This weekend I had the opportunity to do that, in spades. As many of you know, I've struggled over the last couple of years with SSHL (Sudden Sensoineural Hearing Loss) and the attendant side dishes, of which life has graciously allowed me generous helpings: vertigo, tinnitus, hyperacusis, and, of course, being nearly deaf on one side.
One of the first things to go by the wayside were a couple of my larger life loves: performing on stage in both scripted work and improv. Both, especially improv, require being able to hear everyone else on stage, tolerating the noise of a comedy club or performance venue, and, ideally, being able to balance and walk straight. All of which left my wheelhouse for some time.
Plus, my brain doesn't work as well as it did before the incident. Not only hearing and balance are impacted by all this nonsense, everything is far, far more difficult. Thinking, tracking, and multi-tasking are all much harder now. I'm permanently dizzy, can't walk and turn my head at the same time (well, I CAN, I just might fall down), am slower in both thought and movement, am basically deaf on one side, and have a constant shrieking and banshee noise in one ear overwhelming much of what I can hear, even with the aids.
As you might imagine, none of this lends itself to performing, especially something as brain-intensive as improv.
I recently got fitted for the CROS hearing aid, which is a huge boon to the hearing issues, though doing nothing for tinnitus or vertigo. I have been trying out a variety of assistive devices and decided to go ahead and spend the small fortune to get my very own. A very large part of the decision was that they seemed to allow me to be in one of my favorite rooms in the world: the Upfront Theatre.
I prepared for the idea of being back on stage as best I could. I went a couple of times, sat as close to the stage as I could, and tried to assess whether I could hear everything on stage, and tolerate the crowd noise. All signs seemed positive, and I made the decision to take the plunge and perform again. The entire Upfront community was hugely supportive, and I signed up for my first two performances.
There was only one problem: one of the shows would be with a student group, which typically do simpler games, allowing me a relatively soft entry, and the other was a format that would have me performing with Main Stagers, the "A team" at the Upfront.
I have been in the Satellite (the farm league, if you will), but not for a long time. I've not performed at all for a year and three-quarters. I've not even been able to attend performances and continue learning by watching, or take classes. I have just recently started teaching kid and teen improv again, which I hoped had at least kept some of my improv brain alive, but that is most decidedly not the same as doing it.
Life enjoying irony and a good joke, these two opportunities fell in the 'wrong' order, with the A team performance happening first. So, for my very first time back on stage, having no practice for nearly two years, would be with the best of our local talent, doing a more difficult format. I had rather a bit of trepidation about this. I have long wanted to perform with this group, but I always imagined it happening with me at my best, not at my possible worst.
So I determined a potential solution: suggesting a particular long-form format that would have me just doing monologues in this first time experiment. Since I already would be debuting the hearing aids with no idea how well they would work, nor how wobbly I would be from vertigo, the idea of simplifying the performance piece of the equation seemed reasonable and useful.
But that also seemed like copping out. No guts, no glory, and all that nonsense, don't you know. So with guidance from my Facebook community (Go for it!), my loved ones (Go for it!) and the other players the night of the show (Go for it!), I jumped in to try long-form in my first time back.
I. Was. Terrified.
But you know what? I didn't die. I didn't freeze. I didn't run screaming from the joint. Was I the best performer on stage? No. Was I the best performer I've ever been? No. Did I jump in, go for it, and do it anyway? Yes. Did I live to tell the tale? Yes. And the sheer fun of it was well worth the terror. Had I been the monologuist only, I'm sure I would have had fun, but not nearly as much. Nor would I have had the total rush and reward of knowing that I'd gone for it indeed, faced my fears firmly, thumbed my nose at them, and done the best I could.
I am typically far better at criticizing myself than giving myself credit, but I refuse to do that this time. I did so much better than I feared I might. I started scenes. I got far more physical than I thought I might be able to. I threw myself in with vigor, and I was amply rewarded by knowing that while life may present me with obstacles, that doesn't mean I have to pay attention to them, or be thwarted by them.
So I say listen to Eleanor: go out there and go for it! Will you always succeed? No. Will you have a Hollywood ending where you magically have the best performance of your life and be crowned with glory and multi-million dollar offers? Maybe not. But you might just get the best Oscar of all - knowing you did your best, regardless of how frightened you were. And that, my friends, is priceless.