Growing up as a child, I dreamed of running away to New York City and becoming an actress. I would put “Its A Hard Knock Life” from Annie on the record player in my parent’s basement and make my friends scrub the floor while I belted each verse. I never wavered when adults asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. The summer before my senior year of high school, I started visiting colleges and even flew to New York City to tour a couple of universities. But when it came time to pick a school, I was scared and chose somewhere close to home. I graduated from Southwest Baptist University in 2007 with 2 degrees: one degree in Theater and the other in Communications. I chose Theater because I always knew I wanted to act for a living, and I chose Communications because acting never seemed like a realistic possibility.
Ya gotta make money to live, kid.
Upon graduation, I created the position of Fine Arts Director at the Christian Activity Center, an afterschool program for youth in the Samuel L. Gomper Housing Projects of East St. Louis. I spent five years there feeling like my degrees were put to good use and loving every minute I spent with the best kids in the world, but I still longed for my career to be on stage. In 2012, I told my husband I was ready to go for it. We moved 2 months later and I have been working as an NYC based actress ever since.
Something that draws me to Hoosier Shakes is their desire to cast college students alongside professional actors. I came across this great article on their website that explains why this style of casting is important to the company: “It’s one thing to learn one’s craft from a class or textbook; it is something altogether different to learn your craft from a craftsman. Hoosier Shakes provides students with an opportunity to hone their craft while onstage under the careful eye of professional actors and directors.” I love this aspect of their company! And while I wholeheartedly value my own fine arts education, I know that if I would have had that opportunity in college, it would have reassured me that my dreams were tangible. If I had the opportunity to work alongside professional actors, I could have asked all those prying questions about how to make it in a tough industry. I would have had a chance to put into practice the ever-daunting challenge of networking! And most importantly, I would have learned that I was just as talented as the professionals.
I feel honored to join the Hoosier Shakes community and share my experiences in the industry. I hope to inspire and inform. But I also look forward to learning from each and every one of my cast-mates. Because, to be honest, when we take the stage, we are all professionals; we are an unstoppable and united front of storytellers.
Melissa Harlow is playing Don Pedro in “Much Ado about Nothing” and the Nurse and Sampson in “Romeo and Juliet”. She is the cofounder of Stomping Ground Theatre Company in Hell’s Kitchen, NY.