This was a post written before the outbreak of COVID-19, and it can be found on ccravenacts.wixsite.com/6footover. Hope you enjoy it.
There is a story I have kept in my heart for a long time that I’d love to share with you today. It’s one I will never forget, in fact. it’s the story that gave me the courage to do what I love. However, after many months of discovery, it’s also the reason why my fire feels different from others. I discovered in my mind that this passion I had for acting wasn’t just from me, it was started by someone else. Given a little “fuel to the fire”. You see, that so-called “fire” was passed down to me from someone that I will always keep close to me. Unfortunately, she is no longer of this world but she will always remain within my heart until I die.
This is pretty much the story of how my fire started.
Growing up in Germany had its major perks: great food, great culture, what couldn’t you love about it? Oh yeah. Not being able to speak German and having your neighbors know you are American. Because of this, they would tend to pick on me. I remember one time when I was 10 years old I was out on my scooter and the German kids brought out their bikes and tried to cut me off. Eventually I crashed into the back of a black SUV, no injuries though. However they just stood there and laughed. Good times. Anyway, that’s not the point of this story today. That will be saved for another purpose…
Growing up in Germany as an American had some disadvantages like that but what made it better for me was being able to be taught in American schools. Back then, there were several US Army bases established throughout Germany. Nowadays, there’s only a few left. Most of them closed down. Because of education being provided by the base, naturally, I attended school. Eventually, over the years I made lots of friends, befriended most of the teachers, heck, even the principal loved me. However, I could never hang out with them or go to parties. Why? Because the theater was my other side, the second that the school bell rang. Next thing I know, I would be in a car, being driven to the local theater by my mother 30 minutes from the school. Every day, from 6:30-9:00 PM. Well, that’s a bit of an understatement. Every day I would get CALLED for. I honestly didn’t hate it, because at that time, the “theater bug” was slowly sinking itself into me. I was constantly booking roles from a numerous amount of plays. It was the life for me, but after spending so much time devoted to the stage, I found from myself that there was something more that I wanted from the theater. A challenge. Luckily, a few years later, that was provided for me. The US Army IMCOM Europe Entertainment Tournament of Plays, otherwise known as the “Toppers”, rose to fame in the theater community. Toppers was an awards competition funded by the US ARMY, so we were basically performing for the military. Almost like serving IN the military. It felt awesome. Anyways, every year, the Toppers brought in 3 judges from the United States and had them adjudicate shows all throughout the army bases in Germany. Wait, that’s not true. All throughout Europe. Then, once all of the select shows are judged equally, the organization holds a massive awards ceremony to congratulate and commemorate shows and specific actors, makeup artists, set designers, directors, and many others part of the theater community for their achievements. Each of those achievements was granted a gold statue of a person proudly holding a star, and a nice placard with your name on it. Think of it as a lower form of the Oscars. When I heard about this, I knew in my mind: I want one. Finally, There was something for me to strive for! I was hungry for getting into the Toppers running. Thus, hanging out with friends and other people, gaining a social standing in school had to be put on hold, because I knew what I wanted, and as destiny would have it, I was granted that opportunity. I was 12 at this time and MTI, which stands for “Musical Theaters Institution”, just released the rights to perform the hit show “Seussical”! I was absolutely ecstatic and couldn’t wait to audition for it. By this time, I built myself quite a name at my local theater, so the person who directed this show was someone I knew. Even now, I am thinking back to a video my parents took of me showing my reaction to getting the main part aside from Horton. I got the role of Jojo. I fell flat on the floor and screamed my heart out. My time came to shine and my goal was even closer to me. Fast forward a little bit and we were on the day of the Topper performance, the day where the judges came to the show, where everything got real. Everyone was in serious-mode, making sure everything was set up and ready. Props were in order, sets were placed in the correct position, stage wranglers ready to wrangle some kids. Me, I was lost in a world imagining what it would be like to win, to show what I am capable of. The fruits of my labor paying off. I also want to thank the people who helped me be the best I could be during that show, I couldn’t have done my very best without you.
Thus came the end of one of the most amazing shows of my entire life. Now came the adjudication process. What happened was they had all audience members leave the theater and gather all of the cast and crew to talk about the good points and what could be improved for next time. Now there were 3 judges but I am not going to give their names out except for one. One I owe a lot too, and her name’s Bri Mcbride. Bri Mcbride was this elderly Irish lady who wore a lot of jewelry, emphasis on A LOT. She was very gung-ho on fashion, and she pulled it off really well. Regardless, she had a strict but loving voice, and she talked mostly to the actors. You see, the judges split up their notes into sections: set design, choreography, and acting. The other two were set to design and choreography, whereas Bri was very much on the acting side. She talked mostly to the dancers and the supporting characters, saying they did a really good job, however, there were some complications with some of the actors. Nevertheless, she said things that they could improve on. She was all about improvement. As i continued to sit in the audience, well, to be honest, there was a part of me that wanted her to call out my name. Actually, that was the whole part. I wanted to be recognized for my hard work, but I didn’t want to be selfish. My mom saw my worried expression and she leaned in to tell me something along the lines of “even though the judges don’t call you out, it doesn’t mean you didn’t do a great job”. She gave me lots of compliments on my role and I was happy with just that. However, my heart, my soul wanted more. Just as Bri was about to finish, she stopped her adjudication for a second and started searching for someone in the audience. She said “Where is that boy? The boy with the blue shirt.” My ears instantly perked up, and my mom told me to raise my hand. Once Bri saw me, she paused for a moment, then she looked right at me, and smiled. She had some difficulty finding me because of the stage lights but the moment she saw me, I felt like her thoughts became clear and spoke the next few words that would change my life forever.
“This kid has it all”.
Everyone immediately jerked their heads to look at me, and I was in tears. She continued to give me compliment after compliment, saying how I had the energy, the movement, and then acting to bring the show to life. That I was powerful and made her completely absorbed into the story. That was the whole goal of actors, and she said that I had achieved that. I was completely dumbfounded, in absolute awe and I lost all of my thoughts. All I could think about were those words resonating throughout my brain. I did it. Of course, she saw my tears and she felt bad, but she didn’t take back those words. I even have a sticky note commemorating her quote on my laptop. So that way, I am always reminded of what she said to me that day. Then, I felt this hole in my heart be filled with accomplishment and victory. Unfortunately I didn’t win a Topper because I was up against someone older and way past my level, but Bri wanted me to sing with Horton at the awards ceremony. We did “Alone in the Universe” and that’s a song I will never forget. After that, I felt this urge to just keep acting and acting, never stopping. It was because I had the fire to do my passion, all from someone who believed in me.
Just being believed in, god, it’s enough to make a grown man cry.
I’m even shedding a tear now writing this.
The “words of wisdom” I want to impart to you today is to do what you love and work hard to achieve it. Never stop. I was in the midst of rehearsal for another show when I heard of Bri’s passing. I was devastated. I didn’t know if I could go on, I was honestly crushed. Both in heart and soul. Then I took a second, looked up into the bright blue sky, and started thinking about what she would want for me. Would she want to see me like this? No way in hell. Even now in heaven, I know she still believes in me, still smiling down on me and my life, as I work hard to achieve my dreams of being an actor. Bri Mcbride is someone whom I love so much deep down in my heart and I will always carry a part of her flame with me forever. I need to show the world the same thing that made Bri believe in me.
You should as well.