I wasn’t born in Miami, or conceived in Miami. I just have really creative parents who loved the sound of it. Heidi Miami Marshall. For Karen and Richard, it was about highlighting uniqueness and invoking imagination. It’s all in the words.
The simple lesson that my name has shown me is that the words we speak our entire lives can truly manifest into realities. In my adult years, I decided to add my middle name to my professional identity. Guess where I started getting directing work? In Miami.
Throughout my career I have often felt like I was just at the right place at the right time. I thought I was just lucky to have started casting with Bernie Telsey at age 24 at a time when RENT was about to alter and reinvigorate the landscape of musical theater. I thought I was just lucky that Baz Luhrmann walked into our casting office and I got assigned to cast his Broadway debut. I thought I was just lucky that Broadway producers remembered me when they needed acting coaching for celebrities or to artistically support new shows in development. And I thought I was just lucky that a feature film that spoke to my soul fell into my lap to direct.
I had no clue what a Casting Director was until I needed to figure out how to make a living. Actors are trained on the functionality of the industry very early, but young Directors are typically left to just dream and create (without budgets). As far as I knew, I was ready to direct on Broadway after graduation from Carnegie Mellon’s conservatory theater directing program. Yeah….I know.
I added casting to my “curious-about-that-career” checklist after I heard about a film Casting Director in Pittsburgh. She gets to watch actors acting all day? The seed was planted. A year after graduation, casting was mentioned to me by a theater mentor, Jon Jory, at Actors Theater of Louisville. He told the 23-year-old Heidi to “figure out what you are going to do until you are in your 30s, and then MAYBE someone will take you seriously as a Director. Go meet Casting Director Bernie Telsey, who is here at this play festival.” I did. Then, when I moved to NYC, I was overwhelmed immediately by survival needs. I got a morsel of direction when a friend called and told me she heard from a friend of a friend that a casting office was looking for an assistant. Within a few short months, I was casting on Broadway for….Bernie Telsey.
The thing that has probably shaped me the most was my time casting for the hit musical RENT. I started casting a megahit when I was 24 years old. I didn’t read music and I didn’t know much about musical theater. But I figured it out. I figured out how to find the hidden talents for this very special show. I auditioned over 40,000 hopefuls for this show. The casting process for RENT was like American Idol in its day.
Every day, I learned from the talents that walked inside my rooms. I saw hearts worn on sleeves, risky and bold choices (some you will never believe), and lots of passionate people fighting for a dream. I was changed forever.
I loved casting. And yet, casting just wasn’t satisfying my creative soul. When I started casting for Baz Luhmann on Broadway, I was already reaching my creative ceiling as a Casting Director and hungry to expand again as a Director. Leading by example, Baz opened up a world of possibilities and showed me that I could wear many hats in my career and follow ALL of my passions. In the world of his exploding creativity, my deep-rooted Director urges were resurfacing. I just knew I couldn’t stay in casting anymore.
I was reignited in my passion and dared to make a career shift. Fortunately, since I had no real game plan in mind and no savings, Baz invited me to work on his Broadway show, Puccini’s La Boheme, as his Resident Director. Saved!
Despite tremendous reviews, Baz’s production quickly closed. I found myself unemployed for the first time in my professional artistic career. Oops—I had left my steady career in casting. With no real savings, but a desire to do work I love, I listened hard again for my passions. Ah yes, I heard it again. That faint little whisper which I had quieted while I lived in the theater world . . . I dared to follow my secret-yet-unfulfilled desire to direct F I L M.
I headed to the American Film Institute and made my first short film. When I was sitting on set looking at the monitor, I had an “aha!” moment that I will never forget. The feeling washed over me.
I so deeply loved the intimacy of film.
I had arrived at what I had been manifesting all along: deep intimate work with actors in a visual medium. With a camera, I can be inside the soul of the actor—for me, it’s about how close I can get to that actor’s internal life. As a director, I’m completely motivated by what I see unfolding inside the actor in front of me. Finally, I had freed my love for film.
When I decided to leave LA and return home to NYC to make my art by being closer to the stories I wanted to tell, I became scared again about how I could possibly make a living. So I paused and listened again . . . Heidi, what do you already know how to do really well? Heidi, what are you already an expert in? Well, that’s easy. Auditioning. Acting. Casting. Directing. So, merging my passions and expertise together, I created my on-camera classes and private coachings for actors.
These actors are actually my close friends and colleagues whom I care deeply about and want to see succeed. I realized they had a need and I had a gift to tap. Since this is a community that I am deeply moved by—they have been my allies for decades now—it was an easy expansion. When it’s easy, it’s meant to be. (Besides, I was crazy enough to marry an actor and am incredibly sympathetic to the daily plight! Thank you, Johnny, for keeping me real.)
Over the years, I have had my ups and downs in this freelance artist career. Many times, I had no clue what I would fall back on to pay my rent. When we lost funding for my feature film, or an actor turned us down, or a production company didn’t like our script, sometimes I just wanted to stop. It is just too darn hard most days. What other career has more unemployment than employment? And which industry has more talent that can possibly be hired or funded?
I interact every single day with artists who are working their mad-crazy asses off to achieve a dream despite all the knockdowns. I get to hear your stories in the coaching room and classes, and I feel free to cry and laugh with you when you are moved by material or a life experience. I get to support my colleagues by connecting you to each other to manifest your own independent dreams. I get to work on a film that I believe will save someone’s life. I choose where I put my energy and passion.
I am so lucky to be an artist. I work daily to live by inspirations, not limitations. And you remind me to do this. I am clear that I won’t get there alone.
Celebrate today what we can make tomorrow.