I just performed in three shows of The Vagina Monologues. I feel like I could write that sentence fifty more times and still be surprised by it (as I’ve only ever been on stage one other time and it was almost 20 years ago). It was a soul- and heart-expanding experience. It required stepping into a world completely unknown to me. It required looking fear in the face and saying, “I just don’t care” (that’s a nod to “Glitter in the Air” by P!nk—her wisdom just intruded upon my thoughts). It required relying on skills I developed playing sports. It required leaning on those around me. It required saying yes to the very thing that simultaneously made me almost puke from nerves and yet has been a secret dream of mine for ages.
I Am Athlete, Hear Me Roar
Instead of choosing a happy-go-lucky family that encouraged personal expression in all its forms, I chose the All-American Athletic Family. I grew up on soccer fields and basketball courts, spent summers getting up at the crack of dawn to go to track practice, spent winters resisting my dad’s attempts to put a stocking cap on my drenched-with-sweat head when leaving the sweltering gym and heading out into the freezing night. I spent my youngest years following my brother around like a puppy dog, wanting to do everything he could do as well as he could do it (pogo stick, big wheel, bicycling, baseball, basketball, soccer, jumping off the swings, ping pong, sprinting…you name it).
I was molded by playing sports—physically, mentally, and emotionally. And what I learned from my experience with The Vagina Monologues is that doing theatre is based on similar principles. It’s about practice, practice, practice (rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal). Listen to what the coach (director) tells you. DO what the coach (director) tells you. Play well with others. Like, really, PLAY with the others and enjoy their company in the down times—standing in line during practice waiting for your turn to do the drill (hanging out in between the times you’re on stage), donning the uniform and all required athletic equipment before a game (getting all dolled up in stage-bright makeup and curling/straightening hair and putting on costumes before the show), and carbo-loading the night before the game at a teammate’s house (loading up on alcohol after the last performance). The following are what I fell back on to help me adapt to the new experience.
How You Practice Is How You’ll Play
This one snuck into the foundation of my consciousness without me realizing it. It was only last year that I came to understand how much this concept continues to shape my life. Last year when I was training for the couch-to-50-mile run (that actually became the couch-to-50K run), I knew in my bones that if I did the runs as instructed by my coach, I would build up mileage safely and I would succeed at the goal. I refused to shave even 2 minutes off a 2-hour training run (even if only I would know) because that’s how committed I was to maintaining the integrity of the training plan. I knew that building little success upon little success upon little success, integrity upon integrity upon integrity, would allow me to sail through the final goal with auto-pilot strength rather than fuck-I-wish-I’d-stuck-to-my-training-plan struggle. Wow, youth/high school/college sports taught me all that?!
So with The Vagina Monologues I knew that even though I might be shitting-my-pants scared to go on stage for the first time, I would be okay if I practiced the hell out of my lines to the point where the screaming of my nerves wouldn’t pierce the tightly grooved neurological pathways carved into my brain by the words written on my cards. And it worked!
Ah, this is the one that challenged me most during my years of playing competitive sports. And I realize now it’s because I believed in my young brain that if I didn’t perform perfectly, I would not be loved. I connected the dots to believe that my family’s love was conditional based upon my ability to perform at sports. And guess what? It was sometimes more than I could deal with. I seriously choked sometimes, like when I missed the game-winning penalty kick because I didn’t maintain composure, or when I played horribly in the state finals because I’d psyched myself out and couldn’t figure out how to recover. I even hyperventilated once on the pitching mound when I was 8 or 9 because I’d somehow convinced myself that if I didn’t strike everyone out, I would be considered a failure. (Why my parents didn’t start contributing to my therapy fund then, I will never know.)
So for The Vagina Monologues I did a lot of positive self-talk before the first show. I knew that a lot of my friends (my “posse,” if you will) would be in the audience and I used that to bolster me. I thought, “You know what, Erin? You’re grown up now. You now have the ability to know that your friends’ love is not conditional based upon how well you perform right now. No one will die if you suck, no one will die if you forget a line or stumble on a word or freeze under the lights or squeak into the microphone. Your friends are here because they care about you and want to support you in doing something new and fun. They will tell you that you were amazing no matter what happens—just because you got up there and gave it a go.” Might as well have that little voice inside my head be a friend rather than a frenemy, right?! (FYI for those not up on slang: frenemy means “one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy.”)
Have Fun Out There!
This one sounds so incredibly trite, for sure, but if this one gets overlooked, what’s the point in doing anything? My friends Sue and Carla live a pretty damned magical life. They work incredibly hard but they also take magnificent care of their bodies, they take magnificent care of each other, they travel, they’re the biggest cheerleaders for their friends, and in everything they do, THEY HAVE FUN. Carla emailed me early on the day of the first show and simply said, “Just a quick note to say have fun today.” And it was a great reminder! I kept that in mind during moments when my body acted like it was being sent to the guillotine rather than to the microphone. It helped me keep proper perspective. And it helped that the stage manager is a super fun woman who enjoyed slapping my ass as I went on stage. That certainly lightened me up!
The Miracle of the Human Body
I enjoyed observing my physiological responses throughout the three shows. I had three small parts that required me stepping up to the microphone at the very beginning of the show, during the middle, and then near the end.
Show One: The undulations of adrenaline were like mountain-top highs and ocean-bottom lows. Just before I took the stage for the first time, my heart was beating at least double time and I kinda’ wanted to cry and puke and shit and jump out of my skin—all at once. When I got done with that first part, I rejoined my peeps backstage and it took a few minutes for my heart rate to return to normal. After my third time speaking, my job was to remain on stage for 7 or 8 minutes while my comrades did their bits. During the first show, no joke, I felt like I was standing on a full-body vibration machine—every muscle fiber was jackhammering up and down. I focused on my breath and bringing my energy lower into my body but mostly I just stood there and shook and hoped nobody noticed.
Show Three: My heart-rate increases were still pronounced but their onset was only immediately before going on stage, I didn’t do the full-body shake after my third time speaking, and my heart rate returned to normal almost immediately upon leaving the stage. I no longer felt the need to compulsively review my lines—in fact, during the third show they seemed to be delivering themselves. I was also more relaxed in general and talked to the other cast members more and laughed a heck of a lot more.
While I can’t really say (because I don’t know) how my performances varied from the first to the third show, I can say that I really appreciated how quickly my body adapted to this new type of stress.
The entire experience left me with a deep sense of gratitude and I feel like my love tank (and no, that’s not a euphemism for vagina…but perhaps it should be) has been refilled. I have no doubt I won the Lotto by getting to be part of this production—mostly because of the people I met and can now call friends. The experience was like a giant feedback loop of love, extending out in all directions. Hopefully everyone, whether audience or cast or crew, left with just a little more love in their hearts and a little bit more of a skip in their step. Also, immense gratitude to Lannie for hosting us at her Clocktower, thanks to Elana in the sound booth (is that the correct terminology?) for being so supportive and reminding us frequently that she’s a lesbian (that made my heart smile), and to everyone at The Gathering Place for doing great work. And to Coach Angela and Coach Cara—thanks for giving me time on the field and telling me exactly what to do. My only suggestion: maybe more ass slapping. 😉