Three months ago, I was asked to reflect on my goals and expectations for this semester. At the time, I had none – what expectations could I possibly have about my first time out of the country? The months I would spend in the middle of Nowhere, Italy, in this big house with a bunch of people I didn’t know, studying art? I wanted to grow, I wanted to learn. I was told to expect big things from the Accademia; it will change your life.
And oh, did it ever.
In big ways, and in small ways. I learned how to speak a teeny tiny bit of Italian, and how to walk up big hills without passing out. I learned how to wash my clothes in the sink, and that wifi will be your worst enemy. I learned the names of at least 5 new kinds of wine, although I don’t think I could tell you how exactly they’re different. I discovered that eggs can make your whole day better, and that pizza delivery is something that I’ve been taking for granted for a long time.
I also learned that sometimes, one room can change your whole perspective on life. As a dancer, I pretty much live in the Sala Danza; there were days when I went in at 9:00 am and didn’t really leave until 18:30 or 19:00, if we ran over (I also learned military time). But being in one room for so long meant that you always had to discover new things about it, to keep it interesting. I know the texture of the pink wall in the back, that leaning against the white wall will get you covered in dust, that the emergency light comes on sometimes, that the windows are the most dangerous, and the most beautiful. But in reality, part of what makes this room so special are the people who come in and out of it. I was right to say that I am in good company for transformations, and to be honest, I don’t know if I’ve changed as much on the outside as I have on the inside (cliché, I know). Mentally, physically, spiritually even, the way I approach dance, art, and life has evolved so much in my time here. In fact, I think it’s almost better that I didn’t come here with goals – If I had, I don’t know if I would have been as open to everything I’ve learned.
And while all of our teachers have been the motivators for change, challenging us day after day to push ourselves and above all, breathe, the most inspiring people here are the students. My fellow artists. Most importantly for me, my fellow dancers, the 7 most incredibly divers and talented people I’ve known. A worry of mine was that I would hate being in a program with only a handful of other dancers, since it would be fairly problematic if there was tension in a group that is together literally all day, every day. Instead, I get to learn and create with these beautiful, talented, supportive people – which are adjectives which apply to the actors as well, to Genevieve and Monica and all of our teachers. Living at the Accademia has been challenging, I’m not going to lie. It’s a day by day process, and sometimes, those days are LONG. But it’s also an experience that I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else in the world.
“The same sun that I knew back home has the power to heal me here”
That’s a line that I wrote in my first blog post, just eight days into my semester here at accademia. My task today is to reflect on what I said 3 months ago, to confirm or deny my speculation of what my time here would be like. That particular line stands out to me because, at the time, it wasn’t a particularly important thought in the piece. I wrote about how hard I was working, and how beautiful it is to be here, but I said nothing about illness or sickness, nothing that would warrant a phrase that claimed I would be healed. But I wrote it. Something in my mind told me that this sun would do more than just illuminate fresh knowledge. There was something deeper that needed to be dealt with.
It’s also important to share that my first blog post conveyed a sense of optimism that I didn’t feel. For those of you who have never committed to a semester long intensive program renowned for training professionals in your chosen field in one of the most beautiful buildings and locations the world will ever know, please trust me when I say it’s intimidating. It’s more than intimidating: it’s scary, and there was a part of me that felt that it was too much. It’s an enormous responsibility to be the person that these masters and experts have agreed to train. The lurking fear that they would discover my talent l was insufficient haunted me. It followed me into every class, into every rehearsal, into every moment that preceded sleep. A dark spot in my heart leaked poison into my work that overtook even the most earnest encouragement from my teachers. It festered in my thoughts and threatened to hold my progress hostage. It was sickening.
That insecurity wasn’t born here. It’s been my greatest obstacle since the moment I decided to devote my life and studies to the art of theater. Who am I to try to claim a piece of that legacy? What does it mean if I fail today? What if someone else is better? Is the day coming when I will realize that I’m wasting my time learning this craft?
The answers to those questions didn’t come to me in an epiphany or a moment of clarity, nor were they handed to me by someone else. These answers are too deeply fundamental to my identity as an artist to be found so easily. I unconsciously and circuitously developed them as I stumbled through my education here at accademia, and while it was a painful and anxiety inducing journey to undertake, I came to a conclusion that was worth every moment.
Who am I to try to claim a piece of that legacy? I am a human being. I am a person with thoughts, feelings, and experiences who wants to utilize them into the creation of something beautiful. Theater is my chosen channel. Those are the only preconditions I need to fulfill.
What does it mean if I fail today? It means that today was a wonderful day, because I came that much closer to understanding what works, and using that knowledge to sculpt my voice. Most importantly, nothing about the progress I made today means anything about what I can do tomorrow.
What if someone else is better? I’ll attach myself to them and learn. We’ll blend our skills together and create something wonderful.
Finally, the most painful question; Is the day coming when I realize that I have wasted my time learning this craft? Had I answered the previous three questions differently, I might not yet be able to answer this yet. But if I devote myself to theater, and it feeds me, and it makes my parents proud of me, and it gives me the means to express a message that might affect just one person in a meaningful way, not a moment of time was wasted in my pursuit.
I was plagued by a concept of success that doesn’t apply to the study of art. Those measures, those checkpoints, those standards don’t serve any purpose other than to exacerbate weaknesses and diminish strengths. We’ve all heard this before. Wise people who have entire lifetimes to draw upon have tried to tell us, but we role our eyes at the words of advice that feel cliche and struggle with it as much as they did. I know I can’t convince anyone who hasn’t yet learned this lesson of its truth. To those reading this who feel the way I did, I didn’t write this to force these conclusions on you. I wrote it to convince you that those questions are necessary, and to find your answers you must commit yourself to that thing that scares you, lean into it, and when you feel that fear that speaks from the dark spot in your heart, quell it by moving forward in spite of it. Eventually, you will find that the poison loses its potency, and the creativity, passion, and talent that’s always been there will come out in a voice that is uniquely yours.
I was once waiting for a bus to take me to a remote town, that was suggested to me by the man who sold me the ticket, when I noticed a teenage couple sitting at a bench directly across from me. I could help but watch them interact. They were so playful with each other. In the midst of their teasing one another, I could tell they had dropped a coin but I wasn’t sure whether or not they had noticed. Headphones in my ears, I kept journaling- thinking nothing of it. When their bus arrived, the two of them got up and rushed to the font door. Before realizing they had left, I watched a homeless man sit down in the exact same spot and unknowingly place his left foot right on-top of the coin. By the time he had settled, the teens were gone. I figured the man would eventually see the coin. He never did. He kept shaking his foot up and down, like I do sometimes when I have too much energy. All the while the coin was under his foot. When my bus finally arrived, I managed to catch eyes with him from across the fountain. I motioned to his foot and he lifted. I never saw that man again.
How else do you explain it? I’m someone who likes to understand things. Slap on a reason and close up that box, understand the joke so you’re not the joke. But of course, thats not always how life works. And sometimes its funnier to not get the joke until its too late. …Or eleven days until you leave abroad. I was certain I knew what I had to work on when I first arrived here. An unfamiliar place, to figure out new things about myself. Discover what else was inside me. But how does one do that when you don’t know what baggage you’ve brought along with you? It turns out that was what I needed to discover. I needed a place where I was given the time to be me. To lie in the grass and to think about what got me here. It wasn’t all easy, and it wasn’t always given to me willingly, but when I was honest with myself- everyone listened. The old problems needed to be listened to.