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Musicals at Camp

 

My brother was recently in a community theater production of HMS Pinafore (by Gilbert and Sullivan), singing his heart out, playing for laughs, and even doing choreography! It was awesome! But watching him have so much fun on stage reminded me of how bad my stage fright turned out to be – worse and worse as I got older, instead of better and better.

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“Food always helps me when I’m anxious.”

At my Jewish sleepaway camp we did a musical every summer. My first year in camp we did Cats, in Hebrew (someone had the job of translating all of these musicals into Hebrew for us, which sounded like hard work at the time, but now sounds like a lot of fun). I think our bunk did a small dance number, in cat costumes. The next year we did You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and I had a duet with a boy. I was Lucy, standing in my psychologist-is-in stand (foreshadowing my future), but my duet partner couldn’t remember his lyrics, so I did most of the duet myself, either whispering his lines to him, or singing them out loud myself when he whispered back, “huh?” I don’t remember being scared, even with the whole camp watching and listening to me in my blue booth. It was something of an out-of-body experience, though, because I don’t remember the rest of the show, or the rehearsals, just that moment in my booth, singing out to the crowd.

The next year we did The Sound of Music, but just as separate songs, not the whole show. I had solos in two songs that year. We learned our second song the morning of the show – So Long, Farewell – but from this one I only remember the rehearsals and nothing from the show itself.

I don’t think we had auditions for any of those early shows. Maybe my facility with Hebrew got me those roles, now that I think about it, though I’d like to believe it was because of my voice, or at least my memory for lyrics.

It was when I was twelve years old, my fourth summer at camp, that I balked. I went up onstage for the audition and I couldn’t make any words come out of my mouth. It was horrifying. I’d been taking voice lessons at home, and I’d been in an after school acting club, and those three musicals at camp already, but on that day I almost threw up on stage from nerves instead of singing, and then I ran out of the auditorium. They cast me in the chorus with a bunch of other kids who didn’t really want to be in the show, and we sang a couple of songs from the fifties, behind the soloists, as part of a musical revue.

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“Run!!!!!!”

I didn’t even bother to audition the following summer, when our age group did Grease, though I do remember being very jealous of the new girl who came in and snagged the lead role her first summer. She had a smoky alto, and a lot of confidence, and actually had chemistry with our male lead (who was the lead every year, if I’m remembering correctly, because he had a pure tenor and everyone liked him).

It was much more fun to go to the shows the other age groups put on, than to be in one myself, which should have been a clue that I didn’t really want to be an actress, but I didn’t take the hint. I even went to an Artsy day camp the next summer, dancing and singing and acting all day, every day, for two months. I kept expecting my fear to go away, but it refused to budge. And then I went to summer acting classes, when I was sixteen, and even signed up for The Actor’s Studio in the city, after dropping out of college that fall, but I had a severe panic attack on the first day and ended up in the bathroom, hyperventilating and crying, before the end of the first class. That was the final death knell for my career on stage.

It’s a big deal that I joined the choir at my synagogue this year, and have performed in public twice already. It’s a small step forward, but a good one. I don’t see myself doing community theatre any time soon, given the flashbacks of terror I felt while my brother was on stage, even though he himself was having a great time. But at least I’m not throwing up anymore. That’s progress.

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“I want to be on stage, Mommy! I’d be great!!!!”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

yeshiva girl with dogs

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

68 responses »

  1. Glad you’ve joined the choir. Your voice must be beautiful. You wouldn’t have been asked to do solos in the past if it wasn’t. I’ve read that some actors and actresses suffer terrible stage fright all through their careers.

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  2. Timothy Price

    Stage fright is no fun. I had stage fright when I was young, but I got better about it as an adult performing and competing in dance and playing guitar. I haven’t performed in quite a few years now. Really cute photos of your puppies. I’m about a 1/4 way through “Yeshiva Girl”. I’m really enjoying it. I have to read it in between doing other things, so it’s going along slowly at the moment.

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    • Thank you so much for reading YG! I could never manage a competition, that would be like performance stage fright on steroids.

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      • I think competition is easier than doing a performance. Back in the 1990’s, my wife and I would compete against each other dancing different partners. We always ended up competing against each other in the finals. She and whoever she was dancing with normally won, but by competing with different partners pretty much assured that one of us would win.

        I really like your writing style. Your prose have a good flow and it’s easy for me to imagine what your characters and places look like, even though you don’t go into great detail about your characters and places. That’s a real gift and makes your book a pleasure to read.

  3. Oh, my! I was your absolute opposite. Sure, beyond any doubt, that I was headed for stardom. And I was chosen, year after year, to sing the one line alto solo, or deliver the two lines of dialogue. That of course meant that I had to be at every rehearsal and then had to teach the other 25 altos all of the songs. I thought my talent was the stage, but it turned out that my talent was in teaching!

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  4. Yes. I agree. Not throwing up is always a good thing.

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  5. Cricket: “I’m ready for my close up Mr. DeMille.” In college I once played the lion in “Androcles and the Lion.” That’s about as far down the scale of acting as one can go. It’s about two steps below playing a tree in an elementary school production. Yeah, I did that, too.

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  6. It’s great that you’re back to performing.
    I hope when you played Lucy you didn’t pull the ball away from Charlie Brown 😃

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  7. Life provides lots of situations to give us fears and shut us down, so great job Rachel for having the courage to take some little steps to reclaim confidence in this area. Keep pushing forward and don’t look back. God Bless.

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  8. Love the photos of your dogs. I’m very confident talking in front of large numbers of people but they’d flee the room if I started singing – voice like a fog horn.

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  9. not throwing up is a big step forward
    I only sing when there’s no one around – I would sing to Max in the car because he couldn’t escape, although at times he appeared to want to jump out the window. I did, however, love performing. I’m trying to teach Maverick to dance with me – maybe you could get Cricket to dance with you and that would help your fear!

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  10. Not everyone is comfortable performing on a stage and there’s nothing wrong with that. Your gifting seems to be writing. So, maybe, you will write the book, which will become the play that others will perform on stage. 🙂

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  11. Well I understand the stage fright thing, I am a first soprano in my church choir and have told them I will not do solos. My college choir director talked me into doing one in a performance, back in my college days, that our college choir was doing for the public. Things were going well until I got to the 2nd verse and forgot the first line. UGH. I was able to pick it back up and continue but that was the end of that, fear of singing or speaking in public is a real thing! I will do and have done duets, quartets and choir pieces but not solos :P.

    I wish I could speak Hebrew, but I understand it is a difficult language to learn, Latin was hard enough and I’ve forgotten most of it now :P. You are a talented writer tho, and that is a good talent to have, at least you can do that in the privacy of your own home until it’s time to get it published. 🙂

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    • Thank you! I keep thinking I’m supposed to be able to overcome every fear and accomplish everything. It’s hard to remember my successes in the midst of all of that.

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      • Even when we do the things we can do best and the things we do well, we still will frequently feel duress. It’s normal and natural and if it’s more than you can deal with, then we have the right to say, I don’t think so :). I know I have a good voice, I hear that frequently, but the intimidation of singing by myself in public is more than I can deal with, so I compromise and practice my gift with others who share the same gift. My voice is still out there, just blended with others :). We are allowed to do what we can as we can, don’t discount your success because you are intimidated doing it in public by yourself, just find a way to do it so that you are more comfortable with. It doesn’t make it any less valuable :).

  12. BJ makes a great point. You have other talents!

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  13. The only time I was ever in a show was as Joseph, in the school Nativity Play. I was around 7 years old, and ‘Mary’ decided to keep kissing me! That put me off the theatre for life. 🙂
    I reckon your stage fright is a good sign, as it means you care about giving a good performance.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  14. My school had grades K-9 and in 9th grade, I was the narrator for our Christmas play–off stage. I was nervous but apparently did ok. In my adult work life, I have to do a fair amount of public speaking and after about 10 years realized I really like it (and people tell me I am good at it). I still get nervous, but I am talking about something I know, so that makes it easier. I wonder if something happened to you between years 11 and 12 to cause the shift in your confidence? Good post.

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  15. I’m right there with you. I still have nightmares about standing in front of large groups of people! 🙂

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  16. I can’t carry a tune-period.

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  17. I always DID want to be an actress. I’m a good mimic, a fair singer (not great), and I love the IDEA of being someone else. So one year I signed up for a community theater, which did a play entitled “Greater Tuna.” GT was originally a radio play with two men doing all the characters (changing their voices to suit which one they were playing at the time). It was set in the South and it was fun trying on my version of that accent. BUT. A real problem cropped up. I cannot EMOTE (apparently) and so I come across as wooden and robotic. I have a huge fear of public speaking and getting up on that stage was challenging, but I lost myself in the role I got and I didn’t have the stage fright I anticipated. Still. The AUDIENCE is hugely important (too) and you have apparently found your niche there. That’s not a bad thing.

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  18. I am so glad to hear that you are in the choir. What a brave step. I wouldn’t even think of performing, so I guess I have a real case of stage fright.

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  19. Oh, what might have been! How do you say ‘meow’ in Hebrew?

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  20. It sounds like you must have a beautiful voice. This from someone whose singing voice is so bad that my 4 year old asked me not to sing any more! I’m glad you joined the choir and are not freaking out about singing in your synagogue. And BTW, reading and singing in Hebrew…wow!

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  21. I have social anxiety, so stage fright’s a typical occurrence for me. In middle school, we did a musical and I really wanted the solo. But I didn’t raise my hand in time, so it went to a girl whose voice didn’t fit the part as well. During the show itself, though, I was so jazzed up by the fun of singing, I was ready to sing it (but couldn’t because it wasn’t my part). It felt like insult to injury. My anxiety has worsened with age, and I only sing for myself these days, so that could’ve been my only shot at fame. 🙂

    Joining your synagogue’s choir is a great step in gaining an edge over it. If you feel brave, you can belt it out and, if you don’t, you can let your voice blend in. Even baby steps deserve a kudos!

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  22. Glad to hear you are singing in the choir. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

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  23. I used to be that person who would rappel out of a helicopter but would rather die than speak in public. Then, in 2006, I started teaching hoping to get over my fear. Now I teach for a living. In March, I had a student recently comment that I seem so confident teaching and I replied, “Not at all. If you only knew (remembering how my throat used to quiver as I tried to speak and my mind went blank as used to look for the right words to say).” It’s great that you are in the choir but don’t let your fear keep you from taking on other roles. Take on small parts to challenge yourself and you might be surprised that you are not the same person that you were in summer camp. You have the comfort of knowing that you are not there to be the star, you are there just to walk across the stage. And if you do that, you were a success. Besides, I am confident that you will be great. You express yourself so well in your writing that I am sure you will able to do it through other media too.

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  24. There is nothing wrong with the experience of the unified voice of a beautiful choir. I never had a better musical experience than playing in a school orchestra at 10. The sound, the fellowship, and the harmony were inexplicably delightful.

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  25. I enjoy the image of you singing both parts of the duet in Charlie Brown – it makes me laugh a little 🙂
    And I would love to hear what some of these musicals sound like translated into Hebrew!

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  26. Of course, I can’t remember which ones, but there are performers who throw up right before they perform. Many of them have anxiety before going on stage. There are a lot of reasons to freak out before you go out there, but . . . . some people keep doing it. 🙂

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  27. Oh, Rachel, your story brought back my own memories of stage fright. I went off to rabbinical school at age 48, rather full of myself. As a child and young woman I had been very quiet and somewhat shy. Then I wanted to learn to leyn Torah, and didn’t know how to sing At All. The Cantor recommended singing lessons and I bloomed. Turned out I had a decent soprano and a big voice – who knew?

    Then in Jerusalem everything fell apart. I was taking some cantorial as well as rabbinical classes, on the cantor’s recommendation. The cantorial students, who were all voice majors and very young, began to make fun of me and my efforts. I led a service, and the criticism from them was fierce. Meanwhile I was struggling in Hebrew classes (my studies had begun at age 40) and anxiety and depression piled up. By the time the year was over I had a pretty classic case of stage fright, throwing up before leading services.

    It all came to a head one morning two years later, at Shacharit – I got up to chant the Torah portion, unrolled the Torah, and I felt myself about to throw up again. All I could think was “get Away from the Sefer Torah!” and I bolted from the room in shame.

    I would love to say I conquered it. A nice therapist and drugs were somewhat helpful. I can lead a service or chant Torah in public now but I have accepted that it will never be easy to for me. I have gratefully settled into a teaching role as a rabbi, and it is satisfying without the terror.

    You are a beautiful writer and I suspect you are a fine social worker. I am a good teacher. And we are both Enough.

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    • I hope your fellow students failed out for being so unsupportive. I mean, what is rabbinical school for if not to learn how to treat other people with kindness and respect! Grrr!!!!! But the image of standing over the Sefer Torah and trying not to throw up all over the parchment…that deserves to be in a graphic novel about the horrors of bar and bat mitzvot. I haven’t led services or leyned in a very long time, but I loved both way back when.

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      • They were very young, and insecure, I think. I bear no grudges– I was pretty full of myself too. We had to work that stuff out before we could grow into useful clergy.

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