April 12, 2007 - Amanda Silva
I sit on the pew, though I’m not praying. Maybe I should be, but I still take all of this with a grain of salt, having realized that auditions are a crapshoot.
Self-critical, unforgiving, I am not really designed for these endeavors or the expectations of an industry I fell into three years ago, not unlike Alice down the rabbit hole. But, the failure to try has always frightened me more than failure itself.
So, I sit on the pew, reviewing a script or side, sliding over on the well-worn wood to accommodate a colleague – often a familiar face, sometimes a complete stranger. My hope is always that the audition requires comedy, the commercial written to capitalize on a well-timed turn of phrase. Even better is the absence of any script, improvisation the only opportunity to avenue, to leave an impression. Making people laugh has long proven easier to do in person than on the page, and making things up as I go is, I realize upon reflection, my modus operandi.
Ten years ago, I sat down to write my first creative essay specifically for a personal essay course at Dartmouth College, where I happened to find myself – inexplicably. A terrible student, horribly unorganized and day-dreamy for most of my life, I had snapped to attention in high school – easy to do when another relocation positions you on the absolute fringe of any kind of social calendar.
Pursuing my Masters’ degree was nerve-wracking and inspired imposter-syndrome around every turn, but words remained my security blanket. I submitted an essay, “On Laughing at Death,” about my grandmother’s funeral, and was the first to suffer the scrutiny of that semester’s workshop – my first workshop ever. Now I wonder, would I have kept that bottle of Pepto-Bismol in my bag if I had even a glimpse of the parade of workshops that would follow, including those I would one day lead?
But, I wasn’t thinking about that. Instead, the Pepto remained within close reach, while I focused on striking a facial expression that I hoped wouldn’t betray me. A mask of calm to disguise the shock I felt. Sally Field’s Oscar acceptance speech played on loop in my mind, “You like me, you actually like me.” Somehow, the comedic misadventure that defined my grandmother’s funeral had actually landed for an audience larger than myself. My professor applauded my efforts, reminding us all that, “Comedy is tricky business. There’s nothing worse than telling a joke and being the only one laughing.”
She was wrong, of course. In a bout between embarrassment and fear, fear will reign victorious. Locking you in an anxious cycle that revolves to a rhythm: if things are going right, at any moment, those things will indeed fall apart. Keeping you in a job you hate, or tricking you into believing you are ready to abandon a teaching job that is no longer satisfying, so you end up working at Macy’s in your early thirties, relying heavily on the patient generosity of your parents. And instilling in you, since early childhood, a collection of repetitive ticks and troubled thoughts, despite your earnest attempts to regain control and show your mind once and for all who’s really running the show.
But, absent this villain – this worse thing – I would have precious little to write about and no real reason to distract anyone, myself included, with a turn of phrase or comical quip. Perhaps I only give fear an audience so I that might entertain one, too.
I perch on the pew – or page – waiting for my chance.
Amanda Silva writes creative nonfiction. Her work has been featured in bioStories, anthologized in bioStories’ Mothers and Other Creatures, Empty Sink, Emrys Journal, The Riding Light Review, Silver Birch Press, and Vine Leaves Literary Journal, anthologized in The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2012.
Amanda would like you to get to know more about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, an organization leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Amanda also suggests you learn more about the UpReach Therapeutic Equestrian Center which is dedicated to inspiring hope, fostering independence and improving the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of individuals with and without disabilities by partnering with the power of the horse. Visit, stjude.org and upreachtrc.org.