Acting Saved My Life; Like a Fish Needs Water

Posted by Laura Ann Tull
Richard "RB" Botto Richard "RB" Botto

Today's guest blog comes from actress and friend, Laura Ann Tull. Laura's passion for her craft and spirit for life are indomitable. She's fiery and driven, soulful and selfless. After reading her story, I'm sure you'll agree.



I am very grateful for the opportunity to have a voice. I hope that what I write here gives someone hope or inspiration. I was actually shocked to be asked, and then I realized, that many of you reading this are working to fulfill your needs just as I am. I know many of you may not know me. I want to tell everyone how the art of acting saved my life. First let me begin by telling you I am an actress, poet, digital media artist, journalist, editor, photographer, and blogger; I have also been many other things. I have a theater degree, summer certificate from AADA, training in TV and film acting, and I have a Masters in Performing Arts Management. I also have a legal background though that part of my life is OVER. I have also written for the Examiner as a Performing Art journalist.

I have been in a few shorts, in particular A.B.S (my first SAG audition) which has been in over a dozen festivals across the country, and Chemical 13 that has been seen at "Shriekfest" this past year, and is in submission for a few others in the coming months. I also from 2003 to 2008 worked on over 200 productions on sets as background/actress/stand-in. I made my living on sets during that time, and it is that time in particular that I refer to when I say the INDUSTRY saved my life. At the same time, there is one aspect of the industry that has tried to destroy and take away everything that I fought to survive for. I will get to that too.

I recently created a site I call "Women Love Peace" to show off my digital media work and photography work. My true gem is a website I created called Artistic HOPE about art (entertainment) giving back that I want to expand into something more. I actually registered the name "Artistic HOPE" in Los Angeles. It is an effort of LOVE, and I built it because I believe art is important. "HOPE" stands for "Holistic Organic Philanthropic Expression." "Women Love Peace" is my logo that I now try to place on all my photography and digital work. It was inspired by the non-profit DNA started to combat slave trafficking of women.

As a child I was often told that I was to be seen and not heard. I was terrified that if I opened my mouth and someone did not like what I said, I would get yelled at. Yet there was something inside of me that needed to express. I actually began the road to be an artist to overcome my childhood nightmares. In high school I went to poetry readings at the local community colleges. In college I took an opportunity I had to make my own choice and with the encouragement of people I met there, I started acting. Acting became my social activity, and tore down all the fear I had about getting out the emotions that overwhelmed me. At home if I got emotional I was made fun of, called cry baby or well other ugly terms, but in the theater no one shunned my tears. I did not know my life would lead to even bigger things to overcome.

A few may know me from the first PSA to "Stand up 2 Cancer" where I volunteered and ended up in a scene with Jodi Foster. I was inspired to make a little PSA called The Monster on a budget of $60 which can be found on my IMDB. I've had cancer twice. In 2005 I was SAG eligible. I was on the set of a film called Poseidon when I got the call. I had breast cancer. My ship suddenly felt like it was sunk. I used the money I had saved up and would have used to join the UNION to save my life. At the same time, I kept working. My doctors told me to do what I would do if the cancer was not there, just keep living. There were days I thought, this might be my last day ever and even though I was in pain with a smile on my face I would keep trying to find work on sets.

I was working on sets doing a job that unfortunately gets a great deal of abuse, but I was for the most part treated with respect. Many of the casting agents that hired me even referred to me as an actress, though my official job title was often background or extra. I often got higher based pay. For example I have been a professional laugher. Who knew that being able to laugh, even if something is not funny, can get you a pay check? I never had an attitude, because to me well we are all equal on sets, even aliens from other countries have rights, and so my job title was just a job title, not an indication of my ability or my future in the industry or world. My goal was always to do my part, even if small, to help tell the story and not take away from it. Each day I was on set was a day I was in love with life, even if conditions were difficult. I loved the WORK- and always know that- acting on any level is a job and it is WORK. And to me I was acting, just not the center of the story, more like a part of the painting being made to tell the story. I was trained to be organic and flexible and to be in the moment.

People from two sets I worked on in particular gave me hope and reasons to find within myself to fight to survive, Carnivale and Deadwood. I would go see the actor John Hawkes and his band King Straggler play. One of their members, I assume Rodney Eastman, though it may have been Brentley Gore, made me a fan on a website that helped connect me to other cancer victims. Unfortunately, Sarah Hamilton of Copley, OH, one of my friends, is no longer with us. Knowledge is power though, and cancer can take anyone at any age. I promised her mother I would always try to remind people of that fact. John once introduced me to someone as a person he worked with on Deadwood never degrading me as someone less than him. Paula Malcomson walked up to me in a caf'e in Hollywood and I tried to introduce myself and she looked at me and said, "You are Laura Tull from Deadwood." For some reason she took the time to find out who I was. There were others in that cast and crew who were nice to me and I thank you. If I can give one piece of wisdom now, act with dignity and you will be surprised who might notice. I will admit, sometimes I made mistakes in the dignity department, but I tried.

I owe HBO gratitude because the summer I was fighting for my life, they put me on their website in an image from the show Carnivale with members of the cast, including Tim DeKay, Carla Gallo, Nick Stahls and Cynthia Ettinger. Later I went to the Carnivale fan convention. Cynthia acknowledged me and told me in front of the crowd that to her we were all actors. I met Robert Knepper that day and I asked if he would give me an autograph, though we did not work together (he was first season) but then he told me "but I saw you on tape." I worked with an actor named Blake Shields on Carnivale and Sleeper Cell who talked to me as though I understood the craft of acting as a professional, and I had one of the best conversations of my life. The past is the past. That experience taught me that I want more conversations, with other people like that, in my future. In other words, if you don't take my love for acting seriously, you don't need to be talking to me. I believe you need to have people in your life who get what you love. Find the people who nurture the dream, not the people who starve or try to destroy it.

If I left anyone out, especially Carnivale cast and crew, I am sorry. The crew of that show actually went to many other sets and I believe many of them kept me working even before they knew about my illness, and some never knew about it. Even one of my doctors, Lisa Cassileth, was a fan of the show Carnivale. I kept telling her, I am just background, but she would look at me and tell me that I was good and she loved seeing me. The website to save the show, based in my home state of Maryland, even listed me as an actress. My drive just to put myself out there and get myself on sets, put people in my path that helped save me. (I have to add that I also owe the Fox show 24, but I already wrote a blog about that experience elsewhere.) Many did not know I was sick, but the respect they gave me when I was working gave me HOPE.

What I am about to write now is not easy, I survived cancer, only to realize that what we people can do to each other can be far worse. I had an accident on a set and was complaining about being harassed by a guy. In addition there were individuals who were upset that I had gotten any attention for the work I was doing, when they felt they deserved it. It is also unfortunate that we still have a stigmatism in our society that protects bullies from abuse if they are bullies who abuse women. It is the woman's fault. She did something to cause it. She is after the guy not the other way around. It is also unfortunate that if two people of the opposite gender are seen being affection with each other, people assume things that are not true.

Obama just signed the "Violence Against Women Act" and I hope that the industry will be inspired to follow in that path, and give women a voice. I wish they had listened to mine. It is really simple to ask a question to find out the truth. It is also shameful that others side with the abuser or just sees it as a guy being a guy. I should also add that there are celebrities in the industry who treat acting as if it were a closed club, and they get to decide who joins in. I have recently discovered that many of the people, who were in my world, are in the world of the man who abused me. Ladies and gentlemen that does not make what happened to me right. I have also realized that my own Union has done more to victimize me than protect me in this case, and that needs to change.

As I mentioned before I have been in the shorts A.B.S and Chemical 13. Well I managed to get cast in those projects, while thinking I would never be allowed to fight for my profession again because I trusted a guy I thought was a friend not to physically hurt me. Being an artist is not something I chose to do, but something I have to do. I hope some of you reading this can understand that. I am also in a short called Beauty that was shot before I joined any Union. I am also currently training to shoot video, and reading about how to shoot on cameras like a red.

I can't let bullies win. I have been fighting for the past few years to get justice for what happened. I can't give up or give in. To do so would be to give up my passion- my love for life. I would become that scared little girl again, terrified of living. I would not be getting a life if I gave up acting, but losing all the confidence and strength that it has taken me decades to build.

Acting and my love for the entertainment industry and willingness to not "have a life" by normal standards of my own country, saved my life, and if I had not been on sets when I had cancer, I doubt I would be here now. I also realizing to, that when people want you to get the 9 to 5 life, well they don't see the courage it takes to really live. This does not mean I don't want part of what others would call "a life" but to me my soul mates are other like minded individuals who see the journey for what it truly could be, and who also would want to see children laugh and sing and play, then to cause them any kind of grief or pain. I don't see anything wrong in keeping the child inside alive within into adulthood. Just look at the lives of some of the most successful people- the man who created the whole Virgin Corporation is the first person who comes to my mind.

My message to you is don't "get a life" because if you have found your passion, the real living ends if you give it up. Don't kill that part of you that still sees the beauty in a rainbow. And if one day you wake up and find out you may have very little time left, what would you do with it? What would make you fight? If your answer is something involving actors, film makers, musicians, artists, than you are on the right path, no matter what others may tell you. I need to act and act with like minded dedicated people, like a fish needs water.

Laura is available for questions and remarks in the Comments section below.

...good intentions.
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