Updated: Dec 22, 2020
I’m a mother of three kids who also happens to be a revert to Islam. I have been involved in the Theater Arts since I was very little. I grew up outside of NYC and was introduced to Islam at the tail-end of my college experience and reverted after doing my own research.
It just all seemed like such a logical tradition to me - elhamdulilah.
I ended up graduating college with a degree in Theater. I left the theater world for a bit after my reversion to Islam and my marriage to my husband, imagining I was done with my journey - and then - in the throes of the ever stressful ever consuming (and blessed) experience of motherhood....combined with the misrepresentation of Muslim women I was witnessing in the media -
I realized I felt creatively stunted and sensed this calling that I should contribute my skills and voice to a cause. I suddenly was filled with so much purpose!
I brushed up my talents and returned to the acting world - in full hijab! I arranged to get headshots, brushed up my resume, auditioned for my manager (who has helped me hone my skills and book gigs since!). I also started posting little original skits and poems online (via Instagram/YouTube).
I create pieces I think are clean, beneficial, funny, thoughtful, or up-lifting. I don’t always just confine myself to acting, though. I sort of flit around in the Arts a bit... and I tend not to pin myself down with any one constricting label.
I have been a part of Creative Writing courses throughout college, publishing poems online and most recently, in a book compilation titled 'Woke and Loud'. I have always found myself, especially with heightened emotions...writing poems and lyrics to songs (I play guitar, as well) on my downtime. If I had to label myself, I guess I would call myself an Actress/Writer. The two go hand in hand! As I write any sort of script, I’m simultaneously taking notes on what acting prep would need to occur or what strong characters/voices would complete the story. Recently, I co-wrote a film script and starred in the film, titled 'Nadia' (trailer below) which is currently pending submission in an array of international and national film festivals.
Modeling I do do occasionally - with the intention of supporting small businesses and promoting other women and their companies in giving their products a means to shine - any opportunity to do that - I’m there!
I always saw Acting as a fun tool to channel my characters and voices (enjoying emulating celebrities and voices at times), but I never actually believed it would be a career for me. I wasn’t as eager, nor did I crave to move to NYC to try and make it big like some of my friends in college.
And I actually didn’t become a theater major until halfway through college! It wasn't laziness. While I love doing what I do, I wasn't who I am now, and I probably needed to find myself throughout those years of uncertainty before ultimately committing to the career aspect. I am grateful to have received education from one of the top public high schools in NY state - which had a stellar drama program, and later I joined an equally superb drama program at Binghamton University.
When it comes to starting.. I’ve started over in this career many times...(and that’s ok!). I can’t remember if there was ever a clear start to it all - from childhood on it was simply a continuous part of my life. I would attend summer acting classes, took vocal lessons privately from a trained classical vocal coach....participated in every production at school, joined a musical comedy theater troupe after college.
I definitely wouldn’t be this confident if I didn’t have my faith (which helped me shed the stage fright that had plagued me as a child - I stopped fearing others and started to balance any fear with hope in my Creator).
I also owe so much to a stable family....wonderful professors, directors, and coaches along the way that urged me to improve in the plethora of possibilities ...in this journey of telling a story using my mind, heart, and soul. When I really got back in the game in 2017 - after having my third child; I recognized I needed creative collaborators to motivate me in my journey. I was mostly only filming my own skits on YouTube and Instagram (or writing poetry on my blog at the time). I also had one small role in a PBS film due to a close connection, however -
I decided it was time to double-down and actively audition for film/commercial roles in the DC area. I arranged headshots to be taken by a photographer friend, then sent my updated resume, reels (compilation videos that showcase your best work), & headshots to local casting agencies. I even researched a reputable manager who could help guide me through the commercial and film auditioning process. Thankfully, my manager took me under her wing - Linda Townsend Management (who once represented Taraji P. Henson!). These steps forward led me to some small jobs, exposure, connections, and the confidence and experience to collaborate with other professionals in the area.
Can you share a story of failure and how you got out of it?
Wow. I feel like I fail over and over...so to pick one...haaaaa! Ah - to be human!
My biggest fear - of any fear when it comes to my career - is forgetting a line.When I was in high school I studied classical voice....opera. For one of my voice recital performances, my vocal coach was so confident that I had memorized the lines to 'Black Swan' , the song we had been practicing. Well, I got up on the platform and halfway through the song, I forgot the words! I was fumbling...so I started to 'OOooh' and 'ahhh' the song - oh, it was a nightmare!
My older sister was at the piano and was trying to mouth the words to me as she scrambled to match me...I tried my best to interpret every vowel and syllable, but to no avail! I finished the song as best as I could, but I wished at that moment that I could've been swallowed up by the hall floor and just disappeared! I'm sure we've all felt this way before at one juncture in our lives. I was a young teen at the time, and so I was absolutely devastated. I managed to heal from the traumatic situation with the help of my older sister and the support of my family.
So many people also approached me afterwards and proceeded to give me kind and encouraging words.
I think, at first, we are often most disgusted with ourselves when we fail, we truly are our own worst critics...but there's of course the element of 'what are others also thinking of me....as the audience to my failure?'
We must attempt to harbor more confidence and faith in others, as well as ourselves. No one is out to get you or has the worst of intentions about you, most people are concerned with themselves and their own lives to recollect your failures.
Also, I believe humans are inclined towards empathy. Most of the audience members probably imagined how embarrassed I was...which led them to approach and comfort me after my performance was over. When it comes to other situations where I've been touched with failure, I can say for sure that the best way to return from any failure is to improve your communication skills...with yourself first.. then others.
Pump yourself up with your tradition's best positive affirmations, and submerge yourself in healthy work and a solid personal environment. My operatic faux pas wouldn't have occurred if I really clearly communicated with my vocal coach about my confidence levels with the 'Black Swan' piece - I probably could've held onto the musical score for the program if I had spent more time convincing her of my concerns, but you live and you learn! I've also been rejected multiple times by publishers for my poetry manuscript - but - I haven't given up yet...if you are confident in your strengths just be a bit more patient - patience is at the core of it all. Make sure you move on after failing.
Don't dwell in your failures, focus on all the blessings in the lessons, there are so many. God is the Most Merciful - so try to be merciful with yourself.
This is temporary. It's all temporary. This is just a test.... Then, I'll recite a dua like Ayat-al-Kursi or the 3 Quls - always helps me calm down.
What are some tips and advices you would give someone who wants to go in the same path as you?
Be prepared for incessant rejection...even if you think people should be begging to work with you (because, believe me - there's probably someone out there just as qualified as you).
If you're especially a white hijabi like me...you won't always quite look 'hijabi' or 'Muslim' enough for some roles, as you don't necessarily match the prevalent Middle Eastern role description. You may have to write your way in through a social media approach.
Spend time improving your script-writing and videography skills. Attempt to connect with those employed in the industry where you live for now, during a pandemic - online (send resumes to directors...or at least start brainstorming with others about future projects - so they will be easier to produce after the pandemic lets up a bit)
Write emails, join groups, connect via social - follow people and invite them to collaborate.
Make sure your representation is always looking out for you and understands your boundaries, as well. I've had to make clear and confident statements from the beginning about what I'm comfortable with when it comes to my dress/personal preferences - don't ever be afraid to speak up. Don't, however burn bridges with anyone for petty reasons.
Make sure your intention isn't to 'make it big' - but to make an impact for positive change. If certain people don't like you - and many maybe won't even want to work with you because of 'XYZ reason'...it's ok. Brush your shoulders off. Focus on a fresh idea. Work with those who are just as excited about your skills as you are about them. Find an older mentor who can delegate some quality advice. It doesn't always necessarily have to be someone from your field of study - just an elder that's confident, has excelled in their career and exudes a generally positive outlook on life.
However, you also have to sometimes be your own best cheerleader...be prepared for it, but make sure God is always 'The Coach'! Always check in with HIM to recalibrate your course.
What's your process like of coming up with new thoughts and ideas?
Sometimes, simply from toying with a fresh voice or character, I'll be struck with inspiration for a skit. Alternately, at times, the idea will be spurred by political and current events...When it comes to poetry it's a mix of elements - but
- it's usually a more personal experience conjured up by heightened emotions. It will usually start with one line - and then there will be a stanza to follow... at that moment I usually immediately reach for the 'Notes' section in my phone and jot away! Most of my poems and skits I jot down in 'Notes'..I am better at typing on a phone than a computer - probably not the best choice for my eyes lol.
My recommendations to get inspired!
I really grow and benefit from some of former comedian Russell Brand's lectures...though I never thought ten years ago I'd ever say that. He comments on life and current events from a variety of philosophical viewpoints (he's also had some Muslim guests, like Yusuf Islam). He lectures using an extensive vocabulary - and for someone who has the occasional sesquipedalian streak lol (I had to google that)...it's quite refreshing!
I also really enjoy Jennifer Garner's Instagram videos - she's so natural, organic, and a very 'in the moment' sort of person. She exemplifies that 'still a kid at heart' personality which is extremely important to me - and her videos never fail to brighten my day.
Imam Omar Suleiman continuously drops gems about deen that steer me back on track. I've also been listening to Shaykh Hamza's podcast 'Sacred Text Messages' which delves into even deeper levels of the soul... prodding me to ask the intricate introspective questions, while presenting solutions to the most basic of problems in my life.
When it comes to books, I would suggest:
'The People's Repertory' which is a natural medicine book focusing on homeopathy - especially for me, as a mother during this pandemic seeking alternatives - it's come in handy.
If you're feeling silly 'Breakfast of Champions' by Kurt Vonnegut,
I can't forget my compilation of Rumi poems -
those are always soul-sparkers.
Neelam (follow her!),
Tariq Toure poetry (give him a follow) are all lyricists I admire deeply.
Recently, I was gifted the book 'Secrets of the Divine' by A. Halwa - which also has brought back so much mercy, love, and forgiveness into my life via an Islamic lens..- it's probably what I would recommend the most out of what I've listed so far.
If you need more literature or coaching when it comes to acting, however, I would research the Linklater method before anything else - find a coach who you can receive lessons from. This method is a absolutely crucial and wholesome approach to acting that truly utilizes the body and voice to their fullest. Consider this method the glue of any performance. There's also a book of exercises to accompany the method, 'Freeing the Natural Voice'.
Do I have any acting secrets?
No secrets...lol...just prayer, patience, good sleep, and lots of warm-ups and practice! The biggest tip I could ever give someone who is a beginner actor is - react as if you were in this situation...then build on that reaction with character . Acting is reacting...the most common note I write down 'what am I trying to do to ____?' (my acting partner/audience/object). It keeps you out of your own head and in the moment. If you're reacting to a situation or a partner - you're not pretending or overanalyzing. It's real within the realm of circumstances. Also - SNL actress and expert impersonator Chloe Fineman has been my skit-acting inspiration this pandemic - she gives vocal tips in her videos to boot!
How do you see your industry changing and evolving in the next 5-10 years?
I see more authentic roles of hijabi and Muslim characters on the screen in our futures inshaAllah! For the past few years I've stumbled upon a few shows featuring hijabi characters but the majority of the portrayals included a story ark with the female character removing her scarf for a love interest...or there was some backwards focus in a thread of her personal life. I am optimistic that there will be a myriad of realistic and hopefully, comedic, roles in the next few years due to the demand for more representation and the increasing number of popular Muslim women in media and in politics. I also envision more women behind the scenes, in the writer's, in the director's, and in the DP's chair...inshaAllah I can be there for it....(Um, SNL - hire me thanks :-) ).... I am excited for all of it! #snl
Make sure you have solid support from your family and if you're having trouble with that - find some trustworthy sounding-boards. This is an industry with strange working hours, and your partner must be completely malleable to the catalysts that will come about in your schedules. Also - don't always share your unique and original ideas with everyone - some ideas are best kept and executed yourself. However, pick one or two people you can completely trust with your career moves or ideas - who can pop in to give respectable advice when needed.
You'll always see a flaw in your work. Art is messy...embrace the messiness of it all. Essential last piece of advice - Get off Instagram and social media once in a while lol - check your ego before your wreck your ego - arrogance looks good on no-one - and it's especially kryptonite for an actor or writer. People want to feel better or be organically moved, not bombarded with superficial content. No great idea for a sketch or poem blossomed for me while I was surfing the web. Read books to revive your imagination - take walks...smell the flowers, observe the bees, eat your vegetables etc.
You can find Holly on IG here
WATCH THE AMAZING PREVIEW OF THE FILM "NADIA"