E.H. Petropulos’s Road to Broadway, Anxiety, and Advice with Toxic Relationships

All Images from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

All Images from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

Saying that E.H. Petropulos is a charismatic, vibrant, and beautiful personality is an understatement. Instantly when meeting her, you are filled with immense joy and gratefulness for a light that she holds so gracefully. We derived so much meaningful conversation despite our laughter every five seconds. She is immeasurably theatrical and fun. Her stories and journey from Manhattan, Kansas, to Manhattan, New York, are quite moving, and I hope it resonates with you as it did with me. 

In two short days, E.H. will start her well-deserved position at Broadway's new production, Be More Chill, as Assistant Wig Supervisor at the Lyceum Theatre. However, like many others, the road to our dream-living situation and/or job can be a bumpy one, sparking challenges of mental health. In this article, we touch on a topic I hope everyone takes with them—understanding your self-value, dreams, and removing toxic people from your lives. E.H. started her theatre journey in high school as a lost boy in a Peter Pan production. E.H. laughs and explains, "Embarrassing, but true—I watched High School Musical and said I want to do that." We laughed so hard I could barely hear the recording. Thank you, Troy Bolton. 

I continued to ask about her experience going from a small town to a huge city, something we related on as I also underwent that change. "Kansas, it's different. The social aspect of the Midwest is vastly different. People are nice there, but they're not as honest as I feel like people in New York are—face value is what New York is." A perspective I never viewed the city as until today. "It doesn't lie about what it is." I question if she had any doubts moving to the city, and she responded, “It's good to have doubts. That's what makes us human."

“There is something very surreal about this image that raises lots of questions. Who is the girl? What is she doing there? Why does she have a pillow? This inquisitive nature creates an interest and pulls you in to explore. The dress choice is interesting and mirrors the fancy gold photo frames in the background.” - Digital Camera Photographer of The Year 2019 Judging Panel

“There is something very surreal about this image that raises lots of questions. Who is the girl? What is she doing there? Why does she have a pillow? This inquisitive nature creates an interest and pulls you in to explore. The dress choice is interesting and mirrors the fancy gold photo frames in the background.” - Digital Camera Photographer of The Year 2019 Judging Panel

The beautiful images, some of my personal favorites, were conceptualized when asking E.H. to describe a situation that was challenging in her current life. She explained to me that she lacked placidity, or peace, in her environment. A day later, on an oddly warm December afternoon, we then found ourselves doing an impromptu shoot in the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue in New York. The pillow you see her with symbolized a need for rest and a sense of having no true home. The museum represents a collection of artists who may bring us a sense of comfort in our patches of loneliness as we venture towards our artistic passions.  She exclaims, “At the time, I was living at what was called a hostile sub-letter situation.” She goes on to explain that her sub-letter was mentally unsafe, adding a lot of pressure on top of living in the bustling New York City. 

"So that led to a lot of anxiety, just in my home life, and I kind of view my house as a sanctuary. When I go home, that is where I go to be placid and peaceful." She continues, "The situation at home coupled with a really toxic work environment where I was basically being bullied by one of my co-workers." E.H. reverts to explain that she was ecstatic about her obligation during that time. She was living her dream of working in theatre. But regardless, even if we're in a good situation, toxicity of people can make even our best experiences a weight on our shoulders. "There was no place to unwind; there was no place to let the negative energy out of my body. So I was feeling very stuck, and so my anxiety just kept ramping up. It got to the point, I think on our photo shoot day, I was having a panic attack every hour." 

E.H. exclaims the photo shoot situation in a broader context which gave me some mindful enlightenment. She claimed how thrilled and excited she was regarding the shoot but kept feeling the weight knowing she'd have to go home when the escapism from the photo shoot was finished. It was then when I added a new word to my definition of anxiety: dread. Dread, mixed with uncertainty and toxicity, is the perfect formula for a perpetuating a whirlwind of an anxious life. As someone with severe anxiety myself, I was amazed in retrospect how these pieces fell together. I related profoundly to that same mindset—constantly living and thinking in our anxious future and being removed from the moment. 

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I asked her how she felt about coping mechanisms, many of which we had in common. She went on to say that many things didn't help her, such as deep breathing and meditation. So I shifted to ask what changes she made to elevate the anxiety. She said that the sub-letter moved out, and she received her new job offer,—ultimately a change of environment. "I would say examine the situations around you because that is most likely what is impacting you the most and what is causing you all that anxiety, and if possible, remove yourself from those situations." She continues, "Or find somebody that can help you." She adds that friends or significant others can help you validate your anxiety, and while not alleviate it entirely, it does help to know someone is there.

We continue to discuss how important it is to evaluate the closest people around us and what we define as a friendship or relationship of quality. The people we surround ourselves with is a reflection of who we are. Finding friends who have compassion for your potential mental health struggles, such as anxiety or any hurdles, is imperative. Perhaps the group of people you're surrounded with is adding to your stress and not an environment where you all can grow. 

Taking a few steps back, E.H. bravely shared a story that genuinely moved me and demonstrates the power of the notion that things happen for a reason. E.H. exclaims, before moving to New York, she was supposed to go to Atlanta, Georgia, with someone of whom she was engaged—a place that would've counteracted her dreams of being on Broadway. "He wanted to go to Georgia; he was from Atlanta.” She continues, "I'm very loyal, I said, 'okay, let's do this. I want to make you happy.' Then at some point, I began to realize I didn't want to go to Georgia." She continued to exclaim that her former partner constantly placed doubt in her mind, asking if she truly thought she was good enough for Broadway, for New York, and how thousands of other people want the same thing. "I don't know, but I don't want to live my life knowing I didn't try."

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"It was very detrimental to my self-esteem. I'm still trying to come back from that." She realized then that the unhealthy partnership was done. "Literally, he left in the morning, drove back to Georgia. I went back to sleep. Then I woke up, looked at my Facebook, and there was one of my friends putting her tiny little closet apartment on sublet." E.H. immediately took the offer and moved to New York; it was fate. She admitted she was sad upon waking up, and said "He was gone," but she also knew that she committed to her current production until she left for her new life. She exclaimed she understood the importance of putting up a good front in the workplace, leaving a personal situation at home. On top of it all, she was only a few months from graduating with her master's degree. Since that point in time, she met her current boyfriend and helped move to Chicago where they both stand confidently in a long-distance relationship. 

I asked if she saw while in the previous relationship that it was toxic, or only in retrospect. She admitted that unbeknownst to her, even after the engagement, she didn't know about her partner's type-2 bipolar disorder. She said the start of the relationship was great, as he was in a state of mania followed by a crash of depression. "I think I saw the signs, but it was a conscience ignoring of what I saw.” E.H. added that he wasn't diagnosed until he was hospitalized. She now represents as an observer to a journey of someone who lived with a robust mental health struggle. "After he was hospitalized, I was noticing it started to get worse. He started blaming me for everything and projecting his issues onto me. I absorbed that. In essence, that's what you do." The hardest thing for her to realize was that she couldn't help him fully; that was a task for him as someone who didn't want to be helped. "Looking back, you know, well, you're in love." She took a long pause, "Someone asks you to marry them, and wow...me? It's the promise of happiness. It's an idea mixed with an emotional connection."

She admits, "It still affects me now. I'm hyper-vigilant." She adds, "I'm very distrusting. I worry constantly. I was cheated on a lot in the relationship because of the bipolar." We pause again, and she laughs, "My boyfriend's a saint. He understands while still being able to nurture me."  

I inquired what she would tell someone who might be in a toxic relationship. "I'm trying to think about what I would tell myself. I say for the most part people won't listen. Our instinct is to trust our gut, but we never do. Because we're like, 'I'm in this.' Maybe you're comfortable; maybe you're not. But, chances are you’re probably comfortable if you're just starting to see the red flags. My only advice is to trust your gut. If you see those red flags, you need to say something." She again conveys the importance surrounding yourself with people who really care about you and want to see you safe and healthy. 

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To end, I asked her to explain something that defined her character. After a moment of thinking, we made a full circle to the start of our conversation. We discussed how you interact with others, bringing positivity to the workplace and those around you, and we talked about seeing that chain reaction. "It might have been the moment when I had a meeting with the GM of Be More Chill, and a company manager friend of mine that I made when I first started working here. My first job was at the Vineyard Theatre. I was a dresser, and I met her then—and she's friends with the GM of Be More Chill, so we all went out to drinks. The GM ended up being an hour late because she was in a meeting talking about me. She was talking to the producers and the building managers of Be More Chill. It hit me like a ton of bricks." 

She continued, "All of the managers all fighting for me to work on the show on Broadway. It was so humbling. Me? This person who went into this being a Wig Supervisor thing, not really having a clear idea of what I was getting into too." She added, "I was excited because I love this show. I've been listening to this show for a year and a half."

A profound final few statements were made. "That moment really cemented into my brain that it's so important to work hard and be kind. Because you interact with so many people in this job. And so many different personalities. You never know who is going to remember you, and say 'I want to work with that person again.'"

It's very accurate that "[The entertainment industry] is very raw, and people get vulnerable." Hence, it is why talented and giving people like E.H. always hold onto the motto of working hard and being kind. The energy we put out in the universe comes back at us. Even our attitude with strangers, who we may not interact with again, is something we receive again in a different form. 

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E.H. sacrificed her time and story to make very worthy points that I firmly believe we can all extract lessons from in our own way. If you're struggling with anxiety or a toxic situation—in the workplace, with a partner, or with a friend—you're not alone. You have a voice, and you have to decide on the wellbeing of your character. I have no doubt that E.H. will be bringing an immense amount of joy to her workplace; she is indeed a gift to Broadway.

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You can follow E.H. Petropulos and her work at @eh_petropulos

P. E.H., personal communication, January 19, 2019.

Background Mediums Property of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

Written, Interviewed and Photographed by Sarah McKinnon.

Edited by Brittni Roberts