Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Vulnerable Rose

It’s been a tough week. Seven days ago I was so fragile that had someone touched my shoulder I swear I would have crumbled into dust. I’ll come back to that day in a few minutes.

On Monday my ears were hurting again. I began to worry. I was starting the second week of pressure around my ears. The feeling that they needed to pop, as though I was climbing in elevation, was unsettling. By Tuesday I knew it was time to see a doctor. I made it through the school day and figured out the timing of getting to a quick care facility so I could have my ears examined. I returned home with some ear drops and instructions to take a decongestant but was told this was something that would take time to clear up. Still, I was happy to have the reassurance that I was not in any danger of losing my hearing.

The next few days brought more discomfort and fatigue. I tried to take each day as it came, but my nerves were shot with work stress and anxiety. I found myself in bed by 6:30pm on Thursday and on Friday I patted myself on the back for staying up until 8:30pm. Awakened by the dog early Saturday morning, I pulled myself out of bed and made my way downstairs, calculating the number of hours I might still have for sleeping if she did her business outside and came straight back in to eat her breakfast.

But then I opened up my school email. In it were some missing journal entry assignments a student of mine had sent. I decided I’d read a few of his entries as I waited for the dog to come back inside. And that’s when I came across these words. In response to an article I had given my students to read, my student wrote: 

I can’t agree more with Laurie Okin when she says “..arrogance prevents vulnerability, and you can’t have good work with that.” Great things oftentimes come from when you’re feeling your most vulnerable. If you shield yourself off from things that make you uncomfortable or never step out of your comfort zone you won’t get as far in life as those who do. You have to have the confidence to let yourself be vulnerable. As I mentioned earlier in the year, one of the reasons I signed up for Drama II and auditioned for the play was because I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. I knew nothing about acting and wanted to test the waters. Even sticking your toe in requires a bit of confidence that it won’t be bitten off. But you’re letting yourself take that chance. Hell yeah I was nervous when I started. But the longer you’re in the more you feel like swimming. Now I love being involved in plays and am looking for another to audition for. If I hadn’t taken that chance by stepping out of my comfort zone I never would’ve known that being in a production could be so much fun.

I remember my Mom often saying the phrase, “Out of the mouth of babes”. This phrase came to mind as I read my student’s words. Here I am, experiencing an enormous degree of vulnerability this week--physically, mentally, and emotionally--and a young man I had led to taking my Drama class and to auditioning for the last production of the year, was offering me a poignant reminder. The student was teaching the teacher. Now let me return to what happened last Saturday.

I was on stage, rehearsing for an upcoming production with community theater. I am playing Rose, the overbearing stage mother in the musical, “Gypsy”. The show ends with a big blow out fight between Rose and her daughter Louise. Rose is finally put in her place during that fight and leaves Louise’s dressing room. She is seething as she reacts to her daughter’s words. “What did I do it for?” Rose asks herself. She is hurt at being pushed aside. She doesn’t want to let go of her Louise’s career. She fumes and begins a song, “Rose’s Turn”. It is a song full of raw emotion.

I began the song in the final few minutes of our three hour rehearsal. I knew there was much being expected of me in this number. I wanted to shine. But I was distracted by the sights and sounds of my own daughter and her classmates and teachers who were assembling in the lobby outside of the auditorium. They were scheduled to do some filming for a school project. The door was open and I was spewing Rose’s lines. I had one foot in the role of Rose and one foot planted firmly in the role of Anne, Emma’s mother. I kept singing. Then Emma’s teacher was there in the back of the auditorium. He’d never seen this side of me, the actress. I suddenly felt insecure. Emma’s classmates were peeking inside. I kept singing. But it felt like a bad performance rather than a rehearsal. I wasn’t ready for anyone to see me as Rose. I didn’t feel ready. I was distracted and suddenly I needed to stop. I was just a little ways from the end of the song. The director was confused as to why I had stopped. I saw the teacher go over to explain we needed to clear out of the space. My eyes began to water. I could barely speak. I tried to explain what I was feeling but I didn’t really understand it myself at the moment. I stammered out a few sentences, said I was okay. And I left. And I cried all the way home. Taking refuge in the recliner for the rest of the afternoon, I felt embarrassed.

Whether my head and heart were spinning out of control due to ear pain, exhaustion, fear or embarrassment last Saturday does not really matter. What matters is that I felt exposed, vulnerable. Rose is a role that challenges me unlike any other role I have ever had on stage. I knew this to be true when I accepted the role and the truth is, the challenge was, and is, exhilarating. Rose is a strong yet broken. She is hard and harsh yet damaged. She makes promises and has good intentions but she drives off the people who love her. She steals and yells and makes elaborate plans in search of stardom but thinks she is doing it out of love. She goes too far. She uses people. She is infuriating and selfish and desperate. Unlikeable, really. She just doesn’t seem to understand what she does to other people. Yet there is something in her desperation that has me rooting for her.

And now it is time for me to root for ME. I am now in need of finding that resolve I have inside of me that knows exactly what my student is talking about. My vulnerability as an actress will allow me to do great things. I know this to be true. I may have stumbled last Saturday but I can do this. I know I can. I have a lot of work ahead of me. Hell yeah I’m nervous. I’m doing much more than putting my toe in the water. I’m taking the plunge. The pressure is in more than my ears. But with more practice, and with my eye on where that life preserver is stationed for the next panic attack, I’ll be swimming in no time.

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