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.
About me . . .
I'm Cyrah Hill. I'm a woman of faith, an actor and an everyday black girl.