Breaking the Mold

Breaking the Mold

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

Breaking the Mold

There is nothing in this world that I am prouder of than my ability to feel, to survive and, yes, to be a fool for what I love and believe in.

Jodie Foster

There I stood, in the middle of a campus that more resembled a city than a school. What was I doing there? I felt so out of place, insignificant and small. I had graduated from high school early, left all my peers behind, and now I was facing a whole new world seemingly alone. Besides that, I was painfully shy, and reaching out for help, or even companionship for that matter, seemed a daunting task. I was not the first one to ever go to college, but it sure felt that way. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for it.

It was my first day, of my first semester, of my first year in college, and all I wanted to do was to go back to high school—and so I did. I made an appointment with my old academic counselor. I felt sure that she would have some answers for me. When she suggested I see a career counselor on campus, I thought I would cry. How could that help? She assured me that a counselor would help soothe my transition, as well as be able to help me with my curriculum. I sat there while she called and arranged an appointment for me, then I walked out of her office feeling like the baby bird being given the proverbial boot.

The next day I sat in a hall with a horde of milling students. They seemed so confident and directed and so much older than me. I was hoping that no one noticed me sitting there alone with my lunch sack. Finally, I was called into the counselor’s office. She turned out to be a wealth of information, but what about these feelings of insecurity?

“Would you suggest therapy?” I asked.

Her answer surprised me. She suggested that I immediately enroll in a drama class. She noticed my obvious apprehension, but she was adamant about this particular suggestion—so much so, that she marched me over to the drama department and introduced me to the acting teacher. Before I knew it, I was in.

That first week of classes, I pretty much kept to myself. I took part in all those obligatory exercises in drama class that seemed so silly. Be a tree, feel how it feels. . . . I didn’t understand how this was going to help, but I persevered. I would still escape from campus when I had a break and go over to my old high school. Even if it was just to sit in the parking lot and eat lunch, it made me feel better. Sometimes I saw some of my old friends. While they were getting ready for all the fun and excitement that their senior year had to offer, I was trying to fit into a strange new world. Maybe I had made a mistake graduating early. I was missing out on all the senior activities. If I had just waited, I wouldn’t have had to do it alone; I would have been with some of my friends.

I couldn’t figure out how such a disjointed kind of school experience could lend itself to making friends or creating bonds. Each hour, I went to a classroom, miles away from the last one, with different people. Who came up with this system anyway?

Finally, I began to find some solace in my drama class. It was becoming a safe little world in an otherwise austere place. I grew more involved with the scenes we were now doing, and I was assigned a partner, which gave me an excuse to get to know someone. Besides that, I noticed that the teacher gave me roles so opposite of my own personality that they gave me an excuse to come out of my shell. I started looking forward to this one-hour class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The professor believed that the key to playing a character well was knowing yourself. Introspection became the goal over the next couple of weeks. We would lie on the stage in a large circle, with our heads toward the center, eyes closed. There we would explore our childhood, dialogue with our parents, our siblings . . . How did it make you feel? How do you feel now? People were actually crying.

Then we would sit and talk about it. “What happened just then?” the professor would say. “Bookmark that experience for retrieval when one of your characters is crying out for it.” Little did I know it, but I was shedding the layers of my own personal shyness by uncovering past experiences.

When Jon Voight came to campus to do Hamlet, the entire drama department became involved. Everyone knew that he was bringing actors with him, but he would also be holding some roles open on the off-chance of finding talent at the university. Auditions would be held the following week, open to all. My drama teacher encouraged me to try out. I was terrified, but I thought, if I could just push through this experience, I could do anything . . . maybe even finish college.

The monologues flew; rehearsals were rampant. Everyone helped everyone else; the excitement was palpable. This felt better than a high-school dance. I was spending less time parked in my high school’s parking lot and more time in the drama department. Auditions were held, and while sets were being built, people held their breaths.

The following week, call-back sheets were posted. When I walked into the drama department, there was such a sea of people around the notice, I could barely make my way through. As people started to notice that I was standing there, it was like the way parted for me. I stepped up to the call-back sheet, and there it was as big as day—my name for the character of Ophelia. I was the only girl in the whole school to be called back for that role. Then from behind me, I heard the voice of my drama professor in my ear: “Seems like we have ourselves a star.”

And that’s what I felt like. My counselor was right. I did need that drama class. The exercises gave me the courage to face myself, and Hamlet made me feel like I could do anything. I had become my own star.

Zan Gaudioso

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