Small Town Kid, Big Dreams

Tonya Kay posing, still a small town girl :: Pyrgraph

I was a small town girl.

Raised in a farm town in southern Michigan. With haunted cornfields for midnight hide-n-seek and country roadkill bigger than your little brother. Grew up artistic somehow — my mom and dad were creative and open-minded (thank goodness), and I ended up acting in community theater, directing home movies, teaching dance lessons, taking vocal lessons, drawing with dad, writing poetry and playing in the school band. There were oodles of artistic outlets to explore and express myself with, but little support when I wanted to turn my talents into a career. What’s a small town kid gotta do to make it as a real-life performing artist?

The school guidance counselor screamed, “What are you going to do with your life?!” when I, her valedictorian, announced I wasn’t going to college. I suddenly couldn’t get cast in the school plays. And my mom had to throw down with the school board when I booked my first pro gig at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre and needed to miss a month of classes.

It dawns on me now…

…a 22-year professional performing artist who has seen it all — part of a show that sold out Madison Square Garden twice, toured all 50 states; acted on network television for 11 million viewers; been the featured photo spread in Rolling Stone, TV Guide, Inc. and Vertical magazines — maybe the resistance I felt was innocent.

Perhaps some naysayers simply didn’t know how to get seen for a TV pilot and couldn’t help. Or perhaps wanting to “do more” or “get out” was distasteful in the boondocks, seen as being overly proud or unsatisfied. I’d hate to think it was uncouth for youth to follow their dreams in small towns then, or still today. Some of the world’s greatest talent comes from farm towns.

Thank goodness for my immediate family and dance teacher driving me to rehearsals or conventions in Detroit (then the murder capital of the world, but now a revived panacea of potential). Goddess knows I still had to f*ckitup — a lot. Got fired from 13 factory jobs and arrested before accepting my true identity. I am unfit for the 9-5, but exceptional at the unstable, abstract and adventurous. I am an artist!

I moved to Chicago when I was 19 years old and haven’t “worked” a day in my life since. There were theaters hiring, dance studios paying, tours casting — all I had to do was be there. How does one small-town kid turn her talents into a career? Train, train, train those foundational skill sets, accept support where it is offered, get to a city and be ready to have her brain and body torn asunder by the entertainment industry enigma every day for the rest of her life.

I still don’t know how I do it, but I do it. And I am grateful not just for where I’ve gotten to, but for where I’ve come from.

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About Tonya Kay

This Magickal Child from Michigan farmlands is an award-winning actress and writer, professional dancer, burlesque performer, pole athlete, danger artist, stunt woman, world-traveling conservationist, raw vegan celebrity and living proof of what a child raised in love grows up to be.

You’ve seen her on TV’s “Criminal Minds,” “Glee” and “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien”; in The Muppets, The Lone Ranger and Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant movies; in Rolling Stone, TV Guide, SPIN, Inc. and Vertical magazines; and on stage with STOMP, De La Guarda, Panic At The Disco and the Lalas Burlesque.

When she is not road-tripping to see her favorite heavy metal rock bands play live or rebuilding her 1965 Buick Riviera classic hot rod, Tonya Kay is seeking out organic farmers markets, sustainable vineyards and life-changing art. It is this renegade’s passion to shape reality, push evolution, exist in love and take the whole wide world along for the ride.


  1. Will on July 12, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    How cute is that picture! You done good kid.

  2. Tonya Kay (@tonyakay) on July 14, 2013 at 2:49 am

    It’s crazy how you can look at old photos of yourself and see the same spirit in the eyes, the same touch in the hand. Life …

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