For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be an actress. From four, maybe even three years old I fantasized seeing my name in lights and being known around the world. But I never told anyone about this. I remember mentioning it a couple of times to my parents, that maybe it would be something I would like to do just for fun when I got older, but I never told anyone that I thought and dreamed about it constantly. Whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say I wanted to be an astronaut or a mail carrier or a chef or a veterinarian. Even then, I feared what people would say when I told them my dream job.
Flash forward a couple of years. I’m ten years old and it’s my first year at the school for fifth and sixth graders. I’m standing on stage in an over-sized brown shirt, awkwardly holding a broken tree branch in each hand because I was too tall to be a munchkin. I remember being upset that I didn’t get a larger part when the cast list went up a few months earlier, but by that night in June, any sign of animosity was long gone. I remember that feeling of being on stage for that first time as clear as if it was yesterday. I was only ten years old, but I knew I wanted to live in that feeling for as long as I lived.
Passion is kind of like a drug. After that first time, all you want to do is feel how you felt that first time again. That's kind of what the past eight years have been like for me.
In middle school, theatre consumed me. I made some of my closest friends in middle school theatre, but at the same time I became one of those thirteen year old theatre robots (you know the type). I was a junior counselor at a summer camp the summer going into 9th grade and I remember at the interview, the man interviewing me asked me to talk about the things I liked to do. And all I talked about was theatre and acting and being on stage and yada yada. I remember the man saying “nothing else? You don't like to garden or draw or play any sports?” and I didn't know how to respond to that. I had been putting all of my eggs in one basket, but I hadn’t realized the danger of that yet.
Once high school started was when my theater journey really took off. After some setbacks, I didn’t appear on stage in either the school play or musical my freshman year. I was discouraged, but it only made me want to work harder. I would do whatever I needed to do to be able to do what I loved. I figured that this was just an environment where I would need to work to get to wherever I wanted to go. This was a realization that would haunt me for four years, as something that I loved suddenly turned into constant stress and worry without me even really realizing it. Looking back at it now, there were things I should have handled differently. It shouldn’t have been like that. At fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old, it should have just been fun.
But there were times that it was fun. More fun than I had ever had before, actually. I thought there would never be a better feeling than the adrenaline of an opening night call to places, finally getting to show the world (or at least your school) the secret thing you and all of your best friends have been working on the past three months, finally nailing that super hard choreography, the traditions we had, getting flowers from your parents, having peers and teachers want to discuss the show with you the next day. It was an innocent enough thought and don’t get me wrong, it was a great feeling. It still is. But what I didn’t know back then was that I was limiting myself. I felt as though as if I didn’t have this passion, I would never be happy. No sunset, no 96 percent on a test I was sure I failed, no Chipotle run, no life changing book, no day at the beach, no time with my family, no all-nighter with my very best friends would ever feel that good. I know better now.
As senior year approached, those childhood dreams of acting had faded. It was something I never thought would happen. But they hadn’t faded out of fear of being rejected or because my parents told me I couldn’t or out of not wanting to be a “starving artist." They faded because I wanted them to. I began to realize different dreams of mine. But I still had a strange type of identity crisis: That everyone knew me for being a theater kid, so what was I going to do now? I used to think that nothing in this world would give me the same feeling as that curtain call on opening night feeling. I’ve learned a lot since then. Someone telling me that something I wrote and worked incredibly hard on moved them, inspired them or made them laugh is my curtain call on opening night. Trying my best to be kind and the best version of myself is my curtain call on opening night. Being surrounded by people I love and love me back is my curtain call on opening night.
I will never regret the time I spent in the theater and it will always be a passion of mine. That passion can be thanked for some of my happiest memories and the greatest friends I’ve ever had. The amazing people that theater allowed me to surround myself with everyday was the number one thing that kept me going. There will never be a June where I don’t get aggressively excited about the Tony awards or a time where I won’t absolutely lose my mind and scream every lyric when “La Vie Boheme” from Rent comes on. But I still knew it was time for me to move on from theater at the intensity I was doing it at because the times that stressed me out or made me feel anxious, nervous, exhausted or angry were starting to outweigh all of the good things that made me begin theater in the first place. That’s okay. It’s important to remember that you should never put your own happiness and well being aside, just because you think it’s something you’re supposed to love doing.
I don’t blame any one person or experience for my loss of passion, it’s something that I came to on my own. There were definitely people and experiences that discouraged me, made me feel small, made me feel excluded or were just plain harsh. But there were also people and experiences that showed me that theatre is beautiful, this community can be extremely accepting and inclusive and that we all have special talents and abilities to offer the world. These people know who they are. I will never have enough words of thanks to the people who share this passion who have made me feel important, included, talented and remind me why we do what we do and how powerful and amazing our community can be. These people embody the true spirit of what theater should be. Theater (on the high school level, at least) doesn’t have to be cutthroat, pitting friends against friends, involving blood, sweat and tears and I wish I hadn’t let people make me believe that it had to be.
Passion is important, you should always have it. But you shouldn’t limit yourself to just one just because it seems like the thing you should do. You can sing and play football. You can climb mountains and make pottery. You can do theater and write and love to read and be a fan of a sport and tap dance and do anything it is that makes you happy. If one of your passions is making you anything but infectiously happy, change something. Don’t keep going or limiting yourself because you think you have to. If no one has ever told you this, let me be the first: you are worth so much more than that. I’m so glad I realized I was.
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