Dreaming Big by Bridget McManus Real Talk Real Women

Dreaming Big by Bridget McManus

As a child I was enamored with “The Carol Burnett Show”. At three years old, I would watch reruns of the legendary variety show as I lay on my parent’s living room rug. I stared, mouth agape, inches away from our small color TV and ogled at Burnett and her circus of cast members. I, like millions of other dreamers, wanted to be Carol Burnett.

When you’re a kid you don’t usually think of the logical steps to reach success, you just want something. I wanted to be Carol. I wanted to stand center stage in front of a crowd. I wanted to make people double over from laughter. I wanted to wear all those Bob Mackie costumes.

Thirty years later, I have traveled the world performing as a professional comedian. I also have more costumes than any sane person should. My collection ranges from caveman to Bride of Frankenstein. I feel very fortunate to be able to live my dream every day and I truly believe everyone has the capability to do the same.

The key to following your dream is to allow the river of life take you where you’re supposed to end up.

So many times we try to control the outcome of events and we think we’ve failed at something just because the end result doesn’t arrive in the package we’re expecting. We might not win an Academy Award by the age of 30 or be the first person to land on Mars, but it doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on our true callings.

Things weren’t always easy for me. I’ve struggled with weight most of my life fluctuating between 130 to 200 pounds. I was never cast in a high school play, and growing up I was bullied for being different. As I waded through the waters of life, I attended three different universities, starting with a major in kinesiology and eventually obtaining a bachelor’s in drama at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

After graduating high school I thought I should get a practical degree, one that would make money, instead of becoming a struggling actor. I attended a small teaching school in New Hampshire focusing on kinesiology (the scientific study of human movement), with the goal of helping children who were struggling to lose weight. Even though I did well in school, I knew that studying science was not what I was supposed to be doing. I told the head of the kinesiology department that I wanted to transfer to another school so I could be a performer. I wanted to be a comedian. The woman shook her head and told me that I was being unreasonable. She said I needed to finish my degree because it was impractical to be an artist, and besides I wasn’t funny anyway. Even though I knew she meant well, I found her words to be hurtful. So I heeded her warning and stayed in school. One night as I lay in bed, I asked for a clear message to be delivered to me as I slept. I was riddled with self-doubt and needed a sign from the ethers. When I woke up the next morning I had a clear vision of leaving school.

I moved back in with my parents and for a few months I attended a local college as I tried to find my footing. One day, just in passing at a coffee shop, I overheard a young woman bragging about getting into New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. I remember her high-pitched voice declaring, “If you want to be a star you need to go to New York.” I had never heard of this school before but I thought, hey, if this girl can do it so can I! Months later, I arrived in New York for my audition into this magical school that I was convinced would fix my life. I nervously paced the hallway lined with young thespians, all dressed in black. In stark contrast, I was barefoot in a white tee shirt and khakis. Once again I was different. But to my surprise and delight, the admissions officer was looking for someone who was different. I was one of the 16 people in the world (out of the thousands who auditioned) to be accepted into NYU’s Spring transfer program. I felt special, like I belonged. I loved my new college life, but soon fear set in. What happens when I graduate? What if I can’t make a living being an artist? I was tiptoeing into the shallow pool of my dreams, so in my last year of school I changed my specialty from acting to directing, thinking that it was more practical route to take.

After graduation, doors didn’t open up for me as I hoped. My drama degree was pretty as it hung framed on my wall, but it didn’t provide any automatic opportunities. I struggled as a waitress, interned at an off-off-off Broadway theater and I moved around, a lot.  I left New York for New Jersey then Connecticut then finally ended up moving across the country to the west coast. At the age of 23 I fearlessly (and recklessly) moved to Los Angeles, California. With no savings and no job prospects, I crashed on my friend’s living room floor for three months as I tried to hunt down work, any work. It was a very difficult time. I accrued a lot of financial debt and the massive pool of talent that resided in Los Angeles drowned what was left of my former “big fish in a little pond” ego. I eventually got a job as an assistant on a TV show, then starting making commercials, then movies, all on the production side, using my head rather than following my heart. I was bobbing up and down through the pool of life; at night working as an improv actor and stand up comedian and then returning to my office job exhausted every morning.

At the age of 28 everything changed unexpectedly. I was newly single after a long relationship. I left everything from my old life behind, my beloved pet and all of my belongings, and started anew in a studio apartment in Hollywood. I bought a used bed online, which doubled as my couch since there was no place to put furniture in the micro-box where I now lived. I worked seven days a week for a difficult boss and then spent my nights out at comedy clubs trying to make a name for myself. Slowly but steadily, I was picking up steam. I was interviewed for a website article entitled “Female Comedians You Don’t Know But Should.” From that little mention, I was scouted to be a guest on a weekly video blog. As that internet show became more popular, I was asked to create my own online show. From within my tiny apartment I birthed “Brunch with Bridget,” a weekly talk show in which I interviewed female celebrities from my bed in my studio apartment. Each episode was a simulated slumber party, complete with pillow fight. The show became a hit and went on to garner a Logo Network New Now Next Award for Best Vlog Ever. Soon after, I started to get big named guests to interview and my rinky-dink show shot out of my sad little studio apartment was then broadcast on the Logo television network on Friday nights. In less than a year from its inception, I was now producing, directing, editing and starring in my own talk show. Strangely enough, it was hitting rock bottom that propelled me to create my own television show.

“Brunch with Bridget” was just the beginning of my life as a full-fledged performer.

Since then I’ve been able to work on network TV shows (sometimes wearing a leotard and legwarmers), starred in three comedy specials, headlined at resorts all over the world and I continue to fulfill my goal of being a performer. I’m not rich, I’m not famous but I’m living my dream, costumes and all.

As I look back at my humble beginning as a chubby child rolling around on my parent’s living room rug, nothing has turned out as I expected. Nothing at all, but that doesn’t matter because I couldn’t imagine anything as good as how my life is actually unfolding. Who knows what will come next? Carol Burnett famously said, “When you have a dream, you’ve got to grab it and never let go.” So I encourage you (yes, you, the person reading this) to dream big, but more than that I challenge you to dream bigger than you have ever before.

Because, hey, why not?

Connect with Bridget McManus via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube and her website.
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Written by Bridget McManus

I'm a professional comedian and actress.

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