New Paltz was my home during my freshman year of college; a hippy town that housed an artsy school renowned for its drama department. I’d go to the campus theatre, an intimate space near my dormitory, to witness plays unfold. Plays that were heartfelt and pure. I’d sit in my seat, peering at actors who had the capacity to move you. To be raw, emotional and authentic in front of an audience.
As I absorbed these productions, something stirred in my bones — something that I felt a long time ago. Childhood dreams.
As a young girl, I’d dance to Paul McCartney’s “This One” in our Brooklyn apartment. My feet would pick up movement as soon as the chorus kicked into gear; I’d prance across the living room floor to the beat of the electric drums and bass.
In our old living room, I was hungry for the attention of the video camera. I showered family members with performances at four years old, performances that featured made-up melodies and words. Gibberish. Still, the desire to entertain was evident even then.
During my grade school years, I longed to be immersed in anything that correlated with the performing arts. My dream of becoming a pop star was detailed in a book of commentary, musings, and concert schedules. According to my descriptions, my “boss” was named Bill, my friends were all the boys from ‘N Sync (naturally) and I lived in a large, beige house on the dead end of a winding road, right by the sand dunes of Rockaway beach. “Lauren also does choreography at her own dance studio twice a week,” I wrote in black pen. “She puts on recitals in June.”
At ten years old, I’d pretend to be a version of Britney Spears, belting out the lyrics to “Sometimes” near the Rockaway shore, wading in the water for striking effect. I envisioned serenading my crush, the object of my affection.
I enrolled in a camp that specialized in musical theatre. For my solo performance, I had to sing “Part Of Your World” in front of a group of pre-teens and channel my inner little mermaid. When constructive criticism ensued, one girl said that I wasn’t present during the song. She was right; I couldn’t savor the spotlight. I couldn’t get a hold of the moment and make it believable.
During eighth and ninth grades, the stage began to uphold a different kind of meaning. Nerves. Stress. Feelings of discomfort. I wasn’t pining for the lead role in my middle school’s production of “The Pajama Game,” nor was I too keen on singing “My Heart Will Go On” during the audition. The auditorium was vast and overwhelming, and the people seated in place stared at me, eyes full of scrutiny. When my high school’s drama program announced the spring show, Les Miserables — one of the most beautiful and tragic broadway musicals to date — I couldn’t bring myself to audition. Aspirations were questioned. They were changing.
I started to wonder if it took a certain kind of person to dive into that business; perhaps one with a particularly thick skin. The type of thick skin that isn’t so easy for everyone to cultivate.
Meanwhile, I had developed a passion for writing at a young age as well. Journals became my outlet for sorting through thoughts, feelings, and life happenings. Writing encouraged expression and creativity. Sanity.
I’d write about family traditions, relishing in the comfort of familiarity. Nostalgia seeped through various lines, too, whenever I depicted endings. The end of a vacation. The end of a holiday. The end of living in Brooklyn. “Go with the flow,” was a sentiment featured in several entries. Go with the flow.
I wanted to tell stories. I participated in my high school’s journalism courses and joined the literary magazine, experimenting with sappy poetry. I’d sit in my room and pore over issues of Seventeen Magazine, reading and rereading the celebrity features, written in exquisite detail. I instinctively knew that I was going to pursue writing in college. And after that. You can’t touch everyone, but if you can touch at least one individual, it’s worth it. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ll always have a soft spot for performing, though — even if it’s on a much smaller scale. I’ll burst into sing-along mode with friends; I’ll revel in playful dramatics and silly antics; I’ll belt out ballads in the shower, top-notch acoustics and all.
And when I do go to the beach, I’ll always remember the young girl who’d sing by the shore. It was me back then, and it’s still me today.