Sink or Swim? How I Started Performing Solo

Every once in awhile my Shutterfly account sends me an email to remind me what I was doing years ago. Recently I got one with the title, “Your memories from fourteen years ago.” I opened the message only to see pictures of me performing in Spain, back at the time when I lived in Madrid and worked for Interacting, an interactive theatre company that uses theatre to teach English to speakers of other languages.

I’ll never forget how when I went to audition for the company I was told that it would probably be many months before they would need someone. A few days later they called asking how soon I could start! One of their actresses was returning to the states sooner than expected and they needed someone right away.

With Interacting I hit the ground running. My first gig was a teacher training weekend near Guadix, Spain. It was memorable for two reasons: 1) We stayed at a beautiful cave hotel (Casas Cueva del Tio Tobas) and 2) We were literally rehearsing our show in the car on the drive there!

On another occasion, I traveled to the south of Spain with my boss, Patrick. I was there to perform our two-person show “Doctor DoingLittle” that we had rehearsed previously. However, Patrick would also be doing a comical one-man version of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” On our first day he told me to watch the show carefully because the following day, I would be performing it at a different school.

Having never seen the script or the show before, I hesitated. I’ll never forget Patrick’s response:“Either tomorrow you perform the show and you get paid. Or I perform the show and I get paid.” While monetary compensation was certainly a draw in my decision to perform, I also felt a real sense of living up to my boss’s expectations for me. Saying ‘no’ would mean I didn’t think I could do it, even though he believed I could. If I didn’t even try, how would that affect our working relationship in the future?

That night I spent hours looking over the story. I was a ball of nerves the next day as I stood before scores of Spanish school-children and my boss. But once I started telling the story, I felt completely at ease. The children’s energy and laughter infused me with courage to take risks and “go big” in my performance. I suppose I’m still feeding off of that audience energy today.

When I think about my career as a storyteller, that moment of choosing to perform stands out as a turning point. My boss believed in me and what I was capable of. While at the time it felt like he was throwing me overboard, I now understand that it was only because he knew I could swim. He also knew that I needed a push because I wasn’t going to jump on my own.

Every time I begin to craft a new story for performance or step in front of a crowd with a new program, the doubts start to creep in. What if this one isn’t as good as the one before? What if I can’t do it?

WHAT IF. . ?

There are always two options:
1) I could sink.
2) I could swim.
But I’ll never know what happens unless I jump out of the boat.

And so I keep jumping. . . and I hope you will too.

Thanks, Patrick!

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