What is your name? Nili Bassman (Nili Bassman Hayden, married name)
What neighborhood of New York City do you live in? Inwood, the northern tip of Manhattan.
How many children do you have, and what are their ages? One daughter, Ever, age 19 months.
Has being around the theatre business been a good thing for your child? Absolutely. She is surrounded with music, creativity, and people who play and love passionately for a living. Our daughter thrives alongside these people and lives for music and dances constantly. (Can’t imagine where she got that?) Ever has special needs and music opens up her world and has most certainly been a gateway to her learning. I can’t imagine who she (or for that matter I) would be without theatre and music in our lives. In addition, the theatre community is one of the most open minded and accepting and loving communities in the world. She has the coolest friends! What a gift to grow up in that environment! We all should be so lucky.
What about your career as an actor has prepared you for parenthood? Being a parent of a 1-year-old means providing all the basic human needs and…. basically entertaining a tiny person 24 hours a day. It takes a lot of creativity to keep that up! Also, as actors, we are used to reacting in the moment, listening, juggling a million things, and thinking on our feet. These are key skills for parenthood! Not to mention the fact that no other profession that I know of in the world forces you to show up in the same way no matter what is going on in your personal life, how you feel emotionally, how little sleep you have gotten, how sick you are…. As they say, “the show must go on." And as a parent, that is true 100 times over. We get no sick days at ALL and no time off to recover no matter what. You are on the job night and day and must show up for your tiny person even when you’re at your lowest.
Acting is also about human connection and seeing the world through others’ eyes. Because of this, I believe actors have an innate compassion that not all folks have access to. Clearly that is a generalization, but I know that every time I play a role, I’m able to relate to someone in my life in a different way that I couldn’t see before. This makes me a better person, which in turn makes me a better mom (and a better actress). Also, having a passion that I love so dearly and having committed so much of my life to that passion… Well, that’s practice for parenting as well. Our profession is not just “a job” for us. It is a calling like parenthood. It is our hearts and souls and blood and tears and sweat and joy. Over and over, pursuing this career means experiencing the highest highs and the lowest lows. Parenting is that as well, times a million.
How has your self-definition expanded since you became a parent? Wow. In every way. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in quantifying your value by your job. And I’ve always been an actor. A dancer. A singer. A performer. I’ve received praise for that, so at times confidence and self-worth can get wrapped up in that. Every priority shifted when my daughter was born. Now, first and foremost, I am a mom. A wife. A family. Especially while my daughter is still so young. And whereas before, I could stop at a moment’s notice to work on an audition or take whatever job I wanted to take or leave town if I needed to, 99% of the career decisions I now make are about whether it would be good for my daughter and for my family as a whole. In general, actors’ lives can be rather selfish. We are forced to focus on ourselves, because we are our instruments. We must stay in shape– physically, emotionally, psychologically. We must feed and nurture our souls and hone our skills and continually put ourselves out there to be judged. Yes, we serve something larger than ourselves, but the tool of our craft is literally our person. So there is great focus on that– good or bad. Since becoming a mom though, the time I have for myself is next to none. It’s sometimes easy to forget that you ever had a life before being a parent– and when I do catch a moment, even though I’m exhausted, it is so important to keep a connection to myself prior to parenthood. It makes me more whole and a better wife and a better mom and a better friend and, again, also a better actress. Being a mom helps me appreciate the small things in every aspect of my life and makes me realize how important those small things are in the bigger picture. I know it sounds silly, but even a five-minute commercial audition now gives me a needed boost and reminder of who I was before and helps me remember my passion and refuels me for my family. I feel like I am in a constant search for balance, and 99% of the time it feels like I fail miserably. But in some way, I’m succeeding. There’s not necessarily a way to “have it all” right now, but I’m finding a path to have all the things I need. And I’m hoping that as my daughter grows and I grow along side her, that said path will become clearer and clearer.
In short, the fact that I created a human being and naturally brought her in to the world gives me a power that booking a role never could. And watching my daughter surprise us all and learn/achieve something new or laugh with abandon gives me a sense of accomplishment and pride and celebration that no opening night ever could. That’s not to say that those roles and opening nights are not important to me. They are, and I’m super proud of them and hope to have many more. But becoming a parent has changed my self-definition in that I realize how much more vast my abilities, accomplishments, and “resume” really are…. Not to mention how very much I can do on no sleep and accomplish before 9am.