i walked off the elevator and heard “crunch!” i thought i’d stepped on a bug the size of texas. nope. there at the top of the stairs was terra c. macleod…chomping on a apple. i watched a splash of juice pop from the apple and jump itself onto her chin. “what? i’m hungry.” there was no judgement on my part. after all it was definitely lunch time and actually my stomach was beginning to growl. i was reminded of a rumor about terra and decided to confront her about it.
“so…word on the street is you like ‘golden corral?’”
“ohnoyoudon’tunderstand,” she retorted. “i LOVE ‘golden corral.’ growing up it was the closest thing i had to soul food. it’s amazing. biscuits and gravy….ugh. everything you’d want. let’s try this place. ooo! a buffet for $11.99. that’s reasonable. let’s do it.” i followed her into the belly of a building into jim’s steakhouse in peoria, il and we chose our table. “i just gotta call my mom really
fast.” she makes her call and goes to the buffet and fills her plate with protein and a salad. I stare at the way she’s managed to carry three dishes from the buffet to the table. “my parents owned a restaurant and i was bussing tables when i was a kid…oh yeah.” in her mouth she tossed some ham and talks about how upset she is that ‘breaking bad’ is over. “i’m gonna be mourning a fictional character. i will be very upset. very upset. i love good writing.’ she takes the apple core (which is now just a core) and puts it on a plate at the back of the table.
the story: terra c mccleod…why do you go by macleod (pronounced muh-kloud)? isn’t your last name ciccotosto?
terra: when i was entering film and tv, the agency who was interested in me at the time said that ciccotosto (pronounced chick-uh-toss-toe) was so ethic that it would pigeon-hole me in an area where they felt like i could really work various characters and ethnicities. i still wanted to stay within my family name so i kept the “c” and took my mom’s maiden’s name. i’d love to go back to it because now, i don’t really care.
the story: so you moved to the states when?
terra: the day after i turned 19. october 6th. i was going to amda and my parents were devastated because their 19-year-old was leaving home. and i wasn’t just going to any city. i was going to new york, and i integrated myself in [new york] — open, dynamic, liberal city — a much bigger version of what i was used to just 6 hours away.
the story: was it difficult moving from canada to the states speaking in terms of friends and social circles? was there a fewer that you’d be isolated?
terra: i felt different in the sense that there were kids there from all over the united states and i had never even heard of these small towns that some of them had come from. i was raised in quebec. laws were different. education system [was different.] i never had a high school musical. we didn’t even have a talent show. there were only 350 students in the whole school. the only musicals i knew where from my independent voice lessons. cole porter, gershwin…i knew cats, phantom, les mis…i knew what toured [where i was], but when i went to amda i could not believe the american students. they were “oh, i did ‘west side story’” “i did ‘mame’” “i did ‘hello, dolly.’” i said, “how did you do all of this?” i was so envious. we didn’t have a high school production of anything, and in that way i felt really off. i mean, yeah, i’m from a different country, but it wasn’t like i came from overseas. i didn’t even know what ‘little shop…’ was. i didn’t really know who kander and eb were as a team other than from singing ‘cabaret’ and ‘all that jazz’ . i knew nothing. i didn’t know what a belt was. i didn’t know what a chest voice was. but i would study and put in 50 hours a week. i even worked at amda [when i went to school there]. i could not get a greencard. i didn’t have working papers. after 9 months, you can get temporary working papers. i saw every broadway show. i was in the performing arts library weekly. there was no youtube. you had to research the reviews. there were all these kids who were amazing and i only knew gershwin. i really needed to step up my game…cause i don’t do back of the line.
the story: i knew it when i was in the front?
terra: yeah, i knew it when i was in the front, and sure enough that was exactly what i got cast in…one of my first shows after school. (‘a chorus line.’)
the story: so how did you get involved in this world?
terra: i was a ballet dancer first. i would look in the trade papers and see auditions and my mom would hear me on the phone: “who are you talking to?” and i’d say, “i’m getting an audition.” so my mom and dad would drive me. i went into acting and got into movies that way. at 14 i trained with an opera coach. by the time college came, my dad picked up this brochure about amda.
the story: so you were pretty much self-taugh, self-studied, and driven and in all of what you’ve done so far, what have been three “clicks” that you knew were steps forward.
terra: after graduation i could only stay in the united states for a year — i had a p2 visa. basically the us government says that after you’ve put in a certain amount of hours of academia you will get a one-year visa. and i did. i went and did two productions of ’a chorus line’ where i met a friend of mine who worked in japan. he knew my visa was running up and advised me to audition. i did and i moved to japan. and it was then — in my early 20′s — that i knew that film and tv was what i wanted to do. that was clicking moment 1. my dad would send me one vhs tape a week of all the shows i’d miss and i’d study these actors. and i knew that i needed to go to vancouver — because that’s our hollywood. that was the first clicking moment. the other moment is when i’d been in vancouver for 7 years, there was a call for velma in the french production and that changed my whole path. and i don’t think the third’s here yet. i’m very selective of what my defining moments are and i feel like i’m at that place where something’s about to come because i feel like i’m going through the next phase of my personal life and my career. i don’t know what it is, but it will change the next course of my life.
(she raises her eyebrows and daintily shovels a strip of beef into her mouth.)
the story: you recently became a citizen of the united states, which is huge. was that something that you came to new york thinking,”i’m gonna-”
(she cuts me off with certainty.)
terra: never. no. because you carry the pride of your country. if you live in an amazing country and you live in a beautiful, blessed, free country, it’s very rare that you would want to leave that country and give up your citizenship. any american would feel the same way.
(she adjusts her napkin on her seat (the second napkin, mind you, because she misplaced the first in between the cushions of the seat of the booth where we sat) and reaches for a few packets of crackers to marry with her soup. she continues…)
it’s not like you came from a war-torn country and you’re trying to escape and get out. but in my later years of being a green card holder, i discovered that i was limited. and it bothered me that i had no say. i could not vote in a federal election. and if i’m going to be living here, i do want a say. i was just living here and thinking, ‘great. i can work. and that’s all i can do.’ i do want to have kids one day. that’s important to me. and i’m not a political person, but i want a say. you can take my taxes, but i have no say. i also know that being an american citizen gives me the same freedoms that an american has. because my family is home, should have to return [there] for whatever reason, i will always have my doors open in the united states and as a green card holder there are rules. you can only leave for a certain amount of time per year. and if you wanna leave past that time you have to get a certain kind of visa that allows you to leave for up to three years then after that upon returning, all the years you spent in the states are erased. i thought, “this is crazy.” this is where i live. i’ve been in the united states for 20 years on and off. why would i not become a citizen. i have italian values, i’m canadian, i was raised in quebec, and i live in the united states my whole adult life. i feel american just as much as i feel canadian. this is my home. canada and the us have been side by side.
the story: so after living in the united states for 20 years, you’ll be able to vote for the first time in the next election.
(she tilts her chin up, smiles and nods.)
terra: yes. yes i will. and i will vote. and i don’t think realized what a privilege it is.
the story: are there benefits to not having a citizenship and just having a green card or a visa?
terra: it depends on what you want. i’m all about freedom. and i want to come and go and i don’t want restrictions. and with a green card [and a visa] you have restrictions.
the story: you seem to have blazed a trail from being the girl who had a dream to being a woman who is living her dream. what things have you found to be your go-tos in those moment when you felt like you wanted to throw in the towel? is it a stuffed animal?
(i was trying to make a joke, but she was locked on serious. and rightly so.)
terra: no, no. it’s family. if you can’t accept the lows, don’t do it. this is not a business for everyone. very few people can handle the highs and the lows of it. and for me i just always go back home. i go to my family. i hang out with my friends from my neighborhood. i hang out with the people who know me as terra. they don’t care what i do. i can be silly with them. [when i don’t have the opportunity to go home] i discovered yoga and i go and sit. some people find it with god. and y’know you find it in your quiet time. life is hard in many aspects. and i don’t live in despair very long. that’s my personality. and i’ve had to learn the hard way that sometimes…there’s no explanation. like when you don’t get a call. let it go. don’t dwell.
the story: what advice can you give to people who are coming to the united states from another country who want to work in this country?
terra: first of all, have your working papers. don’t screw yourself over. if the government finds out, you get a 10-year ban. that’s not cute. over 1.5 million people are deported every year. if you can get a p-1 visa from a company, do that. look at schools where you could get a student visa that would then allow you to get a one-year visa and if you’re lucky enough you can get an 03 visa for longer contracts and then apply for a green card. this is a baby step process. for me it was all about taking a step and seeing how i felt in that area. if you are a green card holder you have to be a resident of the united states for a minimum of 5 years from the day you were stamped as a green card holder [in order to become a citizen.] for me that was feb 2007. (she emphasizes the 7.) and you can not have been absent from the united states for more than 900 days, and that adds up. [with the contracts and vacations] i was at 785 days in 5 years. and on the application, it’s a thesis: when did you leave, when did you come back, how many days were you gone, how many countries did you visit…in the last five years. i took 35 trips and i had to know every single trip. i would go to my inboxes and look at my flights. good thing i’m a photographer because then i could just look back at the photos. [but] be prepared. go to the website and read the rulebook. it is all there. keep your newspaper clippings from shows, playbills…get a good lawyer. a good immigration lawyer who works with entertainment. word of mouth is the best way. [if you want] an easier way to get a green card? win an academy award. yeah. just grab one of those.
(she asks the waitress for more creamer.)
am i still canadian? of course. in my heart i will always be canadian, but i live in the united states and i’m an american citizen. if i wanna live in italy for two years, no one can stop me. and i can come right back.
the story: a country (other than the canada and the united states) is clamoring for your citizenship and they want you to make a new law for them. what country would it be and what would that law be?
terra. (without hesitation) italy. (then she thinks a bit.) a law. oh, my gosh. a law. i think every teenager should be required by law to spend time — a year seems too long — in a more impoverished country…backpack, bare-minimum and learn how to eat, sleep, live [and integrate.] and go and give back and try and cultivate something in them and bring it back and try to make a change and bring an awareness. i think it’s great for people to get a sense of how blessed they really are. and i would give it towards the youth because they’re the ones that are gonna shape the next few generations. and personally i love performing but [even] i have to be careful because it’s a lot about the self. it’s all about the ego. it’s result-oriented. and i want to get away from that.
(she proceeds to tell a story about how when she was in her early 20′s she went over to [the middle of the mountains of] bosnia at christmas after a year after the eastern european war and how, when she came back to california, she was never the same. she was there to perform for the soldiers.)
and i think art in schools. not everyone’s academic. there must be music. there must be dance. there must be art.
(through laughter she proceeds to tell another story about how her jamaican clarinet teacher would have them soak their reeds in vinegar. and, yes, it was complete with jamaican accent. “class, you have to watch the tempos.” i can’t help but laugh with her…especially when she told me that she had only just recently removed xylophone from her résumé.)
the story: what can you leave us with?
terra: call a spade a spade. get real and be honest with yourself. why are you where you are? who are you? and if you don’t like it, what are you gonna do to change it. only you can master your destiny, and your mental state is the only thing you can control.
(she tosses a tomato in her mouth and talks about how she got kicked out of ballet school when she was younger because she improv-ed polka during ballet time. “bad back, bad arms,” she says. “and you should see my ballet photo. i’m missing a tooth. right then and there i knew that i couldn’t be a ballet dancer. “
the waiter comes over and grabs her plate with the apple core. “are you still working on that?”
terra is an award winning actress best known for her portrayal of velma kelly in the hit broadway musical CHICAGO, appearing frequently both on the broadway stage and on the national tour. she is a three-time jessie richardson nominee (outstanding theatre award for artistic achievement in vancouver, bc) for her work in ‘blood brothers’ and ‘the producers’, and took home theaward for best supporting actress for “anita” in the vancouver arts club production of ‘west side story’. originally from montreal, quebec terra has spent the last few years between vancouver, los angeles, and new york working in film and television and performing in various theatrical productions across the country and canada.
she now calls ny home.