The best part of going to sleepaway camp in Pennsylvania was getting to be in the camp musicals. At the beginning of each four-week session, we would all audition and then wait impatiently for the cast list to go up. Every morning when we lined up by cabin on the lawn before breakfast, those of us who had put our hearts on the line, a cappella, would glance nervously at the bulletin board outside the dining hall to see if that hand-written list was there. A few years later, at theater camp in New York, I remember nonchalantly walking past the vast empty wall of the Playhouse to see if that session’s shows had been cast.
And for a long time, it was that image that showed up in my dreams: the piece of paper, the list of names, pinned to the wall like the 95 Theses and just as important for a pre-teen would-be-star. I thought there was nothing worse than coming into the dining hall, seeing the cast list on the wall, and eagerly running my finger down the list of names, only to find that mine was not there (or worse, that mine was so far down the list that the part had had to be practically invented to find me something to do–I’m looking at you, Camp Riverbend production of Peter Pan, with your forty Lost Boys!).
In high school, when I actually started getting cast in proper shows in lead roles, I graduated from Not Getting Cast dreams to Not Knowing My Lines dreams. I dreamed about finally getting to play Amalia Balash in She Loves Me, but arriving for opening night never having seen the script or the score, not knowing my blocking, and the whole thing ending with the theatre going down in flames. I dreamed that I had agreed to step in at the last minute in a role that I thought I knew, but actually had never even heard of before. I dreamed of getting onstage and singing music that had nothing to do with the show I was in. It was terrifying, but not as bad as what I seem to have moved on to now.
If you guessed Disappointing Myself dreams, you were oh, so right. This is what happens, blogosphere, when you advance far enough into a career like this one, and you realize that getting cast or hired is truly a minute possibility, so the best you can do is, well, to do your best. Rock that audition, sing the crap out of that recital that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, be impeccably musical and well-prepared at all times. And in a career in which rejection is a fact of life, you end up relying on those things to bolster your sense of artistic self-worth. “Well, I may not have gotten cast, but I gave the best performance I possibly could.” It makes a difference, of course.
This week I think I’ve had a Disappointing Myself dream every night. I’ve mostly forgotten them, thankfully, but last night, I dreamed that I sang Debussy’s Ariettes Oubliées for my college opera director, whose good opinion I treasure, and it was an absolute mess. He was at the piano (which isn’t accurate, but this is a dream, after all), and there was somebody else there, to whom he would periodically address comments like, “She’s still counting the wrong eighth notes!” (Oh, horror!) Finally, we got to the end of the last song, which was a disaster, my director shook his head sadly, and I saw myself practically doubled over in tears. A second later, I woke up, 6:15 AM, diaphragm spasming with sobs, my face wet. It wasn’t only the sense of disappointing someone whom I deeply respect, but also the feeling that I was capable of so much more, so much better, and I simply couldn’t deliver.
I don’t think it’s only singing-related stress that brings on a dream like that one. It’s speaking French, it’s misunderstanding a simple question, it’s knowing how to pronounce Italian but still managing to sound like I’m speaking French, it’s sitting in my room and watching the sky darken from bright blue to black and feeling like I should go out and do something Parisian, but I can’t be bothered.
It’s eight months’ worth of living-abroad stress, which is enough to bring on any nightmare.
P.S. There are pretty singing dreams too.