By Lauren Shippen
When I walked into BGB over three years ago, uncertain and nervous about what I’d find there, I could never have anticipated just how profoundly the studio would affect my life. At first it was a place for me to stretch my wings; find my voice and learn to trust my instincts. The more time I spent in class, the more friends I made and, before I knew it, I had an entire community. I kept coming back and I kept growing and learning as an actor.
In class, we were told over and over again that with technology and the internet being what it is today, there was no excuse for not producing our own work. While the prospect of being on the other side of the creative process seemed daunting, I knew that my teachers were right.
Inspired by the energetic attitude of the studio and the talented actors I met there – and frustrated with the state of my own career – two years ago I decided to follow BGB’s advice and take matters into my own hands. With a limited budget and no experience in screenwriting, I chose to try my hand at writing a fiction podcast.
What started as a small side project for me and a handful of actor friends to stretch our legs is now an award-winning show that has been dowloaded millions of times. An original cast of four has grown into a cast of twelve (seven of which I met at BGB). While the podcast has provided new and exciting career opportunities for me, my greatest joy continues to be writing for and working with these incredible artists.
When I started writing The Bright Sessions, I wanted to create something that would be fulfilling for both myself and the rest of the cast to perform. As actors, we spend so much of our time on the business of entertainment – auditioning, submitting, networking, updating our headshots, the list goes on and on – that it’s easy to lose focus on the reason we’re actors in the first place. Not to mention, a lot of the time when we do get an opportunity to audition or to act, the roles leave a lot to be desired – especially for women. I could feel a void in me that wanted to be filled; a need to dig deep and recapture the feeling I was getting in class when I connected with someone. I wasn’t finding that feeling in most of the scripts I was reading, so writing my own seemed like the best solution.
But sharing that work was a different matter entirely. I sat on the first script for about a year before sharing it with the people that would make up my original cast: Julia Morizawa, Briggon Snow, and Anna Lore. I was relieved by the enthusiasm they showed, but still unsure how to actually produce something. Hours spent watching YouTube tutorials on sound editing later, we had our first episode up. The plan was always to produce the first season and, if people listened, do more. But before we even finished recording the first few episodes, I started writing new episodes. Getting these actors into the recording studio (which was, and still is, my bedroom) made my characters real in a way that inspired so much more story in my brain. We were having fun. It was low stakes and entirely in our control – the ideal environment in which to take risks and I was growing as both an actor and writer. Finally I had found some of that artistic fulfillment I’d been craving, even if my career was in the same stalled place.
Then people started listening. And then more people started listening and reaching out to us and telling their friends about us and, before I knew it, making The Bright Sessions was my life. People draw fanart and send me deeply personal emails about how the show has affected them; we’ve been to conventions and featured in major publications. People – other than us – care about what we make. It is completely unbelievable to me that, in just two years, I went from being scared to even put my ideas on paper to running a full-time audio fiction production and simultaneously developing it for TV. Sometimes I look around at where I am and wonder how I got here.
As I reflect on the past few years, I realize the answer to that question has a lot to do with trust. I trusted my own voice enough to stay true to it and I trusted that other people would want to hear what I had to say. I trusted that my friends and collaborators would tell me if something wasn’t working and I trusted that they’d approach the project with the same passion I did. I trusted that, even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I would figure it out. Because, at the end of the day, I trusted the story. Once I started to write and think about these characters, I became addicted. Writing and acting in my own work felt like nailing an audition or getting that amazing take. That feeling has made the writer’s block and uncertain times bearable – the scales started to balance in a way they hadn’t been when my career was left up to the randomness of submitting and auditioning. There’s still been a great deal of luck and right- place-right-time in the success of the podcast, but I certainly feel more in control than I did a few years ago. Using that degree of control to work with and write for actors I deeply admire is absolutely the best part of the job.
Recently, the entire cast and crew of The Bright Sessions did a livestream Q&A for our fans. BGB was kind enough to let us use the studio and there was something magical about being back in the space where I met the people who are so integral to my life with said people. It felt as though I’d left the nest with the necessary tools to succeed, built something, and then returned home to celebrate with those who had encouraged me all the while.
Writing can be extremely solitary but I’ve never felt alone in writing The Bright Sessions. Though the story and the truth is mine, I don’t exist in a vacuum. I’m inspired and affected by the people around me and it is a great gift to incorporate those people very literally into my stories by having them perform my writing. The podcast would never have been possible without the BGB community. The people I’ve met there and the work I’ve been witness to have given me the courage, compassion, and honesty to find and share my own voice. And, through that sharing, the perspectives and artistry of other actors have joined with mine to create an entirely new voice that continues to grow.
There are a lot of things that I don’t get to control. But trusting myself and the people around me is within my power. Using the resources that I already had in my life – actors who inspired me, a laptop, a borrowed mic – I was able to create something I care deeply about. All the rest – all the challenges that crop up – are dealt with as they come. I’ve found that, with trust and a story, those challenges don’t seem so challenging anymore.