Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Play's the Thing

I’ve been fascinated with theater for a long time. As a child, I indulged in daydreams about becoming a famous actress. In high school I tried out for productions in school and various community theaters. I even got cast a few times. In college I took acting, playwriting, stage design and wrote papers for my social psychology classes that bordered on dramaturgical essays. I was a regular in stage shop, learning how to use all sorts of cool power tools to build the sets and tinkering in the lighting closet to build new plugs and hang lights for shows. I even had two internships in two very different kinds of theaters, learning everything from how to make Javanese shadow puppets to how set counterweights for a fly system.

When I switched majors to psych, something I thought I could practice as an actual career in the “real world”, I largely gave up on the world of theater. But I never stopped thinking about it.

So about five, maybe six years ago I tried again. I had a string of unsuccessful auditions in local community theaters. I really gave it my all- reading whatever I could about the play, sometimes even the whole script if it was available online. And each audition went the same: I’d be so nervous I could barely speak without stumbling over my own lips and in the end I’d always be told something like “great energy” or “nice spirit” which in theater terms equates to “thanks, but no thanks”. I ended up on stage crew for a production and spent most of the time thinking I could have done one or many of the parts better if I’d been cast. (I.E. preventing myself from enjoying anything about it because of my own negative thought process.) I was so disappointed by the whole thing that I swore off theater for years, focusing instead on my karate and friends to keep me occupied.

Fast forward to last week when I got a notice about auditions being held for a local community theater. (Because I’m really bad about forgetting to cancel subscriptions to things I’m no longer actively using.) Normally I’d just send such a notice to my trash folder but I wondered if perhaps all this work I’ve been doing on self acceptance would impact how I might pursue something such as community theater. If I could audition without any expectations whatsoever of being cast, no disappointment or self criticism upon that not happening, and no other cognitive distortions to prevent me from just going and having fun with it. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” I thought, “If I could just go and have fun without driving myself crazy?” So I decided to give it a shot.

The audition went far more smoothly than any other audition I’ve done in the past. My nervousness was reserved only to the few moments during which I was up reading a scene- before and after was marked by an unusual calmness on my part. And sure, I left there thinking that I’d done rather poorly and assuming that this was the reason I’d only been asked to do one reading. I even told my boyfriend when I got home that there was “not a chance in hell” of me being cast. But here's the change: I didn't beat myself up for it.  Instead of going over every little thing I thought I’d done wrong, or swearing a massive amount of negative conclusions about myself, I had a perfectly enjoyable evening at home and just let it go. That- the not torturing myself thing- is a pretty big change for me.

Perhaps that is why when I checked my e-mail this morning there was a note from the director offering me a part. Granted it’s a small part, only one scene. But that’s perfect for someone like me who hasn’t done this stuff since college. Besides, I’d left there thinking that I didn’t have 'a chance in hell'. Needless to say, I was shocked.

But then I started thinking: It’s gotta be something about this new perspective thing. I must have had more confidence cause I knew I had nothing to lose. I must have sounded like I knew what I was doing because I wasn’t running through a billion negative thoughts in my head saying that I didn’t. I must have performed it differently than I would have if I was listening to that same old negative voice burying me under an avalanche of criticisms. Something must have been different.

I didn’t make up a list of goals this year like I have in the past.  This is partly because I’m trying so hard to release all expectations on my life.  But it's also partly because if this all works the way I hope it will, I won’t be able to plan for everything that will happen. I certainly hadn’t planned on auditioning in order to somehow break into community theater. And yet, when I let go of wanting that so badly, that’s exactly what happened. I have to believe that this is how it’s supposed to work. Cause it feels really good to think so.

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