I was lucky enough to see my first production at the age of five. Since then I have worked as a performer, company manager, grant writer, director, producer, and I now serve as Executive Director of SDP. I have been blessed to walk an incredible path in the arts. Over the years, I have faced multiple challenges and worked to overcome many obstacles. Through this I have found that the most difficult obstacle I had to overcome was myself.
I know that phrase seems trite. You probably roll your eyes just hearing it. I know I did. How did not getting a part equate to overcoming myself? I was in the classes, I was volunteering to paint the sets, I was doing everything right. So since it wasn’t my fault I blamed everyone else. “The director picked her favorite.” “My parents should have never let me quit piano.” “The choreographer hates me because I was late and he’s holding a grudge.” The excuses were endless. Nothing was ever my fault so there was obviously nothing I could do to get any better. Everyone was against me.
After years of destroying myself and breaking down everyone around me I finally sat back and looked at what I was doing. Instead of enjoying what I love most in the world I had become part of the self-destructive nature of the arts. The arts at its worst can be a narrative that starts with self-doubt and leads to self-destruction and ends with building walls out of excuses and negativity to protect what is left.
I destroyed myself with negative thoughts about my weight, what notes I couldn’t hit, what dance moves I would never be able to do. I lay awake at night bemoaning the parts I didn’t get or getting the part and imagining all the awful things people were saying about me because I was cast. I was so busy focusing on the negative that I forgot to love what I do and how to enjoy my life.
I realized what I was doing to myself and in turn what I was doing to other people by feeding into the frenzy. In that moment I was truly broken. All the negative walls I had built to protect me crumbled down and all that was left was a burned out diva that wasn’t built for this game. But was it always a game? Why did I start this journey to begin with?
Slowly and carefully I began to examine how I got there. I took myself back to the beginning. When I saw my first show I didn’t want to be up there to be a star. I wanted to be up there with them because they were having fun. They were singing and dancing and people weren’t making fun of them. They looked like what I wanted to be: happy, uninhibited, and communicative.
Flash forward to my first show as a performer. I was a “Winkie” in the Wizard of Oz! Was it the most glamorous role? No, but I was so unbelievably happy to be cast. I was a part of something greater than myself. I was a part of the community. I was meeting people like me for the first time!
I used to love being a part of the artistic process, even the smallest part. So where did I go wrong? It went wrong when things became about me. It was no longer about the process of being a contributing member of my community. It became about what part I had compared to someone else. It became about her being skinnier but me having the better voice. The arts had become a vehicle for me to prove that I was better than everyone else and if I couldn’t actually be better than them I would tear them down until I at least I felt better than them.
I am not proud of my actions but I also know that to change your path you have to be honest and accountable to your past so you can move forward. The performing arts can be anything you make it. It can be a destructive force that destroys its players and leaves them with nothing but resentment and self-doubt; or it can be a safe place. It can be a place of growth and healing; a community where you push yourself to be better, not to overcome others but to raise the entire community to a new place. This is why we started SDP. We wanted a place that focused on the positive community that is the arts. That despite casting decisions, a hard class, or your own obstacles: you are supported and challenged to be the best contributor to the community you can be.
There will always be obstacles in life, but you have a choice. You can choose to make it about you, build up walls, and lock yourself in with your own worst enemy: yourself. Or you can choose to participate in the process and improve your community no matter what part you play. You can be the one that not only overcomes the obstacles, but turns around and helps a friend up and over with you. Being able to change your world is honestly up to you. You simply have to make the choice to participate in the process, as part of a community, instead of getting side tracked by the "me" game. I made my choice. How about you?
By: Lindsay Mitchell-SDP Executive Director