I woke up this morning with the kind of heartache I hadn’t felt in a very, very long time. Bigger than that one hour I had a mini meltdown when I moved. Bigger than packing up my things and saying see-you-soons. No, it was more akin to the type of heartache I used to feel in my teens and twenties, when the person I loved wasn’t the person I was with.
I missed the theatre.
Now, let me be clear: I love my life. L-O-V-E my life, all caps. I’m of firm belief that regret is a useless emotion other than its ability to steer us in the best direction when we ask ourselves if it has the possibility of popping up later. Every choice I’ve made is intentional, ever decision has been from the heart. I don’t do easy, after all. I do right.
And hey, I DID theatre! I lived that professional, unionized actor life. I committed my entire college education to it (*okay, not entire, I went to a liberl arts school which required tons of general education classes and became particularly enamoured with sociocultural anthropology but that’s beside the point). I had agents – multiple. I got to act on major television shows and do national commercials and be in both independent and major movies – and just before you call me out on the fact that theatre, not film, was my true love, I did that too. I talked and sang and laughed and cried on stages to audiences of 15 and of 500. I did it. I was there.
I have mega-talented friends in the theatre world, friends on Broadway and friends quite literally touring the world. And when I see their posts on Instagram or Facebook or hear about rehearsals, I often need to do a gut check: I LOVE their life, but do I wish it was mine as well? And the answer pretty much always is: no.
I didn’t veer away from theatre because “the rejection is so tough,” as many people assume when we talk about my Former Life. Nope, not at all. It’s that as I grew older and started to examine the type of life I wanted for myself – and the things that would give me the quality of that life; the things I was willing to sacrifice and the things I was willing to trade in place for the kind of stage career I’d always seen myself having (which, for me, lived on National Tours and in New York City) – well, I started to realize those things were actually my non-negotiables.
A lot of it came about after having controlled myself for so long: I realized I had within me a tendency to control and obsess, and while those things were fantastic when it came to memorizing lines or fleshing out a character, they worked waaaay against me when it came to the rest of my life. The control robbed me of my ME-ness.
I never acted to escape myself, always to explore myself. But the more I explored myself in a controlled environment the more unsafe I felt going there in my life outside a rehearsal room. Not to mention the paralyzing anxiety I’d get during almost all auditions – anxiety that stemmed from nowhere, anxiety that wasn’t tied to being scared (I wasn’t) but being liked. And no matter how much I prepped and no matter how much meditation I did beforehand to center myself and believe, truly believe, that no this was not an audition but a performance opportunity, and no they were not judging me and yes they were hoping I was their answer walking into the room…I would still get the shaking and throat closing and hands and feet going numb.
I tried everything. And 99% of the time, it didn’t work. So you’d think that when I nailed it, I would feel a sense of fulfilment and confidence. But when I did get the part, when the fleeting validation fled, the control would kick in. Very rarely did it feel joyful. I realized that the joy I thought I would feel when I got the thing was not the reality of the thing. What I was after was not what I was getting.
We are told as kids, as teenagers with big-ass dreams, that there are people who give up and there are people who keep going. We’re told that’s it; that it’s easy to choose a different path but it’s right to stick the course. That those with a calling are supposed to follow it through, no holds barred, through the fire and sleet and make their way to the other side. The people who keep going are the people who reap the rewards, and the people who veer off track get zilch.
What if those aren’t the only two options, though?
And what if… what if… what is supposed to be the right choice is really the easy one, and the choice that to others would seem a cinch is actually the hardest and rightest?
It would have been easy for me to stick with theatre, with the career path I paved for myself. It would have been easy to stay with the familiar loops, goals, dreams, aspirations, patterns with the justification that this was the life I had set out to build for myself. But was it really right? And moreover…was it all really that mutually exclusive, a definitive hard start and stop?
I think back on my time pursuing a career I don’t currently have – really-truly-seriously pursuing it – and I realize it only truly spans a decade. Sure, a decade is a lot….but is it? My life and professionalism started to truly take shape when I started voice lessons at 14, tenaciously pursuing education and opportunities that would support my growth into the woman I wanted to be in the world, then booking my first work at 18, then booking my first union show at 20, then getting an agent and building my resume and doing all things from modeling swimwear to playing a tween to filming a scene with Jessica Biel that left me with bruises on my arms (story for another day, but if you’re curious check out the Deleted Scenes from the movie Valentines Day. yep, #itme) to singing backup vocals on a Miley Cyrus karaoke track to investigating alongside Batman for a film I still to this day get really creepy messages from comic-and-cosplay-obsessed guys about. I did it all. It was a weird, wonderful, wacky experience – until I realized I’d grown into a person very different from the one I thought I was going to be at that point in her life. All in a span of ten measley blip-of-time years.
Yeah, I dabbled in acting work after the age of 24, but it was almost always at the request of a friend-of-friend who knew me from such-and-such and very rarely did I even enjoy the experience. I kept trying to test myself, trying to see if what I’d had was what I’d been longing for. It wasn’t.
I can be happy but still want more. I can choose not Either/Or but AND. Click To Tweet
Sometimes I wonder if I am trying to convince myself otherwise. That I really should be singing onstage, that I really should be pursuing the magic-of-the-theatre…but that’s not my life now, so I better be happy with what I’ve got.
But here’s the thing…I AM. I am happy. I can be happy but still want more. I can choose not Either/Or but And. And for me I choose to look at how I can accomplish the EXACT things I loved about working in the theatre WITHIN the life I lead and person I am today.
Just because we feel a sense of joy from one thing doesn’t mean we’re immune to feeling the absence of another. Just because we strive for the look of one thing doesn’t mean we can’t wonder if we’re missing out on the feel of the other.
But my recent revelation is: We can always go back. We can always veer the course, because we have PROOF we’ve done it before. We can always do everything from test the waters to fully cannonball-dive in. Will I ever go back to theatre? Who knows. But it’s not unthinkable, I know that. In the here and now, I know I am after a FEELING in my life, I am after the accomplishment of the actualization of my Through Line: using my unique, authentic voice to help and inspire others find their own. What that looks like now might look entirely different 10 years from now. Nothing is ever off the table.
Cheryl Strayed has a wonderful quote that says:
“I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us.”
We can ache for the dream of what we think one life COULD be like, but the reality is that its rarely what we envision it to be verbatim. There is always some caveat. Always something that made it the sister life, not ours.
But I think…I really, truly think…that if we pinpoint what exactly we value most, and go after that, the aspects of the sister life that WERE meant to be ours will come sailing into the port. Which aspects? TBD. We must only stay open. And make the right choices instead of the easy ones.
Sometimes I look back at the kid I used to be, and I wonder if she’s gotten everthing she’s wanted. But then I realize how absurd that thought is… Gotten. Happened. Done. To question if she’s ALREADY gotten everything she’s wanted, like it’s been so long.
Of course she hasn’t. Because she’s only just gotten started.
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