DARIEN – The car was packed to capacity, and as the highway and Los Angeles skyline merged with a mountainous background only seen on postcards, a teary, starry eyed girl knew she was about to embark on a life-long dream.
"I remember feeling like this is exactly where I'm supposed to be," said former Darien resident and Downers Grove South High School graduate, Maritza Cabrera.
In August 2012, Cabrera drove cross country to Los Angeles to embark on her dream of becoming an actress, a career she's pursued since she was a little girl.
"I was that kid who was singing in front of the mirror with a hair brush and putting on plays with my dolls," she said.
Throughout high school, Cabrera was involved in several plays, performing clubs and the music department. She also trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, as well as at Second City Conservatory in Chicago, partaking in sketch comedy and theater.
While Chicago is an amazing city for live performances, she said, there weren't many opportunities for film or television, and several of the roles didn't fit her personality. To achieve her dream, Cabrera knew she needed to move west.
So Cabrera took that leap, fit everything she could in the car and drove cross country to make it in Hollywood.
"I was warned by people who had already moved to L.A., who were like, 'get ready, everything you did in Chicago will mean nothing and you're starting over,'" she said. "That was a slap in the face and humbling when it actually happened – a lot of my stage work and theater credits didn't really mean anything, except for a handful of casting directors that cared about live theater."
However, her big break could be on the horizon as she is now one of the finalists on a multi-platform reality television show, "The Reel Deal," in which aspiring actors, directors, composers and screenwriters vie for a chance to work with celebrity mentors and eventually create a short film.
Of the 27,000 submitted videos, Cabrera is now one of the 120 finalists that will be voted on by the public, who will determine the 21-person cast that will appear on the show.
Cabrera said the first-round of auditions required contestants to make a minute-long videos describing their life and personality. After passing that round, Cabrera was allotted two hours to recorded a monologue and submit it for consideration.
"They emailed us two choices of monologue and we had two hours to choose one, memorize it, perform it, tape it, edit it and upload it," she said. "I have always been an over achiever, so I actually did both monologues in the two hour time block. I didn't want to pick."
Cabrera said the opportunity to work with a celebrity mentor and make a short film would be "huge" for her career, as she can't picture herself on any other path.
While working as an actress and going through countless audition processes can be "brutal" and emotionally trying, she attests that there is something deeply satisfying about pursuing a dream.
"But then there are these amazing moments when you perform and even if you don't get the gig you know you just had a great performance," she said. "There's nothing else I love but acting."
• Voting ends at noon CST on Thursday.
• To vote for Cabrera and view her submissions, visit thereeldeal.tv/maritza-cabrera.
• For more information on The Reel Deal, visit http://thereeldeal.tv.