As a teenager and young adult my entire world revolved around the theater. It was my passion, my talent, and my career goal at one time. I only spent about four years involved in the performing arts, but that was enough for me to realize that performing just felt right to me. I felt at home on the stage; I loved the rush of a live performance and the power of a room full of eyes waiting for my next words and the heat of the spotlight (both literally and figuratively). It forced me to use multiple facets of my brain, to memorize lines, control my voice, and coordinate my body with motions that were sometimes awkward. When a show went poorly it was the ultimate humiliation, but when it was a success there was no feeling like it in the world. Once I left the theater and abandoned my less-than-stable career aspirations I lost a piece of myself that proved to be a larger than I realized. Now, more than a decade later, I have reclaimed a place on stage and rediscovered a part of myself that I thought was gone forever.
“Actor” was the first definition of myself that I ever claimed. It was my niche in school and I reveled in the comfort of it. I auditioned for every show available. I took every class that my high school offered, both on stage and behind the scenes. I watched others perform, I read about the history of the art, I visited theaters around the state, and I absorbed the tradition that was still held in the old elegant walls. Every aspect of theater was beautiful to me. I entered college confident that performing would always be a part of my life.
However plans change. Before I knew it, I was a wife and a mother and the closest I ever got to a stage was front row at Sesame Street Live. I knew that I missed performing but as time passed I convinced myself that it was just a phase of my life from which I had moved on. I occasionally entertained the idea of auditioning for a community theater show, but by this point I was certain that I didn’t have it in me anymore. I used every argument to talk myself out of it: “I’m not as attractive as I was in high school, and not skilled enough to make up for it”; “I don’t have the confidence to speak in front of an audience anymore”; “It would take away too much time from my children.” I mourned for the person I used to be, the person who got up on stage and felt fabulous whether she was the best actor on stage or not, the person who auditioned without fear and performed without doubt. But I felt that I was no longer that person—that too much had changed and it was too late to go back.
Then last year I participated in the Vacation Bible School
offered through my church and ended up performing in front of a hand full of children. It was a small, insignificant piece performed before a crowd that picks their nose and wets their pants, but it was enough to reignite a spark and remind me of what I was missing. This year I performed again, this time in front of the church congregation that just so happened to include a director from a local community theater group. After the service he approached me and asked if I would be interested in filling in for a role that had been abandoned. It was only for a short skit, but I was delirious with a rush of nerves and excitement. I agreed, making plans to show up that weekend for the first rehearsal to read through the script and see if I’d be a good fit for the role.
On my way to the theater that Saturday my stomach was knotted up and I replayed all of the reasons I had given myself for not auditioning sooner. I was certain I was going to be out of place; as soon as I read the part they would surely realize that they had made a mistake. I walked into the small prep room filled with actors of every age and listened quietly as they read through their scripts one by one, in strong professional voices. Then it was my turn. My role opened with a monologue that I read through with such speed that the MicroMachine guy from the 80’s would have been jealous. The more nervous I am, the faster I talk—and boy was I nervous. My voice cracked awkwardly and the required pauses between lines felt like gaping wounds that I desperately wanted to fill. The director stopped me and kindly asked me to slow down and start over. So I did, trying hard to drag out my words between my rapid breaths. My co-star was a terrific talent which helped me pace myself, and by the second run-through I felt a little more in control of my voice. Amazingly they accepted me for the role, and everything felt right in the world once again.
At the end of our rehearsal the director reminded everyone that auditions for the next show were to take place the next day. It was a full-length dramatic play requiring four women actors in my age range. Dare I press my luck? It was one thing to end up with a role they were desperate to fill, but was I ready for a real audition?
The battle continued in my head even as I drove to the theater the next night and shyly walked into the main theater. I filled out my paperwork and looked around me at the other performers, all of whom had far more recent experience than me. Luckily I was one of the first ones called to read or I may have slipped out the back door. I took a copy of the script and climbed the steps to the stage. Wow, a stage! The hollow floor beneath me felt fantastically familiar and the lighting that beat down on me stirred up emotions that I had long forgotten.
Was it the performance of my life? Definitely not. My voice was not nearly as strong as it used to be, my motions were not as certain, but I felt more like myself than I had in years. Maybe I didn’t have the inflated teenage ego that I possessed in high school, but I now had a deeper, more sincere sense of self-confidence that can only come with age. I was content with my audition and left with an adrenaline high that left me unable to sleep.
The next several days were excruciating. For an audition that I almost didn’t even show up for, this play had become the thing I wanted most. Not because the theater was especially large or the show was particularly famous—on the contrary, its small-town stature was perfect for me—but because I needed this for myself. I needed to find that person that I lost at graduation.
Nearly two weeks later, after a second round of auditions that I stammered through with lackluster show, the final casting was completed. It popped up in my e-mail box and my heart started pounding. I had promised myself on my thirtieth birthday
that I would blow away the cloud of mommy-hood and rediscover myself, and I knew this was a vital step in doing so. I opened the e-mail and saw my name at the top of the list. I got a part! Not just any part, I got the
part, the female lead, the one I had set my sights on and wanted from the moment I read it. Now it was mine! I did it!
I did it.
Now that the scary part is over the real work begins. There are many, many lines for me to memorize between the two shows I am now doing and my mind is hardly the steel trap it used to be. In fact, after a decade of child-rearing it is now more like a wet paper bag. I do battle with guilt over missing a few of my children’s extracurricular activities and not being home to tuck them in every night.
My hours are limited, my schedule is tight, but escaping to the theater for a few nights a week is more rewarding and invigorating to me than a trip to the spa
ever could be. Not only because I am out of the house without my tribe of children, but because I’m spending time with an old friend that I’ve sorely missed: myself.
**No illustration this week, our J-Sto is on vacation this week, but don't fear, she'll be back next week with more awesome comics for us! In the meantime catch up some of her other work at www.mykidcomix.com