Runnin' Down a Dream
The first time I ever read an issue of Backstage was in the eleventh grade. I had just transferred to a performing arts high school after dropping out of the International Baccalaureate program. My new acting teacher had past issues piled high on the book shelf by her desk. I was the new girl and didn't know a single soul. I grabbed one of the issues as a diversion so I didn't look completely pathetic waiting for someone to talk to me.
It was the beginning of my junior year and I felt like I had outgrown my small southern town. I was discouraged that my aspirations to be an actress weren't taken seriously. The year before, I had gone to New York City for my Sweet 16. I had met an older woman in a Starbucks. She struck up a conversation with me and before long I had confided my dirty secret to her; I wanted to be an actress.
I was used to the scornful comments that mocked such proclamations in Florida. I had grown accustomed to adults thinking it was some silly pipe dream that would fade away. However, she greeted my confession with a simple, "Well, this is the place you're meant to be!"
With that, I became obsessed with moving to New York City. I knew there was no place else I wanted to be. It was challenging to stick it out in Florida but dropping out of high school wasn't an option. Both my parents are teachers and I knew a part of me wanted to finish school, just on my own terms.
It was a blessing and a curse to know exactly what I wanted to do at 16. A blessing because I had a purpose to work towards, a passion that fueled me to leap outside my comfort zone even if I couldn't get a guaranteed promise to land where I wanted. A curse because I didn't really care to learn much of anything that didn't relate to the arts. I would be sitting in Calculus and quietly muttering, "Useless, this is never going to be of use to me and it's giving me a headache." I had a dream, I knew what I wanted to do, and I wasn't going to let it go.
I decided I was going to graduate high school a year early, get my first job, and move to NYC by the summer after junior year. The whole time I continued to read every last issue of Backstage where I learned about SAG/AFTRA/AEA, various theatres, and scoured advice from New Yorkers.
On June 7, 2007 at the age of 17, I moved into an East Village apartment I found on Craigslist. It was the most thrilling time in my life. There was a magazine bodega on my corner and I bought an issue of Backstage. I took it to Madison Square Park with a list of NY Agents and started sealing envelopes with headshots inside that I had just gotten back from the printer. Secret: I'm a natural blonde.
That week, I got my very first booking through a Backstage casting call for a Ben Lee music video called "Love Me Like The World Is Ending." I had seen him perform the summer before when he opened for Rooney. I immediately called all of my high school friends to tell them the exciting news. As history has proved, it commonly backfires to embarrassment when an actor shares news too early. Low and behold, a few of his friends streaked on set to play a practical joke and the police took away the production's filming permit for "public indecency."
When I was 18, I booked my first supporting role in Cupid's Arrow. I got the part after taping an audition and sending it through YouTube. A difficult roommate's antics lead us to the local 24 hour Dunkin Donuts at 1AM to film in time for the deadline the following morning. For the callback, the casting director asked if I would kindly retape in a more secluded location.
Booking that role was my first opportunity to see Los Angeles. I stayed in West Hollywood during the production. I took the bus everywhere when we weren't filming. I had matzoh ball soup for the first time at Canter's Diner. One day, a sweet elderly man pointed out the "Marilyn Booth." The one that one Ms. Marilyn Monroe always requested when she used to bring her scripts in to study during lunch. I was mesmerized by his stories. The only thing I didn't like off that bat was depending on people for rides around the city, I much preferred the independence of using the subway in NYC.
One day, while I was on set I started looking up colleges in New York City. Most of my friends from high school were sending in their applications and I figured I might as well apply in case I wanted to go the following fall. I applied to Hunter College on the Upper East Side at 68th Street and Lexington Ave.
I started Hunter a few months later. It completely changed my life. I became fascinated with film production, started entertainment hosting, and joined school groups advocating gender equality . One of my favorite parts of school was getting college credit to interview celebrities on the red carpet and at press junkets. I got to see movies before they were officially released and interviewed some of my heroes that inspired me growing up.
However, it was really frustrating attempting to balance school and potential shoot dates if I booked a project. When I was 19, I booked the part of Samantha on The Oranges. I had finals the week of production and just barely pulled off convincing my professors to let me make them up. Once again, I felt trapped being in a commitment to school and decided to graduate early. I doubled my course load and graduated when I was 20. I got a BA in Media and Women Gender Sexuality with a minor in theatre.
I moved to Los Angeles on December 29, 2010 and recently celebrated my one year anniversary of the move. My first year here was a whirlwind. Admittedly, I didn't love LA at first. I had fallen in love with NYC so quickly and I was discouraged that LA didn't feel the same way. However, I'm entering 2012 from a different perspective than I started with last year.
By the way, my name is Cassidy Gard. I am named after a Grateful Dead song and my middle name is Rainforest. I live in West Hollywood with my dog Hazel. I really love cooking, antiquing, and hiking Runyon Canyon. Last year, I read Alicia Silverstone's book The Kind Diet and after being an on/off pescatarian for years, I've truly commited to eating organic, locally grown vegetables and become very passionate about animal rights.
I'm originally from Gainesville, Florida and I listen to a lot of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers because we're both from the same hometown. I relate to a lot of his lyrics because he sings about believing in yourself, pursuing desires greater than yourself, and that life is much shorter than we ever realize. The song, "Runnin' Down a Dream" became my anthem in high school. These lyrics have always pushed me to propel forward:
"I rolled on as the sky grew dark
I put the pedal down to make some time
There's something good waitin' down this road
I'm pickin' up whatever's mine."
I'm inspired by quotes because they consistently remind me to live for the moment, go with the flow, and follow my goals so I won't be plagued with regrets one day.
I'm really honored to join a talented community of actors willing to share their stories, the highlights as well as the turning points that all bring us to learn something new about ourselves. Just seven years ago, I read Backstage for the first time wondering how I was ever going to pull off pursuing a passion that seemed so out of reach. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences an actress in both Los Angeles and New York City.