Throw Up On Me
You know the feeling. It starts usually as a question, a tinge of nausea so subtle you’re not sure if you’re two hours away from explosive world of food poisoning, or simply experiencing day-to-day anxiety you can easily push through. Eventually thought, this uncertainty is replaced by an overwhelming answer, “yes, yes I’m definitely about to blow.” You grab a friend, and prepare for them to hold your hair back and see you at your worst.
What I’ve learned over the years is that this process, this sticky, uncertain, and often embarrassing experience is absolutely critical to success on stage. That is, IF you grabbed the friend. If your first though at the end of the previous paragraph was, "I think you mean hide in the bathroom by myself the rest of the night so everyone still thinks I've got my shit together," then you've missed a major opportunity for growth as a person, and as a performer. Either way, keep reading for more of this misguided metaphor for vulnerability from someone who doesn't have quite the same eloquence as Brene Brown.
When I think of the times I’ve been on the verge of hurl (possible band name?) whether from illness, alcohol, love, fear, or, let's be honest, some combination of the last three, it's generally an all or nothing situation. When you're at your absolute worst, things can go from "no really, I'm fine," to egg salad murder scene and $250 Uber fine in an instant. Ever tried throwing up "just a little bit" when you had food poisoning? Did it end up coming out your nose? Yeah, I know. It burns.
These moments, though unseemly, are critical to our development as connected human beings and performers. This is not to say that vomiting more frequently makes us more connected. Far from it. It's the willingness to completely let go of fear and shame and let other people in during these rare, low moments of extreme vulnerability that makes us deeply connected.
It's also what I want to see on stage. If I’m watching you perform, I want to see you throw all of your insides out like you just chugged a bottle of bottom shelf liquor after a bad break-up. Show me gut-wrenching sorrow. Show me unbridled excitement. Show me controlled calm even, but give it to me so good that I feel it seep into my clothes poltergeist style. Let me into your world. Let me into your heart. Let me into your bathroom. Marlon Brando didn't immortalize a stage and screen moment by knocking politely on his neighbors doors to find Stella. He didn't quietly sob for Stella in the bathroom by himself. He sprayed her name all over the streets of New Orleans.
But this isn't about being big. Drunk woo-girls aren't woo-ing at the end of the night. That's a showy beginning of the night kind of thing. That's the facade. That's indicating. That's bad acting. It's at the end of the night when they're telling their girlfriends how lonely they are while vomiting into their hand bag that they're being real, honest, and vulnerable. That's the magic.
But for performers, it isn't about using liquid courage The ability to transcend to this degree of vulnerability on stage comes most organically with experience. Under the right circumstances, a bad break-up can make even the most stoic amongst us feel something akin to binge eating bad seafood for a solid month. If you haven’t loved another living creature so much that the mere thought of loosing them feels like chugging a gallon of spoiled milk on Fear Factor, then stop. Go outside. Get out of the practice room and make a new friend. Take a risk emotionally, not technically. As artists and performers, our emotional range expands when we experience these extremes, and if you don’t have anything lurking inside you to express, then it may not matter how well you know the monologue, or how cleanly you can perform the piano concerto, or where you got your MFA because you won't fully connect with your audience. Love or hate something so much you want to yack, and then maybe I’ll believe what your character or your music has to say. Be as vulnerable in front of me and a thousand paying customers as you are when you finally let your crush see you expel all the toxins and bile your body has to offer. THAT'S a ticket I would buy. So next time I go to your show… throw up on me. Please, I dare you.