We had the good fortune of connecting with Claire Blackwelder and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Claire, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
When pursuing an artistic career, it can be difficult to draw a distinct line between “work” and “life.” Perhaps I’m being a bit precious, but as an actor I believe that it is crucial to have a wealth of real world participation to draw from in order to invest in an honest performance. Of course, the study and practice of one’s “craft” (as much as I’ve come to cringe at that word) is essential, but there is no book or course that can be a substitute for experiences and connections not presented strictly through the lens of acting. So much of what we bring to the stage or screen comes from late night debates around a bottle of whiskey, or strained confessions while trudging up a mountain. This question of a “work life balance” is even further complicated when we consider the fact that many artists – or any working adult these days, for that matter – must supplement their preferred profession with a side hustle or day job, and the hours available to us to pursue our passion are drastically reduced. I have held many odd jobs over the years, and have had to be really intentional with my time outside of my money making hours. And you know…flexibility has played a huge role in figuring out how to keep all these plates spinning! The work life balance of a performer is constantly changing (do I have an out of town gig this month or am I teaching piano from home most days?), and I have to be okay with the fact that my routine won’t look the same from week to week.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I had the great fortune and great affliction of knowing from a very early age that I wanted to be on stage. I begged my mom for piano lessons when I was five, auditioned for pretty much every school play growing up, and eventually moved to Los Angeles to study theatre at USC. While pursuing my degree, I studied Shakespeare at BADA in Oxford, performed and competed with the collegiate a cappella group The SoCal VoCals, and eventually booked my first professional acting job. During what would have been my senior year of college, I moved to New Zealand to film two seasons of Power Rangers while finishing my last undergraduate class online (I can now confirm that the lycra superhero suit IS as uncomfortable as it looks). I was overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to do what I love and receive a paycheck for it, but when I returned to LA I experienced a wave of imposter syndrome so strong it made me question my talent, drive, and passion. Not only is the life of an actor remarkably unstable, but it can feel selfish. In this day and age in particular, I have wondered what right I have to commit myself to this work simply for the love of it. However, I believe that as human beings we are obligated to seek a greater understanding of one another, and I love acting because it holds a magnifying glass to humanity. A life spent inhabiting other people demands open eyes and penetrative curiosity about the world and those who inhabit it, which is especially important in a time in which real human connection is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, and the polarization of our politics, lifestyles, and beliefs is happening at breakneck speed. We are in an era of constantly breaking molds, and as someone who has been described as a paradox for years, I have been compelled to explore what that means for my life and my work. I’ve wondered how as a classical pianist I could enjoy 90s hip-hop, or as a lover of Tolstoy I could be a lover of Muay Thai, or as an avid hiker from Idaho I could be an experienced LA mixologist. Hell, I’m even ambidextrous. Within the acting world, I have stammered when asked what I really want to focus on – am I a musical theater girl or a hardcore Shakespeare fanatic? I welcome this question now, and proudly answer, “both.” Since wrapping Power Rangers nearly six years ago (I feel ancient), I have belted 80s rock on a cruise ship, been stalked on screen in a couple Lifetime thrillers, shot arrows as Shakespeare’s Hippolyta in an amphitheater, donned a whole bunch of wigs in a parody musical, and played an old man in a young woman’s body in the world premiere of a new play on a black box stage. Acting is the plane on which my contradictions start to make sense. In reality, nobody “fits” anywhere, and I find it exhilarating to rediscover that fact over and over in my work. It has undoubtedly been extremely challenging to live almost an entire year now in a world with zero live theatre and minimal TV and Film production. Studying plays, watching movies, teaching piano, and participating in Zoom play readings are all delightful activities to curb my restlessness for now, but I am very eager for production to return to its full capacity, and I am confident that it will come back in a big way when it does.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
A whole week in Los Angeles! Oh boy, I’m going to pretend all my favorite spots are still open and functioning at their normal capacity. Well, I’d devote at least one day to hiking one of the big peaks in the mountains just outside the city – Mt. Baldy is a great one. To celebrate our accomplishment, we’d head back into town and get an Italian feast – complete with cocktails and wine – at Little Dom’s, where I used to bartend. Perhaps we’d check in on Marty & Elayne at The Dresden or cap off the night with a fernet from Kim at Ye Rustic Inn – my favorite Los Feliz dive. We’d need a beach day as well, so I’d take my friend for a run on The Strand in Manhattan Beach, followed by acai at Paradise Bowls. We’d bring a good book and stay for sunset too. Day three we’d spend downtown hitting up Grand Central Market, MOCA, and The Last Bookstore before getting Sushi Gen and catching a show at Blue Whale in Little Tokyo (RIP). Day four we would poke around my East Side neighborhood, walking the stairs in Silver Lake, getting coffee at La Colombe and brunch at Sawyer, perhaps wandering around the reservoir, and popping into antique shops. At night, we’d get happy hour drinks at Bar Flores in Echo Park, Thai at Night + Market, and then go dancing at The Satellite (RIP, again…). Day five I’d take my friend to The Getty and Malibu Pier, then to Abbott Kinney, followed by oyster happy hour at Dudley Market and ice cream at Salt & Straw. We’d probably have to visit my friend Steve behind the bar at The Brig too. Day six we’d spend at Huntington Library & Gardens in Pasadena, perhaps preceded by a hike up to Mt. Hollywood, above Griffith Observatory. We’d then go to my favorite taco stand in the valley. On the last day, I’d probably drive my friend through Hollywood just to see it but I don’t think we need to spend too much time there… Hopefully there would be a show somewhere like The Hollywood Bowl, The Greek Theatre, or The Troubadour. We’d sing karaoke too loudly at Break Room 86 afterwards and then stagger into the 101 Coffee Shop (RIP!!) for a 2 AM feast. Ah, Los Angeles… Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Call me old fashioned, but there’s absolutely no way I’d be actively pursuing my dreams without the support of my family. My parents and two sisters encourage, frustrate, ground, and inspire me every day.
John Perrin Flynn, Power Rangers, USC School of Dramatic Arts, Ken LeBleu, Bryan Carpender