Lemme give you a brief history of James-Up-To-This-Point:
When I was little, I would watch Ace Ventura when I wasn’t feeling well. I thought Jim Carrey was the funniest bitch there ever was.
Then in middle school, I did this weird play, but it was super fun because all of my friends were in it. I had a blast. I got to see my friends every day, and we got to be freaks on stage.
Then I saw Moulin Rouge, and I thought, ‘This is the worst piece of shit I have ever seen. WHY won’t they stop singing?! STOP SINGING AND DIE, SATINE!’
Then I realized that I actually really liked singing. My best friend Dalila and I used to listen to my cassette tape of “My Heart Will Go On” on REPEAT. I would go over to boombox, press play, lay down on the ground next to Dalila and we would SCREAM along with Celine Dion. And when the song was over, I would get up, rewind the tape, and do it ALL over again. I’m sure my babysitter was somewhere in the house begging God to please explode my boombox.
Then in intermediate school I was throw into the school musical where I got the leftover parts. Well the JOKES ON YOU, because the leftover part was Buzz Lightyear, and I got to sing, “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” with a complete fucking stranger. This was my real first foray into acting as I pretended to be able to care about anyone but myself and Kit-Kat’s.
Then in my middle school choir we sang “My Heart Will Go On”, and I auditioned for the solos because CELINE FUCKING DION GOD DAMNIT. I don’t remember if I got it, but I’m positive that I sounded like a fucking superstar in my audition. A gay-ass, prepubescent, definitely gay, someone-please-love-me superstar. God, I was a fierce fucking alto. #neverchange
Then my friend (read: friends, plentiful and bountiful, for I was super popular at all points in my life) and I would sing the high soprano part at the end of the song “Phantom of the Opera”, and I used to be able to screlt those high notes (note: “screlt” is a portmanteau of “scream” and “belt”, which is a word for “to sing as high as Jesus”). I would screlt those notes ALLLLLL the time. Again, I think this was another point in my life where my mother begged God to please send a chupacabra to ravage my voice box.
When I was 14, I started dating people over the internet, because I was gay in my head but not out loud and I needed to talk to SOMEONE about it so I did the logical thing: I turned to complete strangers. I used to go to gay chat rooms and talk to other people like me. Sometimes we would become boyfriends, and that was pretty cool. But one day spikyblueeyes88 stopped logging on to AIM, and that was the first time that I had ever been ghosted. I’m sure I handled it appropriately: opening my journal, picking up a pen, calmly pushing my bangs out of my face, and then SCREAMING into my journal until the pain went away/ I fell asleep out of utter exhaustion from having so many feelings come out of the hole in my face. My heart said, “Rest, you weary son-of-a-bitch. It won’t get better, but someday you’ll have a blog to put ALLLLL your emotions in!” (Yeah, I end sentences with prepositions, because I’m a boss-ass bitch (with).
Anyway, back to internet dating. So I was 14 years-old, and my prospective internet boyfriend was 17 or 18. I had to woo him to be my One True Love. We were chatting, and it came up that he was a singer.’I’m a singer, too!’ I thought to myself. ‘I scream along to EVERYTHING I hear on the radio. I love singing; I’m a singer, god damnit!’ Well, Prospective Internet Boyfriend wanted to hear me sing. So he called my home phone and I picked it up on the first ring. He had a hot, sexy adult voice. I had a closeted, insecure 14 year-old boy voice. He sang first: “Amazing Grace”. It was the most amazing thing I had ever heard. He was a professionally-trained angel, and he was going to take me to the Promised Land. “It’s your turn,” he said. Well, I had to pick a song I knew all the words to. At the time, I was SUPER into Evanescence. I knew every god damn word to every song, and it was my favorite music to cry to. So I decided to sing “Going Under“. If you don’t know it, go listen to it. It’s tragic. It starts with her growling these super depressing lyrics. I gave my Future Boyfriend my best Amy Lee:
“Now I will tell you what I’ve done for you
Fifty-thousand tears I’ve cried
Screaming, deceiving and bleeding for you-”
“….Hello? ….Hello? Are you there? ….”
Yes, he hung up on me. And I didn’t even get to sing the chorus which is the best part and the part that really shows off my vocal ability! I sat there blinking, clutching the phone to my ear for a few minutes, and then I calmly replaced the phone on the charging dock.
‘He hung up on me because of my singing voice…’
So I recorded myself singing, and then I played it back to myself. I was DISGUSTED with myself. ‘JESUS CHRIST, JAMES, YOU SOUND AWFUL! I WOULD’VE HUNG UP ON YOU, TOO! YOU SOUND TERRIBLE! NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE YOU SINGING LIKE THAT, YOU GAY IDIOT BITCH.’
Then I realized that I even hated my speaking voice. I was hitting the “s” consonant too hard, and THAT’S how everyone at school knew to call me a “faggot” and throw batteries at me! Eureka! Mystery solved! Also, I kept finding myself walking around with limp wrists. ‘HIDE YOUR SECRETS, YOU GAY T-REX!’ So I trained myself to walk with my arms glued to my sides as if they were stapled there. ‘Ha, now they’ll NEVER know!’ Then I spent HOURS recording myself talking and trying to adjust my voice to sound less gay. I dedicated so much time towards trying to figure out where to place the consonants in my mouth to sound less gay. Recording my voice, playing it back to myself, banging my head on the desk hoping my tongue would fall out so I would never have to say “s” again, and then doing it all over again. Funny enough, I feel like my “gay speech” calmed down after I came out of the closet. Alright, Jesus… I see you.
Also, after this experience, I saw Evanescence in concert FIVE times. I would go to their concerts and jump up and down with the biggest smile on my face screaming, “I WANNA DIE, TOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
Also, this story about the “Amazing Grace” guy hanging up on me singing “Going Under” is Kelley’s favorite story, and if we are EVER on the phone and I start singing she will ALWAYS hang up. She’s REALLY funny….
Also when I was 14, I auditioned for a production of Seussical the Musical. I was cast as a panther, and I was surrounded by so many talented people and that was the moment I decided I wanted to pursue musical theater.
So I went HARD. During Seussical, I met Miss Sara, and she started an all-men’s beginner tap class. I started tapping with her when I was 15, and I’ve been tapping ever since. I started auditioning like a motherfucker. I would go to the library and check out every CD for every musical they had and I would INHALE THEM. I knew every lyric to every song. I would do all the school shows, and I would audition for musicals in the community as well. I started taking voice lessons with Wendy when I was 15, and she changed my LIFE. (More on her later.) By my senior year, my schedule was jam-packed. I joined the Madison Youth Choirs, I played bassoon in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, I took voice lessons, I took tap class, I took an acting class through UW-Madison, I worked at a bakery, I worked at the movie theater, and I performed in shows. There was a point where this was my schedule: School 8:15-3:25, School musical rehearsal 4:00-6:30, Madison community theater musical rehearsal 7:00-10:00. I was eating, breathing, sleeping musical theater. I felt like I was finally doing something I really cared about with people who really understood me.
When I was auditioning for colleges, I went all in once again. I auditioned at NYU, Carnegie Mellon, University of Michigan, Western Michigan University and UW-Stevens Point. While I was auditioning, I was so scared and I felt suddenly inadequate. I was having a breakdown in one of my voice lessons, and Wendy listened to doubt myself and cry. When I was done, she had the best fucking response ever. She started singing Evanescence to me: “Fear is only in our mind, taking over all the time. Fear is only in ours minds, but it’s taking over all the time.”
*MIC DROP* BY WENDY. Did I MENTION that she’s the coolest ever?!
So I went to UW- Stevens Point, and I STILL went hard AF. I took the maximum credits allowed. I took some of my pre-requisites over the summer at a community college so I would have more room during the year to take theater and dance classes. I took every class I could get my hands on. I weaseled my way into modern dance, jazz dance and tap dance classes usually reserved only for dance majors. I auditioned for everything, even the dance shows that I felt underqualified for. And in the summer, I would do summerstock theater. I worked my ass off.
I graduated college in May 2011. I lived at home for the summer and performed in a musical while waiting tables. Then I hosted a benefit concert to help me raise money to move to NYC, and I moved here in September 2011.
When I first got here, I went to every damn audition. There was one time where I went to five auditions in the same day. I hustled like a motherfucker. It took me a while, but I finally started getting cast. I’ve been here for four years now.
Now here’s the one event I can’t quite pinpoint. There was a moment where I didn’t want to eat/sleep/breathe musical theatre anymore. I started putting on Eminem instead of Sweeney Todd. I wanted to talk about music and comedy instead of my favorite Elphaba riff or which role I could play in Wicked. I wanted a life outside of musical theatre. To be frank, I didn’t want what I had always wanted. I didn’t want to do the things that I should do anymore. I didn’t wanna take ballet class or acting class or classes with casting directors, and I didn’t want to go to auditions for shows that I wasn’t right for just so I could get seen by a prominent casting director. I didn’t want to hang out with actors anymore. I didn’t want to sit in a holding room anymore. I didn’t want to do any of the “shoulds” anymore.
Last week, I was on a bus to Boston and since no one was around me, I started listening to the Hamilton soundtrack again in private. I listened to “Wait For It” three times in a row, and I started crying to myself. I thought to myself, ‘What happened to the Old James? Where did he go? Why don’t I love musical theater as much as I used to? Why is it no longer my life source? It used to be my EVERYTHING. I was on this path with my nose to the pavement for the past 12 years; what am I supposed to do with myself? What am I supposed to do when I wake up one day and realize that I don’t love this thing like I used to. I don’t want to spend my time and money on things I don’t love. I don’t wanna network for something that doesn’t fulfill me. I don’t want to know the lyric to every Broadway show. I don’t care to know every actor in every musical. I don’t care to know the career paths of musical theater stars. But why?! Where did Old James go? GIVE HIM BACK TO ME. I NEED HIM.’
Loss of clarity is horrifying. It’s scary. I don’t want to think, ‘Well I’ve spent 12 years becoming someone I don’t wanna be anymore; what now?’ I don’t want that. I want my certainty back. I want my fire back.
But I can’t have certainty, because it doesn’t exist. Certainty exists in the same imaginary world as control. But I don’t want to wander aimlessly. I don’t want to be lost. But then I looked around at my friends. One of my friends knows exactly how I feel: went to school for something completely different than what she’s currently pursuing. Another one of my friends worked at a job she fucking hated, and now she’s doing something she loves. One of my friends studied psychology, and now she works in finance. So. Okay, James. You’re not alone. Actually, you’re in the perfect company to be lost. But if “lost” terrifies you too much to be included in your vocabulary, then choose something else: curious, wandering, interested, well-rounded.
I’m letting go of the “shoulds”. I started taking tap class regularly, because it makes me happy. I only audition for projects I want to be a part of. I let myself listen to whatever music I want, and now I have a music soulmate at work and we could talk about FKA Twigs and Rihanna and Jai Paul for hours, and it’s some of the most fulfilling conversations I’ve ever had, because I don’t feel so alone. I’ve accepted that I’m good at hospitality, but that doesn’t mean I need to be a Career Server. I’ve looked into classes at Upright Citizens Brigade. I bought a guitar so I can start learning to play Evanescence/Celine Dion mash-ups. I went to a Zedd concert, because I felt like it. I spent a week in San Diego by myself. I stopped auditioning for an entire summer, and let myself have a life outside of theater. And the most exciting thing? I’ve started writing a comedic web-series with a friend. We meet about once a week and we sit and we write and laugh so loud that people stare. And when we don’t want to write our web-series, we write comedic sketches. I feel like I’m finally doing something I love. Oh. And I write my blog. Because I love writing.
I’m letting myself be who I am, and I’m not trying to make myself fit into whatever the Successful Musical Theatre Professional mold is. I’m letting myself exist, and it’s terrifying and liberating and I’m so proud of myself.
My baby sister recently told me she was jealous of me, because I knew exactly what I wanted and I’m finding success in doing exactly what I wanted to do. Leah, I would like to apologize to you for fooling you so fabulously. I wrote this blog to set the record straight. Some people dabble in different things, looking for something they care about and freaking out that they don’t have some fiery passion that “everyone else” has. And some people are me, and you’ve been working your tits off for 12 years for your passion only to realize that maybe you don’t want it anymore. Both are horrifying. But both are okay. Just do things you fucking like to do. Work at a job that either fulfills you or pays you enough that you can do things you enjoy doing. And don’t judge yourself for the things that you like. There is value in doing things for pure enjoyment. I promise you. Don’t judge yourself for listening to Fetty Wap twice a day, everyday, for two weeks. It’s okay. It’s okay to take a hip-hop class once a week even if it doesn’t further your career. You are more fun to be around when you’re having fun.
Now excuse me, Trap Queen is calling.
“Baby girl you’re so damn fine though. I’m tryna know if I can hit it from behind though.”
~”679″ by Fetty Wap
P.S. After posting this blog on Facebook my mother commented: “Clearly I didn’t know all this. But I’m relieved to know that when I suspected you were surfing porn sites in your teens, you were only attempting to find a boy friend.”
NOTHING’S CHANGED MA. STILL SURFIN’ THE WEB LOOKING FOR THAT WIFEY DICK.