Breaking Up With Fear: Tales from a 34-Year Old Acting Student (Act 1, Scene 1)

At the end of January of this year, I chose to take a nice fat step outside of my comfort zone. Fearing my work life was starting to overrun my complete existence, I knew I needed to find a way to release my wiggles and nurture my spirit… A place where I could be wildly creative, have anonymity from my coach role, and stretch myself. I decided that I would rediscover my long-lost passion for acting.

And when I say long-lost… Let’s just call a spade a spade. The last time I did any form of acting was in high school… nearly twenty years ago. So, yeah… I was rusty. And let me just say that I won some pretty hefty accolades as my role as a Hungarian maid in a murder mystery play held at my conservative Christian high school where we performed for tens of people at a time. This led to the distinguished honor of being voted Most Dramatic, class of 1997. And that class had about 30 people in it… So, as you can see, I was a pretty big deal.

But drippy sarcasm aside, I loved it. It fed my soul. I felt invincible. And I was proud of myself.

Flash forward nearly twenty years. I walk into a theatre-style classroom and timidly smile at the unfamiliar and equally timid faces around me. Faces belonging to kids about 15 years my junior. “That’s okay. You’ve used eye cream since you were twelve. They’ll never know you could have birthed them. Just play it cool,” I say to myself.

My instructor is handsome, witty, and painfully genius at all things acting.  (And of course, I had to tell him I was voted Most Dramatic 1997. And I’m not joking.) I’m fairly certain he’s close to my age, which does an unexpected number on my ego. He’s the sort of person who should be teaching a class along side me. Or come over for drinks with Mr. Smith and our friends. Not someone I was going to learn from. I was dying to be contemporaries. Colleagues. Equals.

I felt hopelessly novice. I’m supposed to be the expert. The authority. I mean, I HAVE MY SHIT TOGETHER, right? I’m the Joy Fuckin’ Junkie. I teach the classes. People learn from ME. And, yet, here I was… I had manifested a very scary, vulnerable, yet thrilling place. Outside my comfort zone was an understatement. In fact, my comfort zone and I weren’t even on speaking terms.

I was nervous every time I went to class. Heart pounding with mild tremors. A mix of excitement and terror with intermittent scenes of my gremlin waltzing in from stage left, guns a blazin’. “Who the hell does this? Take an acting class with a bunch of kids? How stupid you must look.”

But I kept showing up. Locked my Gremlin in the trunk. Pounding heart. Aware of my age. Hating that I even gave a shit. Focus on the craft. Learn. Show up. Push yourself. A motley of thoughts and emotions.

It hadn’t dawned on me, when I signed up for this course, that any of this would transpire. Surely, all the innate, raw talent of my adolescence would come flooding back and I would be surrounded by a bunch of other 30-somethings dying to nurture their long-lost creative spirits. We would laugh about getting back into acting. We would talk careers, politics, and network. Maybe even get together to critique an Indie film on Saturday and drink wine.

[record scratches]

Nope. Not even close. And the plot thickens.

The school is hosting auditions. A humble production written by two genius students to be preformed in our black-box theatre classroom next month. I’m all over it. I’m terrified. Determined. I clear my schedule. I mean… I need this, right? I run a flourishing company of ONE… so, yeah… I need to get out and be with other humans.

Now, at the risk of sounding bat-shit crazy, I do NOT remember auditions being this serious when I went to school.

[Gremlin enters stage right]

“Oh, yeah… You’re ‘school’ was high school. And you had 300 people in the entire school. And you were gifted your parts. You didn’t audition. And that was 20 years ago. You thought you’d have no problem roller-skating either. And look how that turned out. You nearly broke your clavicle, “ she sneers.

“God damn it! I’m a life coach! I’m on to you! Shut the fuck up!” I yell back. I use all my tools. Positive affirmations. Call my soul tribe. Create a new definition of success. Perspective and choice. More affirmations.

It’s my turn. I feel pretty good. I’ll be fine.

I walk on to the stage. The directors are seated far in the back. They need to hear my projection. I get it. But, I’m also blind. I can’t even see faces. Blinding spotlight. Damn, this is serious. Nerves set in. I see my Gremlin lurking in the wings.

I wave to the directors like a dumb school girl. Apparently, it’s not that kind of party. This is serious business. Everyone’s staring at me and not saying anything. I thought they were supposed to tell me what to do. Shit.

Somehow, I stumble through the reading. I read for two parts. The first was deplorable. And I’m being generous. And if I didn’t believe so whole-heartedly in positive self-talk, I could lose myself in ripping my audition to sheds. I resist the self-deprecation. The second reading went better, but everything I had learned in good ‘ol Theatre 110 was out the window. And smashed dead on the pavement.

I thank them with as much grace as I can muster and quickly walk off stage.

Jesus. That was NOT what I expected. There’s no way I’m getting called back for second auditions. I use my tools. “That’s okay. You did something that totally scared you. You pushed yourself. You should be so proud,” I say to myself, comfortingly.

And, I was. I was really, truly proud of myself.

Not for falling on my face. But for doing something that really scared me. For looking fear in the face and telling her to fuck off.

I am in the business of pushing people beyond their comfort zones. I know what that feels like. Because I do the same. I have to. Why? Because the alternative is to live a life paralyzed by fear. Always wondering, “what if?” And, I don’t want that sort of life. I want a life rich with experience. On my deathbed, I want to say that I truly LIVED. I was scared. I pushed through. I fell down. I got back up. I grew. I stretched.

But most of all, I lived a life I was PROUD of. What could possibly be greater?

So, that’s my choice. To fuck fear. Make it my bitch. Because, my friends, as I see it, there really isn’t any. Other. Option.

[Fade to black. End Scene 1.]

P.S. Check out Scene 2, where I share my experience at the second round of call-back auditions.