When I was three years old, I was in my first play. I was a Christmas Gift. My costume was literally a box with holes for my head, arms, and feet. The idea of having the young kids play Christmas Gifts is that they could hide *in* the boxes if they got stage fright.
*Spoiler Alert*: I don`t get stage fright. I also didn`t get stage fright when I was 3. Instead, I marched across the stage and stood right at the front. I also never hid in my box, and I`ve been told I did a little bit of a dance as well.
My passion for performance took me through several stages. I was the youngest spoken role in my elementary school`s play (I was a kindergarten student). I said something in German, but I don`t remember it now – and you best believe I rocked that single sentence.
We then went to Disneyland. I got called to be the kid in one of those interactive shows. My task was simple: take the microphone, and make the sound that would summon the Genie from Aladdin every time he was called. My parents were super proud. Camera out, at the ready. I remember distinctly thinking to myself how can I be different than all these other kids who have made noises for Jafar and Aladdin and Jasmine? Then, an idea came to me.
I screamed. At the top of my lungs. Into the microphone. My parents quickly dropped their camera, hoping to disassociate themselves with the tiny terror that had paralyzed an entire Disneyland audience. There was at least 10 seconds of solid silence following that shrill, borderline-inconceivable sound. For the rest of the show, every child in the entire audience had to SCREAM at the TOP OF THEIR LUNGS when the Genie was summoned.
I’m sure the host quit that day.
By 6th grade, I was doing a good portion of the speaking in the plays… except that wasn`t enough. I was more than a little slow to develop a sharing-complex. Personally, I blame being an only child for this particular development. I wanted to be the star of the show – and I was willing to do anything to be that way. See, I was the `Narrator`. Lots of words, because I spoke well. But, it was supposed to be a funny play… and the audience only laughed at one of my lines. One. Only One. Completely Unacceptable to my 9-year-old self. So, I decided the best way to make my role funnier was to make a ridiculous face at the end of every line.
I got through one show out of four when my parents pulled me aside and told me it wasn’t funny like I wanted, but ridiculous.
Fast forward to high school and university. I specialized pretty heavily in theatre, dabbling in both backstage and onstage work. Performance was my soul. I was completely convinced my future would be in theatre. Hollywood. Somewhere where I could perform. I wasn’t much for the comedy (though they were better than my grade 6 attempt), but I loved the tragedy, drama and romance. I soaked it up like a sponge.
And then… I found dance.
Suddenly, I found myself torn: two forms of art, competing equally for my soul. Both took place in the evening and night time hours. Both required passion, determination, and dedication… and somewhere along the way, dance won.
Of course, in the beginning I was only a social dancer. It took two years (while I was also still doing theatre) before I got my break into dance performance. My fix. My drug. People watching me. Yummy.
I hope this doesn’t come across as ego-centric, and I assure you I’m much better at sharing the spotlight now than when I was 10. I also love the backstage process – but there is still something unparalleled to performing a routine in front of people.
For me, performance is the equivalent rush to a daredevil going skydiving. Blood pumps in your veins; everything is in overdrive. For me, this feeling is exhilarating and thrilling. Some people would describe it as terrifying. It’s like the world ceases to exist; all that you are is in that one, single moment of movement and sound as your body tells a story to a (hopefully) enraptured audience. In a way, it is a moment of invincibility: nothing in the world can touch you.
I don’t know why that is my reaction, instead of stage fright. I’ve never had that problem. I can speak in front of thousands of people far more easily than I can have a one-on-one conversation with an acquaintance I just met (which actually gives me a relatively high amount of anxiety). For me (and many other natural performers), performance is an armour; a costume I put on.
Some people wonder how it’s possible to be violent, sexy, cruel, or kind with such fluidity. But see, that’s the magic of performance: I can be someone entirely different. My stage character is not me at my most vulnerable – it’s someone else that is completely removed from my hopes, dreams, ideals, and opinions. If the audience hates the character, they don’t hate me – they hate a role I play. All that matters is that I played the role convincingly enough that they believed what they saw for those few moments.
Even if something goes horribly, horribly wrong, I am in control. I can redirect the audience, I can pretend the mistake never happened. Besides, everyone roots for the performer where something went wrong and they came through OK anyways. I’ve performed where I’ve messed up, my partner has messed up, lights have gone out, or music has stopped. Recently, the music stopped three times before it went right (Just a side note: it was not the DJ’s fault 😉 ).
I perform because I crave it. It is an addiction; a craving that I have an intense desire to feed. It is part of my identity. Right now, I’m preparing for a major production – See Inside Me. I play a blind woman. I also wrote the script, and directed a good chunk of stage acting for the piece. It feels like one of my greatest achievements (though, of course, it’s a joint endeavour with my fantastic partner). It’s honestly the most inspirational project I’ve ever been a part of, and I can’t wait to feel the thrill of performance again.
I hope that all of my friends from the wonderful world of dance will be there, so that I may share my gift with them. Because, at the end of the day, what every performer truly craves is an audience to share the magical journey with them.
See Inside Me will be going on stage at the Flato Markham Theatre Dec. 19, 2014. Tickets are available online at www.seeinsideme.dance. All proceeds are used to develop dance programs for the blind. Trailer is available on YouTube, and event is on Facebook.
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