Lela’s inspiring article of how she got back her lost confidence and self-esteem after a traumatic time at drama school trauma through the Performance Course
The Joy of Performance
I had a dream. My dream was to take centre stage in a performance, and from there I would fly. Participating in the Performance Course enabled me to achieve this dream.
The Beginnings of the Dream
When I was a little girl of about four I was in a park with my mother and brother with a crowd of other children watching an entertainer when the funny man asked ‘would anybody like to sing a song?’ I believe I was up there within a flash.
I can’t remember what I sang but what I do remember is the way I felt after the performance. I felt really special and extremely loved. All eyes were upon me, and when I sat down, I felt this presence. I knew that all the children and their mothers were still staring at me. It felt good. It felt really good. It may have been just a few minutes, but the feelings were gorgeous!
Over the years I took part in various plays. During my early years at school, I was only given crowd scenes because I was such a shy, timid little girl, the teachers assumed I didn’t have a voice. Only the assertive, loud children were given speaking parts. Towards the end of secondary school, I performed in a couple of plays, and I was given some juicy characters to play. Then in my early twenties, I partook in a few more plays, and yes, it was exciting – but I wanted more?
For about ten years I forgot all about drama, well maybe I didn’t forget, performing, however, seemed like a distant dream. But then three years ago I was away on holiday, and a friend said to me, ‘what would be your dream job?’ I didn’t even think about it, ‘an actress, performing on stage of course!’
As soon as I got home, I didn’t waste any time. I found out about different drama schools in London. Within about a two month period I had an audition, and I got in! It was one of the major highs of my life! Probably because I had been told time and time again how difficult it is to get into drama school.
Additionally, I had extremely low self-esteem, and it seemed an unobtainable goal. But if there is a will, there is a way, as the expression goes.
Drama School Trauma
But drama school was not how I thought it would be. In short to was an abusive experience for me. The only way the teachers knew how to teach was to demean you, criticise you and patronise you. They thought the only way to get results was to shout and scream.
By the end of the first term, I had partaken in a love scene, taken part in an exercise that was meant to break down all barriers which involved touching each other in inappropriate areas and a scene from the holocaust which I found quite unbearable.
So here was a polarity – one minute I had had intense high feelings and the next my self-esteem hit rock bottom! By the following term, I had walked out. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was now really ill with complete exhaustion and flu. All the energy I had had drained away, and I wasn‘t sure how to get it back.
I realised that I may have had a dream, but drama school was not the place to achieve it. Additionally when you have a dream, a strong, deep desire you will do almost anything to get it. After that performing on stage was a no-go area. All the belief I had in myself had gone.
That was until I came across the opportunity to perform in one of Claire’s groups. I had done plenty of group work with Claire before so I felt confident that I would be safe and subsequently would be a very healing time.
But this would be different from all her other groups. The simple fact is that we would be performing to an audience!
A Turbulent Journey
The route to the performance was very turbulent. We would be devising a performance based on “Jason and the Golden Fleece”. Claire read us the beginning of the story, and I was totally confused. All these Greek-sounding names, how was I to differentiate between each character?
I was totally lost, and part of me felt “do I really want to do this”? But I knew from my experience of group work, especially Claire’s work, that just because I was feeling this now, it would more than likely change by next week as feelings often do. By the end of the first session, two people decided it wasn’t for them and left and I said to myself you can’t judge after the first session.
Anyhow over the next few weeks, we worked on the play and getting our heads around the story. But people were still coming into the group and then leaving. At times it made me feel really insecure, and I thought how can we possibly put a performance together?
One of the scenes in “Jason and the Golden Fleece” is when the ship gets caught in a really bad, disruptive storm which mirrored exactly what was happening in the group.
But as in the storm, we survived and found ourselves in calmer waters, and at last, the group began to gel which was just as well because the performance was imminent. It was hard to believe that in a few hours time we would be performing as a group.
Right up to the last minute we were going over the scenes and clearing up any confusion or misunderstandings. We were all playing various characters in the scenes, so every new scene we had to change costume.
For example, I could be playing ‘Medea’ in scene one, and then in scene two, it would be played by someone else and so forth. Well, I found this quite a confusing concept. Wasn’t it enough to concentrate on one character but to keep changing characters every scene would certainly be a challenge!
Tapping into Self-Belief
The play began with King Pelias marching up and down the stage with feelings of huge insecurities. Oh my god, that was me! I was in the first scene, the first one on stage. I had no one to follow, I couldn’t follow the crowd because there wasn’t one, I had to tap deeply into my self-belief, and that’s exactly what I did.
And that is how it began. Adrenalin was pumping through my veins throughout the show which pushed me to go higher and higher.
Everything was going really well. Whenever any of us were backstage, we would send positive energy and support to the ones on stage and empathised with how they were feeling. We had a basic structure of how the play would run, but most of it was improvised which was all part of the fun.
But then about halfway through, the group hit a hurdle. Suddenly no one knew who was meant to be on stage and who was playing what role. I felt that I wasn’t meant to be on stage, but then somebody said ‘you should be on stage as Medea’ and I thought that maybe I should.
So I got into my costume as ‘Medea’, but I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t know what part of the story we were at, and I was back and forth like a yo-yo. I went backstage for about the 3rd time to discuss who was meant to be on stage and where we were at in the story.
To the audience, it probably was very comical, but I went into a panic and completely blanked out. All my self-belief went out the window. But eventually, after what seemed like the longest 4 minutes of my life, we were able to rectify the situation, and from there the performance sailed and once more we were back on our ship, with us in control and at the helm.
Before we knew it, it was over. All the worrying, all the panic, all the stress and even all the tears. But it had gone really well.
So what we got confused a little bit half way through, but who cares? The audience didn’t seem to. They were clapping and cheering for us, and I thought, “this cheering is for us, this appreciation is for us and all the hard work we had put into it”. All the doubts and concerns that I had were quickly diminished in a flash.
Coming into my POWER
And there we have it. When the performance was over, I was on a huge high. At last, after many years of searching, I had played a main part. Although we all had. But for me, it was a huge achievement.
‘Medea’ in particular was an amazing part to play. I felt like a free spirit and in that role I had no doubts, no concerns and found a huge amount of self-confidence which pushed me to fly and fly.
And for the first time in 29 years I had taken centre stage and knew once more, the audience was looking at me and all those feelings of the time when I was four years old came flooding back. And my dream had, at last, became my reality!
Subsequently, since the performance, I have found a new inner, self-confidence. I now trust my instincts and am able to make decisions in all areas of my life that come from a very deep place within.
I have at last come into my power, and I now feel a woman totally. I know if I put my mind to it I can achieve anything I want to.
Of course, I couldn’t have done any of this without my fellow cast members, and I thank you for all your encouragement and support. And of course a huge thank you to Claire.
I highly recommend Claire and the groups she holds. One thing that is guaranteed, the space is always safe, whether you are in a scruffy theatre or a swanky arts centre.
Published in Making Moves Newsletter Autumn 2006
Commentary by Claire
There is nothing more pleasurable to me than witnessing someone find their freedom. Lela’s article tells her story of participating in the Performance Group earlier in the year.
Challenge was certainly the theme for this group. A total of five people came and went during the course of the group, all for very valid reasons. It is rare for one person to leave a group—let alone five and I salute the commitment of those who hung in and saw the process through. Such challenges come to test our resolve and commitment. How committed indeed are we to the changes we want to bring into our lives? While meeting challenges is part and parcel to life, drawing many strengths out of us, however, are we missing something by continuing to fight and struggle against insuperable odds?
Seeing Lela find her natural power and magnificence in the role of Medea clearly this was a fight worth fighting, and breathtaking to watch, as it was witnessing the achievements of the whole group. Every one of them shone in the final performance which played to a packed theatre, far exceeding all our expectations.