school

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  

day 5: pick six

Thursday, 3/10/2016  

When I was nine years old, I went to visit my new school that I was dead against being forced to attend. It had been a long application and interview process and this was the day where I would tour the place that was to be my new stomping grounds. The fact that they accepted me was, in and of itself, shocking. In my interview, when the headmaster asked me why I wanted to attend the school, I broke down crying and said that I didn’t and that it’d be good if they denied me admittance. Then I proceeded to wipe my snotty nose on my yellow pearl snap button down shirt with a denim collar and little navy blue baby’s breath flowers all over it. He then very gently offered me a kleenex. 

I remember moments in life by what I was wearing. That was my favorite shirt at the time. Heck, if it still existed today in an adult size, I’d wear it. My fondest memory wearing it was at my Granny and Grandpa's house in the English countryside. We have a photo somewhere that I can't seem to find...

Granny and Grandpa Paul’s house was the keeper of my secret spot (which I now know was not secret at all.) In the very back of their garden was a big bush, and nestled up against the back of that bush, was a wooden bench. I would sit on my bench for hours, telling myself stories, dreaming about what my life would be, and laying down on it, just looking up at the sky. If I stood on the bench and got up on my tiptoes (thankfully, the trusty bush was tall enough to hide this occurrence from my Granny’s manner minding eyes,) I could see over the back fence and into a field that stretched for what seemed like a hundred miles - you couldn’t see beyond it. This last Christmas, we took a detour past the cottage and the new owners have changed everything. I hate change. I so desperately wanted to knock on the door and ask if I could go sit on my bench for just a moment, but the fear that I might discover that in all their changes, my secret place no longer exists, stopped me. I want to remember it in all its perfection - a place untainted by the realities of life. My greatest desire when I was a little girl peering over the fence, was to jump it and just run through those fields until I couldn’t anymore, collapsing in a fit of giggles, gasping for air. I’d still love to do that.  

My new school scared me. I knew that I was being sent there because it was a more academically focused school with the structure needed to tame my wild and rambunctious spirit. I wanted to be left wild.  Leaving my old school made me realize that I would have to make new friends. I’d never even realized that making friends was something you do and I wasn’t scared that I wouldn’t.

Sitting on the big leather chair inside the school office waiting for the tour to begin, a little blonde girl that I recognized from a basketball camp I’d attended earlier that summer, walked in with her parents and plopped down right next to me. 

“I like your Nike watch. I’ve got a turqouise Baby-G, see? But I like yours too. I’m Kitty.” 

“Thanks. It was my Christmas gift this year. I like it because it’s sporty, but I like yours too. I’m Becky.” 

Kitty and I didn’t know as we sat in our soon to be art room later that day, bonding over the Mary-Kate and Ashley movie, “Passport to Paris,” that our friendship would stand the test of time. We should have known - because any friendship that begins because of Mary-Kate and Ashley is obviously a good one. 

We had no idea that we’d become a part of the same friend group and watch each other go through our most formative years. We didn’t know that I’d be there when she got her heart broken for the first time or that she’d be there to see me and cheer me on as I fulfilled one of my biggest dreams. We were definitely clueless when it came to all the questionable decisions we would have a ton of fun (sorry, Mum and Dad) making together in high school. We couldn’t have predicted that during out senior year of high school, I would be rushed to the hospital, and that when I was discharged a week later, it would be with the knowledge that I was sick with life-threatening conditions. We might not have even believed how fun our 'senior summer’ would be - when our group of friends saw each other every single day, until that gut-wrenching day when the first of us went off to college, and the weeks involving lots of teary goodbyes began. None of us were going to the same schools. It was the first time that classes would finish at the end of the day, and the option of just driving to Kitty’s house to lay out in the pool or hang out on the third floor didn’t exist. 

The group text started almost immediately after the first of us left. Well, this was 2009, so it started as a group Facebook message. We had to be completely up to date on every nitty gritty aspect of each other’s lives. Our first Thanksgiving home was the reunion of all reunions and our best tradition began. Every Thanksgiving night at about 9:45pm, we all go to Kitty’s house, light a bonfire, make smores, eat her leftovers, have a few drinks, and talk into the night. (#holeyjeans) Personally, I like to think that in our subconscious we do it because it's Thanksgiving and this group of girls is one of the things we are most thankful for in our lives - but writing that down, I can see the girls rolling their eyes and going “ohhhh gawwd” at my puttering on. Thanksgiving is truly “our” holiday though. In college, that five day weekend was like the holy grail…always the scene of our most memorable, or not so memorable, nights. It still is. Though in our old age, we’ve become much more responsible. I think.

                                                           Thanksgiving

                                                           Thanksgiving

We know each other so well that sometimes it’s just weird. And other times it's perfect. The first time I had my heart shattered into a million pieces and told them via group text, not one of them called me for a few days, because they knew I wouldn’t be able to, or want to talk. But you better believe that my phone never stopped buzzing with messages for three days. We have seen each other at our best and at our worst, been there for each other’s highest highs and lowest lows…and those lows have been pretty dang low. We’ve fought hard and made up hard. We once went over a year without one of us, and it sucked every single day. But it took us all of about five minutes to get over it and welcome her back with open arms the first time she showed up to our standard “last night we will all be together before one of us leaves” dinner - and it’s never been different since.

Our lives are changing and so are we. We’re adults now who live in different parts of the country, with jobs and responsibilities. Our dreams, beliefs, and priorities have shifted and changed, but I have to believe that at the core of it all, our deep rooted friendship won’t. A few months ago, the last time all six of us were together, I threw out the idea of giving up on everything I came here to do - and every single one of them just yelled at me a version of “absolutely not” (Melanie’s version may have had a few choice words thrown in there...) because they know me and they believe in me - even when I don't believe in myself. (I’m vomiting at how corny I sound.) 

I can’t imagine my life without Mary Ellen’s long lasting bear hugs, Mel’s high pitched scream when I walk through the door or when a particularly funny part of a story is told, Eleanor’s bringing Curly Sue (her dog) everywhere we go - she’s basically the 7th honorary member of Pick Six, Kitty’s chuckle laugh, or Sarah’s “heyyyy” when she walks into a room. I have learned everything I need to know about friendship from these girls. They are my chosen family. They are a massive part of why I miss TX, but an even bigger part of what keeps me here. Whenever I come home, one of my mum’s first questions is - “Well, what are your plans with the girls?” because she knows. 

The group text that began seven years ago lives on strong today, and as I write this post, with tears in my eyes on and off at the gratitude I feel, my phone just buzzed to say I have a new message on our thread, and all seems right with the world. 

*~hugz n kisses~*