Once upon a time, far, far away, I was chosen to play the lead part in a play at my grade school.
I was thrilled because we got to wear these really cool costumes and be on stage, and all that really fun stuff a grade school student dreams of – or I least I did!
That was the “good” part. The “bad” part was, no matter how hard I rehearsed my lines, the minute I stepped onto stage I became completely mortified and I couldn’t remember a thing, nary a word or phrase! I mean, I think I actually stopped breathing or I just completely forgot to breathe!
No matter what I did, I became completely overwhelmed the minute I stepped on stage.
Of course, the teacher quickly replaced me, seeing how, no matter what my enthusiasm level, I was completely unable to deliver a line! My dreams of being a part of the show – over. Big time. I was completely devastated and I felt like such a major loser! (All this drama and I was just in grade school!)
Really, I couldn’t remember my lines? How hard could this be? Obviously I could memorize my lines, I just couldn’t deliver them! I felt like Jerry Seinfeld at the rental car site, “So, you can take my reservation, but you just can’t hold it!”
Fast forward, many, many decades later. I hear about this acting class in town. I hear the teacher is amazing and I could join the class even if I wasn’t an actress/actor.
It was kind of like that “bucket-list” thing in the back of my mind. I just really wanted to overcome my fear of standing up in front of people. I just wanted to be able to deliver a line. That’s all. No big deal. Well, actually it was a big deal to me. I really just wanted to be able to walk out on stage and speak to the audience without passing out!
So, I signed up for the class. Boy, was I in for a HUGE surprise! The acting class was truly amazing. These acting students were truly gifted. They were “real” actors/actresses honing their skills and following their dreams to become big stars!
Then there was me. The class started after work and I was usually toast at that time of day. However, that didn’t stop me from showing up, week after week. Yep! That was me in the back of the class trying hard to hide in the shadows. I could safely “observe” from this distance, just not participate.
However, I had to (the teacher made me do it) participate every time in the “being” exercises we performed at the beginning of every class. One of our acting teacher’s goals was to get us to tap into our “authentic” selves at the beginning of the class. We had to get rid of the “fake” face we put on as we leave the house in the morning and show people all day, and access the “real” person behind the mask that no one sees but us! We had to shake off that “other” person we were during the day and become our “authentic” self. We had to “be,” not “act!” I was floored! This was NOT easy!
What I found out was “acting” is NOT “acting,” it’s “being.” If you want to cry, you have to tap into how you felt when your dog died and actually feel or re-live those emotions as you deliver your lines! If you want to be happy, you have to remember what it felt like the best day of your life, re-live those emotions and so on and so forth. It’s “being,” not “acting.” BIG surprise!
I was so confused! I thought we were supposed to be acting???? This wasn’t acting, this was torturing! I’m thinking, “This wasn’t what I signed up for! This is going to kill me!” However, I signed up for this class, paid for this and I was going to see this thing through, if it killed me, thinking to myself that might be a real possibility at this point.
Honestly, “acting” class was more like “therapy” than any therapy session I have ever attended. I mean gut wrenching. I’ve never heard so many “true confessions” in my entire life! I mean, this is the real deal! NO soap opera I’ve ever watched was as authentic and gripping! This was riveting! This was real! This was happening in real time! What happened in acting class stayed in acting class!
Over the weeks, I watched these completely amazing performances by my fellow students. Some actually left for L.A. or other parts unknown for acting jobs that opened up. Meanwhile, I was still hovering at the back of the class room. I don’t know what it was, but I just couldn’t come forward. Well, okay, it was FEAR!
Fast forward to my very last night in class. I had a horrible personal experience that day and was on the verge of tears all day at work. The last thing I wanted to do was go to acting class, but it was the last night I had signed up for, so I went and assumed my usual position hiding at the back of the room.
The teacher, for whatever reason that night, spotted me in the back of the room and said to me, “You, Yes, You! You are up. Yep. Right now.” I thought I would drop dead on the site.
I walk down to the middle of the floor – or the stage. I feel everyone’s eyes on me. I am completely terrified. The teacher says to me, “You have just won an academy award! You will receive the Oscar, give the audience your acceptance speech and thank the people who got you here.” Then she’s hands me a vase and says “Here’s your Oscar!”
Did I mention, this had probably been one of the worst days of my entire life?? I look at her. She is not going to let me leave. I have got to do this. It’s now or never!
I take the vase. I look around the room and say, “First off, I want to thank everyone for having so much faith in me and for voting for me. I can’t tell you how much that means to me!” All of the sudden, all of my emotions that had been bottled up inside me all day came out unchecked. I immediately start crying!! Oh, did I say crying? I mean, sobbing - uncontrollably! It was like the flood gates opened up! I couldn’t control my tears and sobs! I was completely out of control!
Amazingly, through my sobs, I was able to actually “say” what I wanted to say, although I felt like I had just spent 60 seconds inside a washing machine!
When I left the “stage”, the students clapped for me! I was stunned! Later, that night when I was leaving, one of the students approached me and shared with me that they had to leave the room during my “acceptance speech” because it was so heartfelt that it hit a nerve. It was just too difficult for them to watch and listen to what I was saying, so they actually left the class room.
So, to those of you with fears holding you back, peel off the mask you wear at work, become your authentic self, and just “be.” Don’t act! You’ll thank me later!