I am a theatre geek.
I graduated from college with a degree in journalism AND theatre (one for my parents, one for me.)
I love the way a story comes to life on the stage, with all the visual elements tied in. And while I'm a novelist as well, in my mind, my stories always have a cinematic or theatrical aspect to them.
We just got back from a whirlwind weekend in New York City, a place that solidified my love of theatre years ago when I studied at Circle in the Square.
I had a teacher who suggested the summer intensive program, and I was intrigued. Some of the best teachers in the country, faculty at Julliard and people with real acting credits, taught there. I wanted to learn from them.
So the last semester of my sophomore year, I drove in to Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago to audition for a wispy man who ran the school at Circle. Looking back, I wish I'd chosen a different contemporary monologue, but at that point in my life I still thought I had to mold myself to be who other people wanted me to be.
Sometimes I feel like I'm still learning that's not true.
Anyway, weeks later, I got the acceptance letter.
I was going to New York City.
Keep in mind that I am a small town girl. I grew up in Dixon, Illinois, and with the exception of a few poorly executed family vacations, I didn't get around much. And yet, somehow, I had it in my mind that the city held something for me that the Midwest didn't.
And I was right.
My dad took me to New York the summer before my Junior Year. He got me settled in NYU housing where I was living in a suite with four other girls. I had one very loud, semi-obnoxious suitemate who loved the phrase "the bane of my existence" (which I had never heard before) and one wonderful, sweet roommate who was in the city studying Journalism.
She got to meet Rosie O'Donnell on the set of Harriet the Spy. Apparently, she wasn't very nice.
I remember standing in my room after my dad left (and prayed for me–as a parent I now realize how hard that must've been), looking down on all the people, making their way in a foreign land that felt so big and frightening. How did they do that? How did they make it look so easy?
I remember three days in, crying in the shower, certain I had made the biggest mistake of my life. What made me think I could ever figure out somewhere as big and scary as NYC? I was the girl who couldn't even spend a whole week away from home at summer camp.
I was terrified.
I had a crash course in how to get around in the city from my former teacher who now lived there. I don't know what happened to her, but she was the tour guide who taught me the subway system and walked the entire commute I needed to take to get to school each day. It was a hike to get from Union Station up to Broadway and 50th.
And she was sure I could do it.
So that made me sure I could do it too.
Needless to say, I got my bearings eventually, and weeks in, people on the street were asking me for directions around the city. It made my whole life. I didn't look like a tourist. I fit in. I felt like I'd conquered New York, which meant, of course, that I was invincible.
Going back this past weekend was part nostalgia, part excitement and part fearful college girl all over again. But if there's one thing I've learned, it's that if you're ever going to grow, stretch, challenge and change, you have to step outside your comfort zone.
And when that becomes comfortable, you step out again.
That's where the good stuff is…