When did I become so afraid?

How many times have you heard a story begin “When I was in college…” among the thirty-something set? We seem to draw upon that just-out-of-reach chapter in our lives to desperately try to understand how we ended up in our current situation. What was it I wanted to be again? What was I passionate about? What did I do when I was fearless? Of course that’s not everyone’s recollection of their college years, but for me, I was fearless.

Recently I’ve been infiltrated by a foreign emotion when it comes to my ability as an artist, namely an actor. I could call it insecurity or self-consciousness. It started out as doubt. I’ve been insanely insecure about many other things throughout my life, but never my ability as an artist. I could boil the rest down to two fears. Being fat, and being a loner.

I hate the word fat. Almost as much as I hate chubby, plus-size, and lately the patronizing overuse of the word curvy. The unfiltered kids who would tease me in grade school just went straight to fat. My trying-to-be-polite “friends” thought chubby would be less upsetting. I’ll never forget the girl who sat next to me in 4th grade calling me “pleasantly plump.” This is no doubt something she’d overheard at her mother’s weekly Weight Watchers meeting. The women’s clothing section at Macy’s obviously feels that plus-size is somehow comforting. And now the overdue positive body image movement has appropriated the word curvy to describe any woman larger than a size 12. To me they’re all touchy, but that’s largely my own madness. They all push the same button. The same weak spot on my soul that reduces me back to that 10 year old girl on the playground crying at the edge of the field where no one will see me because Thad just made fun of my fat stomach while playing foursquare. Yes I kind of want you to feel sorry for me. Whatever though. I’m over it. I really am. Over the past 10 years I’ve worked so hard to get over my body image issues and can proudly say that for the most part, I have. Not that I love myself all the time, I just don’t really care that much anymore. Yes I wear a size 10 and sometimes 12. Yes I’m too heavy for my husband to comfortably whisk me off my feet while we’re walking barefoot on the beach. Yes I have a huge butt. Whatever. Over it. The point is, these things do leave weak spots that become susceptible to other insecurities. I think that’s what’s happened.

Oh, I also said I was insecure about being a loner. Totally true. I possess this completely irreconcilable set of traits where I love spending time by myself and at the same time am totally pained to be without a set of friends. I enjoy being alone, but I don’t want to be a loner. I like being by myself, but I long to be part of a group. Classic Gemini. Someday I need to accept one or the other. I can’t have it both ways, and for now the struggle makes me feel sort of crazy and sad. But this topic is a post for another day. For right now I just have to put my finger on how my weak spots have been invaded by an insecurity of something totally foreign to me, my artistry.

Fat loneliness being the only thing that truly ever kept me up at night, I somehow always maintained a strong faith in my ability as an actor. I don’t know why. It’s an easy thing to be insecure about, but I was immune. I was never cocky. Humility is not the same thing as insecurity. I was humble, but confident. Ruminating on this for several weeks now, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was because I was doing it all the time.

Last year was the first in 18 years that I did not do a play. Seriously. That dawned on me recently and I about died. How depressing, and weird. Save the two or three years that competitive baton twirling replaced theatre as my extracurricular activity, I’ve always been in plays, even as a kid. Plays at school, plays at River City Theatre Company (youth theatre), or plays in adult community theatres, I was always acting. A funny thing happens when you’re doing something all the time. You don’t have much time to doubt it. You can feel frustrated and shaky, maybe challenged and even overwhelmed, but not deep-seated insecurity. That is the kryptonite that prevents you from even being able to get on the stage.

So flash forward now to 2014 and I audition, and I audition, and I audition, and I audition, and for the first time in forever I do not get cast in anything. Whoa. Unlike before, I am not asking you to feel sorry for me about this one. When I made this observation to a friend of mine his response was, that’s amazing. Not the response I was expecting because I saw it as a negative. He reminded me that I could just as easily see it as a positive that I had been fortunate enough to ALWAYS be practicing my craft and playing from the time I was 11. So yeah, that turned me on my feet real quick. I’m grateful. I’ve lived a charmed actor life.

But gratitude doesn’t dismiss the detriment NOT acting is having on my spirit. To use the phrase I began this article with, when I was in college, I was acting every day all day. I was fortunate enough to go to an amazing acting conservatory program at an amazing university (BU pride forever baby!), where literally everyday from 9:00 am in the morning to 9:00 pm at night I was stretching my creative muscle. I was moving around like an earthworm in movement class. I was playing status exercises in scene class. I was thrown into an existential crisis discussing Plato’s takedown of the arts. Is he right? Oh my God. Is art too far removed from the truth? I was learning about what my body could do for itself in Alexander technique. I was getting to know my voice. I was discovering my knack for German, Scottish, English dialects. I was in London! Acting! I was living my absolute dream studying theatre in my favorite city in the entire world. Who has time for doubt when DOING all the time? Not me.

Then graduation comes and goes. You move on. The real world hits. Bills hit. College loans can’t be deferred any longer. Cars need to be bought. More loans. You decide between a soul-sucking restaurant job and a stable 9:00-5:00. You pick the 9:00-5:00 to spare your soul but consequently put a huge barrier in your way to auditioning. However you do leave the evenings open to continue to do theatre. You join a theatre company. Yay. You audition and get cast sometimes. Yay. You audition other times and don’t get cast. Poo. Then one year, 7 years later, you audition again and again and again and you don’t get cast in anything and you’ve been working your 9:00-5:00 job to pay off the college loans you took out to get a degree that you’re not using and you’re so tired by the time you get home that you veg out on the couch watching other people act on your TV instead of figuring out why you’re not. And you wake up one day and you’re 30 and you realize that although you’re happy and you actually like your 9:00-5:00 job and you’re married to a wonderful man and you love your apartment and your car that you’re still trying to pay off, and your priorities have changed a bit, you realize that despite all of that, you’re not acting. You really thought you’d be acting. You were fearless. And not acting has made you bad at acting. And you’ve never been worried about being bad at acting in your entire life. And so how do you reconcile the fact that you’re no longer afraid of being fat or being a loner but you are terrified of being a bad actor.

I’m pretty sure the answer is simple. Just start acting again, right? Easy. Except it’s kind of not. It feels like there are limited opportunities to act. The trick is to take what you can get and take it seriously. The other night a friend of mine was having a very informal reading in his apartment of a pilot he wrote. They needed readers. Normally I would say no, because I’d rather go home and veg out on the couch and watch other people act. But I thought about my struggle of late and said, you know, this is an opportunity to act. Even though it’s going to be very casual and you’ll be among friends, it’s an opportunity to read words that someone else wrote and try to bring them to life. So I said yes. And I had a great time. Yes we just sat casually in his living room drinking ginger tea while we read. Yes it was a room full of female actors even though most of the characters were men. Yes it was super casual. But it was fun and I acted. So there.

This is what I need to do. Not because I need a career as an actor. I’m not sure that’s my fate. A career is beside the point. What I do know is that I need to be acting. Because acting is what turned the fearless switch on when I was 11 years old.  Acting is what made my fear of being a fat loner tolerable. Acting is fun. Acting is the very core of my imagination. I have to be acting. To not have done a play in the past 12 months has felt like a part of me is trapped. My wings have been bound. I guess it’s sort of an addiction. I can’t shake it. No matter how much I turn to writing more seriously than acting. No matter how much I paint, or twirl baton, or practice the guitar, or run. All of those things are great, but nothing is as fulfilling to my very soul as playing make believe with someone else’s words. My acting fuels all other artistic pursuits. Like a shark that stops moving forward, if I stop acting my imagination dies and I can kiss goodbye to writing, painting, or whatever else.

It’s like those new Ben & Jerry’s Core ice cream flavors. Acting is my chocolate fudge core. (You can kinda see how I ended up a chubby kid, huh?)

Do any of you feel this way too? I know it’s hard to be working professionally all the time but we have to keep working out. We have to get to the creative gym. When I was in college (there’s that phrase again), we had this weekly event called Locals. It was a lifesaver. Freshmen at BU are not allowed to audition for any of the mainstage shows. It’s wise. You spend the first year getting acclimated to college, acclimated to the conservatory environment. You learn before you apply. But the professors acknowledged the importance of casual pressure-free application. So they started this thing called Locals. Every Monday afternoon the entire Freshmen class of theatre students, as well as some professors and upperclassmen, would gather in one of the larger classrooms and just do stuff. People would get up and perform whatever they’d been working on. Sometimes you’d get a scene partner and spend the week working on a scene you always wanted to do and then you’d perform it at Locals. Maybe you’d sing songs, dance, play an instrument, or tell a story. It was an exercise in fearlessness. No one was expected to be perfect; everyone was expected to be brave. It was fantastic. I miss Locals.

This got me thinking. I’m a part of this large community of artists at Theatre of NOTE not unlike my community of artists in college. All talented, supportive, top-notch types who don’t get to act often enough. Wouldn’t it be great to have Locals? I don’t think we could organize it every week, but what about once a month? Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have a safe space where you could just work on stuff?

A friend of mine, Bill, started something similar to this called The Creative Fete. It was very Locals-esque. From what I understand it has since been somewhat dissolved and that makes me sad.

I’m just putting it out there to gauge interest. What do you think LA theatre nerds? Do you want to play? Because the 11 year old I once knew is looking me in the face and asking with a snarky expression, “When did you become so afraid?”

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One thought on “When did I become so afraid?

  1. I am very into this idea! I was talking over something similar with my Ark Theatre team, so maybe we could even partner up with a few theatre groups to do this. I think LA needs more reasons for theatre companies to come together instead of looking at things as a competition. This could be a way…?

    I also miss performing. I go thrown into a show I directed this fall (last minute) and I was terrified. Because it had been 3 years. 3 years! Now I’m eager to get my feet under me again.

    Thanks for writing this. 🙂

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