Amy Oestreicher, 27, has been performing musical theater since she was a child. Her favorite roles include Anne Frank (Diary of Anne Frank), Eponine (Les Miserables), Maria (Sound of Music), Nancy (Oliver!), Marta (Company) and Baker’s Wife (Into The Woods). At the age of 18, Amy fell into a coma for months, and once she came to, she resolved that she would never become the “patient” or “victim” that her medical circumstances wanted her to be. She started a chocolate business, learned to cook and authored a food blog. In 2012, she wrote and starred in Gutless & Grateful: A Musical Feast, a one-woman musical about her unique journey. After being nominated for a Broadway World Award for Best Cabaret Debut, she reprised her show the following year at Stage 72 (read our review), The Bijou Theatre in Connecticut, and Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts as part of William Finn’s Cabaret Series.
Gutless & Grateful can be seen at 4 p.m. October 11 as part of the United Solo, the world’s largest solo theatre festival. (See Our story.) All shows are staged at Theatre Row: 410 West 42nd Street, New York City. To buy tickets, go to Telecharge.
For more information on Amy’s upcoming performances, art, motivation speaking and inspiring story, please go to www.amyoes.com.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I had always loved musical theatre and was always fascinated by how the art of song and story could be so seamlessly woven together to share a universal message and to inspire others. Coming out of a coma just as I was supposed to be entering my freshman year of college was disorienting. Suddenly, the career path that had seemed apparent to me my entire life was pushed to the wayside while I fought for my life. Although I had lost my ability to speak for a while, I committed myself to arts that I could express – I lost myself in the world of painting and mixed media and mounted three professional art shows. The Today show heard about my story and my art, and on their segment, I met David Friedman, a kind soul and a talented composer. I approached him with the idea of working together on a cabaret act. Two years later, using excerpts from my thousands of journal entries, and (some original) songs Gutless & Grateful premiered in New York.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
Theatre has always been my first love and felt like natural medium to tell my story. I had experienced years of setbacks, triumphs and frustrations in isolation. I didn’t appreciate the full scope of what I had undergone, and the impact it would have on others, until I got my story out there. As a performer, I long to connect with my community and share a message that will inspire others – that is the power of theatre. This was the first time I was telling my story in my own words as opposed to news coverage or word of mouth. It was my way of reclaiming my identity as a performer, and reclaiming the stage with an even stronger message. Helping yourself is a reward in one respect, but to know that your own struggles can heal others is transformative and uplifting.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I was accepted early decision into the prestigious musical theatre program at the University of Michigan and thought my life would be very straightforward. However, life taught me that you can have all the training in the world, but if life has other plans, you have to examine what lesson you are being taught – and then learn and grow from it. A dancer all of my life, it was alarming to wake up from a coma and suddenly be unable to sit up in a chair, or stand. It was hard to believe I would ever dance again. But every day I did little things – whatever made me feel like I was doing something – flexing my toes in bed, rotating my wrists – soon enough the physical therapist was giving me therabands, and before I knew it, I was the “runaway patient” constantly pacing the ICU. After each of my 27 surgeries I had to start all over again, relearning muscle memory. It was frustrating, but determination and passion for what made me feel vital kept an unnatural energy burning. As soon as I was able to, I trained diligently, although it was tempting to envy how much easier everything was as a pre-comatose teen, I kept looking forward and envisioned myself as a mosaic – broken apart but putting myself back together differently, yet unexpectedly beautiful.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
Yes, Yes, and YES. I was bombarded by pessimistic doctors and “can’t’s.” I was read my last rites, I was told I would never eat or drink again. I’ll never forget an innocent occupational therapist that told me to never give up, because one day I might even be able to walk on my own without a wheelchair – I couldn’t settle for that! As I became healthier, it was hard for others to not see me as “sick” even though my passionate determination could conquer an army. If I did listen to one person that told me “not yet”, “too soon”, or “when you’re healthier” – I would have never mounted art shows, taught yoga, be planning my wedding, or have performed Gutless & Grateful five times in three different states within three years. It’s that spark of “well maybe there’s a tiny chance” that lights a little fire in your soul. It’s what keeps you going, and puts the shimmer in your eye, igniting an unbeatable spirit.
It’s natural when someone tells you you can’t do something to think about it a bit. Many times I believed them. I went to auditions with bags attached to me, attended hot yoga daily while connected to an IV pump, and have gotten many funny looks and some awkward situation that embarrassed and upset me. It’s difficult to ignore what other people think of a career move, or a comment that touches on an insecurity. While creating Gutless & Grateful, it was easy to compare myself to former colleagues that were doing theatre, but “bigger” and “better” than I was – on Broadway, on tours, seemingly “breezing through” their career. But I think the most important (and difficult) thing for me was patience. Telling myself that I will get there – this is my own unique path, and as long as I am still doing what I love, in whatever shape or form, I am staying authentic to my own path.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
When Gutless & Grateful premiered in New York at the Triad Theatre in October 2012, everything came to fruition. I stopped comparing myself to others and realized that I had stayed true to myself. I was still the same performer I had always aspired to be, but now I was telling my own story rather than playing an ingénue in Guys & Dolls. It took more work, with a rockier path, but I was performing theatre that connected with audiences on an even broader level – inspiring others with my own. Total strangers felt like they knew me and offered me their own stories. For the first time, my story was being told in my own words. It was now no longer Amy Oestreicher the woman who’s stomach exploded, but Amy Oestreicher the actress, expressing her inspiring tale at the Triad. It felt like springboard for even more opportunity and my bridge to the world.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
After years of being isolated, it was difficult figuring out how to get back into the professional networking world. I was intimidated by the world of theatre and forgot how to form connections. So I did it the old-fashioned way: posting flyers everywhere, researching contacts for every news source I could get my hands on, and spreading my name shamelessly wherever I could. There were no shortcuts and it wasn’t easy, but worth it. It taught me valuable lessons about publicity and business, and I created invaluable connections.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Persistence. Never giving up, even when exhausted or overwhelmed by the idea of what I wanted to accomplish. I literally was a girl waking up from a coma trying to find her place in a big world with no clue where to start. So I just started somewhere – anywhere. And just kept going from there – blindly at first, but eventually finding a focus, and then following it intently, with an inherent faith that with this determination, I’d get there.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Finding myself and feeling happy for the first time since I came to. It was scary to be in a high school class getting ready for my senior prom one minute, and then suddenly being thrown into an alternate universe, where doctors already knew me, where my body was plugged into machines and felt very alien to me. It was devastating grappling with the reality of never being able to eat or drink again, which every doctor predicted. I could have given up millions of times, but I didn’t and I’m grateful I had the insanity to keep believing. I never gave up hope – I got depressed but I never threw in the towel. But more than that – I refused to just survive. Now I can truly say I am thriving. I’m doing what I love on a larger scale than I ever could have imagined. I’m reaching others in unforeseen ways. I love what I do.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
Start from anywhere. Don’t compare yourself and work with what you have. But don’t accept what you start with. Visualize what you’d like to be and manifest it – will it. The most important thing is to really tune into your passion and work from there – wherever it may lead you – no matter how crazy. If it is authentic, it’s real. And with a bit of dedication, it will happen.
– See more at: http://www.womanaroundtown.com/sections/woman-around-town/my-career-choice-amy-oestreicher-gutless-grateful-at-united-solo-festival#sthash.CZtHmj9z.dpuf