Finding a place where you feel safe is a natural desire in life. It can be in your own home, on vacation somewhere, at a coffee shop or bookstore… basically everywhere has the potential to be “home.” I’ve lived about a dozen places and visited 48 states. Just when I start to settle down somewhere, something happens and I have to move. Having mental and chronic illnesses, it’s hard to not have a consistent home to make my safe place. At one point, I moved 10 times in a year and a half. But last month I realized that I do have a place my soul feels at home. The theater.
My dad is a professional magician, and my mom was a ballerina. They met in their high school’s drama club. Performing is in my genes. Growing up, I’d go with my parents to their magic shows. I’d help unload the trailer and get everything set up, and then during the show, I’d relax backstage with a movie, a good book, or my Game Boy. It was a place I knew I feel safe knowing that I wouldn’t be disturbed. I’d be surrounded by the light and sound boards, the curtains, the speakers… I was immersed in the experience of being backstage.
I started dancing when I was 3 or 4 and began doing plays and musicals when I was 11. My afterschool activities all revolved around being in the theater. My best friends growing up were dancers and actors. My favorite
childhood memories take place in the dressing rooms backstage. I knew I could be me without being judged because everyone else in the room was as wacky as I was. Plus, being in a play meant it was encouraged to explore different characters. I could pretend to be someone else, and solve their life problems in the course of an hour (or however long the show ran). It was exceedingly satisfying to realize happy endings do exist, and in a way, I got to experience those happy endings through the eyes of my character. I could forget about the stress from school, family, and bullies and simply got to go to another place.
The last year and a half of high school was probably the worst time in my life. By this time, I was close with the drama teacher at my school. Sometimes, when I was having a bad day, I knew I could wander down to the theater and help out with whatever set was being built or floor was being laid. If I wasn’t doing a lot
in my scheduled class, he’d excuse me from class and let me just hang out in the PAC. I’d climb up onto the catwalk or tap dance on stage (yeah, I was that nerd who carried her tap shoes basically everywhere). Sometimes I’d just curl up in the seats and take a nap. It was during these times I felt solace that I didn’t experience anywhere else.
After high school graduation, I continued to volunteer with the high school musicals. I was the dance captain, assistant director, and/ or producer for a number of shows there. I also auditioned for a number of community theater shows, and found an annual performance of a panto that was perfect for me! I choreographed a few shows and my choreography was even nominated for a local award!
The first year that I did the panto was another one of the roughest times in my life. Auditions were about a month after the suicide attempt that left me in a cervical collar. The day I got my cervical collar off, I went straight from the hospital to the audition. This was also the same month that I changed my name in an effort to leave my old self behind. I was starting at ground zero. No friends, no support, and facing eviction at home. The cast of that show completely embraced me. They made me feel like I was worth something because every time I arrived at rehearsals, I was greeted with excited salutations and big hugs. I finally felt like I knew who I truly was.
In the years since, I’ve done 3 more pantos, and worked with the writer on developing the scripts for each of them. During tech week of the most recent panto, I stayed at the theater until nearly 2am painting sets and hanging curtains. It was that night that I realized how the theater has always been my safe place. I nearly broke down crying. Being backstage, whether there’s a show going on or not, is my home. It always has been, and always will be.