Stepping onto the stage

April 5, 2023

This school year, I acted for the first time in the school’s fall production The Mouse That Roared. Having learned over the summer I could no longer do cross country, I originally expected I would join the stage crew again, even though I had some interest in acting. After all, I was (and still am) introverted, dreading school presentations and any sort of attention. Yet, when Mr. MacDonald asked everyone at the first fall play meeting whether they wanted to act or join crew, I froze when he came to me. To my surprise, my fear of trying something new didn’t have total power over me in that situation, resulting in indecision. Mr. MacDonald saw it on my face, and told me “you’re acting.” He wasn’t actually forcing me to act, but his confidence that I could act told me it was a possibility, even for someone like me. And that was all I needed.

When rehearsals first started, I often had no idea what to do on stage. In semi-improvisational audition skits, a scene member would often cue me with a line, and I’d freeze. Being an anxious person, I was monitoring both how I looked in the situation and how my character looked. As you can imagine, this was unsustainable and didn’t turn out well for pushing the scene forward. I was thus forced to push both these layers of boundaries and go with whatever idea came to my mind in the moment. At first, this was scary. I felt like I had messed up so many times. However, I never found any looks of disapproval on my cast-members’ faces, despite how many times I looked. My first attempts at acting weren’t anything special, but it’s a testament to the inclusivity of the theater community at BB&N that I was able to move forward anyway.

Throughout the rest of the rehearsal process, my acting improved, and I became more comfortable on the stage. I wouldn’t say I was ever incredibly comfortable, though. Cast as the president, I had trouble with the assertiveness and anger required for the part, which I really only semi-mastered by the week of the show. But getting there was still a liberating process for someone like me. During one of the performances, my scene partner and I messed up, each of us saying lines early. Somehow, I was able to improvise a line that made sense in context without panicking at all. The audience in front of me didn’t even seem to blink. As someone who often relies on consistency, especially in social or performing situations, my successful improvisation surprised me. Acting forced me to break down many of the barriers my anxiety had put in place, allowing me to regain some spur-of-the-moment skills I’d forgotten I had.

My experience reminded me that my own ideas about myself, or my self-schemas, as I’ve learned to call them in my online social psychology class, often hold me back. When I was ruminating about whether to join the play over the summer, I kept landing on the fact that I could never imagine myself on the stage, and so it just wouldn’t work. In hindsight, that was pretty stupid to think. It’s not like I could’ve accurately pictured myself doing anything I did in my life until I did it. Everything that’s familiar to me now was once unfamiliar, and I’ll keep that in mind next time I try something new.