It’s just stage fright

Senior leaves his comfort zone to pursue career in theater

Story by Colton Johnson, editor in chief

When I walked onto the stage last week, it was dark. The lights were all off, and I was alone. I felt small, but I was surrounded by what I loved. It was quiet, just listening to my silence. I had a script in my hand with a page folded. The page with the monologue for my first college audition.

Flashback to a year ago.

When I walked onto the stage for my first ever audition, “Cinderella,” I felt small. I was not a theater kid; it was foreign territory. I stuttered through my monologue, sang off-key and had no idea what to do with my hands onstage.

I felt awkward. I regretted ever having the idea to walk onto that stage in the first place, but I did, because I knew in my heart that I had to do it for myself.

I didn’t intend for theater to become such a focal point in my life; that was the last thing I expected. However in just a year, the theater became the place I always gravitated back to, my magnetic field pulling me back to the magic onstage. It is a place I feel safe, no longer awkward or foreign. It keeps my heart beating.

Before I discovered the magic of theater, I believed journalism was my one true love, and I knew I was good at it. I grew up being told I would someday find my name on the cover of books and in the bylines of famous newspapers. I suppose the confidence other people had in my writing abilities led me to believe that journalism was what I was meant to do.

It was our last performance of the UIL One Act Show, “The Axeman’s Requiem” that changed this idea for the trajectory of my future. I missed it. I missed the long rehearsals and the hours we put into bringing that show to life. It was something I was being deprived of.

So, this summer, I mustered the courage to text my director and tell her I was interested in pursuing theater in college. Being as indecisive as I am, I was surprised I even went through with it. I knew I did not have the experience others had. I knew I was probably not as good as the others who would be going out for theater. But I knew I loved it. I knew I needed it.

As I stood outside the college audition room with the five other people in my group, I was reminded of that first audition. I remembered feeling small. I remembered not feeling like I was good enough. And sitting amongst these other actors, I was put back in that same moment.

But right before we went into the room, I remembered how I felt last week, sitting on the stage in the quiet. I felt at home, not because of the place I was in but because of the moments I knew I could be a part of onstage. I knew the same relationships I had formed in the Sullivan Center could be created with other theater lovers around the world. I longed to be in that environment. I knew it filled a missing piece for myself.  

I knew I was probably not as good as the others who would be going out for theater. But I knew I loved it. I knew I needed it.

— Johnson

When I walked into the room filled to the brim with college recruiters, I am not going to lie— I was terrified. But I realized something. Everyone in that room loved performing the same way that I did. Everyone in this room had defied the odds and chased their dreams despite the risk in it. They were people like me; I was not alone.

I walked to the platform, took in the giant room filled with curious eyes and open laptops, said my name, the titles of my monologues and closed my eyes. It was quiet, and I could be anything. I was confident. I spoke with emotion as I had done for two hours with Mrs. Newton, my director, before going into the audition.

Then I saw the woman’s finger go up in the back of the room, signaling 30 seconds remaining, and every doubt flooded my mind, everyone saying I wasn’t good enough, myself included. And as a result, I blanked.

I stood there in a room full of college recruiters hopelessly mortified. Once again, there was silence. And in that moment, I understood what people mean when they say something feels like it lasts an eternity, because those two seconds seemed to drag on forever. I said thank you, I said my name and I walked off.

I wanted nothing more than to disappear. I locked myself in my hotel room. I didn’t want to look at anyone. I was terrified because I thought, you know, maybe they’re all right about me. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I shouldn’t be going out for this in the first place. Of course I’m not good enough; what was I thinking? I was humiliated.

Everyone in this room had defied the odds and chased their dreams despite the risk in it. They were people like me; I was not alone.

— Johnson

Then my director told me she needed me— I had call backs, which didn’t make any sense because, I mean, I screwed up.

I was called back by 10 colleges from Los Angeles to New York City, and I felt the same way I had felt when I got a call back for “Cinderella”— validated. They didn’t care that I had messed up; they saw my emotion. They saw my love for it. I could do it.

Yes, pursuing theater is risky, and no, I am not the best. But I love it. It makes my heart beat, and I am forever grateful that I had the courage to go for it last year, to put myself in foreign territory. Because in doing so, I found a home, for myself and for my heart.