I met Rosa in college in the Dominican Republic. I was always impressed by her intelligence, her shy smile, and her gentle demeanor. I haven´t seen her in almost twenty years, but thanks to social networks, I have had the opportunity to follow her journey and celebrate her courage to pursue the life and career of her dreams. Today I am honored to share her story. Brava Rosa!
The first time Laura asked me to write an essay for her blog I was thirty-six years old. As an actress living in New York, I had done a few commercials, short films, and off-off-Broadway plays. I was in my third year of touring the United States in a one-woman show where I got to play Frida Kahlo, Rufina Amaya, and Alfonsina Storni, and sang beautiful Latin folk songs accompanied by chamber music. Laura wanted me to write about my professional journey.
I could not write that essay at the time. I got overwhelmed by the feeling of not being there yet. I had not made it yet. I was not rich (I still had to supplement my income with bookkeeping gigs), or famous. I was not in any major movies or TV shows. What could I say that would mean anything to anyone? I needed to do more, be more, before I could demand any attention. A few years later, when Laura asked me to reconsider (you must love a friend who will not give up on you), I said yes. Although I still had not made it, I felt there was something interesting about that. Maybe I just needed to tell my story and let it be what it was.
As a little girl I loved to sing and dance. I enjoyed living in the world of my favorite songs, getting into character, and singing from the heart. I went to an elementary school where the girls took ballet, instead of sports, and participated in multiple dance recitals every year. I lived for those shows. At nine years old I got to dance in a musical theater show at the biggest stage in the Dominican Republic, El Teatro Nacional. I was an extremely shy and anxious kid but when I was on a stage I would sail away to a world of my own.
As I got older, however, I began to internalize that there was only one kind of successful life available to me. The journey to get there was clear: get good grades, go to college and study a real career (Engineering, Architecture, Medicine, Law, Business Administration… something along those lines), get a good job, get married, have children, and visit the grandparents on weekends. That was the destination, and I was committed to getting there. My artistic inclinations had to be something I entertained in my spare time, and nothing more. At the end of my senior year of high school I decided to study civil engineering at a school that offered me a scholarship.
College was smooth sailing but, once I was done, it felt like I was just riding the waves, going wherever they took me with no real aim. I moved to the United States to live with my parents and tried to get a job in engineering. After a few months of no luck and urged by my father to start paying my way through life (the nerve!), I went on to work several temp jobs. I accepted a permanent position at a bank, a nice enough place to work, but anxiety kicked in soon enough. The job had nothing to do with engineering, so I moved back to the Dominican Republic and became supervisor of construction of a small town’s courthouse. This was a proper job for a newbie civil engineer.
I went on to supervise wastewater treatment plants at several resorts in touristic areas of the country right after. This seemed like a forward movement but, in all honesty, I still felt like I was coasting. I was traveling to the States every few months to maintain my permanent resident status and making barely enough to pay for my flights, so I decided to move back for a while. The plan was to get a master’s degree while I ran the clock, process my citizenship when the time came, go back to my job in the Dominican Republic, and move on to the next step of the journey: start a family.
Back in the States, I followed in the footsteps of a college friend who had just completed a master’s in construction management at New York University. I was accepted to the school and my friend and I rented an apartment together in The Bronx. Living in New York city, I got to experience a world like nothing I knew before, full of art, different cultures, and new experiences. I was exposed to people following wildly different journeys from mine. Somewhere inside I began to wonder whether my chosen path was right for me. On a whim, I found a private singing teacher on Craigslist and had a session. This tiny detour ignited something, though I didn’t go back. I finished the master’s program fearing that I might want nothing to do with construction.
Toward the end of school, I had started working with a commercial real estate broker I met in the program. I became his office manager and got my real estate salesperson license. Our plan was to start a construction management company in the not-so-distant future, so I felt reluctantly on track. Being out of graduate school and working full-time shined a light on my deep professional uncertainty. It became clear that if I had to work an unexciting job for the rest of my life, I had to do something I enjoyed with my free time. I had earned it. I contacted the singing teacher from the year before and began taking lessons. I tried to find some sort of community theater where I could perform for fun. The first result of my google-search was a small acting school in the Theater District of Manhattan, and I followed the impulse to interview for their three-month introductory class. I remember overhearing my interviewer, the school founder, say to his office manager after we were done: “she is in; she is a lot more serious about this than she thinks she is.” He was right.
During this class I got back in touch with my artistic side and met a group of people who saw performing as a serious profession, a craft, something to work on and get better at; a respectable way of making a living, however modest. I was blown away by this and by the end of the class felt I had found a tribe and a lifestyle that resonated with me. I decided to go through their full two-year acting program and transitioned from working with the real estate broker to working at the acting school (which allowed me to get free classes – acting classes are expensive in New York!). I should also mention that in this program I met the man I went on to marry, a soul I needed to meet, a catalyst for much growth in my life.
The next few years were challenging, but I felt I was accessing something real within myself. I acted and sang. I joined a band and began writing original songs.
As our graduation project, my acting class did an off-off Broadway production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I was cast as the lead, Juliet, a fantastic experience. I had fully adopted a new map with a clear destination: to become a successful actress. This meant performing on Broadway stages, TV and the big screen, and making lots of money. My new journey involved sustaining myself with flexible gigs that allowed me to go on auditions and do whatever acting work I could book. Eventually, I started working with agents and got commercial, voice over, and theater work. Instead of spending my thirties building my selected respectable career, getting married and having children, I spent them starting over and exploring a completely new world.
I had some profitable years in acting but, as it often happens, there were also times when I could not get any work. The life of the average actor is not easy. The hustle to survive and the constant rejection can make you bitter and resentful. To further our careers, my husband and I launched a production company and created a web series and several short films of our own. There were moments of wonderful artistic fulfillment, but money did not always follow. Between financing artistic projects and the cost of living in New York, debt piled up and we both had to go back to full-time office jobs to take care of it.
I was hit with feelings of failure and wondered if I had, once more, chosen the wrong path. As I pushed through, however, I realized things were not so bad. I found myself enjoying the financial stability and the new steady schedule and, most importantly, the free time and a sense of possibility. I felt inspired to focus on music again. Remember that band I mentioned earlier? After a ten-year hiatus I reunited with my guitar player and we started a new project: MABI, a Dominican duo.
We have been hard at work and look forward to sharing original songs with the world soon. Come see us at Arlene’s Grocery Oct 11 @ 7:00pm.
Now that I am forty, I am letting go of the need to follow a rigid path to a pre-set place where I can consider myself successful. I am a unique individual, and it makes sense that my idea of success and my journey are unique, as they are for everyone else. There is nothing wrong with riding the waves and exploring, or even changing the route when necessary. The beauty of life is that our journeys will never be completed and our destination is unknown. Failures are feedback from the universe about what we can change or improve along the way. We have the power and the right to choose our direction and enjoy the journey. To quote the great Bob Dylan: “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” It sounds like a good way to live our lives.
About Rosa Rodríguez
Dominican singer/songwriter, director, actress, and producer, based in New York city. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the Institute of Technology of Santo Domingo and a master’s degree in Construction Management from New York University. She studied the Meisner technique of acting at The Acting Studio New York. Rosa is a co-founder of Room 1209 Productions and lead singer of MABI, a Dominican duo. Go see them at Arlene’s Grocery Oct 11 @ 7:00pm. Follow @mabimusicny and @room1209productions on Instagram for more info.