WOMEN CRUSH WEDNESDAY
So much of my journey has been working to get out of my own way mentally to allow myself to thrive.
Sarah Schenkkan, Instagram's An Actress Eats
Location: New York, New York
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Industry: Theatre/ Television
Most Recent Gig: Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Season 2).
Female Inspirations: Julia Turshen, Cherry Bombe (an online and in-print collective celebrating women and food), and Elisabeth Moss.
Current WCW: Michelle Williams.
Sarah Schenkkan brings a breath of fresh air to everything she does. When I spent my college years watching her work as an underclassman, I gushed over the way she made every role she played unique and original, with vigor and bite. Here in New York, her career has taken off quickly. From Wicked, to Amazon’s Z to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Sarah has had quite an incredible past few years as an actor in the city. But on top of these exciting gigs, she has also taken on a passion project that has grown into a popular NYC Instagram Food blog, An Actress Eats. She brings an equal authentic drive to this food blog and has merged her two passions: food and storytelling. To hear more about how Sarah developed her passion for food and storytelling and how she began her hit An Actress Eats blog, read below!
When did you begin performing?
SARAH: I was always a super creative kid - drawing, playing dress up with my brother, putting on shows in the living room - but I did my first play in kindergarten. There’s a photo of the curtain call (or whatever you’d call it for a bunch of rowdy six-year-olds), and I’m holding my sandwich board costume above my head with this huge grin on my face. I’ve kept that picture in every dressing room I’ve had over the years to remind me of that moment, that joy.
What inspired your love for food? Were you passionate about food as a child?
SARAH: A huge part of my love for food comes from childhood. Growing up, mealtimes were a priority in our house, and my Mom and Dad were both great cooks. My Dad used old hand-typed recipes cards from his mother and grandmother, and my Mom had a massive cookbook collection with notes scrawled in all the margins. Food was always shared and celebrated, whether it was at home cooking together or at a restaurant.
Traveling was a huge influence as well. I remember taking a trip to Italy when I was 10 and tasting so many things for the first time: octopus, fresh tuna with tomatoes and olive oil, real mozzarella. It blew my mind! Seeing other countries and exploring the culture through its food is the best way to get a sense of the place and its people; I felt it then and I feel it now.
You’ve had the opportunity to delve into the worlds of both theatre and television with great contracts. Which contract was your favorite and why? How do the two worlds compare and contrast?
SARAH: The ones that have probably had the most impact on me was my time on tour with Wicked and creating the role of Eleanor on Z. Wicked was one of my first jobs out of school, and it was like jumping onto a moving train: I did the callback in the morning, got the job in the afternoon, and flew out to join the cast six days later. I spent 18 months out on the road, and it was truly the job of a lifetime. I learned SO much, and felt, to my core, the gravity and thrill of being a part of something so much larger than myself. I couldn’t be more grateful for that time.
With Z, it was my first recurring role, and first time working on a new series, so again - tons to learn. Christina Ricci (the star and executive producer) and Tim Blake Nelson (who directed the pilot) were incredibly giving and created a great community of collaboration on set. I loved the challenge of tackling something new and getting to work on multiple episodes and alongside the writers and creators. It was tough saying goodbye to that one.
In terms of the differences, there’s obviously a ton: the style of the work, the schedule, the money (!!), and what parts of your brain you’re using every day. One difference that particularly struck me was the structure. With theatre (unless you’re jumping into an already running show) the cast and creative team starts and ends the journey together. With television and film, if you’re not the star of the series, chances are you’re on set for a few days or a week or two and that’s it. There’s not much acknowledgment of the journey ending for an actor, because for most of the cast and crew - they’re probably on to the next scene, trying to wrap before going into overtime! That was hard for me to get used to, that lack of closure. You just have to have those moments for yourself and step off into the next thing.
One similarity I found interesting was the sense of community. Growing up doing theatre, I couldn’t imagine how film or television sets could ever cultivate the family-feel that a theatre production could. In my experience, I’ve found that to be completely untrue. It’s hard to shoot all night or spend two hours in a makeup chair and not bond!
You’ve built this incredible Instagram NYC Food account on top of your acting career. What inspired you to create this account? Did you foresee it growing to this extent?
SARAH: While I was out with Wicked, we’d have tons of downtime. I used to map out places I wanted to try, and take myself on adventures - restaurants, coffee shops, cafes. When I got home, friends started asking me for recommendations for certain cities, and I realized how fun it felt to send them somewhere where I knew they’d have a great experience and a great meal. I hadn’t thought of starting any sort of account (Instagram hadn’t really caught on at that point), until I came back from another job a couple years later, burned out and looking for a new way to be creative.
In terms of growth, I still think I have a ways to go, but I didn’t anticipate the opportunities I’d have and how much positive feedback I’d get. It really does make the work worth it when someone tells me they tried and loved a place I posted about.
What are the struggles you deal with as an actor in the entertainment industry? How do you overcome them?
SARAH: There are a lot of things, but I think a large part of my personal struggle has come from managing my anxiety. It’s so easy to tie myself into knots over the future, how this or that audition went, wanting what I perceive others to have, etc. That can all be very draining. So much of my journey has been working to get out of my own way mentally, to allow myself to thrive.
For actors, there’s also (of course) the question of how you stay fulfilled and continue to grow during times of transition. I went through a really hard period this year: getting close to a few exciting roles and losing them in the finals, having to take a step back from work to have shoulder surgery, lots of frustration, disappointment, and doubt. I wouldn’t say I’m out of it yet, but this time has made me step back and take a hard look at what I actually want - not what I think I should want. That’s led to some interesting discoveries.
What has been your favorite restaurant or food or chef you discovered through your Instagram journey that has given you inspiration to keep pushing forward with the Actress Eats Instagram?
SARAH: I’ve met so many incredible people through this platform, but one person I always come back to is James Avatar from Queens Comfort in Astoria. It was a neighborhood brunch spot I loved (and still love), and he was there every weekend managing the line at the door, keeping everyone laughing and making sure they felt taken care of. I remember asking people in line if they knew anything about him, and nobody did. So I interviewed him. He had the most incredible story, and I felt very lucky to have gotten to write it down and share it with a community that loves him so much.
What are your hopes for the future of your journey as an actor and your Actress Eats Instagram account?
SARAH: I honestly feel like I’m still figuring it out, on both fronts. Acting wise, I’ve been working professionally for 10 years and living in NYC for 7. I’m at a point now where I’ve taken a step back to ask myself: now that you’ve had some time and experience, what are you really passionate about? What projects are the most exciting to you?
As for An Actress Eats, in the beginning, I had a different idea of where it would go and what my goals were. I’m not fixated on the numbers anymore, and I’m not willing to sacrifice my vision to promote something I’m not passionate about. I know what does interest me is storytelling, delving into more than just the dishes. I have a few new projects in the works, so stay tuned!