So far, I must say that 2014 has been off to a less-than-stellar start, despite all my determination that the upcoming year was going to be an unforgettable year of adventure, and the best year yet. Sometimes I suspect that there’s a small black cloud of doom that follows me around; if something negative is going to happen and you’d say, “Wow, that’s bad luck; what are the chances?”, it happens to me.
After a trip to the doctor and 5 days worth of antibiotics allowed me to recover my health enough to go out and celebrate my birthday (which was a wonderful outing with friends that made up for a very quiet rest of the month), and to make it to dinner with a small group of some of my closest friends on NYE, we made the mistake of attempting to ring in 2014 at one of our favourite clubs. It was also the last night for this club, which was closing its doors for good.
Here’s where things went awry, and it’s my own fault. I have a confession to make: I don’t even *like* clubs that much. I like them in theory; I like drinking, dancing, music, people…but somehow, you mix them all together, and you have this experience where I *think* I should be having fun, but I realise I’m not. By the time we all got to the club for NYE and parked, it was after 11 PM. My friend spills a drink on the silk top of my dress. I get mistaken for the coat check person. (this is not the kind of club that has EVER had a coat check person.) The music is loud, people are smoking, and because this was the last night of the club’s existence, it was elbow-to-elbow people. I couldn’t find any of the friends I arrived with. I rang NYE in while waiting in line at a bar. I used the men’s restroom because the women’s restroom had a 30 minute line, and angry lesbians yelled at me for being a girl and taking too long in the stall. Then there were cans of silly string, and an almost-relationship-ending fight with The Guy I Am Currently Dating provoked by the spraying of silly string. A friend of mine called yet another friend, who’d already left the club, for a ride. He drove all the way back to get us, and they were annoyed when I wouldn’t go with them because The Guy I Am Currently Dating came back. Somehow, in the parking lot, there was an incident with the car getting keyed, with my friends inside of it…and it was a case of mistaken identity. The angry attackers were looking for a similar, but different, car. Other friends got into a physical altercation in the parking lot. I walked what seemed like a half-mile, sobbing in the freezing cold, to get to the only place The Guy I Am Currently Dating could park.
No, New Year’s Eve was not fun. But New Year’s Day, when I woke up feeling heartbroken, with a hacking cough, and a temperature of 102, was even worse. Over the next week, I steadily got worse, to the point where I was coughing so hard that my ribs were surrounded by little greenish-blue bruises. (It turns out that all that vocal training back in the day has strengthened my diaphragm to the point where I not only have breath and vocal power, but the power to bruise myself from the force of coughing.) Finally, we went to the Minute Clinic, which gave me 7 days of antibiotics, an anti-cough medicine, and the diagnosis of a sinus/ear bacterial infection as the result of a cold. Somehow, I managed to pick up two viruses in the span of 6 weeks. What are the chances? Well, if it’s me, the chances are really, really awesome.
I learned that the second illness was a different germ when all my friends seemed to have it, and 10 days later, are still not recovered. I had also been excited about scheduling an audition for a musical, something I haven’t done in years. I’d decided months ago to put myself out there, and convinced friends to audition with me. A week before the audition, I had laryngitis.
I still went to my first audition for something I thought I might actually stand a chance of getting cast in, and after trying every “vocal helper” for laryngitis known to man, I could still barely squeak out a tune. Half my range was missing, and the part that worked cracked and I’ve never been so horribly embarrassed in my life. It may literally be the most humiliating audition I’ve ever been on, and for a local black box theatre with an oddly intense amount of talent.
Of course, the audition started out with a dance audition, and I’m no stranger to musical theatre dance auditions. I know they are not my friend. I am a “singer who dances” as compared to a “dancer who sings”, which means that I’ve had my requisite “Intro To Not Falling On Your Face 101″ classes in everything, and with 4-6 weeks of rehearsal, I can pick up an intermediate routine enough to sing and dance in an ensemble without being the one person who trips and falls.
This dance audition was clearly an advanced audition. The choreographer showed some very quick steps and then expected everyone to copy them. Almost everyone had a high kick, and some people were stretching in full splits on the floor when I entered. There were a few dance instructors auditioning in my group. For someone with vertigo, who hasn’t seen a heart rate above 100 since 2011, it was a horrible “someone is trying to kill me” experience.
This can be forgiven, if you’re a singer, because no one expects 4’11″ singers to be ensemble dancers, anyway. They want to know if you can pick stuff up, given the chance to work on it, so I was not terribly devastated by how far out of my league I was in an audition with women who were a foot taller and 40 pounds skinnier and had been high kicking since the age of 3. I’m very familiar with that situation, and strategy of hiding in the back row and trying to turn, kick, and move in the same direction as everyone else.
However, I was a singer with laryngitis. The sad part is, the staff of the musical really seemed to like me. I made a few quips about being dizzy after the dance audition and singing with laryngitis, and everyone laughed. A few of the staff were excited pointing at things on my resume while I was croaking out my 32 bars, and the director asked me if I had any recordings or videos she could see that were representative of my non-laryngitis filled voice. (My friend, who was able to give a great vocal audition, mentioned that the same director seemed largely disinterested during his audition.). Had I been able to perform with full vocal power, I doubt I’d have ended up in the show, but I’d have made a pretty good impression for a musical theatre actress who has been out of the game for a very long time.
Needless to say, I didn’t feel good about the audition. Instead, I felt humiliated. While there’s something to be said for perseverance, I should have canceled. I was not expecting a tiny little theatre in the back of a shopping centre to have New York-level talent, nor was I prepared for the crushing impact to the self-esteem that comes from being surrounded by young, pretty, talented girls. I later told The Guy I Am Currently Dating that one of the real reasons I stopped performing was a crisis of crippling self-doubt. I could have dragged my heartbroken self back to New York or Philadelphia after my relationship here didn’t work, or started auditioning for things anywhere in the country. But somehow, I lost any sense that I was good enough to do the thing I’d spent my whole life training to do. I saw friends who were much more gifted than I, much prettier, much more in possession of that natural “star quality” that causes people to light up a room, needing to work 2 jobs in NYC and go on auditions in their spare time, just waiting for the opportunity to have two lines in a commercial or to end up in the chorus of a musical somewhere. I felt like not only could I not hack the competition, I didn’t want to have to fight so hard to accomplish anything, to be someone special. Our professors always taught us that when we started to have doubts about our ability to make acting a career, it was time to move on. I loved, and will always love, the world of theatre. But I was never going to be good enough to be as successful as hundreds of thousands of gifted young people want to be, and I thought I was still young enough to find something I could be really good at.
The truth is, I never did find that thing that I’m really good at. I never found what it is that makes me special. Growing up in the world of theatre, it doesn’t occur to you that you might be ordinary. If you have that in your head, you might as well not bother showing up, because nobody notices or cares about the ordinary. You have to be special. You have to be larger than life. You have to be the person everyone pays attention to when they enter the room.
In the real world, being this person means making enemies. I once heard someone say, “When Alayna walks into a room, she sucks all the air out of it. It’s like all attention has to be on her at all times”. I had someone else tell me, “No offense, but you almost don’t seem like a real person. We hang out with you and stuff, but it’s more like you’re a character on a TV show than a person.” It turns out, all the world isn’t a stage. In the real world, most people ARE perfectly ordinary, and that’s OK. It’s even to be expected. And if you happen to be ordinary, too, you can be quite happy. Over the years, I’ve had to learn a different way to be, one that doesn’t suck all the air out of the room. Going back into an audition situation, therefore, with experienced performers who are still working at being as fabulous as possible…it’s strange. And it of course reminds me why I walked away in the first place; I just never had what it took to be that person who stood out.
If you look at my resume, you’ll see someone who was a moderately successful, well-trained actress, and if I had made different choices, I might still be that. But I didn’t want to live a life of moderate success at something. I wanted to be special. I wanted to live in more than 500 square feet.
The truth is, I hate the suburbs, and I miss New York. I miss acting. I miss putting myself out there on a stage, where it’s acceptable to be larger than life. I miss pretending not to be insecure and my own worst enemy, because the more you acknowledge that, the harder it becomes to keep out of other aspects of your life. But I always wanted everything; I want the nice apartment, the social life, the pretty clothes, the happy relationship, the being someone who is admired in some way. I wanted everything except being exactly what I was: a plain, ordinary person.
Now, in my early 30′s, I have to come to terms with the fact of being just that…and it’s hard. It’s hard to relinquish a lifetime of being told you have certain gifts, certain things that make you special…but in the end, you grew up to be just like everyone else. There is still a part of me that wants to be special, that wants to be recognised, that wants to be good at something in a way most people are not.
Yet, that kind of talent is simply something you were born with, or you weren’t. And, in so many ways, it appears to have skipped me. Looking at yourself in a very honest, down-to-earth way can be a bitter pill to swallow.
In the musical “A Chorus Line”, there’s a character who is a dancer in her 30′s, old for that line of work. She was a star in the making at one point, a principal dancer who just couldn’t hack the competition. She comes back to audition for the chorus of her ex-lover’s musical, and he tells her the chorus is about being just like everyone else, blending in, and that wasn’t who she was. He doesn’t want to see her let go of her dreams of something greater. She replies, “It is now”, because she truly believes it. She’s too old to have the illusions of being anything fabulous that everyone has at 20.
I understand that mentality, a great deal. I suppose the question I have to ask myself is what makes your average,ordinary person content with all the small things, and not restless? Because I am that, all the time. I know I should be doing something more, because I have gifts to offer to the world, and I want my life to mean something. I want to be remembered when I am no longer here. I want to actually be missed.
I just don’t know how, or why, or if I’m actually truly good at anything at all. I suppose most people don’t think about that, don’t have jobs where having any special ability or unusual talent comes into play…and those parts of a person’s life often go ignored and unfulfilled. That seems a little sad to me, but I’m learning it’s how the world works. Perhaps, in time, I’ll get the hang of being happy being just like most other people. I’ve just never known life without really big ambitions and unrealistic delusions of grandeur and a rather narcissistic sense of self-importance, combined with a lot of insecurity.
I’ll take being ordinary and living quietly in a heartbeat, if it means being healthy and gainfully employed.