Still Daisy Eagan After All These Years
In 1991, at 11 years old, Daisy Eagan made history when she became the youngest female ever to win a Tony Award for her performance as Mary in The Secret Garden. In the 20 years since, she starred in a reality TV series, moved to Los Angeles, graduated from college and quit show business...almost. After several LA performances, Eagan is bringing her one-woman show, Still Daisy After All These Years, to the Laurie Beechman Theater for a one-night only performance on Monday night.
Eagan moved to Los Angeles in 2003 as a serious case of audition fright began to impact her stage career in New York. "I got to a point where I couldn't go in the room without having a freak out," she remembers. "Auditioning is a skill, and I was never taught that skill." As long as she was offered a role, she adds, she could perform, but auditioning was becoming more challenging. "I came out here ostensibly to get away from theater and do more TV and film, which I ended up not liking at all." And so three-and-a-half years ago, she called it quits and went back to school at Antioch University in LA, earning her BA in Psychology and Creative Writing.
"I had an affinity for psychology, and I felt like I wanted to focus on that," she remembers. It meant, on the other hand, that she had to turn down jobs in order to go to classes-but this was not entirely a bad thing. "I was disinterested," she says about performing in Los Angeles. "The TV gigs I had done were not sparking my flame. I didn't enjoy being on set. I saw the actors who were regulars on these shows, and they weren't happy. I thought that once you booked a big gig, you could relax. But I realized, you don't relax at all. There's more pressure to get next thing, to be skinny, be to skinnier. It was not the way I wanted to spend my life."
But she hadn't entirely abandoned the stage, performing occasionally in small cabarets and benefits. "My friend Jamie McGonnigal asked me to come to New York and sing in a concert for [Secret Garden composer] Lucy Simon," she remembers. "I said yes because he's a good friend and I wanted to be there." Still, she adds, she needed to drink in order to get on the Joe's Pub stage. "A few months later, I came back and did one song at Town Hall for a concert, and despite some stage fright, I was enjoying it. When I came back to LA, I said yes to people asking me to sing songs here and there, and I started enjoying it."
After graduating from Antioch, Eagan began working towards her master's degree at a different college, and was planning to transfer back to Antioch when she found she couldn't write the application essay. "I think it was because I was performing in cabarets and benefits again, and I was having fun." Friends began encouraging her to tell her own story, and in July of 2010, she premiered her one-woman show in LA. "I found I really enjoyed performing again after years of not enjoying it," she says. "So I decided to put off school for a bit and reassess."
Eagan had never expected to return to the business, and admits that even she is surprised to be performing again. "So far, it's great. I'm having a good time with it. I'm not getting wrapped up in the whole business of the business. I'm doing what I enjoy." Part of the fun, she adds, is going out and defying people's expectations. "When I was younger, I had to live up to other people's expectations. Now I'm thumbing my nose at them."
By "thumbing her nose," Eagan says that she means being brutally honest about her life and her views. "I think some people still imagine me as 11, and with just cause," she says. "That was when I was in the public view. Now I'm 31 and a confident adult, and I'm not afraid to offend people. It takes them by surprise."
To create her show, Eagan thought about her story and picked songs that she felt were relevant to it. Some she sang in productions, and others simply fit into her narrative. She even put out a request for suggestions on Facebook, and used a recommendation from a friend. "There's no script. I knew what I wanted to talk about," she says. "I had the good fortune to get Brad Ellis, the pianist from Glee, to be my pianist. He helped me shape the show."
Getting the show to the stage, however, was only half the battle. "When I did show in July, it was three hours," she laughs. "I had no idea! My watch had stopped running, and I thought we were great for time. Now, it's like, how did I not realize?! It was great! The audience was with me the whole time." Since then, she has cut the show in half--a process that she admits was painful. "I watched it and wrote down what worked, then cut it and made a bullet point list. And I keep a clock onstage so I can keep it under 90 minutes. It was tough to cut out stuff that I feel is worth talking about," she adds. "At 31, I have more than 20 years in the business. My mom died when I was 13, and there's lots of stuff to share that I feel is worth sharing. It's not masturbatory. This story could be helpful for others."
As a former child star, Eagan has very specific advice for young performers: "Whenever a parent tells me that their kid wants to be an actor, I'm like, 'Don't do it!'" she laughs, making a few off-color comments about stage parents. "I think that my advice to everybody is to have fun. The minute it stops being fun, step back and ask why you're doing it. Before I quit the business, my therapist said, 'Who are you doing this for? Who are you an actor for?' And I couldn't answer. She said, 'If the answer isn't "myself," consider why you're doing this.' I don't think I understood that till now. I had to step away to look at it for what it is."
Keeping art both fun and profitable is a challenge, she admits. "It's hard when it's your livelihood. It's hard to keep your heart in what pays your bills. I do go to schools and I talk to kids. Especially in TV and film and in theater, people will say awful things to your face about the way you look and what you weigh and what you're wearing. The best thing to remember is that these people are saying things out of fear and self-loathing. The industry is filled with executives who are not creative and only want to hire you if you were on TV last week." The constant rejection in the business, she adds, can be painful. "When I did The It Factor, I said that you have to have thick skin. But I didn't have thick skin at all. I let it get to me. And who knows? If I get back in, it may get to me again. Just remember the reason people say these things has little to do with you."
For now, Eagan is excited to be returning to the New York stage. Her show, she says, is less of a concert and more of a play with music, with plenty of patter. "Expect honesty," she laughs. "This is not a show for little kids. I am getting up there and having good time and doing my thing."
From This Author Jena Tesse Fox