I gave today’s pep talk for Summer Theater School and if I hadn’t gotten really nervous and forgotten parts of it, this is exactly what I would have said:
I used to be afraid of singing. Stomach cramping, dry-mouth, heart pounding, dizzy kind of fear. The kind of fear that you feel like you could maybe die from. It really scared me.
During my second year, we had to take Musical Theater class. And on the first day, my teacher announced that we were going to have to perform, at showings, for the entire school. I panicked. I marched right into the head of my program and announced that I would not sing. They could not make me. Bruce considered for a moment and then said “You’re right. We can’t make you sing. You can still graduate but you will fail Musical Theater if you don’t sing.”
Apparently, I find failure scarier than singing because I decided to sing. It wasn’t a valiant effort, I was openly and illogically terrified. For weeks, it was all I thought about. Or talked about: at parties, in the greenroom, on the phone with my parents while crying. I spent a lot of Musical Theater class time in the bathroom. Time raced on and inevitably, I found myself at the showing.
I don’t remember much of the actual singing. I remember being backstage. I remember the music starting.
I remember feeling like I had to find the courage, or I would explode!
And before I knew it, I was belting out the last note. It was far from perfect and honestly, the only thing I remember clearly was the moment it was over. I had done it. It was really hard and the joy, the relief, was immense. Overwhelming. And then the entire school leapt to their feet in a standing ovation. The applause was thunderous. My class piled on top of me in a giant, communal hug. My most dreaded moment was transformed into something of worth and beauty.
The terrifying tasks are daunting but they’re essential. I’ve encountered plenty of explode-if-I-don’t- moments lately. The fear doesn’t go away, but the moments themselves get easier. You have to rehearse doing things that terrify you just like you would rehearse a scene, a song, a layup, or a dance. Because that’s the only way to get better.
Of course, it’s much easier to do something scary when you are surrounded by people that will leap to their feet in celebration of your triumph. People who will hold your hand and help you through the fear. It’s rare, more rare than you realize but you have that here at Grandstreet: a whole auditorium full of people that want to help you do something scary. We have two days left of theater school and I want all of you to think of something you’ve been dreading. It might be a person that you’ve been afraid to talk to. Maybe an exercise in class that you’ve been too scared to volunteer for. Maybe it’s in a piece of choreography, a bit of scene work, a conversation you need to have, or a question you need to ask. Whatever it is, I want you to do something that terrifies you in the next two days.
Because everyone should have that experience and this is the place to do it.