Sternberg Family Collection Barbara Sternberg [email protected] CC BY-SA 3.0,
Since I can remember, I’ve been obnoxiously talkative and outgoing. I recall commonly being disliked by teachers for my running absurdity and delight for being loud. Well, a lack of awareness for volume is a more accurate way to put it. Around the ages of 9/10 something flipped this upside down, inside out, and rearranged socializing in reverse alphabetical order.
I became frightened of human interaction. I went from unhinged boisterousness to presenting my classes with tears instead of penguin slideshows. My terror reigned for years until at some point, in 7th grade, my desire for peer acceptance outweighed my fear. I decided it was high tide I swim with the sharks. I would do the most humiliating thing I could contrive: become a theatre kid.
So I joined Mr. Irvine’s intro to theatre class. Sure enough, it began horrendously; I nearly broke into tears at our first game. There’s 2 people driving in a car when they pick up an eccentric hitchhiker, have a conversation, then kick the person on the right out and so on. It felt like torture to imagine what I’d say and who I’d be if in a car with an overworked Boston bartender and, some, fairy thing…? Oh no, who am I? What is the funniest, most creative and intellectually integral but not too embarrassing, just impressive, façade I can put on? Ship ship I’m up next! Argg! “Ahoy matey” I greeted as I drunkenly waddled into the car (box). Now, might I mention, rule #1 of improv is incredibly comforting. Never say no (don’t shut down the scene).
This meant that no matter how confusing or unfunny I was, the feedback from my immediate peers was positive. For the first time in years, I felt like my absurdity was not frowned upon or shut down, but instead, woven into conversation that even brought a little laughter from other students. On top of this, I was no longer alone in my embarrassing persona. The room was, to my great comfort, brimming with shameless honesty of character. A joyous mass of boisterous people. Many of which too seemed to lack an awareness of volume.
During this time, whether it be from puberty, insecurity, or instability, I was desperately seeking escape from myself. Luckily for me, that’s exactly what theatre encourages. It gave me a space to explore my creativity and voice while putting aside the more overwhelming parts of myself. In a time with very little personal fulfillment it also gave me something to be proud of. Not only that, it gave me external validation. Something that in all honesty I was intensely searching for.
As a freshman in high school I stayed with theatre but was relatively mentally vacant. We spent a good majority of our time watching movies or learning concepts that without much practice felt null and abstract. The lack of hands-on experience combined with my general disinterest in life left me bored. So instead, the following year, I answered a calling towards journalism. I believed it would work to a more practical effect of opening myself up to people. I left without much regard for the uninspiring year.
I fell in love with journalism and took it up again as a junior. But as my vibrancy and passion for life came back to me I started to really miss theatre. It was too late to join the class, but auditions for the one acts were coming up soon. I was cast in the show Squad Goals directed by Aaron Workman. I would play Watkins, a manic nerd trying out for a basketball team of two, headed by an inspirationally obsessive coach and his wildly love-struck sidekick. I was often drained by the time I’d get to rehearsals.
A mixture of school and my failing romantic relationship had me physically and mentally exhausted. Yet I found that once I’d get there I was filled with new found energy. The light hearted environment was a wash of relief. Our script was hilarious in concept, but clunky in practice. So, our director gave us complete creative freedom to turn our characters into whoever we saw fit. My excitement left me spending hours outside of rehearsals playing with who I thought Watkins should be. Because of her rambunctious nature and chaotic (“loose cannon”) mannerisms it gave me the perfect opportunity to healthily funnel my anxious energy. Generally, I kept to myself and focused on my work.
I was rather afraid of talking to the other actors. Nonetheless, they treated me with kindness and respect. At rehearsals I was lively but often completely void and out of it, if I showed up at all. No matter, they never made a big deal out of it and seemed grateful when I’d return. Even though I never opened up about what was going on, I felt as though I had a strong support system and a group of people who loved me.
It’s show night. The theatre room buzzed with excitement. Music from the makeup rooms could be heard clear down the hall as everyone prepared their characters. Aside from rehearsals I’d never been on stage before, let alone in front of a real audience. I’d only ever performed in front of other thespians. It’s an interesting contrast waiting to go on stage. Behind the curtain is dark and you’ve gotta tiptoe around so as not to disturb the sound of the show. Yet on stage, the lights are near blinding. So bright you can’t hardly see past the edge of the wood you’re walking on.
A cocktail of anxiety and excitement brewed and bubbled beneath my skin as I waited for my turn. I had hardly more than a couple dozen words to say, yet I nervously paced around backstage running my lines twenty thirty times as I waited to go on for my snippet basketball tryout. “Next!” called Coach Morrison. I skipped on and did my thing. I wasn’t on stage for more than maybe a minute, but fear has a way of dragging small moments into long stretches of time.
After my scene I was invigorated. Filled with excitement and new sprung confidence. I couldn’t believe my boldfaced audacity of performing with the pure intention of being laughed at for being a fool. The euphoria was intoxicating.