What Theatre Taught Me About Practical Exams

Education is important and I believe it is gleaned from both in and outside of the classroom. In high school, my best subjects were English and Drama. (And Auto Mechanics, but really that was because I was the only girl in the class and my teacher correctly assumed I deserved a good grade for being badass.) English was simply writing according to the outline given by the teacher. I was much better then because I was writing every day as opposed to now when I only write to avoid studying. Theatre, or Drama, was much like English but instead of putting my heart on paper, I was putting in on stage. I loved it. Being the centre of attention but under a different name. It wasn’t Sarah Goddard being stared at and applauded (something that makes me blush with the heat of a thousand suns) but instead it was Sarah Brown or Serena Katz, or the Ringmaster; they were the ones people had fallen in love with over the course of 3 hours.

The thing about English was that I could write and write and eventually I could choose which draft I wanted to hand in to be graded. With Theatre auditions, I had maybe 10 or 15 minutes, no re-do’s. I don’t recall ever having a solid audition where I left feeling, “I did great! I deserve a big role.” Every single time, I got on stage, stumbled through the lines that were so perfectly memorized 10 minutes earlier, and forgot the words to any musical portion. And then I’d blush and stutter and after the process was over I would go to the girls washroom, splash cold water on my face and force myself to do a happy dance just for the sake of not passing out. I think the reason I ever got the roles I did was because my teachers had the opportunity to see my potential in class. The rest of my class time was my real audition and the seemingly unprepared, hot mess on the audition stage was nerves.

Yesterday, I had my first Oral Practical midterm. It is simple. You have 30 minutes to state the consent form (16 lines) and then  as the examiner states, you show your draping skills and massage techniques. I was not worried for this exam. I felt that I picked up techniques quickly and I had memorized the consent form like I had memorized lines. I could tell it to you 3 times backwards right now. But yesterday morning, I stepped in that examination room cool as a cucumber, and then He said “Okay, please state the consent form.” and I got through 5 line…. and blanked. I couldn’t even think of my own name. I couldn’t even think! It was terrifying and panicking and I felt exactly like the 17 year old small town girl standing on the stage. I once again felt like I was letting down my favourite teachers, letting down myself, and overall failing. Somehow I managed a deep breathe and the rest of the lines came pouring out of me after I stopped thinking. My examiner had a complete poker face which also looks like permanent disappointment so I chose to avoid looking at him. A line from the very last time I was one stage came back to memory.
“Smile, and shrug your shoulders. Make believe its fine.”
So, I smiled. I listened to the next instructions, and I followed through. I missed stupid cues and I said really dumb answers, but I didn’t pass out. I didn’t cry. And I remembered that it was just an audition for the next round of classes. I was already in.
Stage fright is one of the worst things a person can experience. Only, I don’t get it on opening night or dress rehearsals in front of 100 people who don’t know the lines. I get it at the audition in front of people I want to impress, in front of people who have the entire score sheet waiting to be checked off. My auditions were notoriously awkward and bad. But my performances weren’t. This midterm may have made me want to crawl under the massage table and disappear into the floor, but theatre taught me that a bad 15 minutes doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means I’ve learned and become rather self aware of my breathing.  I can remember this feeling and use it. I can also remember the feeling of looking at the final cast list and seeing my name. Knowing I made it through. I have to remember that feeling too.

I miss theatre because if I cried in an audition I could say the character felt it. If I cry during a practical exam, I’d probably be told I’m mentally unstable and shouldn’t be working with the public. The most important thing theatre taught me about practical exams is that the examiners aren’t judging me. They are observing me and comparing me to the outline they have in front of them. It also taught me that it’s okay to feel upset and disappointed in yourself but you also have to feel proud of yourself for doing something you thought was terrifying. Written exams I fear not; practical exams I fear do…… (Just go with it.)

Stay inspiring, world. Everyone we meet can do something we can’t or knows something we don’t. Lets learn from each other.
All my love,
Sarah

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