I’ve been at college for a full seven weeks now and wow! has it been a whirlwind. I absolutely love it here at Trevecca; it was definitely a good fit for me. I’m doing well in my classes and I’ve learned how to study for my exams. I’ve gotten involved in the RHA (Residence Hall Association), which is basically organizing and leading events for our dorm, and I got to perform in The Secret Garden musical! I thought it would be a fun extracurricular and a good way to get plugged in and know people, and it was, but God also used it and turned the experience into so much more.
I auditioned without thinking, because I love theater. I was expecting an ensemble role, as usual, some role where they could place me in the back of the group to hide my dancing skills. I’m always the last to learn, the last to “get it,” always one beat behind the rest because I don’t trust myself to do it well. I wasn’t nervous during the auditions because I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know who I was up against or seen their past performances. I had no one to compare myself to, so I did fine.
They had me read for Mary, which got my hopes up a bit, but I quickly brought myself back to reality. Everyone was reading for Mary because she had the good long bits of dialogue. I’d never played a main character before except for Grace Ferrell in Annie, and that was only because our theater class was split into 3 shows so everyone could get a chance. I believed I would not have gotten that role if Annie had been our sole production for tutorial that year. What do I know about playing “big roles” on stage? “Don’t be naïve, Emily. You’re a freshman, and not even a theater major. You’re not going to get a big role.”
I was not cast as Mary, that went to my friend Grace (who was brilliant by the way). I wasn’t upset, at that point I had talked myself down to where it had been expected. When I saw I had been cast as Colin, my first thought was “well that’s interesting.” I had never seen the show before, only read the book and watched the movie, so I had no idea what the onstage role entailed. At the read through, I got to see some of the other cast members and hear them read or sing their parts. At that point, I thought it was a fluke. “Wow, they must be really desperate for a Colin if they had to settle for me.” As I got to know them more over the next few rehearsals, I figured out that I was probably the least experienced in the cast. I’d only done two years of homeschool tutorial theater class (that’s once a week for an hour and a half, group work only) and sang in choir for a few years. I’ve never had any one-on-one acting lessons, or private voice lessons. Now suddenly I had a role that required me to sing on my own in two different songs for extended periods of time! “Wait, what? But I’ve only ever been given one-liners!”
I honestly didn’t believe I was good enough for this. Sure, people always told me “great job” after performances. But that’s what they all say to everyone, isn’t it? People have told me I have a pretty voice before, occasionally, but I never believed them. In the youth group, I would immediately think of my friends Kimber and Lilliana. “No, no, they’re the ones with the good singing voices, not me.” It wasn’t me being humble, or even false humility. It was me down-playing myself. I honestly believed it. I honestly had that low self-esteem. Did I have fun singing and acting on stage? Oh, sure, definitely. But I didn’t think I was any good.
During the opening weekend of Secret Garden, I had a nightmare that I’d been replaced as Colin, that they were kicking me out and I couldn’t do the show at all. In the dream, it crushed me to my core. “No, no you can’t do this to me! You don’t know how much I’ve worked for this, you don’t know how much this means to me!” I screamed. Of course, that would never actually happen. In real life, this theater community has been so supportive and encouraging of me. “Don’t be nervous, you’re doing great,” Teal, who plays my on stage father, whispered right before I was rolled out on the bed for my first scene in our first performance. It took me awhile to accept that my cast-mates were not being polite or patronizing to spare my feelings, but that they actually meant it.
“God, do I really have that much low self-esteem, after all that I went through in DTS? Did I not change?” It was confusing at first, constantly grappling with this new revelation and view of myself as I walked around campus. In this past week, random strangers have come up to me. “Oh, you were in the show, right? You were amazing!” I’m not saying that I find my identity and self-worth in theater, or that my reason for doing it is to get that rush and approval. In fact, if this is my last show I can do here due to scheduling and course work (a very real possibility), I’ve already made my peace with that. But the show did help remind me of the lessons I learned this winter, and helped cement them into a reality I could believe in.
Actually, that reality is still changing, and so am I. I am a work in progress. I think back over the past few years and realize the key events that have changed me: working a Chick fil A, taking care of Granny, grieving, moving to Hopkinsville for awhile, going to Ukraine, going to Montana for camp, coming to Trevecca and performing in The Secret Garden. There were key people along the way (who I will not mention) from all different backgrounds who had all sorts of ideas on what a good friendship was. I experienced new relationships both healthy and unhealthy which taught me so much about life.
Sometimes I still struggle with my identity and self-confidence, and I expect that I always will in a way. I still talk down about myself and I still doubt myself. But after this show I think I will do better. The beauty of The Secret Garden is Mary bringing everything back to life out of their grief: the garden, Colin, and Colin’s father. It isn’t medicine that helps Colin get better or gives him the strength to stand, it’s Mary’s belief in him, and I relate to that so much. I am not the same person I was two years ago, one year ago, six months ago, or even six weeks ago, since starting college. I am changing, I am still growing, and will continue to grow here. I think I’m finally grasping an important concept: Of course, I’m amazing, the God of the universe created me!