Copyright 2010 by Kailey Bray
This story describes one of my scariest moments and how it contributed to my life as an actor.
“How did I get myself into this?” I thought to myself, wobbling ten feet in the air. When my seventh grade teacher told us that we were going to the nearby ropes course, I envisioned some kind of magnificent tree house, not this tightrope hell. The image in my mind battled with the scene in front of me as I started up the log bridge to the maze of wires winding through the treetops. There were no real handholds or visible means of support and I was acutely aware how every movement shook the thin wood, so high off the ground.
When I reached the first leg of the course, a thin rope with wire “rails,” my heart beat faster and I forgot I was attached to a safety line. The line moved and jerked as I tried to walk, every step felt like a step into thin air, but I continued until a tree blocked me. The instructor told me I could only continue the course by climbing up and around the tree. Of course, I could only use my thin, eleven year old arms and the metal staples sticking out of the tree. Oh, and I would need to unfasten my karabiners from the safety line and transfer them to a new one on the other side. Staring all the way down to the forest floor, I refused with every fiber of my being. It was crazy, I wouldn’t to it. NO. I took a breath- looking at how far I had to go-and clung to the tree. While transferring my karabiners, I happened to glace ahead and noticed more trees blocking the course. I was too afraid to count them, but I knew there were a lot. I was doomed.
The next section, a slippery line of wooden planks, also had an unforeseen obstacle, the course leader. “Let go of your lifeline,” he said, “hold your arms out, you’ll balance better.” I shook my head, unable to speak. My knuckles were already white from gripping the line; my eyes leaking were terrified, frustrated tears; stomach was burning and knotted with fear. But he was standing in my way and he wouldn’t leave me alone. I tried to walk, shuffling along, arms outstretched, but I lost my balance. A sudden shock, and I hung limply in space. Resting there, trying to breathe, realizing that the fear of falling was far more painful than the falling itself. The leader helped me up and I continued on my way, but this time, I held the lifeline. When I finished that section, I looked longingly at the shortcut, built for those who couldn’t make it through the whole course. But I would not finish this traumatized and unfulfilled. I began to muddle through the rest of the course, always looking at the platform ahead of me, the end of the course. When I finally reached that firm wooden platform, I wrapped my arms around the tree and stood there, trying to breathe, barely avoiding throwing up all over the place. When the instructor sent me down on the zip-line, I zoomed through the trees, looking at them with a new fondness. They had been the only things that had truly kept me from falling.
I also discovered a lot as I struggled among their branches. Not only did I find my fear of heights, I realized that perseverance could overcome pain and uncertainty. My struggle showed me that the unknown, and the fear of the unknown, is just a state of mind, one that blows everything out of proportion until even simple things seem terrifying. On the course, I didn’t know why I feared falling, because, in my mind, I knew that I was attached to a wire that would not break. I now know that I just felt more secure and comfortable standing on the rope instead of dangling in the air. Being supported was my “comfort zone”.
In Drama, I am told constantly to go out of my comfort zone, and it always makes me remember the moment I started the course. So, I push myself until my knees are trembling and I feel like I’m going to faint or throw up, and I know I’ve succeeded. Once I reach that point, my artistic possibilities are endless. I have no inhibitions. Once, I was given a “Lip-Synch Assignment” in Acting class. I had to choose a risky pop singer, become that person, and lip-synch to one of their songs. I ended up with Britney Spears and her song “I’m a Slave 4 U.” That music video had frightened me before I knew I would have to emulate it. But I learned the choreography and performed the song for my classmates clad only in a bra and sarong. It was such a wild experience because the activity and strangeness put me so far outside myself that I wasn’t afraid anymore. Being out of my comfort zone allowed me to be honest in my role, because I wasn’t tied to myself. Thus, I was only able to truly relate to the character if I let go of my fears and took the fall, only then could I reach my full potential as an actor.
As a student, I also need to be willing to make mistakes and seem weak or off-balance. The purpose of school is to learn, and so I must be able to admit that I am wrong or ignorant about all kinds of things. For example, in Precalculus, I made bad grades on my first couple quizzes. I tried to struggle though on my own, but I never really improved. My grades only got better when I asked the teacher for extra practice problems. In that moment, it was not about what I could do or could not do. It was about what I was too uncomfortable to try. However, by admitting I needed help, which was out of my “comfort zone,” I as able to better myself and my work.
My biggest surprise was my refusal to take the shortcut. I didn’t understand why I was so hard on myself, but I knew that I didn’t want to take the easy way out. I now appreciate that inner stubbornness that refuses to let me quit. When I act, work out, or do school work, I always push myself, I never simply do what’s expected of me. If I were concerned with living and working superficially, I would never develop as an artist or a person. It takes effort to work with characters that are different from me or read plays I do not understand, but I do it. I push myself through difficult tasks and subjects so that I can be educated. As an educated, versatile performer, I will be able to get the parts that I want and live my dream. On and off the stage, I will never refuse to do something just because it is scary or unfamiliar. I know now that such situation can help me discover essential things about life. I found myself, and a new appreciation for trees, while I was swinging precariously ten feet above the ground. It never occurred to me that I needed to climb in order to grow.
I'm a 17 year old future Juilliard student. I'm a Canadian immigrant living in the US but hoping to return to my Chinese roots. Culturally confused, artistically inclined, and poverty stricken. Heading to New York with only my notebook, my writer's sensibilities and my actor's instincts.
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