Have you ever had a moment in your life where you hit a fork in the road? One of those moments that involved two paths (or more) and you had to choose one? Or maybe one was chosen for you?
When you are a senior in an acting program at a college like Baylor, and you want to go out into the professional acting world, you fly to different cities with your friends and audition. For every school, Master of Fine Arts program, summer stock company, and Shakespeare festival you can think of. Cattle-calls. That's what they’re called. You basically have 90 seconds to go out in front of a panel of faculty/directors/etc. and show them what you can do. 90 seconds to put all that good training to use and lay it all on the line.
I went to a lot of these – but the biggest was probably in February of 2000, four months before graduation. I traveled to Chicago (these auditions typically take place in major cities) because my dear friend Courtney lived there and we planned on turning my audition trip into a mini vacay.
I had my stack of monologues and my Esprit suit and my black, practical pumps and I’m sure a lot of nerve. I got to my time slots early, sat in the hallways and waited, stomach churning, life unfolding.
I auditioned for Yale. NYU. Name it, I did it. The most enticing to me though, was a program in Denver called the National Theatre Conservatory, or NTC. At the time they only accepted 3 women. You were part of an ensemble of 8 students and would perform with the Denver Center of Performing Arts and spend three glorious years perfecting your craft and taking classes from the best of the best. And when you graduated, you were considered a pro.
NTC was a free ride. They hand-picked you and paid for everything.
I will never forget walking into that room and from the instant I met the recruiter, I knew he thought I was special. And, as it turned out, he did.
They called me back. I can’t remember how many of us were flown to Denver that March but it couldn’t have been more than 12 women vying for those 3 precious spots. I don’t know why in my heart of hearts I knew it would happened – call it a moment of clarity.
The callback weekend was intense. You are a big fish in a smallish pond and then you go out into the world – and let me tell you – life has a way of knocking you off your pedestal. I was by far the youngest girl there. We saw shows, attended a cocktail reception in our honor, met the current student body, took stage combat classes, and then not only had to audition in front of the entire faculty and dean but your competition as well.
All of this is fresh on my mind because Vann and I were watching “American Idol” last night – which we love – and it’s “Hollywood Week”. If you know the show, you know that kids are passing out left and right, throwing up, you name it – the pressure is ENORMOUS and some just can’t handle it. It called the memories of that weekend (almost 12 years ago) to the forefront of my mind.
How I was able to stand there in front of all of those people and not melt into a puddle is still a mystery to me. Oh, and I wanted it. So badly. It had become everything to me.
I left the weekend with some new friends and a lot of shaking of hands and hugs and “we’ll be in touch” and “you’ll hear from us soon”. But what they don’t tell you when you’re in college is that you only hear from them when it’s good news. And the waiting just about kills you.
I will never forget taking a taxi back to the Denver airport and wandering around waiting for my flight. That’s when the doubt started to creep in:
“Did I do absolutely everything I could have done? Should I have done such-and-such monologue instead?”
“Did so-and-so really like me?”
“Was that girl trying to psych me out by asking me what I’d done besides just college productions?”
“Is that ingénue-type girl prettier than me?”
Professors at Baylor used to tell us that we were allowed 10 minutes after an audition to re-run it through our minds and then we had to let it go. Otherwise you would drive yourself crazy.
And with every passing moment, I knew. I knew that 3 (or 4, as it ended up being that year) other girls were getting the call that I so desperately wanted. And that pedestal, that the recruiter had helped build, came crashing down when I got off the plane in Dallas and there was no message left from NTC.
That following week, after a bit of digging, I found out who had received those calls.
And of course, the final word on it was devastating to me. I remember crying…
I. was. heartbroken.
And, as it turns out, that was the moment.
Little old me, standing in the Denver airport, clutching my one carry-on and cell, willing the phone to ring, dying for an answer to that all-important question: “What in the hell am I going to do with my life?”
And in the end, I decided, on a whim, that I was going to move to Chicago. I told my parents, and that was that.
And as Vann and I were watching Idol last night, I thought about that moment. Where my life could have taken a completely different direction than it did.
I’m sure my true purpose is still a work in progress. I may not know till the end of my life what “that” is.
And I wonder, if given the chance, what I would say to 22 year old me.
Would I tell myself that I married the best guy ever for me? That even in the times when life is a struggle I will always have someone in my life who wishes the very best for me, champions all I do and never lets me forget how special I am?
Would I tell myself that I gave birth to two crazy, strong-willed, beautiful little girls? That being a mom is really hard and I get knocked off my pedestal on a daily basis (so get used to it)?
Would I tell myself that my body image will always be a struggle and thank the Lord for scary pants and husbands who love you, flaws and all?
Would I tell myself that my self-worth isn’t hinged on 90 seconds of monologue? That maybe, instead of reciting other people’s words I might one day write my own?
Would I tell myself, above all, that I will be ok? That life takes you on many twists and turns and each one is as valuable as the next?
I doubt 22 year old me would listen. But 33 year old me does. Or tries to. And often fails, but wants so badly to find the peace that lies in true acceptance.