It’s not that you don’t have talent. Actually, perhaps it is. The downside of going to so many workshops and even participating in a crash-course with a professional theater company is that while they’re nice to you and cheer you on and you learn a lot from the experience, you’re not quite sure any of them see anything in you. Or scratch that; you know they don’t, because if they had they would have hired you straight out of the rehearsal room, like they did your prettier, taller, sexier, and more talented classmate.
You don’t blame them. You don’t blame anyone but yourself for letting the dream chafe at you, rub you raw, eat at you until you would lay yourself low, abase yourself for the stage and its promises. You smile and nod and take criticism, let yourself get cast time and again as some variation of hysterical and/or crazy, pride yourself on the small victory that whenever you act in college theater, you almost never get criticism from the director.
…But then that fact worries you because it may not be because you do nothing wrong, but because they think you can do nothing more.
You dream of Éponine. Some days, you grab your mother’s oversized brown skirt, a ratty white tank top, a brown belt, your trusty cap from Korea, and a brown coat and walk around the 100sqM of the room you share with your mother, singing “On My Own” in French because that is how much you love the part–you learned French for it, you know what the song was originally supposed to say before it was made into English (a pale but beautiful copy). You try on a variety of accents, from Gavroche’s heady cockney to Frankie Ruffele’s flower-girl whine. You prepare. You wait in the wings of an invisible theatre, then imagine the lights burning the tears in your eyes as you sing the anthem of every silly, dramatic teenage girl in the world.
(But you know, as Éponine fans are apt to do, that “On My Own” is about more than just unrequited love. You know the ramifications of the first few lines of that song, the ones that auditionees usually cut–“And now I’m all alone again, nowhere to turn, no one to go to…”)
The part went to a girl you would call a Cosette: a slender young thing with a voice like a lark and the money to spend on training that she doesn’t really need; she has natural talent and that high high voice that Filipinos love. You could never be Christine; you’d always be Meg Giry. The Phantom would never kidnap you–you’re just an ambitious alto with a head full of stupid dreams and an ego too big to be consigned to back-up vocals.
You play character parts. You did a very decent Gavroche, if only for one act.
You’re afraid no one actually thinks you’re talented. That your teachers, your directors, the people you’ve friend-ed on Facebook who can see your ecstatic stats about the next audition, the next “big” part, are all secretly shaking their heads and smiling sadly and thinking “When is she going to learn this world isn’t for her?” You trust no one’s opinion, now. You make yourself small until the lights burn on you and you’re forced to be big because it’s become a matter of professionalism, of commitment, of discipline and dedication and my God, when did I start becoming one of the characters I played?
Some nights you go to sleep crying, but you make sure it’s early morning so your mom can’t hear you sobbing.
A rejection haunts you for weeks. It took you two weeks to get over not being cast in May Day Eve, and even then you sobbed so loud when you watched the show (free tickets; you wrote the study guide) that you almost disrupted the whole thing. When you didn’t get Éponine, you carried a hollow, dull feeling in you for a month, until the euphoria of mounting a production and fancying yourself in crush with one of your castmates carried that hollowness away.
You screwed up your audition for The King and I–the part was too high, and you were nervous. You forgot your lyrics and the theater was so big you felt like you were drowning. On the outside, you brushed it off. On the inside, you were crying.
You’re tired of the roles you get to play, because they’re not the roles you want to play. They’re simply variations on a theme of crazy–hysterical, character, over-achieving East German. But you play them so well it’s almost like breathing. Screaming and shouting and flailing and kicking and rolling on the ground onstage is not a problem for you. You don’t care if someone sees your underwear. You’re shameless.
You’re a whore, only whores get paid. You do it for the audience’s laughter.
It’s a default mode, and it’s safe and comfortable and you can do it…but you want to do more.
Can I do more?
You don’t know. You were taught that acting is a thinker’s art, and you try to think, but the fear chokes you until you’re sure your performance is less than perfect, less than the truth, less.
You foolishly dream of having someone unlock a freak octave in your galley-slave’s voice and you getting to play Christine.
Your dreams may be stupid, but they’re still your dreams.