In the summer of 2002 I went to Circle in the Square Theatre School and had one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It changed me in many ways. I had grown up watching Fame on TV, and the thought of going to an Art School in NYC was an impossible dream. Acting, Dancing, Shakespeare, Movement, and Singing! (sound of needle scratching off record…..)
Wait!! What?!? Singing? I did NOT sign up for that. I had auditioned and was accepted into the Acting Program…not the Musical Theatre Program. There must be a mistake!
Nope. It was no mistake. Apparently even in the Acting Program there was mandatory singing instruction once a week.
So, I’ve never been a singer although when I was a child my Mom said all I did was swing on the swing set in our yard and sing. I would do it for hours, all year long. It could be -30 degrees and snowing and I would get bundled up to go swing & sing. I would sing songs I knew or I would make up songs – I just loved to sing. Then one day in grade three I was in music class and all the boys had to stand in front of the girls and sing a song their group was working on that week. Then the girls got up to sing for the boys. When we were finished our song the teacher asked the boys what they observed, and a few of them said as they snickered, “we don’t know, all we could hear was Kelsey!!”.
So that was the end of my singing career. I felt a little embarrassed of course, but I don’t remember it being devastating. The reality is that I’m not a good singer and that’s ok. I never sing in public and I definitely won’t sing if there’s no music playing so I’ve never understood the whole singing-in-the-shower thing. The only time I sing is when I’m listening to music I love when I’m alone, or at times when I’m in the company of very good friends when the music and everyone else is louder than I am.
So when I found out that we had singing class at Theatre School I said to myself, “Kelsey. You got this. You don’t need to be a terrific singer, you just need to find a piece of music to play around with. Your classmates are awesome and supportive and won’t judge you, so there’s no need to worry about anything”. So I chose Gershwin’s Summertime and went to my first class. Most of my classmates were joking about how they were tone deaf and said they had the same reaction I did when finding out there was a singing class involved in the program. I was in good company. One by one my classmates stood up in front of the class to sing a small portion of their music so the instructor could listen. It seemed super relaxed. Then all of a sudden I felt this surge of something strange rising up in me. At the time I thought it was just nerves so I told myself to relax and that everything would be fine. I knew if I didn’t volunteer I wouldn’t have to go up that day anyway because we weren’t going to get through every student in one class, but this awful sensation continued to grow. I felt it in the pit of my stomach and it was rising to my throat so I pulled my knees up to my chest and hugged my legs while I listened to a couple more students. Then my eyes starting to well up with tears, so I pulled my hoodie over my head. I kept trying to talk myself down but the feeling grew stronger and stronger no matter what I did. I finally had to leave the room because I didn’t know what was going to happen next.
I walked out and went down a long hallway and up some stairs to the woman’s washroom. I was a complete disaster. I locked myself into one of the stalls while the voices in my head started freaking out:
What the hell is wrong with you!!!
It’s ok, it’s ok, there’s nothing to be scared of.
Snap out of this! You’ll be fine.
What is happening???
I finally started to compose myself and made my way back towards the classroom, but as I got closer the feeling grew bigger and stronger. This happened a couple of times so I’d end up back in the bathroom trying to keep myself from going hysterical. At one point I left the school to walk around outside. Maybe I just needed some fresh air. The voices in my head were like rapid fire and I didn’t know what else to do to. I got to a point where I couldn’t breathe, there was ringing in my ears, my heart was pounding, and I thought I was going to end up in the Hospital. It was like every cell in my body was trying to stop me from being anywhere near that music room. It felt like I was possessed.
I found my way back into the building and again headed for the bathroom. I don’t know how long it had been since I left the classroom, but eventually one of my classmates Dave decided to come and find me. I guess the class was concerned so Dave volunteered to investigate. I heard him come into the ladies washroom and call my name so I left the safety of my little stall and we walked outside together. We sat outside near the entrance of the school and I don’t remember what I said to him, if anything. He told me a little bit about himself and what had brought him to Circle in the Square. I sat with my hoodie over my head, rocking back n forth and just listened. He convinced me to walk back to the class, but that I wouldn’t have to go inside the room. There was a couch right outside the door, so I could just hang out on the couch until class was over (which at that point was in 5 min). We walked into the school, down the stairs and the long hallway toward the classroom. It was hard and I was struggling but I made it to the couch. Everyone left the room and I felt pats of love and support on my head as they all walked past me. I spoke to the instructor and told her that I had no idea what had just happened to me. She had the accompanist play my music and she asked me to try and sing a tiny little bit now that everyone had left. I don’t think I was able to do much but I tried.
For the rest of the summer I sat in class but I was never asked to stand up to sing. I enjoyed listening to everyone else, and I wished I could get up there as well but it didn’t happen….until the very last day. I woke up late and I was hungover from the night before. Self sabotage at its finest. I debated about going into class at all which I was already about 30 min late for, but something inside me made me go. I walked into class and was received with excitement and surprise from my classmates. I stood up in front of the class and tried to sing a bit of Summertime. As soon as I stared the tears started pouring down my face and I felt like I was being punched in the stomach over and over again. It was insane! My body was doing everything it could to fight me but I stood there and did it anyway. I didn’t get very far but I sang the first four lines, albeit through uncontrollable sobs, but I did it.
Dave is now one of my dearest friends and I’m so grateful that he came to find me that day in the ladies washroom.
Today I was speaking with someone about my new website, and I told her that I’m really enjoying writing the blog posts. She knows that I’ve been struggling to write the two books I have on the go, but I told her that the blogging seems so natural to me and that the feedback I’ve been getting has helped motivate me. She said that I’ve come a long way from when I had that panic attack back in Theatre School…but I didn’t really grasp the connection. Then she looked at me and said,
“you’ve finally found your voice”