Conventional wisdom suggests you should always push yourself to do new things, even things that scare the crap out of you. Last Saturday, I faced a big fear and was rewarded in spades.
A few months ago, some local writers in town encouraged me to audition for a show called “Listen to Your Mother,” a staged reading event about motherhood, performed before a live audience.
I scoffed at the idea. Why would I want to make myself vulnerable in front of hundreds of people?
Not to mention the fear of rejection. What if I mustered up the courage to try out and didn’t get chosen to read? As a freelance writer, I’m rebuffed on a regular basis. It’s part of the business. I’m lucky if I get an email back saying “no thanks.”
The co-producers of the show—two lovely and talented women used to dealing with writer drama– basically gave me no choice but to audition.
If I had had to write a motherhood piece from scratch, I’d have had a terrific excuse to procrastinate and miss the deadline. But I happened to have a polished piece– about the joys of shopping with my mother as a teenager– lying around.
The piece, called “Finding Freedom in a Fitting Room,” had already lost the Real Simple magazine annual essay contest, and been rejected by Self and Brain, Child magazines. (I wasn’t kidding when I said I face a lot of rejection.)
The day of my audition, my palms were sweaty and my heart was racing. I entered the cold room and instantly had to pee, even though I had gone 10 minutes before. As I started to read, blood was pulsing so strongly and loudly through my body, I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I managed to get out the first sentence but by the time I got to the second paragraph, I had run out of air and my voice was shaking.
I was scared and embarrassed, but I kept going. What else was there to do?
Towards the end of the first page I was startled when the producers running the audition began to giggle at my words. I had practiced reading the story to my kids (ages 8, 10, and 14) several times but they were always bored and stone-faced. This laugh was an unexpected and heartening surprise. It gave me the courage to keep reading. There were a few more laughs and a sigh or two at the emotional parts. I was on a roll.
I left the audition feeling relieved. I didn’t faint or pee in my pants.
(It sounds crazy but I’m still scarred by that time in 3rd grade when I was winning a spelling bee and didn’t want to give up the spotlight or let on that I was nervous so I danced around until pee came streaming down my leg, soaking my tights and pooling into my black patent-leather Mary Janes.)
A few days later I got the email announcing the cast of this year’s “Listen To Your Mother” North Jersey show and I was in. About 85 people tried out, and only 15 were selected to read. I was excited and honored.
And then the fear set in.
A sense of dread mounted in my chest for the next 10 weeks until the show. I woke up in the wee hours of many mornings with my head spinning about whether I was prepared, and cataloging all the potentially horrible things that could happen to me onstage as 450 people looked on in horror and pity.
Rationally, I knew it was ridiculous. I was reading, not memorizing lines. I liked my story. I’d been onstage before in high school and college plays, and I’m an outgoing person.
None of that allayed my anxiety as the calendar inched closer to show time. After discussing my fears with too many friends, I discovered you could take a beta-blocker to slow down your heart rate for public speaking. I was worried a glass of wine or a Xanax would make me loopy or unfocused, but a beta-blocker seemed reasonable and became the thing that would save me.
I made an appointment with my doctor who prescribed the beta-blocker without hesitation. I tried it a few days before the show to make sure I didn’t have an adverse reaction. That tiny blue pill gave me the false sense of security I needed going into the big day.
Although we only met twice before the performance, there was an instant bond among the cast members. We range in age – from a college student to a grandma—and backgrounds, but we were drawn together by the desire to share our stories.
I was humbled to work with such talented people, and their support and kindness made the experience even more gratifying. Some of their stories were deeply personal and I was awed by their courage. Others were so funny, I couldn’t wait to see how the audience received them, as if I had something to do with it.
On the night of the show, as I waited in the wings for the cast to be invited onstage, my hands were clammy and my heart was racing again. But this time, the fear was replaced by elation and pride.
Reading my piece before a live audience was thrilling. The enthusiastic, sold-out crowd was a dream. I read on Twitter that we received a standing ovation, although I was on such a high, I don’t remember it.
After the show, Wilson, my 14-year-old, and several friends greeted me with smiles and flowers. I was lucky to have many people there who said they loved the show as much as I did.
I’ve said before that I believe everything happens for a reason. I was disappointed each time “Finding Freedom in a Fitting Room,” was rejected by those magazines. But the universe was saving the piece for me to experience performing in “Listen to Your Mother.”
Thanks, universe. You really know what you’re doing.
Listen to Your Mother aims to give parents all over the country a microphone to share their stories. It started in Wisconsin and is now performed around Mother’s Day weekend in 32 cities. If you have something to say about having a mother or being one, write it down and audition at a city near you next year!