Monday, September 5, 2011

A Standing Ovation

I received the news this afternoon that my drama coach from middle school through high school passed away. A woman who taught me to just get out there and do it, who gave me confidence and courage. And who put up with a lot of my bull shit, especially when I had Senioritis and a severe case of Divatude (and I'm not entirely sure that went away).

If you know me, you'll know I have a flair, so to speak, for the dramatics. While I hated school for the most part -- hmm, wait that's not totally accurate: I excelled in school academically but I had an extreme dislike for the environment. Picture me: the honor roll girl, who sang in the choir and played in the band, who teachers liked but boys did not, the one with a tight group of close friends and a need to get out of the tiny, rural town she grew up in. If you close your eyes, you might imagine it. This awkward-in-her-skin girl who did everything as best she could just to know she was good enough. All the while praying that it would be good enough for a one-way ticket out of town.

I dreamt about being onstage when I was little. I danced and always loved the costumes we got to wear, but when I saw people act, I decided in my head that I wanted to do that, too. I wanted to be onstage, in front of other people, living a life I didn't have - a magical, fairytale, happily ever after life. If I could be onstage, I could be anyone. That was my utopia, even if I had no idea of how to accomplish this aspiration.

In 7th grade (or was it 6th...) I joined the newly formed drama club at school. We rehearsed and put on a play featuring many different monologues performed by students in a made-up school. My part was a fast-talking, gossip who knew everything about everyone. I practiced so hard at memorizing the words and reciting them at lightning-fast speed. I'd stand in front of a mirror and go over each line, deciding my facial expressions, the exact head and hand movements. We performed the show in front of our peers... a one-night only deal... in the middle of the day. We may have also done it later in the evening, but I don't remember that. I do remember wearing a multi-colored striped shirt. Don't judge, it was the '90s.

I was so nervous.

I'm pretty sure no one cared, but I loved every second of it. I walked off-stage feeling this huge rush.

From then on, whenever there was an audition, I signed up. I was Ouiser in Steel Magnolias and Fairy May in The Curious Savage; my two favorite roles. I can still remember my first line as Ouiser: This is it! I have found it! I am in Hell! I didn't curse much [back then...], so saying "hell" in high school in front of my peers, my teachers, and most of the small town I grew up in, was, well, intimidating. We convinced our school to do musicals, and you'd think my head was gonna explode. My two favorite worlds collided: music and acting. From there, it was summer theater, and in college, I immediately sought out and discovered the acting crowd. In this world, I realized there were others like me: a little nerdy, darkly funny, and extremely tight knit. No one cared about the baggage you brought with you, just that you knew all the words to the current, beloved musical.

I had found my niche.

What I love about acting is the freedom it brings. I can stand up on stage and be anyone. I can memorize lines and portray every emotion imaginable. It's cathartic, really. Under the lights and make-up, I am happy, even if my personal life is crumbling around me. It never matters how bad a day I have had, onstage I am a character. Acting gave me my comedic timing. Or, I guess, allowed me to discover my inner-comedic-timing. It's been years since I've been in a show, something I miss. Recently my audiences have been attendees at the professional development or parent trainings I give. Even more recently, my daughter is the recipient of my rusty acting abilities. It's a good thing that she is so little because it has made her the best audience I've ever had.

So, tonight, I thank you for humoring me and allowing me to muddle through some old memories. No one is perfect, but the woman I remember was wonderful. Once upon a time, she took a chance on me and believed that I could do something great. She introduced me to an amazing world of imagination and creativity. She helped me learn how to be me without shame. And isn't that what a good teacher does?

And somewhere, I hope that she is taking a grand, final bow to a standing room only crowd, one welcoming her with an eternal ovation.

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