Wednesday, April 26, 2017

New York Times: Misty Copeland and Sally Field talk of conquering career barriers and how it is important for artists to be politically active [Table For Three]

Sally Field and Misty Copeland discussed the social significance of their success over lunch at Charlie Bird in SoHo
(Hilary Swift for The New York Times)

Ms. Copeland
(Hilary Swift for The 
New York Times)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Table For Three

Philip Galanes

After the lunch plates were cleared away and the tape recorder was switched off, Sally Field turned to Misty Copeland, the first female African-American principal dancer in the history of American Ballet Theater, and quietly said, “You may think you’re fighting for a select group of women — for girls and women of color — but you’re fighting for me, too, and my granddaughters.”
Ms. Field, 70, a popular and critically acclaimed actress for more than five decades, winner of two Academy Awards and three Emmy Awards, was circling back, at the end of her conversation with Ms. Copeland, to underscore its guiding spirit: the common cause of women in the face of inequality.
Now starring on Broadway in “The Glass Menagerie,” the classic Tennessee Williams play, Ms. Field has traveled about as far as one can go (and worked tirelessly to get there) from her beginnings in light sitcoms such as “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun.”
Ms. Copeland, 34, considered a dance prodigy as a child, rose quickly through the ranks of classical ballet, overcoming chaotic family circumstances and injury before taking her place at the top tier of dance in 2015 — a black ballerina, and a lingering rarity among premier dance companies. Her performances with the American Ballet Theater, which begins its spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House next month, draw large, diverse crowds, reflecting her pop-star appeal.
She has used her influence to advocate greater inclusivity in dance and in society, not only through her performances, but also in endorsement deals, most notably with the clothing company Under Armour, and with her three books: a best-selling memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina”; the children’s book “Firebird”; and, most recently, “Ballerina Body,” which was released in March. 
Over lunch at Charlie Bird in SoHo (grilled octopus and burrata for Ms. Copeland; roast chicken with arugula salad for Ms. Field), they discussed the social significance of their success, the complicated childhoods that spurred them, and the political meaning of their work in the early days of the Trump administration.

Philip Galanes Do you know why we put you together?

Sally Field Oh, dear.

PG Because you reinvented the way people see you. That a prima ballerina can have brown skin and curves. That a major dramatic actress can start out in silly sitcoms. When did you first understand you’d have to fight for that?

SF Well, it’s harder for women in any arena than it is for men. It just is. And even more so in show business, where they shove women into stereotypical little boxes. But I was also battling television itself. If you had any success on TV in the ’70s, you could never transition into film. My agents and managers said: “No, no, no. You’re not pretty enough; you’re not good enough.”

PG Did you believe them?

SF Of course not. I fired them. But I believed them, too. We all have so many pieces inside us. One piece was injured because my feelings were hurt. Another piece, a driving one, was freaking angry at being told I wasn’t good enough. But even stronger than those was my desire to find the butterfly inside me, the one I’d first found in the seventh grade, doing my first scene on a school stage. Something happened. I found my own voice. All the other ones that said: Don’t do this, and don’t do that; they were gone. I felt the sparkle of being alive. Then it was gone. But I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to find it again and grow it and use it.

Misty Copeland When I first came into the ballet world, I didn’t feel any limits, which is interesting, because there are so many limits for black women. Growing up the way I did, struggling for day-to-day survival. Where are we going to stay? What are we going to eat? That made me such an introvert and so nervous about life. But when I came to ballet, at 13, it was the first time I felt calm and protected and beautiful.

PG I felt profound kinship with you when I read that you asked your mom to drive you to middle school the week before it began, as a test run. I did that, too.

MC I wish I’d known you. We would have been best friends.

PG I thought if I could just get everything perfect, you might not hate me.

SF We all sound very similar, and insecure.

MC My fear was that people would find out what was actually happening in my life. I was so ashamed of everything: the abuse of my stepfather, living in a motel. I was constantly hiding. I thought: If I’m on time and perfect, no one’s going to ask me any questions. Ballet was the first time — I know this sounds crazy, standing on a big stage, under bright lights — but it was the first time I felt safe. No one could touch me; no one could say anything to me. I could express myself. And nothing else mattered.

SF Exactly! My family was colorful, too, not as challenging as Misty’s, but there was a large degree of abuse. But I was lucky enough to go to school at a time when public school kids were introduced to the arts. And I was voracious about it. I could be me onstage. I could be ugly. I could be mean. I could be all the other colors that little girls weren’t allowed to be.

PG You were both young juggernauts. Sally starred in popular sitcoms as a teenager. Misty flew up the ballet ladder, arriving in the corps de ballet at A.B.T. at 17. Then there was a stalling. Misty stopped moving up so fast; Sally didn’t transition to serious roles. How did you deal with that?

SF When I got discovered — like “wham!” and just stepped into a television series — I couldn’t see enough to dream. But as I worked, my dreams began to open up. I wanted to be a real actor. I wanted to learn the craft, and all I knew was what I learned in high school. But it wasn’t until I got to the Actors Studio and began working with Lee Strasberg that I really knew where I wanted to go. I was “The Flying Nun” during the day and doing weird exercises at the Actors Studio at night. But I couldn’t even get on the list to read for serious roles. I said to myself: “That’s because I’m not good enough. When I’m good enough, it will change.”

PG And did it?

SF It did, but I don’t know if it was because I was good enough. Eventually, I got in the door, but I had to fight like holy hell. I’d hear people say: “Who let her in? We don’t want her here.” But I’d swallow my anger and use it to focus myself, because I knew the only way I’d be hired was if I was better than everyone else.

MC I can’t imagine dealing with outward, verbal attacks like that. In the ballet world, it’s all so hidden and sugarcoated.

PG Like when they told you to “lengthen” when they meant “lose five pounds?”

MC It’s all coded in ballet.

By Othalie Graham (@OthalieGraham 


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