I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
I was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas…yes, the same place as Dorothy and Toto. And yes, that annoying flat stretch of farmland you have to fly over to get from one coast to the other. It’s not the most popular destination spot on the map, but to me, it’s home.
I never meant to leave it. Honestly, I never thought I would; most people don’t. But you see, I was smitten with the idea of adventure and storytelling. I was a dreamer – this curly-haired cowgirl from Kansas with her head in the clouds. Before I go on, I must warn you – summarization is not one of my strengths. Secondly, (spoiler alert), I can save you a lot of time by admitting that what this story really is about is how I am still that girl…just a bit more grown-up. It took me a while to come to that realization. The road was far from simple, and I stumbled along the way more times than I can count. I still do as my journey is far from over, but I am grateful. The ups and downs, the moments of success and rejection, the times of thrilling excitement, and the profoundly longing for a home have brought me to this point in life. So with that being said, I invite you to read my adventure – the story of how I came to be at the Delray Beach Playhouse and write this blog to you.
I suppose I’ll start at the beginning. I grew up in the most beautiful family you could imagine. I’m not sure why God blessed me with them, but I am eternally thankful He did. My parents did everything within their power to give me the best childhood possible. From an early age, I was interested in so many sports and activities – softball, basketball, track, cheerleading, horseback riding, and of course, theatre. They took me to every practice and rehearsal and attended every game, every event, and show. They entertained my love of playing dress-up, and when I told my parents around the age of five that I wanted to be on T.V., they enrolled me in classes at the Wichita Children’s Theater. I loved it. The stage, the lights, the costumes, the dressing rooms, the props, the rehearsals, the audience, the art itself of acting – I loved all of it. But then…I gave it up.
I had gotten my first agent, did a few local commercials, and attended a couple of showcases where representatives from Los Angeles and New York would come to scout “fresh faces.” I received a few callbacks from these agents who invited me to “come out for the summer,” and we would “see what happens,” but this was completely unrealistic for my family of five. So, I ended up with the silly idea in my head that acting was something that would have to wait until I was older and could move to a place like L.A. on my own.
Once I hit high school, acting became even more just a part of my past. I had to choose which extracurricular activities I would do – theatre or sports? Rehearsals and practice were held at the same time, so doing both wasn’t an option. I chose the latter, and the idea of being an actor continued to fade.
During this time, I cannot tell you the number of late nights my poor mom stayed up consoling me as I confessed to her how I had this silly, stupid dream of being an actor that wouldn’t go away. I prayed that it would somehow disappear – that one day, I would wake up, and all of a sudden, I’d have a new passion. It didn’t work, but I always had my mom. She never faltered in her ability to make me feel better. She’d say, “Kayla, God doesn’t put dreams in your heart if you’re not meant to follow them.” Her support was and still is to this day what has gotten me through every hardship in my life. But it’d be a boring story if I’d taken her advice right away, right? I didn’t listen to her – not yet anyways.
After high school, I decided to take a softball scholarship to play for an NCAA Division II team at a local university and study Biology as a pre-med student. I often wondered what would have happened had I followed through on that childhood dream of mine, but I quickly shook these feelings and convinced myself that studying to become a doctor was the practical, no-nonsense career choice. I was headstrong, stubborn, and determined to stick to the plan I had for myself – keyword “I.” However, God had other plans.
This is the point in my story where (as The Fresh Prince would say) “my life got flipped, turned upside down.” I was an outfielder for the Newman University Jets. One spring evening, as my team and I were warming up before a game, I had a fly ball hit deep. Running full speed and eyes on the ball, I had no idea the fence was quickly approaching. Boom! The next thing I knew, I was staring up at the sky. I attempted to get up and brush myself off; however, the feeling of dread soon overcame me as I realized I was incapable of doing so. My ankle was broken and the size of a melon. I knew I was done for the season. What I didn’t realize was that that was the last time I would ever play softball.
After wearing a cam-walker boot for several months, remaining bone fragments and spurs made surgery unavoidable. One night a couple of weeks post-operation, my mom noticed me attempting (despite the cast) to rub my calf. I told her it was nothing, but my mom wasn’t buying it and insisted I see the doctor the next day. Reluctantly, I listened to her, thinking she was a worrisome mother, but she had every reason to believe something was wrong. At just 19 years old, I ended up having a massive blood clot throughout my entire left leg. The veins in my calf and popliteal were blocked entirely, and my femoral vein had a large clot that slightly moved up and down with each breath I took. Immediately, I was taken to the hospital, where doctors discovered pieces of the blood clot from my leg had broken off and traveled through my heart and into my lungs – otherwise known as multiple pulmonary emboli. For about a week, I stayed in the hospital only to return a couple of days later and be placed in ICU as my condition worsened. I had a saddle embolus where a blood clot is close to blocking the pulmonary artery. It was a scary, precarious situation – one that nobody knew if I’d recover from. Despite being the worst patient imaginable, I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you to know that my mom was my rock and never left my side.
God ended up giving me a second chance, and although I was grateful, I’m embarrassed to say that I was also angry that it had happened in the first place and confused as to why it had happened. Due to missing so much school, I medically withdrew from one of my mandatory science courses, putting me a whole year behind. Also, I had to continue taking blood thinners, so my softball career was over. I wasn’t happy. The invincible, young athlete I had always identified to be was no more. I was vulnerable, frail, and barely able to walk a few steps without having to stop to catch my breath. So, remember that plan I had for myself? Yeah, it went out the window.
Eventually, I stopped sulking and started to regain my positivity. I decided to enroll as a guest student in a theatre course the following spring at Friends University – a decision that changed my life forever. In a matter of weeks, I felt like I had finally come home – to the place where I was supposed to be. After everything I had been through, I concluded that life was too short not to do what you want to do. Finally, I dared to break free from the practical, planned-out future and go for my passion and dream career. God’s plans were more significant than my own, and my mom’s words could not have rung truer – “God doesn’t put dreams in your heart if you’re not meant to follow them.” The time had finally come to follow them.
I graduated from Friends University in 2013 with two degrees – a B.A. in English/Drama and a B.A. in Spanish. My time there was nothing less than magical. I had the most wonderful mentor, Dr. Charles Parker, made forever friends, and grew into an artist ready to move to L.A.
I said goodbye to Kansas in the fall of 2013, packed my car up with as much as I could, and headed out west quite literally into the unknown. I had no idea of the many adventures to be had, mistakes to be made, lessons to be learned, and memories to be cherished. My almost five years there were a fun roller coaster ride – lots of ups and downs, twists and turns, and mostly “noes” but some “yeses.” I became a SAG-AFTRA actor and worked on nearly thirty different professional films and T.V. projects. I gained experience working not only in front of the camera but behind the scenes as well. First, I paid my dues as a Production Assistant, but then I eventually worked my way up to 2nd Assistant Director, 1st Assistant Director, Production Coordinator, Associate Producer, and Producer. I taught advanced-level acting students at the Will Wallace Acting Company, where I studied as a master’s student. I also taught cold-reading techniques at the SAG Conservatory at the American Film Institute.
Many amazing things came out of L.A. (I’ll dive into more in future blogs), but by far, the best thing was meeting my now-husband. We met in September of 2014 at a coffee shop and became pretty much inseparable. He proposed in July of 2018, and by August, we moved across the country to South Florida. The decision was unexpected, but he had family here, and opportunities we felt were worth exploring. We discovered that success in film almost always came from opportunities you create for yourself; therefore, we didn’t necessarily need to be in L.A. So with that in mind, we set out on a new adventure in the Sunshine State.
Our first year in Florida was primarily focused on planning and saving up for our wedding, which took place in August of 2019. However, we did immerse ourselves into the small film community here, and we’re fortunate to work on several productions. After our wedding, I worked on a couple of independent films and was in the middle of filming a Lifetime movie, when suddenly…Covid hit. The world, as we all know, came to an abrupt halt. Many people were left without employment, especially artists. I honestly had no clue what to do, so I started studying real estate. Months of zoom meetings ensued where I tried desperately to enjoy this new potential career, but I just couldn’t. Real estate is all about networking. Not only did I not know too many people in Florida, but with lockdown going on, it was implausible I was going to expand my contacts anytime soon. One night, I was left alone with my thoughts, and I couldn’t help but think about how much I missed theatre. It had been so long since I had performed on stage, and I desperately needed a dose of happiness. I was a member of an audition group on Facebook, so I picked up my phone to see if there happened to be any audition notices. After a couple of scrolls down, there it was beaming from my phone screen – “Auditions for Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers at the Delray Beach Playhouse.”
I’ll never forget the moment I first stepped into the Playhouse with its red, starry carpet, cozy mainstage, and breathtaking lake views. I was just in awe of this wondrous little place, the hidden gem on Lake Ida. As I went backstage to where the costumes, props, and set dressing are kept, the same feeling I had as a little girl playing dress-up overcame me. I knew – at last, I had found my happy place.
After performing in the role of Bella, my good fortune continued when I was given the offer to come on board as the Summer Camp Director, an opportunity that felt full circle in many ways. My love for acting began in theatre at such a young age, and now, here I am at a place that makes me feel that same way all over again, only this time I’m the one with the privilege of showing kids the magic that is theatre. It’s an honor.
As I have settled in at the Playhouse and begun my work, I have contemplated how best to give these aspiring thespians a shot at success. What advice do I have for them? If there is a child who doubts themselves or the road ahead at any time, what do I say? And then I smiled as it hit me…
“God, the universe, whatever you believe in does not put dreams in your heart if you’re not meant to follow them.”
Thank you, Mom, for everything.