Photo Credit: Casey Gardner Photography
“I’m freaking out.”
I was just sitting next to our director inside the theatre. I was taking notes like a good actor should, and almost out of nowhere it happened. A dam of emotion broke inside me. I externally froze while my insides went crazy. I thought, “What is wrong with me?” She (our director) could tell something was happening and asked if I wanted to step outside to chat. I did. That’s when I whispered those words . . . out loud . . . for the first time . . . “I’m freaking out.”
We just had our first run of the show after a long weekend of technical rehearsals. I gave it everything I had but there were still a few things about the show and the character I was trying to figure out. For whatever reason, in that moment, I just couldn’t figure anything out.
We only had one more day of rehearsal without an audience, and I was struggling with self-doubt.
To be honest, my process this show was peppered with self-doubt from the beginning. When I auditioned for the role, I knew I was right for it and even felt like it was mine in my gut. I felt like God whispered that to me while I was in the waiting area at my second audition. But even then, I just didn’t get it. “Why me?”
Don’t get me wrong, I believe I’m good at my job. I’m a solid actor. There are certain things about the art form that I just get, and I’ve worked very hard to feel like I do it well. But I don’t feel entitled to any particular opportunity.
This show is special. The script is special. The people I’m working with are amazing, and the character is a dream. I guess I just didn’t feel like (as good as I think I am), I deserved it. In this show, my goal was just to keep my head down, do the job and get out of dodge without causing too much of a ruckus.
True story: I really figured out I was the lead of the show when I showed up for the promotional photo shoot and noticed I was alone. That’s when I thought, “Holy crap Cyrah. You’d better know your stuff because you aren’t going to be able to hide in this one.” That sounds naïve, but it’s the truth. I started quietly freaking out then.
I quietly freaked out when I started learning my lines. I looked at 120 pages and realized the only break my character had in the script was the title page.
There were many more small freak out moments that I felt, pushed down and tried to ignore . . . for three weeks.
There were also many moments I’ve enjoyed. I get a nice thrill out of being challenged. I love that I don’t have much time to get in my head in this show. I’m constantly on my feet working, and that helps me figure things out. I LOVE that I’m not doing something that’s easy for me. I get bored easily, and this play is never boring. Something is constantly happening, and that feels nice. The cast and crew are fun and generous, and I have a great time being around them.
But . . . on the final day of tech, I stood outside of the theatre and admitted to the director and to myself, for the first time, that I was freaking out.
We had a beautiful conversation. She offered me incredibly supportive, gracious and wise words to help me move forward. I received them with a grateful heart and left the theatre, fully ready for my day off.
The show opens this weekend, and I’m finally excited. Not because I feel like I have it all figured out. I’m excited because I left the actor that was “freaking out” outside of the theatre. I acknowledged how I felt, processed it and am ready to move on. I’ve prayed, taken walks, thought and decided who my character is to me. So as of today, I’m happy with myself. My beautiful, creative, imperfect self.
One other thing I didn’t realize that “freak out” night was that I was physically and mentally tired. I just performed an emotionally draining show. It was the end of a week of intense rehearsals, and it was almost midnight. I shouldn’t have been surprised that I couldn’t figure anything out. My brain and body needed some rest!
I took care of myself and came back the next day refreshed and ready to work. I now feel good about my work. I know what changes I want to make to it, and I’m confident that I will be proud of what I create by opening night.
Here’s what I now know for sure:
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. I am leading a show, which means I am responsible for a lot. It's fine to feel like it's a lot. It actually IS a lot. I should acknowledge how I feel, so I can process it.
I also now know that I am good at what I do. If I couldn’t do this, the creative team would not have hired me. There are many other people they could have hired, but they chose me, which means I must be bringing something to the table.
Another take away is that taking care of myself and being kind to myself is mandatory. I can't tell this story affectively if I'm drained.
My new goal is own my space and tell this story with everything I have in me. "Freaking out" had it's moment. Now it's time for it to sit down, so I can stand up.
Saturday morning at six a.m., my husband woke me with the birthday song. While he sang, I cracked open one eye to notice the full breakfast tray in his hand and a lit candle sticking up out of a short stack of pancakes. He got up early on a Saturday morning to make those pancakes, and I smiled wildly at the gesture.
He looked in my eyes and then sheepishly asked, “Do you want to go back to bed?” I nodded and laughed. He only got up that early because he knows how rare it is for me to sleep past six. This week was different for us. All week I came home late from rehearsals, and I was perfectly fine with sleeping in a bit. My man kissed my forehead and took the food back to the kitchen.
I woke back up to sounds of laughter coming from the kitchen. Hubby and my three-year-old were up and eating. I checked the time and immediately started working my electronic chores like the budget. My husband popped his head into the room, noticed what I was doing and scolded me with his eyes. I wanted to knock out the sucky responsibilities, so I didn’t have to focus on it the rest of the weekend, but my timing sucked. I could feel it. I tapped away at the computer for ten minutes, got very little done and put it away.
When I walked out of my room, I realized part of my living room was covered with gifts. I sat down, and my son, almost magically, put a tiara on my head. I was officially in heaven.
In this moment, I took a picture in my mind. I felt blessed. My favorite gift I received that day was a sign my husband made for me. It said, “Pursue purpose, everything else is bs.” He heard me say that once, he captured it and created a sign with those words. It’s on my dresser, smiling at me every morning.
The rest of my day was amazing. I spent the afternoon in rehearsal, working on a project I am super passionate about. The director asked me what I wanted out of the rehearsal room that day. I said that I wanted to trust myself. I have a tendency to rush when I’m in my head, so I asked that everyone in the room be patient with me in the moments when I needed to slow down and figure it out. She said “done.” And we did some awesome work that day. The crew somehow figured out how to get me a cookie cake when I wasn’t paying attention, and everyone sang the birthday song to me on our break.
Right after rehearsal, I met up with some friends and family at the arcade. We ate and played video games like a bunch of kids. I lost my phone, found my phone, wondered around, yelled at screens and laughed until my sides hurt. I had a glorious time.
My birthday was beautiful, in every sense of the word, and I can honestly say that this beautiful birthday simply flowed out of a beautiful year.
This past year I learned that . . .
My heart knows more than my head. I must trust my instincts.
Supporting other black female actors feels good. I should do more of it.
Telling my partner what I need instead of assuming that he should know is a win for everyone involved.
Take care of myself. This has to be a priority. When I don’t, I get a funky attitude. None of us needs that. My soul has limits. When I am tired mentally or emotionally, it’s okay to pause and refresh.
My hair and skin are beautiful.
God is real to me in a very specific way. Don’t let anyone undermine that.
I can mother my way, and it is possible to really like my kid.
Taking risks makes for a scarier life, but I enjoy the thrill!
Cooking can be fun. Thank you, meal prep services!
At this moment in time, I can say that I am truly happy. A year ago, I don’t think I could say that, not consistently anyway. I don’t even know that my external circumstances are that much different from a year ago. But I’ve worked hard on my inner life for months, and I am starting to feel the results. This new year, I look forward to more health, love and inner growth. Cheers!
A couple weeks ago, I told a story about how my emotions were sending all kinds of signals that I needed to slow down and take care of myself (see Enemies). When I first started practicing soul-care (self-care), I didn’t know what to do when I felt emotionally drained because I really hadn’t seen it modeled. So, I took to Instagram and learned that some people take very pretty bubble baths with candles and glasses of wine. Thanks to IG, this was my very first soul-care ritual.
I emulated what I saw online, and the experience was just okay. I mean . . . I enjoyed having some down time. The hot water was relaxing. But it was a little boring. I turned on some Frank Sinatra, drank wine and sat in the bubble bath feeling like an impostor. When I realized how I felt, I turned off Frank (no offense) and played some funk, hip-hop, jazz & r&b. Before long, I was having my own little party in the bathroom and LOVING it. Over time I started added podcasts to my bath time. No news. No business. I listened to the funny cultural podcasts that make me crack up all by myself. Over time I figured out that there isn’t a specific way to do soul-care. Taking care of myself doesn’t always mean a spa day. It just means doing the things that fill me with joy and doing them on purpose.
This brings me to my favorite things. The following is a list of my clutch soul-care rituals I do when I need to take care of myself. These automatically help me find my sense of play and remind me just how blessed I am to be alive.
So, here we go:
Here’s that list:
As a parent, I learned that my toddler needs times of play and rest. I intentionally build these times into his schedule because he becomes a different person without them. As a grown woman, the same rules apply. When I become the grumpy or stressed out version of myself, somewhere I violated my own need to play and/or rest. That’s my soul just sending me signals, and I’m learning to stop and handle it.
When I prioritize taking care of myself, my relationships are richer and my work is more fulfilling. I am present, and I am able to give the best of myself to the world. I pray that I will continue to do this work, and I hope my journey inspires you to do the same.
About me . . .
I'm Cyrah Hill. I'm a woman of faith, an actor and an everyday black girl.