day 14: choosing to care | a real actress

Saturday, 3/19/2016

This is the post I never wanted to write. The one that when I first realized where it was going made me think, “oh my gosh, I’m a statistic.” But maybe, since it’s the one I’m most afraid of, it’s the one that most needs to be written. You see, this post will be an “a ha!” moment for some people that knew me growing up. Some may even know who is referenced in this writing. It’s not so scary to write about an attacker I, nor my readers, know. It’s a lot harder to write about a predator that I, and some readers, do.

This post cracks open the door to a conversation about revictimization. It reveals that April 26, 2014 was not my first experience with sexual assault.

That was one of the first 10 questions the police asked me in that hospital room - "have you ever been the victim of sexual violence before?” For some reason, having to answer, “yes,” filled me with the greatest sense of shame. Multiple studies conducted by The National Sexual Violence Resource Center “suggest that sexual victimization in childhood or adolescence increases the likelihood of sexual victimization in adulthood between 2 and 13.7 times.” A 2010 CDC report concluded the same. I don’t go into it much, but one day I will, because it’s a conversation that needs to be had, and there is SO much to it. 

 

So here goes… 

Today I cried in my Saturday acting class because I’m afraid to care. (oh yeah, welcome to the first, and potentially most cliche, post from someone you will now be able to clip into the world’s actor stereotype. Oy.) Crying over your art or career in front of other people is not an enjoyable experience. I remember when I first arrived for my freshman year at college, I was really afraid to cry in front of people. Boy was I forced to get over that fast.  

When I arrived to one of the most highly ranked acting conservatories in the country, I had never been in a play. If I’m being really honest - I didn’t actually like plays…or I didn’t think I did. I didn’t know anything about writers, or theatre history, and I certainly had no clue that there were different techniques to acting. Here I am sitting in orientation and our dean starts talking about how we will dive into the worlds of the Stanislavsky technique, the Adler technique, and the Meisner technique…. Huh?! When the cute boy next to me leaned over and asked me if I wanted a toothpick, it was about the only sentence that sounded like English. 

The first week of classes when our teachers asked us what our favorite plays were, I had to embarrassingly admit (every single time) that I didn’t really know any plays, so I didn’t have one. (The only play I remember seeing up to that point was a high school production of “Our Town.”)

The first time I gave that answer, it just kinda fell out of my mouth. Word vomit tends to be a problem of mine. After I said it, I vaguely considered going back to my dorm that night and googling “best plays” and just picking a title for next time the question was asked. That idea was soon quashed when I heard the amount of follow-up questions involved to one’s favorite play answer. I was so embarrassed. Sitting in my first week of classes being talked to about art and craft and what it means to be an artist, and I was dumbfounded. I had certainly never identified as an artist. What had I done? Why had I come here when I was accepted into plenty of amazing musical theatre programs? I would have definitely been able to answer their questions. 

Seven months earlier, I got very sick [see day 12.] Over the course of nine days in the ICU I went from being a healthy 18 year old to a really not healthy 18 year old. My doctors became the authors of my life. They narrowed down the list of schools I’d been accepted to by distance to major medical center. I could not be more than 10 minutes away via ambulance. 

That left two schools. A week before decision day, I’d signed and sent off my papers to another program. A double major BM/BFA program. But one of the assistant deans at NCSA, would not stop calling my house and telling me to "just come visit." Sensing I could use a break from the monotony of school and an endless cycle of doctor’s appointments and tests, the headmaster of my high school and my mum suggested a visit to North Carolina. If nothing else, it would be a pretty three days.

My mum and I were standing in the drama office after a meeting with the assistant dean, and the drama school secretary, when she suddenly called from her office, “oh Becky, Gerald is driving over to performance place now - he can take you over there so that you can observe the senior’s acting class.” 

Now is as good a time as any to tell you that being observant is not my strong suit. Neither is talking to people that I don’t know.

This little, white-haired, older man, with a newspaper hat on, came shuffling out and motioned for me to join him. I gave my mum a hug goodbye and off I went. I was intrigued - I’d never seen a real acting class before and had no idea what it entailed. Also, I tend to think little old people are cute, so I was cool with him being my carpool leader.

As we climbed into his equally cute BMW, I decided the correct move was to make some small talk. 

B: “I’m Becky - I’m deciding whether or not to come here for acting school. Uh, classes. Uh to the drama school, I mean.” 

G: “ Oh that’s nice. I hear it’s a pretty good school.” 

                         awkward silence

B: “That’s good. Have you seen any of the shows here?” 

G: “A few, yes.” 

                         awkward silence 

B: “So you must like theatre then?” 

G: “I do.” 

B: “Have you ever done any theatre?” 

                         as he pulls into a parking space marked “DEAN OF DRAMA"

G: “Here and there. (chuckles to himself) Come on, we don’t want to be late!” 

B: (incoherent words, sounds, and head nodding as I stumble out of the car and realize that I just asked one of the most revered pioneers of American theatre, if he’s ever done any theatre.)

I was MORTIFIED. In a state of mortification. Is that a word? I don’t know. But that’s where I was at. 

Thank the good Lord in heaven that Gerald has a sense of humor. Later that day, as I sat in his office, I was told that if I wanted to be an actress - a real actress - I needed to come to NCSA. If I went to one of the other schools I’d been accepted to, I’d be successful. I’d likely see many of my dreams come true - but if I wanted to last, to have longevity, he and the rest of the faculty of NCSA needed to teach me. It felt honest. And it was one of the only times in my life where telling someone that I wanted to be an actress didn’t embarrass me. For the first time since I could remember, the word didn’t fill me with some sense of shame. 

I’d spent the last 10 years performing in musical theatre. I'd taken I think I took two 1 hour acting classes once, and when I was twelve, I began to take private acting lessons. I wanted to be an actress - "a real actress” (hello, Moulin Rouge.) The artistic director at one of the theaters I worked at suggested to my parents that I take private lessons with one of his company members who I had performed with, and taken group lessons from, many times over the previous two years. 

My pre-teen years were a trying time for my family and caused me to put up some seriously fortified walls. It was almost as if he knew that - like he had x-ray vision and could see that behind my tough exterior, I was crumbling into a million pieces, and my vulnerability was just waiting to be exploited. I had a callback for the role of Abigail in "the Crucible” at another theatre, so my mum scheduled a private lesson for me to go over the material I’d been given. I was so excited. I’d never auditioned at an equity regional theatre before. I didn’t totally know what that meant, but I knew it meant something. I remember walking into the building for my initial audition and being in awe of how big it was. How professional it all seemed. How real. When I got a callback, I couldn’t believe it - it was the first time I ever felt like a real actress. 

After my lesson, I never wanted to feel like that again.

My teacher explained to me that we would do an exercise that they often do at callbacks - especially for roles as serious and complex as this one. The director would want to see my chemistry with the actor cast in the role of John Proctor. I froze. Confusion and disbelief took over and then all of a sudden I found myself doing some ninja moves to break free before it got any farther and run to the bathroom. Maybe that was something that real actresses in plays did to prepare. But I didn’t want to. He was my teacher and he was trying to help. I must have misunderstood… Maybe being a real actress just wasn’t for me. So I didn’t say anything to anyone, and the cycle of intermittent abuse continued. 

I don’t really remember my callback, only that it wasn’t very good and I didn’t get the part. I do remember wanting it to be over as soon as possible. I never auditioned for a play after that.  

Sexual assault of a child is dark. In fact, I believe it is one of the darkest, lowest, and most depraved forms of sin and evil that exists. There’s no way to paint it as a pretty picture. To try to do so would be almost criminal. But I needed to be at NCSA. I needed to learn all the things that the faculty there would teach me and I needed the personal growth it would provide.

As we’ve established, I believe in signs - and nobody else had used the words real actress to me in five years. Seven years later, I can tell you that this was God at work in my life. If those words hadn’t been used, I don’t know if I would have gone. Only God can do that. Only God can take the darkest of the dark, and allow a little light in. I did a lot of healing at NCSA - I don’t think I ever would have found my voice if I hadn’t attended that school. If I hadn’t found my voice, if I hadn’t learned to bravely access the truest parts of myself, and put them on display, I likely wouldn’t have this blog. What Satan intended for evil, God used for good. 

Right then and there, I rescinded my paperwork from the other school and signed new paperwork to confirm that I would like to attend NCSA in the fall. 

I had all these ideas about how my life would look when I graduated from NCSA and arrived in New York. Not a one of them came to be. To say my confidence was knocked is the understatement of a lifetime. Six-ish months after moving to NYC (and three months prior to my attack,) I was introduced to my now acting teacher, Vance. He’s walked with me through the past 2 1/2 years with a lot of grace, patience, and encouragement. He’s been privy to lots of tears (NCSA broke the no crying habit,) frustrations, deep conversations, stops and starts, and back and forths about quitting. He’s been tough on me, but with an underlying spirit of gentleness that I will probably never be able to repay. And his acting class is bomb. 

But lately, I’ve felt so stuck. My work has been blah. And that’s almost worse than bad. I would rather you be able to say, “that’s the shittiest shit I’ve ever seen” than “well that was okay.” 

Okay = blah

blah = hell 

He has waited for me to realize this on my own. And today I realized it. And then, in his ever-annoying way, he made me expound upon my feelings to the entire class. Acting school may have taught me how to identify and talk about my feelings, but it doesn’t mean I like doing it any more than I did when I was 18. 

Expounding went something like this: "I just think that what I did today was horrible. I don’t even want to watch it because it’s blah. All of my work is blah and I’m not sure why. And all of a sudden I care about my work again and that’s so annoying because up until recently I didn’t care and now I do and I want to be great and not lame and now I’m crying, why am I crying?" 

I have a real ability to make myself not care. And since my life didn’t pan out the way I thought, and bad things happened, I decided not to care. In fact, I refused to do so. And here we are on day 14 of this 52 day journey, and I realize I want to care again. And not only that, I do care again. I care about my life, I care about my art, I care about my family, I care about my friends, I care about my classmates, I care about my colleagues. I care about my mistakes. I care about my wins. Caring is scary because it means you can get hurt. But isn’t it better to get hurt than to be blah? Isn’t it better to try and epically fail than not try at all? Isn’t it better to love and get your heart broken than to never know love at all? 

That all sounds so lame. Very very lame. But it also sounds so true. 

Lame but true. That’s a trend that I don’t think will ever not be. 

When my expounding was done, I was met with encouragement and commiseration from my classmates and from Vance. Why I expected anything else? I don’t know. It could be that I’m slightly stubborn. 

And so I’ve decided to actively care. The only reason not to would be because I have given into fear. And as has been determined the past 13 days, that’s no longer an option. 

 

 

if you have been the victim of sexual assault, oh sweet love, I am so sorry. Please, please, seek professional help to begin the process of healing. It is scary, but it is possible. If you would like help in finding help, please reach out. You are not alone. It is not your fault. You are VALUABLE, beautiful, and worthy. Nothing that anybody does or says can take that away. There is a God in heaven who has called you by name. He says that “you are beautiful and there is no blemish within you.” Even if you can’t believe that now, there are others who can and are praying on your behalf. If it feels dark, keep fighting - keep pushing. You WILL rise out of the ashes + into the light. - all my love, B