The pictures dispersed through this post are from a trip I made to Stratford, Ontario in the early fall. A small town, home to Canada’s most prestigious classical theatre festival.
This is the home to my dream.
Since I was very young, its been my dream to perform. I was a dancer, singer and all around drama queen. I’ve always been very shy, until you got me onto the stage. Up there? All my inhibitions simply disappeared. “But, you are so quiet in real life!” family friends would say.
After high school, I was torn with the decision to go to University for biochemistry – I’ve always been a science nerd at heart – or to audition for musical theatre programs. I followed that little, scary twinge of intuition in my gut and accepted my entrance to a performing arts college in Toronto.
The transition from a small town to a very large city was big enough, but it was being thrown into a world where, suddenly, everyone around me had the same dream as me that was the real shock. In my small town, I was known as “the dancer,” “the singer. “Don’t forget me when you get to broadway!” my friends would say. Members of my church congregation would coddle me with compliments on my latest performance. I felt special. I felt unique.
And now I was training alongside dozens of others – whom mostly came from large cities with far more advanced training than I ever had – and I was no longer the best. I was good, but not the best. I became very quiet, feeling much more comfortable sitting in the back and letting the other dramatic extroverts get centre stage. I received very good comments from colleagues and teachers and was nominated for a prestigious award for excellence in all three disciplines. And yet, I felt forgotten. I felt unnoticed. I knew my teachers saw something in me. I knew I had talent. But I was too scared to let it show.
I was also bored. I felt forgotten, and thus I felt unchallenged. I felt unnoticed, and thus I felt unstimulated. I felt like I needed to do more; have something more to focus on. I got a job to fill my weekends. I was the only one in my class to work.
Now here is where things get confusing. I am not sure what came first – the beginnings of my eating disorder or my loss of passion. I do know, that in my second year of college when I really began to feel forgotten and bored, I was unconsciously longing to once again feel special – like I did in my small town. I remember seeing myself in the mirror and realized I had put on weight (hello job at a bakery). I hated myself for it. Really, I know my hatred was rooted much deeper – in feelings of shame and failure – but this hatred was so much easier to judge through the lens of my body. So I told myself I’d lose weight.
From that moment on I was on a thrilling roller coaster ride. I began learning, for the first time, about “fat free” foods and how to be “healthy.” From a girl who grew up with two older brothers and could match their plates at the dinner table… from a girl who ate double the amount as any of her cousins at Thanksgiving… from a girl who’s favorite foods were pork and beans while camping and Dad’s potato casseroles… who’s metabolism was blasting from being so active in dance, volleyball and soccer… the notion of a salad for lunch was completely new to me. I never, ever thought about body image…in fact I sincerely did not understand the complaints other girls seemed to have about their body parts. But I quickly learned that having this new knowledge and discipline got me attention. I was being noticed again! Colleagues yearned for my willpower to have salad for lunch rather than their bowl of pasta. The “you’re so small!” comments beautifully fed my call for attention.
Honestly, I didn’t even notice I lost weight. All I can remember is the sense of accomplishment I felt when researching more ways to cut out fat. It was more the act of disciplining myself that was so intoxicating. But I did lose weight. To those who began to take notice, I easily brushed it all off as fine. And sadly, I really did think it was all fine.
Although I was busy and successful after graduating, my passion began to die. I wasn’t happy with the projects I was doing. I had large expectations for where I would get to upon graduating, and I wasn’t getting there. I found this embarrassing. I felt ashamed. As I lost more and more interest in my passion, I gained more and more interest in food and exercise. Or was it the other way around? Regardless, this is how I coped.
I stopped performing. I went backpacking in South East Asia and then moved to Halifax to study Nutrition in University. Once again I felt unchallenged. Bored. I was isolated on a small campus where I had no creative outlets. I quickly learned how detrimental this is for me. I learned that without creativity and art, I drown.
I became clinically depressed. I lost myself and I lost more weight than I ever thought I could. I began to get help, and after a serious medical scare, was forced to finally admit my condition to my parents. How I got through the year – with such high marks – is beyond me. All while obsessively exercising, isolating myself, and growing more and more fearful of food.
After quitting school and spending a year feeling determined that I could change this around myself (always stubborn and independent), I finally accepted I could not do it alone. I had moved back to Toronto and had began to audition once again, but it was evident that I would never be taken seriously with my appearance. This broke my heart. I submitted myself into Eating Disorder treatment programs, and the day after my birthday, began intensive inpatient treatment.
I lived on the psychiatric ward (beginning as an overnight patient and then graduating to day status) for six months. I will be speaking of my experience in the hospital in another post, so for now, will just say that I got through the program, gaining the weight I was told I needed to gain. Every day reminding myself why I was doing this….. because I wanted to act. I wanted to follow my dream.
As my health came back, so did my passions. And boy did they come back. They came back with a vengeance.
A year and half later and here I am. Feeling more certain than ever of my dream and what I want to do. I returned to my auditions and worked on a number of independent film projects. But my heart has always lived on the stage and in classical theatre.
Deciding whether or not to enter into my current training conservatory was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I had directors tell me that by leaving what I was currently doing, I would be giving up on my potential film career. But by god that pulling in my gut just would not leave me alone. I knew I needed this classical training – this credential – to get into the doors I wanted to get into. I knew I needed this to get to my dream stage. No, it may not get me the big bucks that the film industry would. Yes, I could be leaving behind a more successful career. No, there were no certainties. But I had to try.
Amidst continual feelings of shame and failure – for being an older member of the company – I continue to hold on to the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing. Everyones’ journey is different. Mine has just been a bit more…eclectic?… than some others’. I’ve done many different things in my young-ish life. I’ve had far more life experience and have learned more about the human condition than I ever thought I would. Not saying that I would have chosen to do so… but living on a psych ward definitely gives an actor a great deal of insight into the human condition.
I feel like I’m fighting every day. Fighting for my dream – against my feelings of embarrassment and of being a “failure,” and fighting this damn eating disorder that every day tries to take my dream away from me. I still fall into phases of serious depression. But I’m fighting. I’m fighting every day because this is what I want to do. If it takes me half my life to get there… so be it. If I have to take the long route to get there and train amongst people younger than me… so be it. I can’t change the past. I can only continue fighting for the future.
Its a good thing I still look like I’m 16 :).
In addition to all of this, I want to now make an honest confession. I’ve been debating how/when/if I’d even do so for a while now, and its proving to be very hard. When I first started this blog, I was scared. I was scared about the safety and privacy issues of the internet. I was nervous about being “found.” So I used a name that was not mine. A family name – but not my real name. This is still how some of you may know me. For this, I feel guilty, and very sorry. I knew immediately that using this name did not feel right, which is why I then began using no name at all. I hated the feeling of lying to people – people who, over time, I have now established connections with and feel a great amount of respect for. I never thought blogging would do this. But it has.
So, my name is Cora. Yep. Thats me. I’m truly, deeply sorry if you have ‘known’ me since I established myself with a different name, and I hope with all my heart this does not discount your trust in me and what I write. Like all of us, I am learning. And I make mistakes. Every day. But I want to just be me now.
So…Hi? Nice to meet you – again. And that? That’s my dream theatre behind me. That’s where I will be one day.
Stratford Festival Theatre. My dream.
Wowwww What a week. As they all are… If I’m learning anything…