Coming to the Stage- Part 2

I do love a good metaphor.  In Part 1, I wrote about stages: stepping to them, being on them, going through them, sharing them… you get the point.  However, I am happy to report, that it is not just a metaphor; I really am coming to the stage again.

Two days ago, I went to an open audition.  I haven’t auditioned in a ridiculously long time.  That’s not to say that I haven’t been performing.  I have been dancing and even singing on stage quite a bit up until recently, but for whatever reason, either I haven’t had to audition (#winning #MyReputationPrecedesMe), or I haven’t been taking enough risks.  Unfortunately, we know which one was more commonly the case.  The underlying problem has been that I haven’t had the capacity to do more.  Now that I have made some schedule changes and sacrifices (more on that next Tuesday), I have the opportunity to do more with all the creative energy that I have been bottling up.  So imagine my giddiness, while reading the playbill for a theatre company that I admire, and noticing that they were holding auditions only 3 days away!  My heart sank as I realized that I had a work conflict.  It only took one text message, inside one minute, to switch my schedule around (that has never happened before!!!  Switching schedules usually requires a high level of begging, bribery, and/or blackmail akin to those in public office, but miracles do happen everyday!).  I was able to audition!

After emailing my headshot and a rather unimpressive resume of my meager body of work, (darn The Struggle for being so real!!!  If all you do is work, then of course your extracurriculars suffer) I received my audition time.  It was really happening!  Then, I had a brief flashback, remembering how awkward I was in high school during auditions: I was the dweeb in the bathroom reciting lines over and over again, and even practicing tongue twisters (“Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow letter” “the seething sea ceaseth, and thus the seething sea sufficeth us”).  I did this nervously up until the very last minute.  When my name was called, all my preparation immediately went out the window; I became someone else, and unfortunately not the characters I was trying out for, but the mild mannered Clark Kent version of myself, hiding my super powers.  Auditions often begin with the director asking a few questions, they’re getting to know you and/or trying to put you at ease.  I was wound so tight, that no amount of preamble could have put me at ease.  This level of performance anxiety derailed most every audition.

If you think I am over exaggerating how badly I bombed at auditions, allow me to introduce exhibit A: I tried out unsuccessfully for my high school’s theatre company two years in a row.  I continued to take theater classes, in both technical theater and performance, however procuring a place in the company always alluded me.  The only reason, I think I made the company after trying out my junior year, is because my theater teacher overheard me telling another classmate, that if I didn’t make it in this year, I’d be done with the theater program.  To this day, I am not sure whether I made it in based on the merit of my audition, my record of outstanding work in class, or out of pity.  Either way, I was elated to finally be “in”.

So this is what I recalled first, as I read my confirmed audition time.  I quickly regrouped by flashbacking  over all the time that has passed since high school and all the times I successfully performed, feeling at home on stage and connecting strongly with the audience.  I’ve come a mighty long way since my lame days of high school, but it left some residual phantom pains of lameness.  I foolishly wondered, “I don’t have it anymore, but can it grow back!?!”  I made a choice, in that moment, to no longer entertain those thoughts, and chose instead to be excited for the opportunity.  The take away from all the flashbacking is that being prepared, remaining calm, and confident in my abilities is key.  Maybe I don’t have much experience with auditioning since high school, but I have a lot more performance experience since then.  I told myself, “I got this!”  Also, I wore my confidence-boosting secret weapon… red lipstick.

I arrived surprisingly early, because I found the place without any trouble.  There were signs on the door outside that told me I was in the right place.  (For all my fellow metaphor lovers, I shamelessly point out the last sentence.)  I took a seat and a deep breath.  “You got this!  Just have fun!” I assured myself.  I could hear laughter coming from the audition in progress.  Finally, the door opened, the last auditionee stepped out, and then my mispronounced name was called (the unique name struggle).  I remained myself, no Clark Kenting.  Inside were the director and two company members.  The black and white image I provided for my headshot looked up at me, smiling reassuringly, from the director’s table as I grabbed the script we would be reading from.  I got a brief description, from the director, about the short play and the characters within it.  The two other company members were my scene partners.  Talented and funny, they didn’t just read the lines off the page.  They acted out the scene with enthusiasm, and instead of being intimidated, I simply reveled at our play.  I got to “read” for different parts, and then it was over.  It felt like an enjoyable roller coaster ride: the anxious butterflies at the beginning, the thrilling euphoria of rising and falling, the hilarious yet awkward reactions to the unexpected, the joy of feeling suspended in time, and finally the abrupt disbelief that comes with the unavoidable return to central standard that signals the end of the ride.  “What?!  It’s over already!?!  Can I go again?!”  I tried out; I made mistakes; I kept going; I got a few laughs.  I just wanted to get right back in line and ride again.

In the end, the audition did have a bit of awkwardness (though extremely watered down; it was more of an eua de toilette hint of high school lameness).  I wouldn’t say I #nailit, but I can honestly say I had fun.

I find out later today whether I’m “in” or not.  Whatever the outcome, I am going to keep coming to the stage.


What Took You So Long

When I first realized I loved to write, I was 10 years old.  I was suffering from early on-set adulthood (my childhood began to erode years before it should have), I felt unheard and invisible, and I needed a place to keep all the thoughts, secrets, and events I could not say aloud. It was easy to write then; I wrote for my survival and sanity; I never questioned whether it was good.

Writing became increasingly more important to me.  Several teachers told me I had talent, yet when I first started college, as an English Major, I failed several courses.  I could not produce the written work by the deadline. I accepted failing grades rather than turn in assignments I viewed as mediocre. I did the work but never received credit for it, because I was so fixated on editing out all the perceived imperfections.  I spend hours, days, and weeks perfecting my work, going over it with a fine-tooth comb, restyling it, and constantly critiquing it for worthiness.  I edit myself before the words ever reach the page, and then again after I have written a paragraph or a page, and several times more once the first draft is complete.  Because my process is so tedious, I hardly have anything to show for my effort.

I have another, very different passion.  In a studio, the full length reflection of vibrant tribal patterns clash each other like waves, sweat drips heavily from every orifice of my body, my lungs protest adamantly for more air, and even so, I wear a smile as wide as my face, ignoring discomfort to focus solely on the rhythm which calls to me from the drums.  I am dancing, and when I dance, I am free.  Writing and dancing are two very differing passions of mine, and I thought I approached them differently, however, like the lapas worn for West African Dance, there is a pattern.

At the end of many African dance classes, there is a drum circle.  Dancers and drummers create a circle, and individual dancers enter it to have a conversation, in movement, with the drums.  As a novice, this was most intimidating for me.  I would worry about remembering what I had just learned, staying on rhythm, and whether I was skilled enough to dance in the spotlight.  Usually, I would forfeit the opportunity to step forward.  From my spot in the circle, I remained animated, sharing my joy and mirroring steps.  As long as I did not feel pressure, I could perform.  An intuitive and observant drummer discerned my hesitation, and gave me advice that I now apply to my passions and life.  He told me that I was missed in the conversation, that as a drummer he needed my energy, that my spirit, the joy I exude while dancing, motivated and compelled him in his drumming.  He advised me to never hesitate.

I am capable of dancing with reckless abandon and writing in the flow.  How is it then that I can experience complete creative paralysis?  I think back to the missed classroom assignments and missed conversations on the dance floor.  I hesitate.  I fixate on perfection.  I fail to produce or neglect to engage.  Ultimately, they are all forms of fear.  And the only way to conquer fear is to face it.  Never hesitate.

It took me a long time to publish a second post, because it took me a long time to connect the dots.  I thought starting this blog was the difficult part: navigating the technical elements, developing content, sharing the first post.  I was naive.  What I recently realized is that the truly difficult part of becoming a professional creative artist is constantly silencing the inner critic and soberly facing fears.  Now that I am familiar with the pattern, and I am aware of what is really holding me back…  you won’t have to wait so long between reads.

What area of your life are you most critical about?  What obstacles are stealing your time and keeping you from creating?  What dreams and ambitions have you been hesitating on?  What’s taking you so long?