En Pleine Lumière: In Which I Reflect on how Theatre has Affected my Self Worth

Well, my friends, it is with great disappointment that I inform you that my first theatrical audition in college was not a success. The odds weren’t exactly in my favor, so I’m not surprised that I was not included in the 16-person cast for a student-run production of Rent for which everyone and their mom thought it would be a great idea to audition.  Nevertheless, not seeing my name on a cast list never seems to get less disappointing no matter how many times it happens. For me, this number is fairly high. In a previous post I alluded to my complicated relationship with my hometown’s community theater. You know, the one that rejected me seven times, gave me callbacks for leads in two teen productions but cast me in the ensemble for both, and rejected me again last summer? A large chunk of the problem had to do with how early I physically matured. Competing with prettier, more experienced high school girls was extremely frustrating for a middle school girl whose friends were cast in the chilrens’ choruses without problem. Another contributor was my awful luck that made everything bad that could happen that was out of my control happen.

Did I give up, though? Hell no! As those of you who read my third post know, my perseverance finally paid off in a teen production of Les Misérables I played Whore #1, the understudy for Madame Thénardier, and was the resident francophone/book expert. The following winter I was in the ensemble for a teen production of Pippin. Both exceeded my expectations that I held since my early middle school days about what a community show would be. I was part of two excellent productions with the best actors from their schools. In these casts I found some of the most fascinating people I had ever met. However, do two life-changingly good experiences really make up for five years of yearning for approval that the directors refused to give? There is no easy answer to this question.

Now, this post isn’t just going to be me whining about how bitterly unfair my life as the theatrical underdog was. I credit many of my positive attributes to my stagey life. For example, I am one of the few people I have met who does not absolutely despise public speaking. I can keep an audience captivated while giving a speech without even trying because my regular speaking voice is more animated than some people’s are when they make their best effort to sound interesting. Since most of the theatre crowd is eager to be everyone’s friend, being around them has done wonders for my social skills. Though I am still awkward, I have found that following the examples of my former castmates has made me far less afraid to approach potential friends. This has made the beginning of college much less of a struggle than it could have been. As the previous paragraph indicates, I have also learned the importance of never giving up. The reaction I hear the most to that story is, “Wow, really? I would have given up by then! That’s good for you!” Sometimes this also includes, “But you’re so good,” but that’s mostly from my non-theatre friends as a message of support. Similarly, my more interesting roles have proven to me how essential it is to take risks. Not to mention, the adrenaline rush I get when I know that I absolutely nailed my performance that evening and the inner warmth I feel when audience members praise me as an individual are two of the most powerful positive forces I have ever experienced.

This most recent audition was different. Though I knew that getting cast was unlikely, it was a glimmer of hope that maybe this new panel of strangers would see SOMETHING in me that the past panels of strangers missed that propelled me to the fourth floor of the student union. It was an insistence to myself that I have surprised myself before and could surprise myself again that evening that kept me sitting still long enough to complete my audition form. It was a reminder to myself that these were not the scary grown-ups who made me shiver in middle school, but students like me that led me through the door with a smile. It was the production team’s exclamations of, “It’s SO GREAT to meet you!” and “Great song choice!” That kept me confident, happy, and in eye contact with the director (which I have always had trouble with) through my vocal audition. When I finished to a chorus of enthusiastic compliments across the board, that glimmer of hope grew brighter, only to be extinguished when I opened the callback list on my e-mail. I understood exactly why it happened: when you go to a large school whose theatre program has a stellar reputation and tons of non-majors also enjoy participating in it even a barracuda can become a little fish in the pond. With that in mind, I can try to focus on the positive: I tried my absolute best despite the near-impossibility of reward. The team didn’t have to compliment me the way they did, so it must have meant something, right? Cast and production team, if any of you happen to be reading this, have a great show and know that you have not seen the last of me. Not only will I be back, but I will do legendary things in other areas of my life that do not require anyone’s approval except my own. Don’t forget my name.

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