Below is an entry I wrote in July during a crisis of confidence regarding “O Negative.” It’s a response to some feedback I got at the time.
July 12, 2018:
I really thought O Negative was good when I wrote it. I really thought it was! And now I’m realizing that I’m just a lowly college student who doesn’t know what she’s doing. This play did come from my heart. This play is my baby. This play, as of now, is my masterpiece. Maybe it’s not a jaw-dropper, but it shouldn’t be; I’m just starting out. The point is that it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, so when I’m told I’m leaving money on the table, it really hurts. That it needs this and it needs that when, frankly, I don’t think it needs those things, is damaging.
I completely lost my passion last night. I went into that room with no spark. I agree with the feedback that Callie can have more nuance. But last night…I just left her out to dry. The thing is…the THING is…this feedback was not warranted. But I can’t argue, I can’t dispute, so how do I get my power back? How do I believe in the work that I believed in so whole-heartedly 6 weeks ago?
Well for starters, Bella, you need to take responsibility. This inadequacy you’re feeling is on you. You’re choosing to listen to criticism from one person rather than affirmation from everybody else. You are choosing to give your power away.
You must release the pressure to make this show a “success.” How does one define success, anyway? As W said yesterday, you don’t go to war with the army you want, you go to war with the army you have. What’s the definition of gratitude? Being content with what you have. You have a lot, so embrace that. What do you love about the show?
Well, I think the dialogue’s fun. I think Callie and Dustin and Charlie are spit-fire characters. I think it’s purely fun. I also think it’s painful. And we should just be ourselves. What does your guru always say: underacting is a far worse crime than over-acting, in the acting courts. Is this coming from my heart? Believe in what you say. Care. “There’s still acting in acting.”
I think it’s good to be big. That’s what the theatre is about. Yes, it still has to come from truth. But truth doesn’t have to equal boring. Plus, anyone who’s met me knows that I am inherently theatrical. I’m pretty voluminous and I say stupid shit. And so does Callie because Callie is me. So when I’m told she’s not believable, I hear that I am not believable. I’m not just doubting my performance; I’m doubting my whole person. I’m doubting the presentation and expression of myself in my everyday life.
Was I pretending to be something I’m not? Am I pretending to be something I’m not? Maybe I can’t be completely honest with the full cast…but I can be with some, and that’s something right? I feel like I could have heart to hearts with each of them, but for the sake of building a confident team, I can’t be vulnerable with all of them. God, everything changed when I got my support system. That’s been the biggest struggle of this entire process: not having a support system. I was told before I started that support would be essential, and somehow I dropped the ball.
But I can’t change that now…I can’t start this process over…maybe the cast won’t respect me. Maybe they won’t look up to me. Maybe they think I’m an amateur. Maybe they won’t want to work with me again. But…I can’t control those things. I mean, there’s literally nothing I can do about them. And I don’t need these people, right? Sure, I need them for this piece, for this work, and they’re amazing, and I love them, and I’m so incredibly grateful for this team.
But I don’t need their validation to keep going, right? So why do I so crave it? Isn’t their simply acting in my show validation enough?
When I started writing O Negative, I dreamed about it being produced. And it was my big project. I’ve been working on it for over a year! So for it to be happening now, for me, is huge. But maybe to everybody else, it’s small…maybe it’s a short, conventional play with an “academic” approach and maybe it’s nothing special.
But what do I believe? I believe that each person is special; that each person is unique, authentic, soulful; that each person has a story to tell. And that’s why we’re doing this. That’s what theatre is about. That’s what acting is about. It’s about the characters, about the people. So I need to find a way to come back to myself.
Putting my all into O Negative–which is what I’m doing–well, it sets me up to get hurt. But guess what: all of my insecurities, all that makes me feel vulnerable–these are things to take PRIDE in. To take OWNERSHIP of. To CLAIM as my OWN!
I AM 19! I AM A FIRST-YEAR COLLEGE STUDENT! I AM A NEWBIE! I AM AN AMATEUR! GOOD FOR ME FOR DOING THIS! DEAR UNIVERSE, PLEASE HELP ME VALIDATE MYSELF.
I have some fucking great mentors in my life. What does K say: “When we approach a work, we need to approach it fully, honestly, and respectfully.”
What does D say: “Do I believe in the work?”
What’s important in life? Love.
What is theatre about? Authentic self-expression.
I am open. I am open! I closed myself yesterday. I didn’t let Callie out. I stifled her. Because Bella was scared. Oh Callie, I am so sorry I did that to you. I love you so much, Calliope Clare, I really do. You are me! And I am you! And you are going to be a part of me forever!
I don’t care how scared Bella is.
She is not going to get in your way.
You are going to shine, Calliope Palmer, you are going to get your say.
You’re so incredible at filling a space. That’s something Bella doesn’t always do so well.
Or, ok, maybe she does, but she often feels uncomfortable doing it. She often squelches herself. That’s why she carries so much tension in her throat.
That’s why she often loses her voice.
That’s why she’s most honest online.
Because she’s afraid of upsetting other people and prioritizing herself.
She goes up and down. She has good and bad days. She had a great fucking freshman year. But this process has taken a toll on her. She’s reverted back to a lot of old habits. She’s progressed in her recovery, sure, but in her self-confidence? Nope. Backtracked.
I wanted to be more open and honest with the cast than I feel I have been.
Now I’m feeling embarrassed. Embarrassed that I care so much. Maybe I care so much about something that everybody else is going to see as nothing. Maybe because I care so much, everybody’s expecting something great. Maybe they’re going to be let down.
September 5, 2018 – Dear Bella:
I look at the self-doubt you’ve put down on this page, and I’m astonished: astonished by the growth you’ve made in 2 short months. By voicing these fears when you did, you were able to let go and release them. And let me tell you, hon, you did not let anyone down.
This blog is meant to empower. But empowerment comes from truth. The truth is, you’re not confident all the time, and with deep caring comes deep vulnerability. These words don’t reflect weakness, no; what they reflect is honesty and strength. For that, they are worth sharing and embracing as part of your journey.
Reporting live from your Center Heart,
Present Day Self
In closing, I would like to say that the opinions expressed here are entirely my own and may not resonate with everyone; take what you like and leave the rest. If you liked what you read here, I invite you to share it, as these messages are for all.
Photos from O Negative, July 2018, Hudson Guild Theater, NYC: