We are thrilled to introduce our new SJF Communications client – San Diego Actor, Author and Coach – Debra Wanger. Debra’s book The Resilient Actor: How to Kick Ass in the Business (Without it Kicking Your Ass) brings the behind the scenes secrets of Hollywood & Broadway to supercharge one’s career and balance one’s life. An upcoming Audiobook as well as Workbook/Planner will be available soon.
SJF: In a nutshell…tell us about your life as an actor/performer – highs, lows, ‘aha’ moments- stressors…etc.
DW: I’ve worked mostly in live regional theatre, but also some television, film, and radio. When I left my BFA program and started working professionally, I had to learn the hard way all the life and balance skills they didn’t teach at the conservatory. There was a lot of focus on being a triple threat, on performance skills, but nothing about how to survive the challenging life of being an actor. I fought depression, loneliness, weight gain, difficulty navigating periods of unemployment, all of it. Like most actors, I had to learn how to get the rest & recovery I needed, how to master my mindset to work with me – not against me, and how to take care of myself like a performing athlete. I had to learn all these life skills beyond my BFA.
SJF: What experiences and/or people (parents, role models, etc.) in your life influenced you the most and why?
DW: My brother used to attend an acting school in Chicago with some young actors – John Cusack, Joan Cusack and Jeremy Piven among them. They were all clearly phenomenally talented back then. I tagged along and was impressed. I caught the bug then & there. My brother gave it up, but I didn’t.
I also had a boss at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) who was somehow able to be an agent, a wife, a mother and a happy human all at the same time. She was able to cut through all the B.S. and find a balance that worked for her. She was an inspiration for me.
SJF: Describe your book The Resilient Actor
DW: Many of my private coaching clients are actors who stumble upon the same road blocks, and that is how The Resilient Actor was born. The Resilient Actor combines my experience as an actor, coach, and Hollywood talent manager. It is part cautionary tale, letting readers know my story and all the ways I did it wrong. It is the actors’ handbook I wish someone had handed me when I left my BFA program. It is the course that was missing from my acting school curriculum.
SJF: Describe your work as a health and wellness coach
DW: As a coach, I help my clients discover what their goals are: whether it be to lose 20 pounds, gain energy, make more money, improve relationships, whatever it is they want or need. Then I help them come up with an action plan to achieve those goals, identify and remove any obstacles they have to this action plan and help them with accountability. Every client is different, so I customize it to their needs. Many of my clients are actors who stumble upon the same roadblocks, and that is how The Resilient Actor was born. The Resilient Actor combines my experience as an actor, coach, and Hollywood talent manager.
SJF: Your time working at CAA and with the Talent Manager? Stresses? Patterns seen? High points?
DW: Creative Artists Agency in the 90’s was so exciting and crazy. I was there when super-agent Michael Ovitz still ran the place and all of Hollywood. It was like working in an emergency room, everything was high stakes and urgent and high stress, and then Tom Hanks would walk by. It was incredibly stressful, but such a fertile learning ground for how the business of the business worked. It probably took a few years off my life, but the experience was invaluable for learning how film and television work. Managing was some babysitting, some creativity and lot of phone calls, horrible scripts and hours in my car traversing LA for lunch meetings. Taking clients to Sundance or the Golden Globes was as cool as it sounds, but the grind really got to me. Ultimately, I enjoy being on the creative end more than the business side of things.
SJF: Tell us about your past year or so of musicals/shows- Describe your roles and accolades! Angels in America, etc.
DW: This year has been a breakout year for me in San Diego theatre. I was the female authority figure in Hairspray at San Diego Musical Theatre, a collection of John Waters dark-humor characters in a cracker jack cast of a huge musical comedy. I played The Angel (& several other roles) in the acclaimed production of Angels in America at Cygnet Theatre (all 7 hours of it.) It was the most challenging, most exhilarating show I have ever done. Every single element of that show came together, every single person from the director, cast, designers all brought their A game. Next, I play the Queen of England in the West Coast Premiere of the British comedy hit Handbagged at Moxie Theatre. It’s funny – I followed my own advice and had one of the best years of my career.
SJF: Tell us about the cast of Handbagged and when is the theatrical run at Moxie?
DW: The Handbagged cast is a ‘who’s who’ of San Diego theatre: Sandy Campbell, Linda Libby, Lisel Gorell-Getz and myself, with Durwood Murray and Max Macke directed by Kim Strassburger. Many of us are often up for the same roles and don’t get to all work together. It will be a diva-fest in the best way possible. So much talent. We play Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth running October 19-November 17. I can’t wait.
SJF: What do you dream about?
DW: I dream about making a difference. I dream about balance. I dream about sunny weather, hugs from my children and using my all the wisdom I have acquired to help others. And chocolate.
SJF: What are your top 3 values in life?
DW: Authenticity, love and playfulness.
SJF: What are you most proud of?
DW: I am really proud of The Resilient Actor, and upcoming The Resilient Actor Audio Book and The Resilient Actor’s Workbook and Planner, my creative babies, but I’d have to say I am really proud of my 3 kids, my human babies. They are phenomenal, loving, decent human beings.
SJF: Describe your feelings about balancing motherhood and work
DW: Balancing motherhood & work is a challenge. Acting tends to be feast or famine. I don’t take every show I am offered. I have to weigh it against tucking my kids in for those 3 months. I am pickier about what projects I do. That is one of the reasons I love writing, coaching, and public speaking – it allows me to work with actors and be creative without negatively affecting my kids. They know I love being onstage and want me happy, I just attempt to balance it as best I can.
SJF: Female issues with males (harassment) in entertainment?
DW: Ugh. This is a real thing. It is time that people shed light on bad behavior in the arts and in business. There have been some individuals abusing and taking advantage for years, many of whom were common knowledge and no one did anything. I applaud the brave souls who are willing to speak up for themselves. Of course, I hope that individuals who are breaking the law are brought to justice and that attitudes change. The whole system needs to change and awareness is the first step.
SJF: Any fears? Doubts? ever?
DW: Of Course! I’m human. Like all actors – I doubt myself. I have several exercises in the book to help with negativity and doubt so they don’t get the best of you. I get insecure and doubtful like anyone, but I have learned how to tame that beast most of the time.
SJF: Many thanks, Debra!
Debra Wanger’s Website: http://debrawanger.com/
Like, Follow and Interact with Debra on Social Media:
Facebook: @resilientactor https://www.facebook.com/resilientactor/
Twitter: @debrawanger https://twitter.com/debrawanger
Instagram: @debradiva https://www.instagram.com/debradiva/
For more information or to book Debra for interviews, speaking engagements or coaching contact