Center Stage and Fearless
As long as I can remember, the stage has been my second home. Whether I was performing in a talent show, dance recital, or choral concert, I took advantage of every opportunity. The summer before high school, I performed in my first musical theater performance, Rogers and Hammerstein’s “State Fair.” I was hooked! Through dance, song, and text, I was able to find a medium that encompassed everything I loved about performing.
As high school progressed, I performed in various school and community shows, attended neighboring towns’ school performances, listened nonstop to show tune soundtracks, and saw every regional and Broadway show that passed through town. I soon became a “musical theater junkie,” and I was proud of it. But I wondered where this would take me. When it came time to apply for college, I felt I needed to find a more practical focus en route to secondary education. I decided to attend Middlebury College in Vermont as a biology major, looking forward to a career as a zoo habitat designer. I figured the liberal arts focus at Middlebury would still allow me to participate in theater, a cappella singing, and competitive swimming.
The biology idea lasted for only half of a semester. I realized my heart belonged on stage. Throughout college, acting classes and opportunities to perform in student and faculty directed productions opened me up to new discoveries in theater, resulting in both great memories and hardships. This past January, I was cast as one of the lead roles in a contemporary musical, and was the choreographer. This was indeed one of the more challenging, yet rewarding, experiences on stage that I have had to date. Soon after I was cast, I discovered that we only had 18 days to put a song-and-dance-heavy show together. While I was rehearsing for the show, I was also serving as the co-captain of the varsity swim team and attending an intensive education class. Most days, I was going nonstop without breaks. Within the first three days of rehearsal, I had already taught three dances to the company, blocked out the first half of Act One—and then, I lost my voice. I was terrified. Two years prior to this production, I had lost my voice during the rehearsals of a similar musical. I scraped by in the performances as best as I could. Now here it was—my senior year—and with the biggest and most challenging role I’d had to date, both vocally and mentally. I was petrified that my voice wouldn’t be able to stick it out for this amazing opportunity.
Immediately, I tried to handle this situation myself. As a Christian Scientist, I have found that turning to prayer has helped me find peace in seemingly stressful situations whether it is before a test, swim meet, or other activities. Taking a moment to stop and listen for the “still small voice”,  allowed me to freely proceed with confidence and knowledge as God’s creation.
But feeling nervous about the upcoming production, I reached out to God, looking for inspiration. Since my Christian Science practitioner had just passed away last summer, I didn’t know how to begin finding the right one for me. In turn, I tried praying on my own. Each time I tried to sing, though, I’d wait for my voice to come belting out after all the prayer and Christian Science study I had done outside of class, practice, and rehearsal. But when I tried, only a strained and breathy rasp came out. Every day, I become more disheartened about my fate. Finally, I knew I had to call someone for help. Immediately, my grandmother, who is a Christian Science practitioner, came to mind. In her earlier days, she was an opera singer and musical theater actress, so I knew she would be the best one to help me conquer this fear.
I talked to her multiple times each day on my way to and from rehearsals. With her prayerful support, I soon realized that I wasn’t dealing with a damaged voice; I was dealing with fear. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to perform; I was afraid that I would sound badly on stage in front of my close college community; I was afraid that I wasn’t actually cut out to be a professional musical theater actor. My grandmother noted that all of my fears were focused on myself and how others would view me on stage. I realized I had to let go of these fears. What I had to do was let God take the reins. I had to trust God to lead me and to let God be expressed in all that I was doing on the stage. Then my grandmother said, “Stop listening for your voice, and listen for God’s voice.” I soon realized I had to listen for all of the spiritual qualities that I have always strived to express on stage: joy, grace, beauty, and harmony.
Doing this consistently, my voice began to peep through from time to time. While these hints of normalcy were exciting, I knew that I had to keep listening for God’s voice, not my own. This was difficult because every time my voice didn’t sound well, I grew discouraged. These moments were also complicated by my director and my voice teacher giving me tips on how to get my voice back: sleeping more, drinking lots of water, or adding honey or pineapple juice to my regimen. For every great talk I had with my grandmother, there were twice as many conversations with my directors and fellow actors. Everybody had the best intentions, but it was an exhausting mental battle for me that I just didn’t want to fight anymore. I knew, however, that I couldn’t give up the fight.
My grandmother never stepped down, and with her help, neither did I. She took each of my nervous, fearful, and frustrated calls with such grace and determination. One day, she sent me a poem entitled, “Hymn,” which she found in the Christian Science Sentinel. One section of the poem that I found helpful was,
God is the Life, and we are His living;
His is the purpose and strength, we the act.
God shapes the music and the words of the song;
We are His singing, His beauty and joy.
God frames the dance and provides the agility;
We soar and twirl in the grace of His flight.
This poem was exactly what I needed. Each line gave me the true cause and the actual effect of God’s work in direct relation to my time on stage. I wrote this poem on a piece of paper and stuck it in my costume so I would always have it with me. Whenever a fearful thought started to creep in, I quickly grabbed the sheet of paper, read it, and reminded myself of my true strength and source of goodness—God.
As production week came, my voice was much better, but it still didn’t seem perfect. I knew this wasn’t the true case because I was—and I am—the perfect image of God in everything I do. I saw that I didn’t lose my voice, but that it was already there—in all the qualities I conveyed while singing, dancing, or acting. Right before my first performance, I called my grandmother. She reminded me that I was doing a good thing and that nothing could harm me. This comforted me. I knew I was there to express God and share those qualities with everyone in that audience.
As I warmed up for the first performance, my voice was still shaky, but when I stepped on stage for the first performance, I entered with a confidence like I had never experienced before. As soon as I began singing, my voice was fully there, joined with God’s, supported by His ever-present love and grace. Each performance that followed was, in itself, perfect and unique, and I couldn’t have been happier. In listening for His voice, I was able to see my love for theater revealed and why I continue to take the stage.
From the July 2010 Edition of The Christian Science Journal
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Topics: Bible Lesson, Fear | Tags: Fear, stage fright