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My turn had come. The music began, all eyes turned on me, alone on the big stage. My heart stopped beating — it had died long ago, so why was I still living? If this is what you call living.
For five minutes or so, I had not been alone on the large overpowering stage. I, along with several other anxious girls, had practiced the same song the day before and now were performing it one by one in front of thirty other hopefuls. In the back row of the theatre, with a thoughtful frown on his brow, sat the director, with a notepad in his hand, ready to take notes we’d never see. Those notes would be the cause of something all of us will be eager to see tomorrow: the cast list.
I wasn’t ready for this. I did not ask to undergo such traumatic emotions. All I wanted was to somehow fit into the theatrical world, which I had admired since I was a little girl. It was in the summer of 2005 when I, thirteen years old and completely inexperienced, decided to finally join theatre by signing up – with my parents paying a large amount of money as well – to be a part of a dual musical production program.
Little did know what I was required to do. Little did I understand how the theatre operated behind-the-scenes, creating its stage magic. This was the first step: audition for the role you wish to be in the play, Winifred, in Once Upon a Mattress.
I didn’t have any experience, nor was I a prodigy. Who was to say I’d do a good job? Who was to say I deserved to be here? I remember staring down on my piece (my auditioning song), hands so shaky that I feared I would never be able to read it at all. How was it that after spending the entire day beforehand memorizing the godforsaken words, that would later ensnare me to my torture chamber, I now couldn’t clutch the slipping lyrics in my mind?
Twelve girls went before me, fairly confident, and performed better than I ever could. Up until that time, I never sang in front of anyone in my entire life, unless you count those silly sing-along tapes I used to watch as a toddler.
Better doing that instead of this, I thought miserably.
As each girl left the stage, my frantic pulse steadily accelerated well past the heart-attack speed rate. I knew the director’s eyes watched us all critically, but his gaze lingered on me. Was my terror obvious? Or did I look strangely calm, despite my hectic insides? My mind raced around different memories, moments of fright came to me in a series of flashbacks. My worst fears unfolded before my eyes, tantalizing me in the hole I had created for myself. I clutched my heaving stomach, pretending to smooth down my shirt.
In the dim background, the audition song played over again, taunting my mind with its happy-go-lucky words until its tune locked onto me like a cold oyster latched onto an unsuspecting rock. Suddenly, I had an urge to throw up, scream, tear out my hair, strangle myself, and faint all at once.
Now I was certain I was insane.
Then, I was the only one left on stage. My turn had come. This was too much; how did I get caught up in this mess? In the seconds before I would perform, time slowed down, and insignificant details became as vivid and horrid as though I was trapped in a nightmare.
The many eyes stared at me, blank and piercing – neither dismissive nor expectant. Why couldn’t they all just look the other way for thirty seconds? My vision grew hazy, my environment transformed into an illusional world. The walls around me loomed up, great frightening towers of plaster and wood, ready to pounce on my trembling form. The ground no longer seemed stable, my legs were wobbling like two fish flopping on the deck of a ship after being caught unexpectedly. Even my body began to react violently to the situation. My bones turned brittle as a decaying skeleton, and my flesh melted into an ooze, about to slide away. My throat was drier than stale bread, my breath raspy, my chest heaving. My eyes darted around the room, hoping to find a way to escape. I heard my cue, but I wasn’t ready. I was far from ready, my mind whirling faster than a cyclone across a prairie . . .
My mouth opened and a shaky voice emitted from me.
“Hello, my name is Elizabeth C. and I shall be singing the song ‘Shy.’” God, how did I manage to say anything? Despite the rules of beginning and ending an audition, I had seriously doubted that I could conjure any words from my mouth. The music started and before I could run away or hide or react in any way, my voice lifted into song.
Instantly the stage, the many faces, and my fear dissolved like salt in water. What was going on? The petrified girl, who spent hours attempting to pull herself together in order to impress the director, was gone. Like a phoenix born from the ashes, in one incredible moment, I emerged as the lead character Winifred, alone on the stage, facing an awestruck audience, and singing my heart out as if I was born to do so. Exhilarated, I lifted my voice louder and higher, raising my spirits as well. I heard myself sing the very words I dreaded for the past hour, and I became one with the song, for at that moment, the stage was my realm.
I was the first one in my family to do this, the only one brave enough to perform in front of a group of people. I felt like I could do anything in that moment, that I could actually be the star of the play and make my family proud. I thought that this was what I wanted, to grow as an actress and perform in plays for many years to come, but there was so much more than that, so much that my heart couldn’t understand . . .
At last I finished. For another instant, I felt my shining moment hover above me, a shield of elation only to melt away when reality set back into me.
“Scene. Thank you,” I gasped, relieved I had enough sense to slate, or conclude, my performance properly. As I hurried down the steps to my sanctuary – my seat in the house – it dawned on me that my fear had returned. Although it was much easier to cope with it sitting down, the familiar enemy still dug and chewed into my stomach. Silence gripped the theater, even though I knew it was due to the rules, not my performance. The quiet was as ominous as an accused awaiting its jury to return to court and state the verdict.
I closed my eyes to savor my freedom as the auditions moved on past me. New songs sung by new actors flew by like leaves blowing in the wind. All were unimportant to me. I had finished the worst, and now there was tomorrow to look forward to. When we did see the results on the cast list, I remembering feeling relief when my name was next to an ensemble character, despite my fleeting confident attitude during my audition. I had done it. That’s all that mattered. Not my placement on the cast list, but the experience that forever left a mark on my soul.