I was twenty, lying on the stage in the blackbox theatre at my college.
It was a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon, I think. The building was quiet, and all I could hear was the buzzing of the stage lights and our breathing.
I was terrified.
There I was, alone with a teacher, being still, vulnerable, and graded for my participation.
Actors have training that at times, in retrospect, is quite strange.
On this day, I would be graded on my ability to be vulnerable with a stranger, allowing her to make comments, adjustments to my body and voice, and to allow her to affect subjective changes for my benefit as an artist.
That year, we had this guest teacher visiting us for Voice and Movement masterclasses. She had taught in our acting classes, visited our rehearsals, and held private sessions.
This day was my private session.
Some things to note: I hadn’t experienced a female theatre teacher. I knew how to work with male theatre teachers, but this experience felt much more exposed and vulnerable. I didn’t know much about her, except that I knew she was a close friend and schoolmate of our program head. We had a small department, and I was aware of the expectations on me as one of the lead students.
In that moment, facing the fresnels and wires, I wished I could dissolve into a gas and seep into the cracks of the old wooden floor.
She began to give me instructions.
Make humming sounds. Move them around. Move them down. More toward the back. Make the bones vibrate. Make your pelvis vibrate with that sound. Send it to your toes. Now, vibrate from your toes, pelvis. Do it again, breathe, hum and vibrate your whole self from the bones.
It felt like a seance or ritual from a different culture.
Breathe deeply, relax your face, hum and vibrate the body, and now, open your mouth and let it out on a sigh.
I opened my mouth, and what I experienced would change how I viewed myself.
What came out of me was a full deep sound that I felt all over, even vibrating the floor beneath me. I was a tuning fork, and the sound filled the room.
I felt it first, and then, I heard it. My voice caught, and I breathed in quickly, in shock from what I had heard.
I began to sob.
She was compassionate, as this, her work to help students hear themselves was often met with tears as many aha moments are, she said.
I remember feeling afraid of the discovery. I told her that I was sad to know that was my voice as my parents wouldn’t know me if I called them. The gap was too large between the voice I used on stage (also all of the other moments I performed in life to keep people happy with me) and that real sound. She was too big, too strong, too wide. She would not be liked. She would scare people off. She was too confident.
I told that teacher all of this in a heap of damp discovery on that painted stage floor, and she said to me, “You don’t have to be afraid. She is there, and you can choose who you share her with.”
This lesson that began on that stage, would be the lesson I repeat at every crossroad of my life. The choice to breathe and let the sound vibrate through my bones and fill the space I occupy. The choice to broaden or shrink. To show up authentically or as a character I think will be acceptable. The choice to own myself or to abandon her.
So, in 2021, I’ve decided to go public, to go virtual with the vibrations.
In 2021, I am breathing and vibrating the bones of my stories.
I’ve kept them neat and safe and small for three decades, telling myself that writing was for other people. Writing was for self reflection only, not for sharing. This me needed to have a teacher, much like the one I encountered on that stage in undergrad, see the value of the resonance, move past the tears, and encourage me to use the tools I was born with.
Breathe in and on an exhale, hum the bones around your heart. Let that vibration connect to your hands as you type. Take another breath, filling the body all the way down and around the back of you.