Growing up, I was always more comfortable with adults than kids my own age. I was an only child, my single mother worked long hours, and I spent a lot of time hanging out with much older people. My best friends were my babysitter Mrs. Stobie and my neighbor Mr. McShane, both of whom were in their 60s. We played Rack-O (great game, by the way) and listened to NPR. They encouraged my love of Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw; my interest in the past was cute and precocious to them but bizarre to my peers. Two girls dropped me as their best friend in elementary school because I was dead weight — you'd never become popular with me hanging around. But what my classmates thought of me was less important. Pleasing adults made me feel safe and secure; my parents divorced when I was two, and I sometimes felt more like a mediator than their child. When it was calm with them, it was calm for me.
This translated beautifully into my passion for theater. Directors and stage managers loved my desire to be obedient and cooperative. Showing up on time, learning your lines, being quiet backstage, and remembering basic stage blocking get you a lot of praise. I developed close mentor relationships with acting teachers and directors, and the theater was my safe zone. People were nice to me there, and acting came naturally.
When I was accepted at The Juilliard School, it felt surreal. Thousands of people audition, and they accept around 20 actors per class. To quote Melanie C's song "Rising Sun," "I'm filled with hopes I never dared to dream before." It felt like such an endorsement of me as an actor, maybe even me as a person. This meant I wasn't deluded; I was good enough to be a professional actor. It was also a chance to move to New York City and individuate from my mother. The faculty will love me just like my acting teachers and directors did back home. I'll play Rosalind in As You Like It and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and perhaps even tackle Hermione in The Winter's Tale — I'd already memorized her big monologue.
I couldn't have been more wrong. It started going south on the very first day.
At Juilliard, attendance and punctuality are very, very important. If you're late three times, it counts as an absence; if you're absent five times, you're placed on probation. Probation means you could be expelled at the end of the school year. This was no problem for me — I'm always on time and usually early.
The first class for freshman is an early-morning movement class. I showed up, on time (duh), and was immediately chastised by the teacher in front of the whole class for being tardy. This was horrifying. I had been so careful; how could this have happened? Thankfully, my classmates came to the rescue and pointed out that the classroom clock was fast. The teacher backpedaled into a lecture about the importance of punctuality, but the experience was unnerving.
It didn't get better from there. It seemed I had an intellectual understanding of what the faculty wanted but was unable to "get out of my head," as acting teachers are fond of saying. I also had bad posture and shuffled my feet: "You're a pretty girl with such UGLY physical habits. I don't know if we'll ever be able to undo them." My movement work was subpar: "You do well for someone with no natural ability." But worst of all was my obedience. What had been my greatest strength was now perceived as laziness and passivity. It seems I had been trained too well as a kid actor. Instead of showing initiative and having opinions about my characters, I dutifully waited to be told what to do.