Founder Spotlight

Originally posted June 2017

1) How did you come up with the idea for the Hollywood Women’s Collective?
FANAFI. I’ll circle back to that acronym. A friend had spoken with me about her women’s goal group and for mysterious reasons the timing never worked. Yet, I kept feeling this curiosity towards female fellowship. I was reading Amy Poehler’s book “Yes Please” and she conveyed the necessity of having a community where everyone can be open-faced sandwiches. I remember, after a walk on the beach, realizing that individually I enjoyed one on one friendships where that was possible but they existed in little bubbles, independent of each other...so why not bring everyone together? It could take off or crash but rather than wait to see if the timing worked to join a women’s community, why not build one? An hour later I sent an email asking who would be interested in being part of a women’s group that was part goal work, philanthropy, and just a place to support each other and share. Everyone said yes! I wasn’t alone. My first step was to set a date. I remember it feeling daunting at first, but I knew if I set a date it would have to happen. Through kismet, I found a peaceful loft space, which wound up being our home for 2 years. I threaded a curriculum, sourcing materials that resonated with me and mixing that with my personal experience into our first HWC goal workbook. I wrote down intentions around the experience I wanted the first meeting to evoke. And I trusted the natural unfolding. Something sparked at the first meeting - there was a gust of support from the unseen fused with the collective nature of women authentically coming together. Here we are 3 years later, going strong. Find a need and fill it! That’s FANAFI. I felt a nudge towards female togetherness and I said yes to myself and the inner whisper to create a women’s group. I believe that women thrive when they link up. There’s a palpable feeling that elevates us individually and as a collective.         

2) How do you benefit from it?

In multiple, expansive ways. Being part of the HWC has upped my accountability with myself and the things in my life I choose as top priority. It has deepened existing friendships and brought new phenomenal women into my circle. It has given me chances to lead, to accept help, to be a more open-hearted collaborator, to celebrate myself and the micro-wins, to take off the mask of pretense, to volunteer in beautiful ways. I’ve found greater self-respect and respect of other female perspectives. I’ve learned to not take things personally when people don’t respond and when an idea faceplants. I have felt less alone on this beautiful, strange journey and career path. I’ve benefited from the presence of powerful women gathering to share, to be real, to inspire. I’ve gained a dedicated writing partner. I’ve received knowledge on personal training and nutrition I didn’t have before that is strengthening my body. I’ve learned something worthwhile from every accountability partnership. Each one organically delivered exactly what I needed in my life at the time - a lesson, a referral, a reminder, a fresh viewpoint, a laugh, a cheerleader. You could say it’s helped shape me into more of myself. It gives me a nice feeling that I’m part of a real thriving female community with heart and substance.     

3) You were a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall! You're an actress! You're a photographer! You're a screenwriter! Is there something else within the creative world you're also studying?

Oh geez, I feel I’m forever studying. My mind is happy when it’s learning and creating. There isn’t a particular thing I’m in a class for but each job on set, meeting, exchange is ripe to learn something. I would say I’m honing my writing, trusting my creative ideas and viewpoint more. I’m studying being a show creator and the various machinations involved. I recently had the experience of working behind the camera on Fuller House with show creator Jeff Franklin and veteran director Rich Correll. I felt like a sponge absorbing as much as I could from how to receive network notes on scripts, to calling the shots, to knowing when to advocate and when to just move on with it, to the kind of mindset it takes to juggle multiple creative personalities all working to execute a single creative vision, to generosity of spirit and the patience it takes to helm. It’s inventive, empowering, and fun. I hope to step into that track one day in my career.    

What's something you struggle with that you wish you were better at since it seems like you can do everything?

That it’s okay to not do everything. Because I can’t and I don’t want to. There’s a saying my dad has - “don’t become too good at something that you know deep down you don’t really want to do.” More and more I’m saying “no” so that I can say “yes” to the things I really want to experience. I can sometimes struggle with making whatever I’m doing the centerpiece of my identity, which can lead to feeling brokenhearted. I’m practicing a consistent sense of self and connection to wonder and curiosity so I can taste the same excitement about ordinary daily endeavors as when something big and beautiful happens in my acting and writing career. It takes patience, care, and discipline to relate to my endeavors that way. But it feels healthier and more on purpose.       

4) You're bicoastal. What do you wish LA had that it doesn't, and what do you wish NYC had that it doesn't?

I wish LA had diversity of industry and randomness. In Manhattan, I can sit at a dinner table with a Times reporter, Broadway actress, Wall Street investor, fashion designer, and biodiversity engineer. By randomness, I mean the chance encounters that happen because you’re engaged with humanity by simply walking out your door. I find NY to be the great equalizer, piercingly direct, and she makes you earn your right to take up space. I dig that and find it creatively horny. I find it’s easier on my mind being in NYC. I wish NYC had hiking trails and bigger grocery aisles. And that every building had an elevator just in case you didn’t feel like walking up five flights of stairs with two Trader Joe’s bags. I wish NYC had more patience and focus on well being over productivity. I find LA to be easy going, a city of dreamers, and really friendly. I appreciate how people smile in LA.  

Is going back and forth difficult, or do you have a process that helps streamline acclimating?

Being bicoastal sounds glamorous but it definitely has its innate shit sandwiches. The energy of these cities is vastly different so there’s always a few days I call “re-entry” where I feel a bit wonky and instantly miss what I love most about the opposite city. I use exercise to acclimate and schedule something to do the day I land. There are moments bicoastal living is jerky and unsettling...but then there are warm fuzzy moments when it feels like having a husband and a lover and they both know of each other and are okay with it.      

5) You wrote in a recent HWC post that you are proud that, "My husband and I have grown closer and are defining how we want our marriage to be and what is sacred to us as a couple." Can you offer us advice on how we can do that with our own relationships and friendships?

I can share what I know feels best and what are our guideposts...freedom, intimacy, and fighting nicely. Freedom is the glue in our marriage, personal freedom and the belief we can write our own story. We can end a chapter or start a fresh one how and when we choose. This also means freedom to honor yourself, to do you. If you feel called to summit a mountain, yes, or called to explore living elsewhere, yes, or called to say this isn’t for me anymore, yes. I think freedom disempowers hidden expectations and disappointments that can lead to emotional divorce, where two people stay in a marriage or friendship but they’re yearning for it to be different on the inside. Also, intimacy, emotional and physical, is sacred. My Irish, musician girlfriend says “if it’s working in the bedroom, it’s working everywhere else.” The Irish are arousing and very right! Aside from sex being the literal catalyst for new human life, sex is one of the most vital aspects to keeping it flowing. Even talking about sex is important. Before you roll your eyes and the inner naysayer squawks “Cliche,” “Single, hello” or “I have kids” or “My schedule is busier than Oprah’s,” here’s my reasons: sex takes shared time, trust, communication, requires both of you to be engaged; it’s a mutual responsibility, it’s pleasurable, it’s vulnerable, it’s raw and passionate; it’s the only thing you share with your partner you don’t share with anyone else and it teaches you so much about the other. Self-intimacy is equally worthy - knowing your body, knowing your feelings, and knowing what to do with them both and how to communicate with them meaningfully. Getting emotionally and physically close with yourself, whether solo or coupled up, is the best. It makes you a better friend, lover, woman, artist, and it just feels nice and uplifts the energy of how you feel about yourself and move through a regular day. The knowing how to fight nicely part…all couples fight, all true friendships hit rifts. Knowing how to successfully argue takes self-discipline, because let’s face it, we probably didn’t learn how to best fight from our parents. There is a lot of good knowledge out there about this, but in a nutshell here’s what I imperfectly practice: dive head first into the big, uncomfortable topics; don’t name call; give up being right; see, hear, and acknowledge your partner; give the benefit of the doubt that the other is doing their best; know you’re a team. Look beneath the surface because often what you’re fighting about isn’t what you’re really fighting about. Sometimes you’re fighting yourself and don’t even realize it. Even if that person is momentarily being the biggest pain in your ass, I choose to look at him/her as my chosen pain in the ass. I believe the quality of my closest relationships is what gives primary meaning to my life. I’m constantly learning and dancing the dance of relationship, sometimes it’s hard hitting like crunk, sometimes it’s lyrical and juicy, other times it’s solo and others an in sync pas de deux. I feel like I could write an essay on this question but hopefully there’s a sliver of advice in my musings.       

6) What's one of your goals this year?

I’m going to unpack this question. I have small goals and big goals and they are all important to me and delicately connected. Each one carries value. I want to read more fiction. I want to sell and make my female-centric TV projects because I want to impact the landscape for female creators/artists and I believe we need more complete stories on the female experience. I want to treat my attention with respect and concentration and joy. I want to know what’s it’s like to drive through a small village in Italy where sheep roam. I want to write a collection of autobiographical essays. I want to meet Oprah and talk about life stuff. I want to learn how to make soup from scratch. I want to stay out of conjecture and speculative thinking and instead find creative awe in all my ongoings. I want to work with Kathryn Hahn and Laura Linney. I want to build a diverse body of acting work that has legs to stand on its own. I want to work on a TV show about the subtle intricacies of romantic relationship, playing a character that makes people laugh and cry. I want to experience pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. I want to visit places that open my perspective and nourish my soul. I want to treat myself as a woman I admire. I want to take my mother on a dream vacation and see wonder in her eyes. I want there to be grits on the menu when I go to brunch. I want Calvin Klein to always make my favorite undies. Every goal, big or small, has its worth and time to shine in my life. Some are reached, some drop off, and new ones are always born. To hope for things for yourself and enjoy fleeting expressions of life big and small is to be on a road that feels good, even though no one knows where the road goes.      

7) You have a feature in post! Can you tell us about it?

We just finished post-production and it is now off to festivals. It’s a dark comedy called Avalanche and it’s a single-location, 3-hander about a nebbish librarian, his wife, and her lover who become trapped in a house together and are forced to navigate the chaotic fallout of their indiscretions. It’s human, it’s subtle, it’s irrational and sympathetic. It’s the kind of hidden indie movie I’d find buried deep in Netflix, fall in love with, and then tweet - “Go watch this, now. You’re welcome.”

The process was a two year journey and a cherry-popping crash course in producing. Note: nothing happens at the pace you want and you will always go over budget. My husband and I co-produced it through our production company, Lucky Otter, with another independent producer and the filmmaker himself. Every obstacle you could hit, we did. Some twice. Getting through it was hellish some days, but there isn’t any aspect of the filmmaking process that we didn’t come to know and appreciate. I’m grateful and I’m proud of it. To get a movie on the page, in the can, through post, and now shepherd it out into the world is like building castles in the sky. I’m excited for the post-post journey of festivals and distributors! Hopefully the sun shines on our little movie. I can say now, I’d do it all over again. And we likely will.  

8) Is there an app or website you've been using to further your career/goals?

I like the morning daily Vedic writings of meditation teacher, Jeff Kober. His understanding of consciousness is pretty soul elevating. And I’ve been tracking what Shondaland is up to now that she’s expanded her brand to newsletters and online classes. I like watching the Hollywood Roundtables on SundanceTV. And personal relationships - those have been the sweetest career and life boosters.

9) Favorite quote?

Lucille was correct - “you really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”

autumn withers