A single spotlight shoots through the dark, vast space and illuminates the stage. Adrenaline pumps through my veins—shooting energy up my toes and out my fingertips. It was opening night of “Children of Eden." And I was "Eve." My first musical, my first lead role, and my first college production. This was big. We all stood backstage preparing ourselves, as the show we worked so hard for was about to start. I took a few deep breaths. This was the moment we had all been waiting for.
Through the arts, I can express myself more deeply as they demand complete emotion and creativity. And they allow discovery and self-exploration as well.
Though performing can be quite nerve-wracking and some things are out of my comfort zone—I do it anyway. I stretch myself farther and farther with each new project I decide to take on. That is how I learn and grow. It takes courage to get up in front of others. Most people know me as a shy and quiet person; however, when I am performing, a new side of me bursts out. When I am acting, for example, I love how I can develop a character and become a totally different person. It's nice to have a "break" from the real me every now and then (because I'm still learning to love myself). Sometimes being up on stage is intimidating, but once I focus and get in the zone, the anxiety alleviates. The more I do it, the easier it gets.
My passion for the arts has allowed me to become more comfortable in my own skin, more confident in my abilities, more disciplined, and more outgoing.
And although I have generalized and social anxiety--ironically, performing on stage has actually been very helpful. It forces me to put myself out there. And the funny thing is, the actual performing is often easier; I have a script. It's the normal social interaction in between, with a large group of people, that is more uncomfortable for me. But I have found that the more I stay at home--not get out of the house and socialize, the harder it is when I do have to talk to people. The anxiety is always there, but it can worsen if I don't face my fears. Our brains naturally want to avoid discomfort and danger. It wants to protect itself. And staying at home is my safe place and refuge--which means less anxiety. The reality is, I can't avoid everything and I know that if I stay cooped up inside for too long, I tend to get depressed. So being involved in theatre has really helped me to get out of my shell. And just simply enjoying the arts in general--creating, expressing, and sharing something--is beautiful, rewarding, and therapeutic for me.
Valuable Lessons for Performers
I once interviewed a professor--the late Elizabeth Bossard (also known as "Boss")--in college, for a journalism class I was taking. She taught Music and Communications for over 40 years. And she was my music director for "Children of Eden." From selling Tupperware, she learned the importance of product when she said,
“You are the first product you sell. Whether you are a speaker or a performer—you need to sell yourself. Credibility is everything."
Believing that her job was to simply provide tools for her students, Bossard then allowed them to discover their amazing potential. She made an extra effort to help build self-worth and confidence in the individual. Bossard pointed out that,
“Confidence you can lose; commitment you can use.”
After feelings of rejection and discouragement, which at times is experienced in the performing arts, she taught her students that,
“People who enjoy the struggle learn more and learn faster.”
Bossard referred to this as failing forward. She went on to say that,
"If one does not make mistakes, then he or she will not know what works. It is a matter of just trying things and learning from those mistakes—then acquiring the right tools to fix them."
Bossard likened her “tool-belt” theory to that of the tutoring center on campus. Many students are hesitant to seek help and get a tutor because they think it suggests that they are not smart. This is a label they place on themselves. Bossard explained that getting a tutor is just a resource, or tool (this also applies to seeking the help of a mental health professional, by the way). It is a wealth of help to be taken advantage of. She went on to say that everyone gets labeled, and that through rejection and feeling like we are not good enough, we have the power to remove those labels.
As explained by Bossard, when it comes to performing, your character and the message you portray, is most important. Half jokingly, she said that,
"If fear is bigger than your character—keep singing in the car.”
Providing a few tips, “Boss” stressed the importance of developing a stage presence with the audience. It is all about communication. Some additional advice she gave was to,
“Get over yourself, and find yourself.”
I personally have learned that you win some and you lose some--and that is life. If you fall, you get right back up and try again. In the music industry, for example, there are people that are not going to like you or your music. There are companies and arrangers that will not accept your demos. When a performer auditions for a production, he or she needs to be able to accept criticism and rejection. As hard as it is to hear sometimes, receiving critique and meaningful feedback really helps me to become better. I know that having a determination and a love for what you do is the key.
I remember the feeling I had when I saw my name on the cast list for “Children of Eden.” I was honestly shocked that I would be playing the role of “Eve." It took a while to sink in as I just stared at my name. In happy-and-overwhelmed-tears, I called my parents to inform them of the good news. Upon auditioning for the play, I had no expectations. I actually hoped for a small role, knowing that the semester was going to be super busy for me. The hours spent in rehearsal was equivalent to a full-time job. I honestly did not know how I was going to pull it off.
That semester in college I learned—and continue to learn and struggle with—how to use my time wisely, create a balance, and prioritize. I realized that I cannot do everything, and that realization was very difficult for me. My stress level remained high—my energy level low. I also felt incredibly inadequate. I kept reminding myself that I could do this. To make matters worse, I sprained my ankle—right as we began learning dance choreography. I was so frustrated, but I knew that everything was going to be okay. The show must go on. Although the play was a lot of hard work—it was so worth it.
It was closing night. Emotions were running high. My whole family had come up to see the play. As the whole cast sang the last song, my eyes caught my parents’ gaze. Tears filled their eyes and at that point I could no longer sing. I lost it. It meant a lot to me to have my family there. I felt so relieved and accomplished. As with anything you create and work hard on, seeing the end result is very rewarding. And the greater sacrifice of time and energy, the more satisfaction there is.
Above: In Act II, the story was
about Noah's Ark. I had to sit
on a really tall guy's shoulders
with a giraffe head on. Kind of
I took 14 credits of Theatre in college. For an Acting I course, I participated in a mock audition and was voted, "Most Likely to Receive an Acting Contract." And for a Beginning Technical Theatre class, I helped backstage (on the props crew, moving set pieces on and off stage, and operating the spotlight) for a few shows--including Savior of the World and Talley's Folley. My senior year of college, I had the opportunity to go on a trip to NYC with one of my theatre classes, where we saw several Broadway shows. While there, I participated in a reading at the Dramatist's Guild, of my theatre professor's original musical Pioneer Song--and I read the role of "Tessie," a pioneer woman.
Throwback to Drama Class in High School
Also, in Drama class, for a senior project, I rewrote, choreographed, and directed a short one-act spoof of "High School Musical" (which was lip synced). And I played the role of "Gabriella."
In Jr. High, I played the role of a stage manager named "Mildred," in A Monster Ate My Homework. I also enjoyed performing for elementary school students as "Little Red Riding Hood," in a short fairytale production my class put on for them.
This past March, also through Montana Actor's Theatre, I had the wonderful opportunity to play "Sister Mary Robert," in the Broadway musical, Sister Act (based off the 1992 movie with Whoopi Goldberg). She is the young, meek nun--who is obedient, but also wonders about "the life she never led." I felt like I related a lot to the character and already had a similar persona to her. So it almost felt like I wasn't even acting. Just like "Sister Mary Robert," who figuratively and literally finds her voice--I discovered another part of my voice that I hadn't explored much before, with this role. There were some high notes that I learned how to belt. Belting is done in your "head voice" (high register), but you change the placement of the voice sound in the mouth, bringing it forward into the hard palate. It takes a little more muscular coordination and you have to be careful not to strain your vocal chords.
The spunky style of this play and the groovy dance moves were quite humorous as nuns. And I love the music and lyrics to the solo I was able to sing, "The Life I Never Led," which I recorded below (set to pictures from the play).
And I had a very meaningful surprise on closing night. My parents and some of my siblings drove all the way from Utah just to come see the play (and then drove all the way home the next day). I had no idea. I opened the front door of my house after coming home from a performance, to find them all sitting in my living room! It took a while to process. And yea, I totally cried. I was also pregnant during the play, but ended up having a "missed miscarriage." I had surgery the day before opening night. I was so nervous. But thankfully everything went well and I was able to perform just fine.
Tonight was opening night of "Sweeney Todd!" This is my third show with Montana Actor's Theatre. I'm apart of the chorus/ensemble (and have a brief scene with a few lines as a bird seller). This is a very challenging play with its complex music. It has been fun and we've worked hard. I had reservations at first when my director asked me if I would audition, as its dark theme isn't normally my style. I originally said no. I had also found out that I was pregnant again, and decided it was best that I not get involved in another show right now. But then I had another miscarriage. Well, my director learned that I was no longer pregnant and thought he would ask me again if I'd like to join the cast and be apart of the ensemble (I had already missed auditions and a few rehearsals). I was unsure, but my husband really encouraged me to do it. He has been very supportive. I like the stylistic approach my director went with--inspired by German Expressionism (white faces, dressed in black, asymmetry, exaggerated and elongated movements, etc.). It has a "Tim Burton vibe" (which, the movie version of "Sweeney Todd" was directed by Tim Burton). And it's not gory and bloody. It's comedic and things are implied. So after several months of practice, we finally made it. One show down, nine more to go!
Come see the show! You can buy tickets here!
Being involved in theatre can be very therapeutic and fun for you too! It's a great escape from the real world.
It can help you....
1. Improve your public speaking and interpersonal skills
2. Learn the value of team work
3. Have more empathy
4. Gain more confidence
5. Become more outgoing
6. Learn how to deal with criticism and rejection
7. Become more in-tune with your thoughts, feelings, and body
And so much more!
You can definitely find healing through the arts. And if you don't have much interest acting and participating first-hand, you can still find joy and an appreciation for theatre by just simply watching it. So go see a show!
Theatre has also helped me to fight my depression and anxiety--and have kept me physically and mentally active. And for all of this, I am grateful.