Television, film actress and author Tina Sloan will perform in Wilmington next month at the invitation of her good friend, Emmy award-winning writer Donna Swajeski — director of the Delaware Children’s Theatre. On April 18th at 7:30 pm the Delaware Children’s Theatre will offer a special benefit performance of “Changing Shoes,” Sloan’s one-woman autobiographical play. In the show, Sloan muses about the meaning of life and finding the courage to transform oneself when life’s spotlight seems to have dimmed. The light-hearted and humorous performance is a unique fundraising idea for the historic theatre, which hopes to raise money for long-needed renovations.
Sloan played the part of Lillian Raines on Guiding Light for 26 years, and Swajeski was a writer on the CBS daytime drama. Sloan also appeared in several other television shows and films, including Black Swan, The Brave One, and Changing Lanes. Changing Shoes filled theaters in New York and now tours the country. Town Square Delaware chatted with Sloan to gain insight into her life and her wildly successful show.
TSD: ‘Changing Shoes’ is your honest, personal story with a message to women about staying in the game as they go through life. Why is this important?
Tina Sloan: I think women lose the sense that there are possibilities out there for them as they age. So when they see a woman who has aged and been able to stay relevant, I think it makes them believe they too can do it. They can surmount problems since everyone has them, and staying in the game makes life worth living – one doesn’t want to be sidelined as one gets older, and one doesn’t have to be. That is the message of staying in the game.
TSD: Please tell us about the autobiographical show you will perform here in Wilmington. What resonates with your audiences, and what can we look forward to?
Sloan: The show ranges all over like any life. It starts with pounding the pavement and going to Paris as a young naive girl and goes through success, which is wonderful, then marriage and my son is born. I start doing movies with big stars, I play in a soap opera with hilarious moments and then start to deal with the real soap opera of aging parents, gaining weight, my son who goes to Iraq from Harvard, and my diminishment on the show. And then the comeback, and how I did that, makes audiences want to make a comeback themselves. Different parts of the show touch different people. Those who are dealing with loss of parents or taking care of them identify with this part. Younger women identify with gaining weight or becoming “invisible” all of a sudden. People laugh and cry a lot.
TSD: You have impressively competed in eight marathons and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. What’s the most difficult thing you have ever done?
Sloan: The most difficult thing I have ever done was to be brave and undramatic while my son, who was my only child, was in the Marines in Iraq in 2006 and again in 2009. This is played out in the play as well. I think climbing mountains (I also did Annapurna Refuge in Nepal as well as Kilimanjaro and running marathons) teaches you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
TSD: Is there something cathartic about sharing your personal experiences with audiences around the country?
Sloan: I think so. I always say to myself before I go onstage that I want to change someone’s shoes tonight. I want to help them see a new direction is possible. I want to touch the audience in some way and have had big strapping men tell me they cried about my parents, though they hadn’t cried when their own parents were sick.
TSD: Before landing your role on Guiding Light, you yourself pounded the pavement in your quest for an agent and a starring role. What advice do you have advice for young aspiring actors?
Sloan: Stamina and persistence are huge assets. I got my very first commercial but then the next 100 I didn’t get. Then I started getting lots and lots of commercials, but I had to keep believing when I got rejected those 100 times and trusting I was good.
And you have to be nice— I know I got work because I didn’t tell the agents how great I was but asked them about themselves, and I listened and remembered. I kept notes about agents, so when I talked to them again, I could bring up something they were interested in.
Many actors who are very talented get sidelined if they are too cocky. I remember doing an audition with a man who was up for the soap opera I was on to play opposite me, and he was so sure of himself that I thought, ‘I don’t want to work with him everyday if he is going to be like that.’ The directors asked me who I liked and I told them someone other than that man. He was good but so was the man who was nice. So personality is really important. They ask hairdressers and wardrobe people what they think of auditioning actors. The producers want to get someone who will work well with everyone and not be difficult. And there are lots of very good actors out there.
So that brings us to luck. You have to be out there to be lucky. You have to be seen and be around. You aren’t going to be lucky by staying home. You need to knock on doors and make the calls to get the agent.
TSD: Soap operas, live theater, movies or television series? What direction would you point to for the next generation of actors?
Sloan: Soap opera was an amazing way to learn to act. You got paid to learn as it was 52 weeks a year and 5 days a week that you worked on a soap opera. It was constant work. But there are too few soaps these days for many actors to get them.
Theater is such a good way to go, and probably one needs to do theater to get the chutzpah to go on auditions for movies and TV series. Here is a great example of what soap opera teaches you: I was in a movie as Ben Affleck’s mother-in-law, Amanda Peet’s mother and Sydney Pollack’s wife. Pretty thrilling. We were at a table talking, and I had to have a long non-sequitur speech. So we would be chatting before the scene and then 5-4-3-2-1, and I had to start on this really hard monologue. Rather difficult to do anywhere, but in front of Pollack and Affleck and Peet, it was a bit intimidating, but the years of soaps kept me doing it perfectly each time. You need to have a really strong spine to do auditions, and theater will help you build your spine. Looks are important in TV and movies, so keeping yourself in good shape physically helps.