In the midst of coping with this, my voice teacher helped me a prepare an audition for an opera young artists program. I had two selections to sing, and he’d coached me to sing the second aria without doing the repeat and second ending (which involved a crazy-high decorative flourish that I was nervous about). He assured me that they wouldn’t care. I was unsure about this, in addition to feeling typical pre-audition nerves, but I carried on.
Before I sang the aria, I walked over and politely explained to the accompanist where I was stopping (following proper audition etiquette rules). I sang the aria, but when I got to the stopping point, he kept playing. So I paused, figuring it was miscommunication. The judges were rigid in their seats. There was an awkward, miserable, back-and-forth tango, and then one judge launched into me: He was beyond flabbergasted. Who did I think I was? This was not a musical theater audition! My selections were unacceptable. Etc, etc, etc. I made small attempts to defend myself, but mostly just stood there as the punches flew. I left, and immediately burst into tears. All of my harshest inner critic voices - I didn’t fit, I wasn’t enough, I couldn’t do anything right, I’d never figure out a career in performance - had all been given megaphones.
Laura Roeder explains that after she cried about her experience, she realized it would be ok: her worst fears had come true, and she survived. I wish I’d felt that way. I’d always been so careful to be an A+ student, to be respectful and polite during auditions, and to sing appropriate music, so this crappy encounter was particularly heartbreaking. I couldn't shake feeling depressed and lost.
What the experience did in the long run, however, was make me feel even more secure in my goal of ripping down boundaries. Why can’t we blur lines between genres, between performance and writing, and between old and new? Why should someone be shamed while trying to find her path? Shame should never be a part of performance. When people are on stage, or sharing their creative work in any way, they’re at their most vulnerable. Not everyone is going to love every performance, and that’s ok. Being pushed to create one’s best work is challenging, and that’s ok. But shame is toxic. Shame is never ok. The deep-rooted yearning I have to share the joy of the performing arts without fear of shame is why I’m launching Citizen Workshops. I want to build a safety net - a haven for performance and creative experimentation that would have saved me as a young artist. A place where people can try new things without fear of ridicule. A place where people can find joy, laughter, and community. Because performance is scary. Creativity is scary. Life is scary. But with a safety net, some light, and a little laughter, we’re closer to realizing that it really is going to be ok.