“If you can do this and be at least halfway convincing, there’s nothing you can’t pull off. You do this and you can do anything, Jamie.” This is what I told myself the first day of Lincoln Land Community College Traveling Theatre. I wasn’t terrified, but I was unsure. I’ve been obsessed with art and expression my entire life, and I wanted to experience it in a new medium. Truthfully, I was just in need of experiencing something new. Maybe I was expecting something more in the vein of reader’s theatre, maybe something quasi-Shakespearean, I don’t know. Failing to read the fine print, I was tasked with becoming a singing, dancing pirate by the storied Ken Bradbury.
Mr. Bradbury is the troupe’s instructor, but I like to think of him as our ringleader – quick-witted and even quicker to not take anything, including himself, too seriously. It’s a certain lightheartedness that’s made me take stock of all the self-aimed negativity I drag around on a day-to-day basis. As an instructor, he’s the essence of accessible, regularly hitting me up on Facebook to offer up his wealth in theatre psychology. He’s been a beacon at times, and along with our awesome and very beloved stage mom, Bev Nienhiser, success with this group begins and ends with these two.
The other thing I wasn’t aware of upon joining, was that the class consisted entirely of high-schoolers by way of Triopia. Due to the fact that I’m now a decade removed from high school, it felt weird at first and at times, still does. You don’t realize it until you get older, but teenagers speak a strange, alien jibber-jabber that only fellow teenagers can decipher. So at times, I felt like a Donnie Brasco-type of infiltrator, trying to play it cool until the point of eventual acceptance into the subculture. Over the last few months, I’ve been schooled on buckets of teenager-type things. There was even a particular group of girls that were flabbergasted upon discovering that I had never heard Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.” Shocking, I know. In what I discerned to be some sort of initiation among the young natives, I was immediately forced to listen to it, much to my humorous dismay. It’s been quite the odd social situation for me, but underneath it all, I fell into a group of extremely bright and talented young individuals – each personality as memorable and good-hearted as the last. With your average run-of-the mill teenagers, you can always count on needless drama. But with this group, I’ve learned to count on their good energy that comes in droves just the same.
Good energy will take you a long way when you’re doing something you’ve never done before, like performing in front of an audience. I know because I struggled at first. I forgot a line and completely froze up five minutes into our first show. But you learn and you get better. You become accustomed to the audience. You realize that each blown line isn’t the end of the world if you simply own your mistake and resolve to stay composed as you press forward. Theatre’s like life in that regard. I’ve learned that it takes a special kind of person with a special kind of backbone to perform in front of an audience and simultaneously get lost in what they’re doing. It’s not a talent I readily possess, but I’ve had some of the most fun of my adult years simply trying.
As for our audience members, the children of 16 different grade schools, some high-fived me, some were downright fearful, some wanted to take me home as their pet, some stared on in appreciation, and some just surrounded the bathroom stall I occupied as they curiously whispered. I even had one brave little boy tell me that I was ugly. It’s okay, kid. I’m just happy I got a reaction.
Having the guts to try new things will almost always bring you to places you could never have conceived of being, and that’s what theatre’s done for me. I had this very epiphany at our Christmas show. I was backstage, clad in argyle, standing next to two classmates, both dressed in full-blown gorilla suits, one all black, one all pink complete with bridal veil, in dead silence as we waited for our cues, all three of us seemingly numb to the absurdity of the moment. I really regret not taking a selfie, but I digress. The next time you have a dream, a whim or a thirst for new, I urge you to act on your impulse. In the name of serendipity, see where the notion takes you. You never know what bliss may find you if you just decide to step away from the daydream of potentiality and closer to the realm of actuality.