booth in the middle of my apartment. Like, this is a peculiar place to feel joy, but I was thinking to myself, I was so enjoying the intimacy of my voice and the mic and telling this story that someone was going to listen to. It was this wonderful romantic thriller that I was reading and I just got this wonderful feeling of the intimacy of it. So, it was like, there’s something about the intimacy of audiobook work, of how you are telling that story. The oral tradition of old, that it reminds me of, that is what I think I love the most about that.
Acting wise, what do I love the most? The collaboration. I love sitting around a table and getting literally on the same page as to what the story is and what it is that we are all telling and then seeing that thing grow and move and shift and change and open into a team sport. A story that is being told by a tremendous amount of people and that’s being then given out to the world. So, that’s in stage work, film, TV, I love the collaboration of that.
In terms of writing, the thing I love most about that is authorship. I love getting to create the story. And in some ways when I write it’s when I feel the most power. I feel like I have authorship and that I am the one telling the story. I am the one who is painting the picture.
EV: What about teaching?
GZ: Oh, I love teaching. There’s something very satisfying about giving back in that way. About giving my knowledge back to other people. I was just thinking today, “How can I use my knowledge to teach more and how can I use that as an act of service to the world?” I went the other day to my friend Stephan Wolfert teaches Shakespeare for vets. It’s a huge program he’s done for years. He does Shakespeare for Vets as a way of both teaching the work and healing through the work of Shakespeare; and I got to see for the first time the work he does. They had sort of an open class that they invited civilians to participate in. And getting to see his work filled me with such joy. I thought, I want to give back in some way like this. Like what he is doing with his work and how he’s opening up this group of people and allowing them to express themselves through the work; that’s what I find most valuable about any kind of teaching and I would like to find more ways to give back like that.
EV: When you’re doing one of your jobs and you have a deadline and you’re feeling at the end of your rope, having a lot of stress with a lot of balls in the air, how do you manage that?
GZ: Yeah, how do you manage stress with deadlines? That’s a tricky one. I love yoga, that’s a huge thing for me. Though I’m not doing as much of that as I wish I were, but what I have been doing is meditating every morning. Which I find to be invaluable. I try to do it every morning and every night. I definitely do it every morning. Sometimes I miss the evenings depending. I find just to have a way of focusing in on the day and breathing and then closing the day down at night, I find that to be a really invaluable source of tension relief. Because it’s really hard when you are trying to get things done. I find between that, yoga and walks. I also find sometimes now if I’m in my apartment working which I now work from home a lot, sometimes I have to just get out and walk, and it really changes things. And sometimes I just have to walk for a few blocks, just to change my perspective.
EV: Two of the jobs that you just did for voice overs, were pretty stressful stories. Can you tell me how you dealt with that? I know with acting and sometimes with voice over work you have to get inside the mind of the writer or character. So, how do you then pull yourself fully out of that space and come back to yourself because it can get your blood pressure going and like you were telling me earlier I’m in this little box in my apartment reading these terrifying stories.
GZ: Yes, well these were two stories that were both about Matricide. An unusual subject, a very difficult subject. And I jokingly to try to alleviate some of the tension, began to call myself the voice of matricide. Because, what’s like (laughing) what’s going on here!? It’s so weird. So, I would say number one, humor. I had to actually occasionally take time away because the stories themselves were really…they were very opposite stories. In one story it was a lot about the mental illness of the mother and how the children were damaged by that. The other story was very much the opposite. The Mother was actually quite a good mother working very hard for her kids, she wasn’t around a lot. But the kids themselves had made a pact to kill all of their parents. But both times they were really hard to take. And so I did watch a lot of funny things that if people sent me a funny clip. I would take a break. I think I took more breaks recording those two books than I usually do. I would watch humorous stuff and the other thing I did is I would take mandatory dance breaks where I would literally put on dance music and dance.
EV: I do that in the office
GZ: That’s right. Mandatory dance breaks because I was like, I’ve got to find some way of keeping my energy up here. When it’s a combination of the work itself is difficult any way to keep my energy up, but with these stories. Were really quite heartbreaking, they were hard to get through so I needed something to get through them. I needed levity.
EV: I love that, we do, we do that at work.
GZ: It should be mandatory everywhere.
EV: We do a Daily Bread, Bible study and then we dance to Justin Timberlake
GZ: It’s mandatory. And now that I think about it I haven’t used it in very long, but I’m going to bring it back at least once a session.
In the next portion of our interview with Gabra she will talk more about how to find joy in the little moments, get inspired and fight the beast of comparison. I hope you will join us next week!
To The Revolution!