Nightly I have terrible dreams about walking out of my commencement ceremony. Sometimes I slip and crash into cold mud. Other times I suspect there is no ground at all, and I am running as fast as I can, defying gravity for a brief moment like Wile E. Coyote, not daring to look down for fear of falling with a shriek.
Anxiety rules the night, but in these final two weeks at UNC, joy and excitement rule the daytime. I get weepy at embarrassing moments, not with sadness but with happy release. Yesterday I looked at a fellow senior, and I couldn’t help but grab her hand and shout in her face, “This is good!” She didn’t know what I meant, and I’m not sure I did either, but it felt important.
Such impulsive, gut-driven behavior is the goal of us actors on stage. I’m certain I never accomplished that on stage here at school. But I have gotten closer with each day. I strive to obey Mrs. Frizzle’s immortal command to “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” It’s a wonderful law, because the only way to break it is by being perfect. I didn’t get too messy, but I made a fair share of mistakes. Even the days which feel like two steps back are part of the journey towards that impossible destination.
Finances forbid personal exploration in the professional theater. It is results we’re after, not a journey. So in the educational theater, we must develop some sense of artistic identity. My great fortune is to have good friends and confidants as my collaborators. Perhaps never again will I work with people so certain that together we can change the world, or at least the rehearsal schedule. There is no hierarchy between us, at least to my awareness. There are only mutual goals, namely, to make good theater, to have fun, to learn how we might be better.
Never again will I take a course on women’s studies or economics fifteen minutes apart from a speech or movement training session. Never again will I drop in on a point or two of Ultimate on my walk to rehearsal.
I may never even act at all again. Each time I am cast, I think, “This is the last time. Everyone’s going to find out I’m a fraud.” And if I’m not good at acting, I must be good at acting like I know how to act, because so far the parts haven’t dried up.
I thought at some point here I would pass into the foyer of adulthood, and suddenly know how I’m supposed to live. It never happened, because I discovered there is no such thing. Everyone’s faking it, doing their best, working with what they guess is best. I respect my grown-up heroes all the more for that. It’s the grandest acting gig of all: our off-stage characters. My character is the best thing I’ve got going for me. And like a character on stage, I will never hit the mark, but if I keep trying, and follow Beckett’s advice to “fail better,” I can get a little closer every day.