This morning while scrolling through Facebook, I saw Ashley Popio’s status asking for stories of encouragement in what seems to be a heavy time for most. A proverbial ‘light in the darkness.’ This immediately resonated with me and I felt compelled to put my most recent experience into words with the hope that perhaps one candle could light another. Ashley, I hope my sharing of this experience has helped to light your candle and I hope that it will bring the same encouragement and warmth to others.
My positive story is about Blackbird, a South Stream Productions play that is currently running at Sonorous Road Theatre, because that has been my life for the last month and a half learning the role of Una. Last week I thought this show was going to be the death of me. I'd poured hours of my time outside rehearsal into lines and characterization that often led to a very dark place. Even through all the time spent with this piece, running lines at lunch, seeking outside acting lessons, listening to the recording every time I got in the car, I felt like my best efforts amounted to mediocrity and opening night was fast approaching.
Our preview came and went, and I had to make small talk with friends and other actors I respected in the community knowing that they had not enjoyed it and that they had not seen my best work. I even had close friends actively questioning my motivation for doing this show. Opening night happened amidst the snowstorm and we played to an audience that was almost exclusively critics. I walked off stage that night feeling more defeated than ever. After all that hard work, nothing I could do was going to make this a good show. Despite all the tireless work of our team of amazing artists and even better friends, I felt that somehow we were going to come up short.
We were snowed out the next night and I took a day to get mentally as far away from Blackbird as I could possibly get. The weather the day after didn't look good either; we would come in and rehearse or perform depending on the audience, but I was not hopeful. The reviews started to trickle in, and to my surprise they liked us. Still content on my own misery and perception of my performance I didn't listen. I wondered what they had been watching that night I gave one of my worst performances.
Then some unusual miracle happened--I stopped caring. I'm not encouraging you to not care, please don't misunderstand but when I woke up Sunday morning I had the proper distance. I came in that afternoon expecting a rehearsal, time to joke through all the ideas that never made it to stage. Somehow, we had an audience of 6 people brave enough to fight the ice, snow and slush to see this piece. Maybe that's the point where everything else didn't matter anymore; all I know is that finally, after hours of work, Una strolled into the room that day. Our performance was not perfect, but I couldn't have been happier. I finally felt like I was able to give her the voice she was looking for. The voice she needed.
In the lobby afterward, I met friendly faces who gushed over the show and how much it moved them. They had questions, ideas, favorite parts and concerns for our characters. It had touched them, moved them just as I was ready to give up. I'd spent weeks wanting to fall into the smallest crack in the ground and disappear at the mention of this show and suddenly I had something to be proud of.
More reviews came, some of the best reviews I've ever gotten but none of that mattered anymore. Una had been there and she'd said what she so desperately needed to and even if she never shows up again I'm completely content. The good news didn't stop there, more people came forward sharing how much this show touched them and made them think, Byron gave us four stars (clearly a miracle), my mom came and cried. We have 7 shows left and maybe no one else will see it and maybe we'll suck the rest of the run but I wouldn't trade my time knowing Una for anything in the world.
The road is long and not always paved or even marked. The path is steep. Not every part of the journey has brought joy but each step draws closer to my destination and just I as I'm ready to give up I find there are people beside me, making the same steady climb. I find rest and restoration in them and continue on. Sisyphus? Perhaps. But he never had such good company. I feel like I'm making a difference, a tiny difference with each step. One that may not be notable or real to anyone but me and the imaginary characters there that encourage me. But I have a clear picture of where we're going, one tiny step at time.
Editor: Thanks for sharing this uplifting story, Katie. If you would like to see the result of Ms. Barrett’s hard work, check out Blackbird, a South Stream Production, at Sonorous Road. Get your