For the last month or so I’ve been interning at my old highschool, SAAS, teaching and directing theater alongside my mentor Paul. Today during the Advanced Acting class, he decided to make a guinea pig out of me and plop me onstage amidst ten highschoolers, some who think the world of me and others who snicker and point about the girl who came back to high school after she graduated. (Or maybe they’re admiring my delicious outfits, and my self-conscious sub-conscious is projecting my insecurities on them.) Even though I’ve been participating in the Advanced Improv class the past month, reading rigorously and excitedly about games and rules and skills for the successful improviser, jumping in for games and providing examples for the students, I still found my heart pounding and my breath rapidly increasing under the hot stage lights as I begrudgingly (with utter excitement to perform) lined up with a bunch of pubescent teenagers. After class, Paul asked me if I was doing improv anywhere right now, and I said no. He replied, “You should.”
Well, Paul, I would but unfortunately I treated my last improv gig with the same respect a shitty girlfriend would her boyfriend, toying with their emotions, making promises to attend shows then rescheduling last minute, putting all my time and commitment into the relationship initially then slowly fading out until a long needed break-up was made, followed with a plea for the company to take me back because I’d changed and “this time I wouldn’t leave them.” I don’t know how many times that world renowned promise has been kept, but humans have a tendency to be repeat offenders. I have a horrible habit of fully committing to a project or a job, having every intention of riding out the task with valor and dignity, galloping out the other end stronger and wiser with a following of thankful praising peers, then finding a reason (either to stroke my conscious or convince who I’m working for) to back out and quit before its over.
Correction: I find a reason to quit when it gets hard.
This morning in the car I was talking to my boyfriend about exhaustion and pain, and how with age its not (only) that the exhaustion and pain we experience increases, but that our comprehension of the feelings we associate with those words strengthens, allowing our minds to consciously associate our feelings with their connotations in language. For the next two weeks I’ll be at SAAS long hours for tech and dress rehearsals of the highschool production, and I was recalling how in highschool I hardly felt exhaustion after the show ended and all was said and done. After further thought, I realized that perhaps I was more exhausted than I recognized then, because my brain hadn’t yet learned that the “exhaustion” I experienced was what “adults” (if I have to explain why adults is in quotations you clearly shouldn’t read my blog) understand to be the culmination of hard work, long hours, little sleep, poor nutrition, and a list of other “uncomfortable” experiences, to which we come to the conclusion that should we be in a state of “exhaustion,” we are “uncomfortable.”
Similarly, when I was younger and a challenge presented itself to me, (we’ll call this pre-exhaustion for continuity’s sake) I sensed that the task was difficult but I couldn’t (by adult standards) immediately identify it as “uncomfortable” the way I do now. I could feel something was hard–like preparing for a show–but instead of intellectualizing what was hard, how it was hard, the consequences for not doing well, worst and best case scenarios, all the character work and scenework and memorizing involved–whatever was needed to get over the challenge at hand, I just moved forward through the “uncomfortable” unknowingly struggling. I never knew something better was on the other side, but without any context for my feelings, I just worked until I was finished. And what’s more, that “something better,” that exhaustion dressed up in pride and a sense of accomplishment evolved and disappeared behind the disguise of “uncomfortable.”
I don’t know when the shift happened from blind perseverance to oversensitive caution, but I approach challenges very differently now. I perceive every difficulty with all my senses, slowly unveiling the experience all around me as though I can see and hear and taste every facet of the challenge, experiencing every detail as though its being hammered into my brain with new reasons not to (for lack of a better word) overcome. Now that I’m an “adult” and I so foolishly have intellectualized everything I’ve been doing for the last eight weird years I’m able to recognize when “uncomfortable” is about to strike. My instinct is to protect myself from from discomfort, from discouragement, from unhappiness…Somewhere between highschool and highschool (oh look, nothing has changed you freak) I learned that if I finished something, no matter the outcome, I would have to take responsibility. That there is a chance I’ll look foolish, untalented, stupid, and plain bad, because I won’t always be the best.
Oh look at how well I’ve procrastinated! That was all a big bru-ha-ha for you in order to manipulate you into understanding and empathizing with the true case at hand which is I’m being a big pussy! I’ve been fighting the thoughts hammering in my brain for the last few weeks telling me not to audition for the Theater of Puget Sound’s General Auditions this February. Its an open audition that auditors from 30 or more theater companies and producers attend to watch us mere little actors try to stand out among the 200 some auditioners and make an impression for present or future productions. Its a wonderful opportunity for someone like me, who hasn’t worked in the industry professionally (let alone been on stage in two years) to just get my butt on stage and feel again what it’s like to be in the spotlight. That tender warmth of light inviting me to be whoever I want, to shamelessly demand attention to inspire and invoke pain and pleasure while ascending to the utmost pinnacle of relaxation and connection. Its the greatest thrill I’ve ever felt, and yet I’m terrified to cash in a freebie to get my high.
The deadline to apply is February 1st. Tomorrow. I decided I was going to audition three weeks ago. For three weeks I have found as many reasons as possible not to audition. I have found monologues, worked on them, then berated myself for being the worst actress ever, for forgetting how to emote, for not using the skills I teach every day in class. I’ve stared at the stage at SAAS for hours daydreaming about how fantastic I’ll be, imagining myself in the light once more. I’ve taken the nonchalant route, convincing myself that even if I do the bear minimum I’ll probably be better than some actors, and all that matters is that I finish. But I want to be the best. I want to work, I want to challenge myself, and I want to be proud of myself when I’m done. But everytime I open a book of monologues, I chicken out and get frustrated, putting it off for another day. Because I’ve sense-memoried that moment, of finding a monologue, of memorizing, of finding objectives…I know what comes next…I know how “uncomfortable” it feels.
Tough shit, Rachel. You might not be the best. You might suck balls. You might shit your pants on stage. (There’s a second for everything.) But you signed up for the auditions yesterday, so now you have to do it, and by god if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not working hard enough.