Debra Wenger

Debra on FB


The Resilient Actor on Amazon

EP 86: Debra Wanger (autogenerated)

Dane Reis: [00:00:00] you booked it, episode 86. 

[00:00:03]Okay. Let’s get started. I am excited to introduce my guest today. Debra, Wanger, are you ready for this Deborah?

[00:00:13] Debra Wanger: [00:00:13] I’m ready.

[00:00:15]Dane Reis: [00:00:15] right. Oh, award winning actor, singer and certified wellness coach. Debra Wanger has performed in theaters, cabarets and screens from New York to Los Angeles. She’s a sought after public speaker, leading workshops at a university theater programs and corporate groups across the country. While working at CAA and as a talent manager, she helped, uh, uh, guide the careers of many top Hollywood names. Debra draws wisdom from decades of working as an actor, talent manager, talent manager, and lifestyle coach to give actors and creatives a holistic approach to their profession that Mary’s mind, body, spirit, and craft her book, the resilient actor, how to kick ass in the business without it kicking your ass was an Amazon best seller. Debra. That is a quick intro of who you are and what you’ve done, but why don’t you tell us a little bit more about yourself, fill in the gaps, who you are, and a little bit more about what you do as a professional in the entertainment industry.

[00:01:15]Debra Wanger: [00:01:15] Okay. A little more of who I am. I consider myself a stage actor, a coach, a public speaker and author. A mom and a human, just trying to get by. I’m originally from Chicago, Illinois, and I currently live in San Diego, California with several, several cities in between.

[00:01:36] Dane Reis: [00:01:36] Wonderful. All right. Well, let’s move on to this next section and Deborah, look, I am a sucker for a good quote. What is your favorite quote? You’d like to share with everyone.

[00:01:48] Debra Wanger: [00:01:48] Can I pick two. Okay. I got it down to, to be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. I think that’s a Mark Twain. And be so good. They can’t ignore you. That Steve Martin.

[00:02:04]Dane Reis: [00:02:04] I love that. And can you expand on those a little bit on how they’ve applied and work their way into your life and your career?

[00:02:11]Debra Wanger: [00:02:11] Yeah. I think most starting with the Mark Twain. Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken that. I think for a long time, I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough and that. My unique things that if I didn’t fit in, in some ways that those were detriments, but actually the things that make me unique are what make me unique and interesting and different and more castable or. You know, my, my specific story. And it brings me tea texture. And when I’m authentically myself, that’s, that’s the most interesting, that’s the most castable, that’s the most, that’s the person that people want to be with the most is the authentic knee. Not someone I’m trying to be. Somebody else.

[00:02:51]Dane Reis: [00:02:51] For sure.

[00:02:52]Debra Wanger: [00:02:52] Now as far as the other one, the Steve Martin quote, be so good. They can’t ignore you. I think that just means just keep doing what you do and do it well and come prepared and work your butt off. And then people will find you. Just be consistently great at your craft. And people will find you.  Just good work is good work. And they’ll find you.

[00:03:13]Dane Reis: [00:03:13] Yeah, I love that. And you’re right.  That first quote, I love it actually both really kind of play into each other really, but I think all of us, when we first start out, we were so inclined to. Try to mold ourselves. After others, because, you know, we see what we perceive to be success in front of us. And we try to be that because we don’t really have a big library of experience to pull from. Right. So. That’s how we all start. But unfortunately I think a lot of us end up staying there too long instead of embracing, you know what I have worked on myself. I have developed these skills now. It’s time for me to really embrace that, who I am and offered that to the world. And. Feel confident. in to know that, Hey, that’s enough.

[00:03:55]Debra Wanger: [00:03:55] Absolutely. And to embrace what you bring to the table. what you have specifically that you can do that that’s unique and interesting about you. Absolutely.

[00:04:06] Dane Reis: [00:04:06] All right. Well, let’s move on to this section and Debra, of course you are an entertainer. I am an entertainer, and I think that you would agree that this industry can be one of the most subjective, brutally, honest, personally, emotional industries in existence. And you know, you know, as well as I, that in order to create and have a successful career in this industry, like you’re having now takes a lot of dedication and hard work. And while. Yeah. , there is a note rages amount of fun and excitement doing what we do. There are also our fair share of obstacles, challenges, and failures. We are going to experience and we’re going to have to move forward through. So tell us what is one key challenge, obstacle or failure you’ve experienced in your career and how did you come out the other side better because of it.

[00:04:59]Debra Wanger: [00:04:59] I would say that the, probably the darkest, most challenging period of my career was when I was in my young 20s and I was living and working in South Florida and I was doing a lot of theater, but I was. Personally bankrupt, not, not financially bankrupt, but personally bankrupt. I had very low self esteem. I was overweight. I was broken out. I was depressed. I wa I got suicidally depressed. Um, I had. Almost no social life aside from, from the casts of shows that I was hanging out with. And I just, I had no life except for my acting career and I did it all wrong. You know, I didn’t know how to be happy and healthy as an actor. And I actually left the business for 10 years trying to find. Happiness and health and some balance. And, um, By going to those really dark places and being so unhappy when I came back to acting and then I got certified as a coach and started coaching other actors. Then I chose to write a book and really help other people not to go to the same place that I had been because you don’t have to be depressed and fat and miserable. And. , uh, So unhappy. To be a group in a creative career. It’s even, there’s a lot of pitfalls, but you don’t have to be like that. So I wrote the book for other people, the book that I wish I had had when I was in that period. I wrote a book and I kind of sent it back to myself in a time capsule. I have everything I wish I had known when I started out. Um, so other people wouldn’t have to go through that same pain.

[00:06:28]Dane Reis: [00:06:28] Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. And you’re in you’re right. So much of this industry, so much of the real world of this industry is never discussed and we’re all just kind of thrown out there to the sharks to figure that out for ourselves. And while yeah, we all have very different journeys. There are so many parallels and similarities that we all are experiencing together in this industry. Because as artists we’re putting ourselves on the line, Emotionally all the time to audiences, to casting directors, to our cast mates, it’s a very vulnerable. Industry to be in, but it’s also so fulfilling and wonderful for all those reasons as well. And I’m, I’m so happy that you’ve. That you wrote the book that you wish someone would have given you when you went into this industry blindly and. There’s so much knowledge to be garnered from that. I love that.

[00:07:19]Debra Wanger: [00:07:19] Oh, great. Cause that was the plan. Yeah. I came out of a BFA program, which I didn’t finish. I left cause I was. Going through some stuff. And I had never heard any of this stuff. I had never heard anything about self care or balance or health and wellness. I mean, I learned how to prepare a good 16 bars. I think we talked about resumes and how to audition and, you know, Dance combinations and all that stuff, but no one was having the conversation about career longevity and how to take care of yourself and how to not go crazy and how to ride the waves of unemployment and rejection. And. How to not be a jerk, you know how to be nice to other people, how to get along, how to build relationships, all of this stuff that really matters. But, but at the time, at least it wasn’t being discussed. Only now I find that educators are starting to talk about these things. Um,  because it’s a necessity because people are burning out or hear every day about actors even really successful one. So we’re crashing and burning. Um, Killing themselves, drug overdoses, all kinds of stuff, because there. Not trained how to take care of themselves.

[00:08:29]Dane Reis: [00:08:29] Yeah, absolutely. It’s such a huge thing. And you’re right. The whole subject of mental health and. self care is it was such a taboo topic, I think, for so long. And you’re right just now in the last handful of years, has it really become a topic in. I mean it’s, I think we experienced. Some of that, maybe in an extreme, more of an extreme level, more regularly, more frequently than maybe other demographics. But I guess I, I’m not really equipped to say or have that much of an opinion on that. That’s just my initial thought. But. With. With everyone talking about it now, and it’s becoming more mainstream it’s, it’s really great to see all of this content starting to be produced and given to people to help get through these times because it’s such a giant part of your career.

[00:09:13]Debra Wanger: [00:09:13] Absolutely. And if, if an athlete was saying, Oh, I have to go home and rest, or I have to eat lots of vegetables cause I’m in training or something like that. No one would question it. Um, but as actors, if we want to take care of our bodies, people think we’re crazy, but we are creative athletes. We have to take our take care of our bodies and our minds, um, and rest and recover and all that. Just, just in the same way, an athlete has their event doing a show, uh, being on a set. Those are very athletic and they’re very draining. They’re very emotional. They were, as you mentioned, they’re very vulnerable. We have to take care of ourselves like creative athletes.

[00:09:50]Dane Reis: [00:09:50] Absolutely. I love that term. Creative athletes love it. And let’s move on to a time that I like to call your. Spotlight moment. That one moment in time you realized, yes, I am going to be an entertainer for living or maybe it was yes. This is what I need to be doing as an entertainer. Tell us about that.

[00:10:16]Debra Wanger: [00:10:16] Well, I now take you I’m age nine. I take you to Elkhart Lake Wisconsin. To a summer camp production of the wizard of Oz. Or little Deborah Little Debbie. Starred as Toto in the munchkin seen wizard of Oz. And it was July in Wisconsin. It was so humid and I’m in a full head to toe first suit. Including this furry hat. And I got to sing the reprise of somewhere over the rainbow. I got to sing. You are over the rainbow. And, um, I almost passed out cause I was sweating 

[00:10:50] so much. But I had my moment in the spotlight and there was no going back. So Toto, Toto and the wizard of Oz.

[00:11:01] Dane Reis: [00:11:01] I love children’s through the thick the costumes people get put into your life. I was a rock number four. 

[00:11:06] Brilliant. 

[00:11:09] Debra Wanger: [00:11:09] There’s no small parts. Only small dogs. Yeah. 

[00:11:13] Dane Reis: [00:11:13] I love it. And let’s piggyback on that question real quick and talk about your number one, booked it moment. Walk us through that day, the auditions and call backs. If they happen to be a part of it. What was going on in your life. And what about that moment? Makes it your favorite book? Did moment.

[00:11:33]Debra Wanger: [00:11:33] Well, this one is a little it’s relatively recent. This was, uh, 2019. Actually. I got to do a production of angels in America.

[00:11:42] Which, uh, yeah, I mean, that’s the, uh, the Olympics of theater. And every actor in Southern California and probably plenty beyond that submitted for this, but everybody in town went in for this show. And there there’s, you know, seven roles. It’s a seven hour to two part piece for those who aren’t as familiar. But, um, And I went in and I, I read and I had worked with this director in this theater company several times, but I’d only done musicals there. So I was like, Oh, I don’t know. Are they even going to see me? I’m a musical theater actress. Um, you know, I’m always playing the mate or somebodies mom or the teacher, you know, are they even going to see me for this? But I’m like, you know what, I’m going in. I worked my butt off on it. I, I did my audition. It went well. The callbacks were. A month or two later, everybody in town was in that room. Everybody in town was in that room. And I read and it was great. And then I heard they had more callbacks and more callbacks and I was like, Oh, you know, but I got, I got an email. Um, saying we’d like to offer you the role of the angel. And I have to say that was  such a, such a moment of pride and I, and hard work. And I w. It was such an honor. Uh, that they would trust me. With such an important piece.

[00:12:54] Of theater and such a. Important part of, of, of history. And I felt like I’d been called up to the major. So, I mean, this was the all star team and it was. It was, it was a dream from.  the very beginning through the very last second. . Every single person, every designer, Emery. Um, every cast member that directors. Guy doing the graphics, every, you know, everybody was bringing their a game and it was just, that was a good one. So that was a really. A very special moment 

[00:13:22] Dane Reis: [00:13:22] Yeah, I love that. You’re right. That is such a powerful piece. Wow, what . I can only imagine what that would have been like. Wow. 

[00:13:32]Debra Wanger: [00:13:32] Yeah. And it’s 25 years old and it still holds up. I mean, 

[00:13:35] Dane Reis: [00:13:35] I know it’s so good. I think everyone that. Even if you are not the theater going person. Everyone needs to read that script. It’s amazing.

[00:13:44] Debra Wanger: [00:13:44] Yeah. And we were discovering things in that, in that script up until the very last night. It’s so dense. It’s so layered. There’s so much in there and we were. Always discovering new stuff.

[00:13:55]Dane Reis: [00:13:55] Love it. 

[00:13:56] Debra Wanger: [00:13:56] his masterpiece. Yep. 

[00:13:57] Dane Reis: [00:13:57] Yes. And let’s take a moment to talk about the present. What projects are you working on now? What are you looking forward to? And Hey, it is a crazy weird time. We are amidst this. Global pandemic. How do you see the entertainment industry moving forward in the next couple of years?

[00:14:17]Debra Wanger: [00:14:17] Wow. There’s a lot there. Um, yeah. Cause as, as we’re talking now, I am in San Diego. I’m at home with my three children. And I’m doing a lot of momming. There’s not a lot, not a lot of places to send the kids out to. There’s no school and very few activities right now. So I’m doing a lot of parenting and I am obviously there’s no acting gigs right now. So it is a rebuilding and reassessing and, uh, self care time. I’m focusing on the book and coaching and waste that I can be of service to. A lot of unemployed actors. So I’m doing some pro bono coaching. I’m doing pay what you can coaching. Um, I’m, I’m doing interviews and talking about the book. Because it is a time that people really need. Uh, extra assistance with self care and extra assistance with taking care of themselves. , um, so I am taking my own advice. I’m practicing what I preach. I’m getting reminded of everything that I wrote in the book. It’s like, Oh yeah, I need to hear this. And, um, finding ways to. Share my message and help people without traveling. I’m not going into, to crowded theaters. I’m not traveling to universities right now. And, um, and speaking in person like I was, so I’m doing zoom, zoom calls with professors and. Student groups and I’m. talking to great people like you and. And I’m also using this as a time to rebuild myself. It’s a, it’s a really interesting. Time where, um, It’s kind of a recalibration, a lot of stuff is being stripped away. All the labels we have, all the successes we have are kind of taken away. So it’s a real opportunity to say, okay, well, If I’m not an actor, what am I, if I’m not a. An X, what am I? You know, the, the stores are closed and the restaurants are closed and the theaters are closed. And you know, who am I? If you take all that away, who am I. , and then, um, so,  some of what I’m finding and what other people are finding it’s stuff. That’s not so. Fun to look at. So it’s a, it hasn’t been the easiest time. But, um, it’s also been a, uh, it’s like, uh, It’s like a big forest fire, you know, a lot of stuff has burning away and then it’s a chance to rebuild and a chance to re regrow. 

[00:16:22] Dane Reis: [00:16:22] Yeah, I love that analogy. And you’re right. This is. It’s outrageously difficult time and you’re right. We’ve been so much of. Our identities have been kind of taken away, but we’re all in this together, but it’s also. One of the only times we’re probably ever going to get again in our lives to really. Sit with ourselves and be introspective and really work on ourselves at the level that we  are able to during this time, if we choose to. Do that for ourselves. There’s so much there. And you’re so right to. You know, try to take advantage of this time and really discover. Who you are when all of these things that you’ve previously identified with. Aren’t available anymore. I love, I love that you’re doing that. But also highlighting that so we can share it with everyone else. That’s listening that while it’s not an ideal time in the slightest. There’s a lot of. Wonderful things that can also happen out of this.

[00:17:18]Debra Wanger: [00:17:18] Yes. And there are some people who are in a place where they feel safe and comfortable and they can access their creativity so they can use it as a time to write a play or produce on zoom or learn monologues or rebuild their book or. Uh, you know, create. 

[00:17:35]And then other people are at a place where they’re, they’re not able to do that. Cause they’re just working on safety and survival and, and that’s OK. So, um, you know, it’s, it’s finding activities that are healthy and help you feel safe and, and, um, create. Um, health and balance and. Reassurance. And you know, , if it’s meditation, if it’s exercise, if it’s calling friends, if it’s hot baths, you know, whatever it is that, um, that help you get to that point, because if you don’t feel safe, You can’t get creative, like creative as a luxury. Like if you look at the human needs,

[00:18:08] you have to, you have to feel safe. Uh, first before you can create, so I’m with some people they’re already there and they can, they can access their creativity and they can find some exciting projects. And other people it’s just getting them through the day. And that’s OK. Cause there’s a lot going on right now and it’s, um, there are, there are threads, you know, and so, um, there, there is. They’re all, a lot of us are triggered. And so it’s really. Having patience and grace with yourself  to calm yourself down and, and get to a healthy place.

[00:18:36]Dane Reis: [00:18:36] Yeah, I’m so glad that you added that on, because speaking with just some of my really great personal friends and other people that have been on the podcast, That. It’s okay. To not feel creative. I think a lot of people will, I’ve heard this a lot, then, you know, people will be scrolling through their social media because there’s a lots of time to do that right now. And they see all these people doing this or that, or getting fit or. Um, doing whatever creative project and then they start putting that I’m on cells and putting the pressure that, Oh, well, they’ve got all this time. I should be doing this. I should be doing this. I should be creative. But if you aren’t, that is okay. It’s okay to not be outrageously productive during this time. You have to really focus on you and that’s all that really matters.

[00:19:20]Debra Wanger: [00:19:20] Right. And. You know, you do what you can. I have had moments where I’ve looked at social media. I’ve ever heard what my friends are doing. And I go, I am a failure because I have not alphabetizing my spice drawer right now.

[00:19:34] You know, I’m not having a Martha Stewart number. I haven’t written the great American novel or I haven’t. Made a new online course or whatever it is. And then there’s also, it’s like, yeah, but I kept three kids alive. You know,

[00:19:45]and I, and I kept myself alive and I did a lot of dishes and, you know, cooked a lot of meals and walk the dog, you know, and I didn’t jump off a ledge today. Like that’s still a pretty.  you know? That’s a success. So it’s, it’s the same thing. We, we are still comparing ourselves to other people. And I’m not embracing where we are. 

[00:20:05]Dane Reis: [00:20:05] Absolutely. Absolutely. And I’d like to move on to one of my favorite sections of the interview. I call it the grease lightning round. 

[00:20:17] I am going to ask you a handful of questions. I want you to answer them as quickly and concisely as possible one after another. Are you ready? 

[00:20:28] Okay, first question. What was the one thing holding you back from committing to a career as an entertainer? 

[00:20:36]Second question. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? 

[00:20:42] Debra Wanger: [00:20:42] Be prepared. You can never be too prepared and have a life outside of acting. 

[00:20:47]Dane Reis: [00:20:47] Oh, so true. Third question. What is something that is working for you now? Or if you’d like to go pre COVID, what was working for you before our industry went on? Pause. 

[00:21:00]Debra Wanger: [00:21:00] Working for me now is getting some form of intense exercise every day at burns off the crazy. 

[00:21:06] I Uh, when I

[00:21:06] started the, this. Shelter in place. I wasn’t working out every day and I felt it and I was anxious and depressed, but once I started really doing some kind of exercise. Uh, biking, yoga, running something that helped my mood so much. I really needed to burn off the anxiety. 

[00:21:26]Dane Reis: [00:21:26] Absolutely. 

[00:21:27] Debra Wanger: [00:21:27] Now I would also say as much as you can have a routine that is also helpful.

[00:21:31]Dane Reis: [00:21:31] Oh, yes. Absolutely. And the fourth question, what is your best resource? Whether that is a book, a movie, a YouTube video, maybe a podcast, maybe a piece of technology that you found is helping your career right now.

[00:21:47]Debra Wanger: [00:21:47] okay. Can I say my own book? Um, Cause, you know, it actually hits. Cause I wrote this book for a younger me. And , you know, it’s fuzzy physician heal, thyself, all the advice in there. I still need to hear, we write what we need to hear. So, um, 

[00:21:58] I would say that. And then I’m listening to a lot of podcasts and audible. Um, I find just walking the dog, washing dishes, doing all that, to just have positivity, pumping into my ears as much as possible. There’s so much negative input that I’m trying to find positive inputs whenever I can. So podcasts and listening to books on tape. 

[00:22:18]Dane Reis: [00:22:18] Absolutely. I love that. Yep. We definitely become a product of what we experience and what we choose to. 

[00:22:24]Put into our brains.  

[00:22:26] Absolutely. And the fifth question. 

[00:22:31] If you had to start your career from scratch, but you still had all the knowledge and experience you’ve collected from your career in this industry, what would you do or not do? Would you do anything differently or would you keep it the same? 

[00:22:46]Debra Wanger: [00:22:46] I would go to every audition, whether I thought it was realistic or not, whether I felt like it or not, whether I felt like I was right for it or not, I would just go and audition. Um, and not talk myself out of it ever. 

[00:22:58]Dane Reis: [00:22:58] Great. And the last question, what is the golden nugget knowledge drop you’ve learned from your successful career in this industry? You’d like to leave with our listeners. 

[00:23:09]Debra Wanger: [00:23:09] The golden nugget. I’ve kind of got so many nuggets. Okay. 

[00:23:12] So. I 

[00:23:14] would. I got it. I got nuggets. ,  I guess, um, So what I was going to say, take care of yourself because no one else is gonna do it for you. Take care of yourself, but the other one, cause I. You can decide which one you like better. He’s auditioning is your job.  an accountant does not decide whether they feel like going into work in the morning. They don’t decide whether they feel like crunching the numbers are doing the books or doing the taxes they go because they’re paid to do it. And it’s their job. In the same way, actors should not be deciding whether they feel like going to an audition or not. You go because it’s your job. If book in the job as a perk, but additioning is your job. And you show up whether you feel like it or not.

[00:23:55]Dane Reis: [00:23:55] Wow. That is such a brilliant perspective. I love that. And I will be keeping both of those nuggets. In the final episode or the final editing of this. And to wrap up this baby, Debra. It is time to give yourself a plug. Where can we find you? How do our listeners connect with you? Is there anything you want to promote?

[00:24:16]Debra Wanger: [00:24:16] Yeah. So Deborah One website, it’s all there. Information on the books, public speaking, acting gigs I’ve got going. You can hear me sing from my CD. If you want to theirs. Articles podcasts. All of it. And, um, it’s all on Debra And what I’d like to promote is the resilient actor, which is available on Amazon and audible, where you can get it from the website. And that is the book that I’ve been talking about. I’ve got the book. I’ve got a workbook. I’ve got an audible version of that, so you can listen to it while you’re exercising, but it’s all at 

[00:24:53]Dane Reis: [00:24:53] beautiful. And for everybody listening out there, I have put the links to everything she just talked about in the description of this episode. Debra, thank you so much for being here. It has been such a pleasure and an honor to speak with you.

[00:25:07] Debra Wanger: [00:25:07] Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. Stay well.