Tina Sloan: A Guiding Light For Change
Almost anyone would envy Tina Sloan. Looking back on her life, so would she.
Peering from the outside in, it seems as if Sloan has had it all. She has had a 40-year-career in film and TV—26 of them on “The Guiding Light”—a 34-year marriage to a man she adores, looks to die for, and now her own show.
In “Changing Shoes,” the one-woman show based on Sloan’s life, the actress reveals how she made it to the top, what she did when her youthful Cybill Shepherd-looks faded, and how she has started life anew.
In a poignant, touching and well-acted show, Sloan takes us back to the time when she was in fourth grade. Known then as “the talking tomato” for her incessant chatter, she had already decided to become an actress.
Portraying herself at different ages and the people in her life, Sloan, 66, shares her professional and personal glamorous times and hardships.
We meet her haughty mother who warned her, “Don’t become an actress. It’s déclassé.” And we meet the men who made passes at her, and the woman who inspired her career the most.
With videos running intermittently behind her on the stage, we see Sloan’s first trip to Paris upon graduating college. She arrives there to spend a summer with an old friend of her mother’s who continually encourages her to go for her dreams and become an actress. “You can do it,” says Aga. “Just put one foot in front of the other.”
When Sloan returns to her parents’ home, a tony suburb just outside of New York City, she becomes a secretary but soon sneaks out to audition for roles. She gets in a play, gets an agent, and then acts in one commercial after another. On the screen behind Sloan, we see clips of her in her salad days, a beautiful blonde selling Clairol, Colgate, Stove Top, Tiparillo, Geritol, and more.
We see a short clip of Sloan in her first role on a soap opera, “Somerset.” She plays a sweet, innocent love scene with its leading man. She is so believable and sexy in it that after the director yells, “cut,” the star whispers to her, “You are the first woman who has ever made me hard!”
She does more soap operas, TV shows, acts in films directed by Woody Allen, and becomes a regular cast member of “The Guiding Light. The beautiful, sexy blonde has it all. Until she reaches her 50s.
That’s when heads stop turning, her love scenes wane, and her character on “The Guiding Light” has only a couple of words to say each episode, “Where is Beth?” Her heyday has gone, and newer, bolder and more beautiful actresses on the set scoot her out of their way so they can primp before mirrors and cameras.
At the same time, her personal life falters. Her loving father develops bone cancer and lashes out at her each time she visits. Her mother develops senile dementia and doesn’t recognize her. Her son, Renny, joins the Marines and deploys into Iraq. And she gains more than 40 pounds, a death knell for an actress.
But there is something that gets her through the tough times. It becomes her mantra: “One foot in front of the other.” The line gives her the strength to spend time with her parents each week, to lose the weight, and to hike to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Sloan does a good job of portraying herself and others, and living truthfully on stage. She also connects with the audience and makes them laugh and cry.
“Changing Shoes” began as a book Sloan started writing when her parents became ill. She later would work with actor and director Joe Plummer to help her write the play. Originally, it was to be a book about how to care for aging parents, but over time the book grew to be more about how to live life to its fullest.
Sloan would know about that. She just signed a deal with Penguin to publish the book next year.
“Changing Shoes,” directed by Joe Plummer, runs at the 14th Street Playhouse in Atlanta through Oct. 8.