It’s such a simple idea.
Megan M. Stier, a self-described performer/educator/motivational speaker (there’s rent to pay, so it depends on the day) bought five notebooks and five pens from the dollar store and “hid” them in plain sight in Astoria Park.
She wrote “Read Me” on each cover.
Those who were curious enough to do so were instructed to record their thoughts anonymously in the volumes and leave them for the next person.
What she came to call The Journal Project NYC exceeded her wildest expectations.
“The journals were filled with heart-felt messages,” she says, adding that although the notebooks disappeared (thoughts, after all, are fleeting), she took photos of every page. “It was so cool, and it was a great way to connect during the pandemic. Sometimes, people just need to share or have someone listen to them.”
The idea caught on, sparking similar projects around the world.
Although Megan, who was crowned Miss Greater New York 2019 and Miss Broadway 2020, is used to having an audience because she works in theater, TV and film, this global response was an entirely new experience for her.
She seems to be taking her new-found fame in stride, even if it’s not quite what she envisioned.
The sunlight glinting off her gold glasses, Megan, curls up on the couch, contemplating where life is leading her.
With her long blond hair, green eyes, sparkling smile and wholesome good looks, she’s an ingenue, Hollywood’s quintessential “girl next door.”
Megan has wanted to be a performer since the day she was born.
As the youngest of four and the only girl in the family, she was the constant center of attention.
She grew up in Lewis Center, Ohio, a small suburban community outside Columbus that most people have never heard of.
“It’s located between farmland and the city,” she says. “I always knew I was going to end up in New York because that’s where people go to be successful.”
Sure enough, when Megan graduated from high school, she moved straight to Manhattan, where she rented an apartment near Lincoln Center while she attended The American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “I studied dance, voice and acting, and I was in school from 8 a.m. to midnight six days a week. The day I graduated, I booked my first TV show. I didn’t have doubts that I would be able to make a living performing because what else could I do.”
Since then, she’s been getting steady gigs.
When she’s not performing, she’s giving motivational speeches – her favorite topics are brain injury awareness, sexual assault education and Title IX issues.
“I had a brain injury in high school that derailed my life for a while,” she says.
While she was performing, she was pushed off the stage and hit the back of her head on a piano.
“I had memory loss and stuttered and slurred my words,” she says. “I went from being an honor-role student to failing my junior year. I had to switch schools and learn to speak again. It took me over a year, and there are still things about my past that I don’t remember.”
Megan, who moved to Astoria five years ago, picked herself up because the show, as they say, must go on even if your role it in changes.
“What choice did I have but to be positive and grow from the tragedy and become a better version of myself,” she says.
If you don’t know Megan’s name from The Journal Project NYC, you may have seen her in the 2020 teenage rom-com The Half of It.
“I play the mean girl in high school,” she says, smiling in delight. “It was exciting – I got to do a slow-mo walk through a hallway wearing all pink. It was a small part, but I spent two months filming with the cast and crew.”
This year, she’s completing a nationwide tour with the U.K. version of the musical Cinderella and has a co-starring role in the upcoming half-hour HBO Max comedy series Rap Sh*t, whose plot revolves around a trio of women who move to Miami and form a rap group.
Megan, who is 24, is eager for the next adventure, whatever it will be.
She makes it definitively clear that doesn’t want to be a star; she simply wants to be a working performer.
But Broadway, ah, Broadway. She’ll never give up on that dream.
“I’d even be happy being an understudy for an ensemble,” she says. “Then, my bucket list would be complete.”
Her schedule has been so hectic that she hasn’t had time to start a sequel to The Journal Project NYC.
But when she does get a break, hopefully before the end of the year, the empty notebooks will be back in Astoria Park waiting to be filled up again.
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at NRuhling@gmail.com, @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.
Copyright 2021 by Nancy A. Ruhling