So I quit The Biz. This is no surprise: it’s been over a year since I tossed away glossy headshots, recycled crinkled copies of 16 bar musical theatre audition pieces, made room in my brain for more than memorized monologues, and even spent time daydreaming of more substantial goals than receiving my Tony/Oscar/Emmy. I just dropped everything cold turkey: stopped wanting what I wanted most and redirected my passions elsewhere. I look back now with bewilderment at the quickness with which I derailed my love.
The thing about acting is that it always gave me a safe escape; I could say anything I wanted, morph into whomever I desired, and nothing counted because all words and actions remained protected in this world of make-believe.
And then suddenly last Spring, on a school theatre trip to New York, sitting through Legally Blonde and then Spring Awakening for my second times that season, that everything was so falsified. It was so made up. The exact choreography swung over the stage, different actors replaced the original casts and played the roles nearly identically, and the music told the same story it sang to my on iTunes daily. I left New York uplifted, realizing that I had control over my life, not everything needed to be scripted, covered in stage lights and heavy make-up, or even auditioned for. My abandonment of the stage empowered me to be myself, see the bigger picture of the world in front of me, and start living honestly.
My days this year didn’t feel empty without the hours of acting and dance classes every single afternoon. I barely saw any live theatre (and Chicago theatre is the best) and hardly remembered what I was missing out on. And this summer contrasts drastically from that of two years ago when I was constantly running from rehearsal to performance from the South Loop to the North Shore, just trying to maintain my oh-so-fabulous actor lifestyle.
Saying that my campers saved my life may perhaps be a little dramatic (hey, I haven’t given it all up!). But in a summer full of completely thespian-esque ups and downs, spending six hours a day with artsy eight year olds was possibly my best therapy.
I spend the last seven weeks as a camp counselor at the arts camp I attended almost ten years ago. My days were filled with dance class, cheerleading routines, acting lessons, singing groups, and so much more. I left the world for those short hours while my campers reminded my that sparkly glitter is an acceptable favorite color, that dessert should always be eaten first, and that holding hands with your bestie in public is absolutely acceptable, if not required.
Eight long weeks ago, at a time when I was possibly feeling the most worthless and vulnerable in my entire life, I occupied my days decorating nametags with glitter and googly eyes, perfectly copying each name from my clipboard unsure of the identity behind the letters. 35 camp days later and I knew each child in and out, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, their humors and their fears.
My campers never hesitated to tell me that I was cool, beautiful, or amazing. They drew me pictures and presented me with cards and handmade gifts. They loved to impress me with their Spanish skills or interesting lunches. Although I was frightened that none of my girls new who the Spice Girls were much less Mary Kate and Ashley, the generational gap proved to be the most refreshing part of my summer. And they trusted me to demonstrate their dance routines perfectly, to accurately sign their songs into ASL, to make them laugh in an improv exercise, and sing all their lyrics with precision.
I would hop up in acting class, suddenly feeling rejuvenated at my regained ability to make an audience laugh; I craved the moments I could steal the spotlight and transform into someone else, even just for a few seconds. My campers taught me that I can enjoy something without making it my life, that like them, I could participate in arts during the day and then venture off to become a professional ice skater/swimmer/violinist (I had quite the Renaissance group) and still enjoy my life. My campers reaffirmed my love for play, just for being silly and having fun, reminding me to not take myself so seriously and just take it easy.
My campers inspired me to renew my passion for performance, for true art, for art that is not a fallacy of the world but rather an honest expression of ourselves. My campers silently convinced me to return to classes at Giordano’s and Second City and perhaps even audition for something again one day, to just have fun and maybe learn a little along the way.