For the rest of November, every day, the Brelby Buzz will be bringing you the second installment of the November Blogathon. Thirty days, thirty original posts from Brelby’s Company Members and collaborative artists of Season 8. Each post will revolve around a word that artist considers to be integral to what art and Brelby means to them.
By Alexandra Utpadel
I’ve always known I wanted to be a performer, and I mean always. When my mother was (heavily) pregnant with me, she was pulled on the stage of a Forbidden Broadway performance. That must have sparked something inside me because she insists I could sing the entirety of the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack before I could talk. (Really, though, how can anyone differentiate between mindless baby wails and musical ones?)
The point is, my whole life has been a scrambling, desperate climb to get to the top of a raked stage and sing my little heart out. For all that passion and drive inside of me, though, I had no idea where to find this magical stage I’d formed in my mind. In fact, I never actually performed in a show until my sophomore year of high school. I know, I know. Hold in your horrified gasps. It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried – I’d auditioned multiple times for a chance to be in my school’s musical productions. Every time, I could only make it as far as callbacks.
I was devastated to say the least. I was sure that no one in the cast wanted to be there as badly as I did. Heck, I was the only one who had Guys and Dolls memorized in seventh grade – and that was before they announced they were holding auditions. So what was I missing? What was the magical final ingredient that they weren’t seeing in me?
(Honesty, I said in parentheses.)
It’s true that I wanted to perform before I even knew what to call it. I craved it so badly that I was practically foaming at the mouth. But every time I got up there, every time a director smiled at me and asked me to show them what I had –
I could belt like a lioness in the comfort of my bedroom, but up there in front of strangers, I turned into a squeaky mouse. The lines I had practiced over and over got trapped in my throat. I could barely remember to breathe, let alone sing or act. I was terrified of showing myself to anyone; not my personality, not my talent, nothing. It’s a wonder I got through to callbacks with so much fear running through my veins.
My sophomore year of high school changed everything for me. I was fortunate enough to attend Arizona School for the Arts, a small liberal arts high school in downtown Phoenix. In the morning, I would take my rigorous academic classes, and in the afternoon, it was off to three hours of arts classes. My teachers were all skilled professionals who frequently practiced their craft outside of the classroom as well as in it. They encouraged me to take risks, to step outside of the tiny comfort zone I’d built for myself. That must have sparked something inside of me, because when Godspell auditions rolled around –
I didn’t freeze.
I opened my mouth and let my voice wail out to the rafters just like when I was at home. My knees weren’t knocking together, my head was held high. I wasn’t hiding behind anything. I was just being honest. I was just being me.
From there, I kept working at showing my true self to people, and it continued to pay off. Even if I wasn’t cast in a show, I no longer felt the same crushing sense of self doubt, because I knew that I’d shown them the honest me, the best that I could. I also discovered theatre in my community, where I sang my heart out in productions of Les Misérables, The Sound of Music, and Little Women: the Musical.
(Keep that last one in mind; it’s gonna come back.)
In high school, I’d finally found my sense of self-worth. I knew who I was, where I wanted to go, and what steps I needed to get there. I just needed to continue down the path I’d put myself on. I needed to keep on smiling and let my honest self shine through. I knew in my soul that nothing was going to stop me.
It’s funny how depression and anxiety have a way of changing your worldview.
That beaming girl I’d found in high school, the one who wasn’t afraid of talking to strangers or belting to the rooftops got lost for a while. I ended up coming home from my school in Oregon. I couldn’t remember what passion felt like or what I was doing this for. The lights dimmed on the raked stage in my mind.
A few months into my return home, and my mother saw a post for an audition at Theater Works. I dug my heels into the ground, I kicked, I screamed, I had a million and one panic attacks about it. There was absolutely no way I was putting myself out there again. But if you’ve ever met my mother, you will know that I lost that battle in spades. I found myself standing in front of a long table of directors, smiling at me and asking what I had to show them.
And despite all the panic I still felt, despite that every fiber in my being was ready to run out the door screaming, “Nope!” at the top of my lungs –
I took a deep breath and unfroze. I let my honest self out of the cage she was in.
That audition led to a callback, and I was cast in A Little Night Music. Theater Works provided me a variety of opportunities to perform and meet a series of fantastic people, including the charming April Rideout. She encouraged me to audition for a little theatre in downtown Glendale.
(Enter Brelby, I said in parentheses.)
Despite the fact that I already had Little Women: the Musical on my resumé, I knew I needed to get my butt into Brelby Theatre Company. April just kept going on and on about how nice they were, how open, how friendly. She insisted that they were the very best of the best of the best, sir. My expectations were beyond high.
I’m happy to say that Brelby exceeded every single one of them.
Right from the audition, I found myself surrounded by the friendliest people I’d ever met. They were so supportive of absolutely everyone who walked through their doors, stranger or not. There was none of the typical cattiness or tense silences, no cliques of people sizing up the competition and silently judging the nervous wreck in the corner. There were only smiles and friendly faces cheering each other on. They were trusting, they were kind –
They were honest.
That’s the moment I fell head over character heels for Brelby Theatre Company. It didn’t matter if they cast me or not (although I am so very grateful that they did!). Any place that encourages that kind of honesty is worth its weight in gold.