Facing Fears

April 14, 2012

Today was a turning point in my life. I took a step through a door that I have kept shut my whole life. I took a step closer to my dreams and destiny. I took an acting class. It was terrifying. To some people this might not seem like a big deal. Just like sky diving might not seem like a big deal to me, but if you have acrophobia (fear of heights) then it’s a different story. Well today I was an acrophobic sky diving. I felt like I leaped off a cliff. Now this torment wasn’t my idea. My sister begged me to take the class with her and my mom proceeded to prod me. I figured it was time to face my fears, but really I was hoping I wouldn’t be too involved. That would be a false hope as I received an email telling me to prepare a monologue for class. What?! I have to act?! Immediately I was ready to drop the class. I’m not ready for this. My sister and mom continued to persuade me saying that this would be good for me. Well as doom day got closer I found my escape route quickly diminishing. I had to email a quick bio of my acting experience and what I hoped to get out of the class. My email went something like this:

My name is Amy Brown and I’m a Redding local. I have a BA in Cinema and Digital Media. I do not have any acting experience. I do not plan on acting in the future. One might wonder why I’d take this class. Well my sister loves acting. She is in this class and asked me to take it with her. I understand that if I plan on working in films it’s important to understand what to expect from your actors. I hate public speaking and being in large crowds and I’m terrified of monologuing and this class. This will be quite a challenge for me, but action conquers fear… or so I’m told. I’m hoping this class will challenge me to be comfortable expressing myself personally and creatively.

Quite honest I know. Too honest? Well here is the response I got:

Hi Amy,  Diane Venora here.  Thank you for your email.  I need to let you know that this class would not be advisable for you.  The class is intense physically, mentally and technically.  I do not teach beginning actors.  I know those who do do that more effectively than I.  However they are in Los Angeles.  

I hope that this doesn’t discourage you.  Your money will be happily refunded of course.  I do thank you for stepping out of your comfort zone.   The criteria for the class is that everyone is passionate about the craft needed to become a professional actor.  As a creative alternative I can suggest to WPAC a beginning class for non-actors, introducing you to the rudiments of the craft for sensitivity to actors by doing it yourself.  That would be something special and constructed specifically for you.

That’s the best I can do at this time.   Thank you Amy .  I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this.

There was my out! I couldn’t ask for a more painless way to avoid discomfort and humiliation. Most people in my situation would have thanked the heavens for answering prayers. Well it seems that I’m not most people. All this email did was motivate me. My fear subsided and my pride overwhelmed me. No one tells me no. I’m the only one that gets to discount my abilities. So where was my thoughtful response:

Thank you for your response. I was unaware of the qualifications and I appreciate your concerns. I respect your profession and the experience you will bring to the class. I understand the frustrations that can arise when a student is out of place from my tennis coaching experience. However, motivation and determination can overcome some technical skills. I doubt that the purpose of your email was to inspire me to want to take this class, and if so I’m even more impressed. Nothing lights a fire and eliminates my fears more that being told I can’t or shouldn’t do something. I’m not just stubborn, but excited for the challenge. I’ve tried to take an acting class before and it was canceled. I’ve been hesitate to become a local reporter because of being on camera. I’ve made a decision lately to think big and do something I’ve never imagined. I’ve given my self 90 days to quit my job and pursue a passion. Since then I’ve faced opposition and discouragement. I now believe I’m meant to take this class because something is trying to prevent me from pursuing something greater. Now the decision to let me go to the class is up to you. I respect your professional opinion and in no way and I’m trying to guilt or pressure you. I’m confident my life will continue on to a better story whether or not I’m in this class so don’t worry about that. If you think it’s best for me to find a beginner class than I will do what it takes to find one. Once again thank you for your response and concerns. If I don’t see you Saturday I’ll make sure to find out everything from my sister. Enjoy your day. 

I have officially requested my own death sentence. She let me in the class.

Then the worst happened. I find out that my sister didn’t request work off. She waited so long that when she finally asked no one would cover her shift. Now I’m pissed. I guilted this acting professor to let a beginner into her class just because I’m a stubborn over-overachiever and now I’ll have to go solo. It’s amazing the amount of stress that is released when just one familiar face is in the room. What was going to make this class bearable was that familiar face. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t possibly go to the class alone, but I couldn’t bail after the fit I made. I stressed about my decision for the next 3 days before the class. It was all I could think about. I also had to figure out what my monologue would be. I didn’t know what a monologue was so I had to look it up.

mon·o·logue [monuh-lawg, -log]



a form of dramatic entertainment, comedic solo, or the like by a single speaker: a comedian’s monologue.

a prolonged talk or discourse by a single speaker, especially one dominating or monopolizing a conversation.

any composition, as a poem, in which a single person speaks alone.

a part of a drama in which a single actor speaks alone; soliloquy.

I thought I understood what I needed to do. So I wrote a monologue. I wrote a personal reflection/monologue.  It was maybe too personal, but I didn’t know what else to write. 

I don’t belong here. Everything is telling me that I shouldn’t be in this class. I lack the experience. My sister who begged me to take this class with her bailed on me. My own fears and doubts tell me that I’m out of my league. I keep telling myself that I don’t have to put myself through this. But I know that no great story comes without risk, suffering, and sacrifice. The fear I have for this class cannot be greater than my fear of failure. I cannot let the voice that once said I was meant for something great be silenced by the voice that now says, “maybe I’m just average”. I’m here to face my fears. I’m here because this is where I belong. 

After a couple of days of practicing and with one day till the class my sister asked what monologue I was doing. I told her I wrote it. Well she informed me that you don’t write monologues, but memorize ones from plays or movies. What?! Why didn’t she tell me this earlier? Now I have a fake monologue memorized and nothing to fall back on. My sis tried to assure me that it would be fine and just go ahead and do it. 
The dreadful day came. As I drove to Inspiration Place (that is the actually name of the school where it was held) I’m terrified. I am hurriedly rehearsing my lines in my head. I realize that it is nearly impossible to drive and say my lines. This is probably why action stars don’t have long monologues. Too much multitasking. I walked into the room of my eminent doom. Luckily and unfortunately I don’t know anyone. If I could stereotype an acting class this would be it. Actually this class looks like any kind of self-help class. Everyone was different which is better than everyone being the same unless you are the same as well. I have no problem joking around with jocks because I can play that role. Now to walk into a room of politicians would leave me feeling a little left out. So the wide array of stereotypes brought me little comfort; the mom giving it another go after her kids got a little older, middle-aged man who still doesn’t know who he is, expressive black girl, quirky British girl, older shy tap dancing women, middle-aged confident competent women, emotional contemporary hipster dancer, too-not-so-cool one earring bro-man, chubby dramatic girl from Hairspray, serious unfriendly teacher’s pet, eccentric amazing acting professional teacher, and me, insecure self-aware out-of-place jock. It was drama. Like any time you put a bunch of people together drama plus ten times more intense. My heart was trying to punch a hole in my chest.

We went around the room saying our hellos and what we hoped to get out of the class. Next was some small exercises. We had to walk around the room reciting our monologues, out loud. Then there were obstacles put around the room that we had to step on, crawl under, jump off of, while still reciting our monologue. During this time I couldn’t stop looking at the clock as the second hands slowed to a stop. I think time was standing still. Not in the good way like you’ve met the person of your dreams, but the heartbreak way when you find out the person of your dreams is cheating on you. All I want to do is run away. It takes all my energy not to break down. As the day continued the exercises got more and more… geez how else do I say dramatic. We were put into groups and had to portray the movement of a plastic bag expanding after being squished into a ball while telling a story about it… without words. Drama… eye roll. 

I was halfway through the class and so far I had survived. I hadn’t cried or run out of the room. I also hadn’t stood out as the worst actress in the room, mainly because we haven’t had to do any solo performances yet. I had started to feel like I was going to survive by blending into the background. Oh how wrong I was. 

One hour before I was released back into the safe world we did one last exercise. We were paired with someone and we were supposed to convey an emotion while we both held on to a stick. The emotion the teacher chose was… wait for it… insanity. Seriously. Insanity. Why not something simple like sadness, anger, awkwardness, frustration, fear, any of the feelings I were currently experiences would have been helpful. Oh no. I have to get The Joker emotion. I didn’t even know what to do. Joining this class was insane so if there was a way to harness that poor judgement I would have been great. Instead, I just stared at my partner who I was convinced needed to be institutionalized while I portrayed terror; sheer terror. I let go of the stick (prop), which  I quickly learned.was a big no no. The teacher told me I had broke the scene and didn’t capture insanity like my partner. I don’t really remember what the teacher had said afterwards because I felt a fuzzy fog take me down to hell where I sweat through all my clothes and minions clawed my flesh. All I wanted to do was crawl in a hole. When I was finally released from her grasp I sat back down and fought back tears. I was extremely shaken up. 

I finally calmed myself down in time for the monologues. As each person volunteered to do their monologue I was counting down the time. We looked like we had more monologues than we had time to perform them. Luckily, so many stage whores were excited to perform that the teacher never had to call on somebody. As each person performed I prayed they would get a lengthy critique. Some people had to recite their monologue over 10 times before the teacher was satisfied. More critique for others meant no critique for me. With 2 minutes left on the clock and another Rachel Berry itching to go I knew I was in the clear. For the first time in 6 hours I took a deep breath and my shoulder found their way down past my neck. I did it. Well not really because I never did a monologue. Not that I had a real one prepared anyways. I was safe. I thanked the teacher and hurried out of the room. I vowed never to go back. Acting is way harder than you think. There is so much emotion and vulnerability. I’m the first girl to try new things, but I have found my limit.

It wasn’t my dream to become an actress so I don’t know why I was so affected by this class. I should have just done the exercises and laughed it off. Maybe I  shouldn’t have forced myself into the class and therefore put so much pressure on myself to keep up. I can’t imagine going to an audition in front of judges and thousands of people and perform your heart out only to be criticized and possibly ridiculed. I wish that I wasn’t so terrified of performing in front of others. I don’t believe in having phobias or debilitating fears. I’m not saying everyone should swim with the sharks or climb Half Dome without any gear, but I believe that if something prevents you from having a full life then you should do everything you can to conquer that fear. Fortunately, being on Broadway isn’t a goal so I’ll just let this fear hang by the wayside. I tried and for that I am proud of myself. Now to go work on my insanity.

Another acting class? http://amebrown.blogspot.com/2012/05/monologue.html

I’ve perfected my insanity.

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