After a while, she discovered that getting typecast as so-and-so’s blonde girlfriend was a “super unsatisfying way” to practice her art—a feeling undoubtedly familiar to any creative person who feels boxed in, unable to bridge the gap between what they want to make and what the market demands. “I just remember being like, ‘I’m acting from the least resonant part of myself,’” she says.
Gillingham credits two people with putting her on her current path. The first is Sandra Seacat, a renowned acting teacher with roots in the Method—which encourages performers to bring in their personal experiences when building a character—and introduced dream work to the industry in the 70s and 80s. “I call her the frontier. She really pioneered the work,” Gillingham says. The other is a Jungian analyst named Marion Woodman. Then she had a baby, the exact sort of big life change that encourages the gears to shift. She decided to start teaching acting in her thirties and steadily grew her practice from there. Today, at 58 years old, Gillingham refers to her acting career as “going to Cincinnati on my way to Hawaii.”
Her clients extend across creative fields, primarily actors, directors, and writers, though she’s even seen a scientist or two. (Not as far-fetched as it sounds: according to some stories, the theory of relativity and the idea for the periodic table came to Albert Einstein and Dimitri Mendeleev, respectively, in their dreams.)
Sometimes, something magical happens when she works with multiple people working on the same production: their dreams begin to align with each other, as if their minds are melding in their sleep. “You hear repeating images or repeating themes within the dreams,” she says. “You start to hear the unique DNA of the piece itself.” Gillingham credits psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious—the idea that the deepest unconscious mind is universally shared and inherited, which is why the same archetypes will crop up in mythology across cultures.
Sandra Oh has worked with Gillingham for over 15 years, and likens dream work to meditation. “It really is a deep, deep practice, and the more you do it, the more it becomes the practice. It becomes much less goal-oriented,” she explained. “It was a profound change and a deepening in my own understanding of my work and art.”
Heidi Schreck, the creator and star of What the Constitution Means to Me, described Kim to me as possessing a kind of “genius,” as well as an unexpected rigor. “When you first meet her, it feels like this is just like open, warm, loving softness, that turns out to have plenty of intelligence behind all of it,” she said. “She’s completely non-judgmental, but if you get off course or you try to avoid things or you disconnect, she sees it and pushes you. So I would say there’s a fierceness there.”
Gillingham herself rejects any stereotypes about dream work being an airy, New Age-y discipline. Instead, she sees dreams as fundamentally grounded in the hard truth of reality. “A dream will kick your ass like nothing else,” she says. “The dream will wake you up. That’s why they’re here.”