It started last May, when the cast lists were released.
I was going to be Cherubino, the role of a young boy in Mozart's masterpiece opera Le nozze di Figaro.
I'd wanted to be Cherubino since I learned we were doing Figaro. I sang one of his arias for my mainstage auditions. I spent the summer learning my role. I walked into music rehearsals in the fall with my double, Lindsey, full of joy. I couldn't wait to start the process. I was practically holding my breath until we got to staging in January. I finally got to put this role on its feet.
Cherubino is traditionally played as a fourteen-year-old boy. That's why women sing this role: the character's voice hasn't changed yet, so the higher voice fits him better than, say, a tenor voice might. But we set our production in the White House of the 1960's, so our director instructed us to play him as nineteen, and incredibly sexually aggressive.
I don't know if you know me well, but those words are not words I would use to describe myself in the least.
I remember my first staging rehearsal. I was instructed to mimic the way my friend George stood. I remember standing between the music stands that represented where the door would be (when we got the real life set), feeling my heart flutter a little bit. I hope this is good. God, let me be good. Please don't let me suck.
Then I remembered that my word for the year is shameless.
I prayed for shamelessness. I told myself, Sara, you just gotta do it. You just have to get out there and go for it, give it everything you've got.
So I stuck my hands into the pockets of my skinny jeans and moseyed around the stage with all the awkwardness of a girl pretending to be her younger, taller, bigger brother (That's exactly what I was pretending). But I was going for it. I just got out there and did it.
That has been my motto throughout the entire rehearsal process, à la Nike: Just do it. And in this process of just getting out there and pretending to be someone totally different than who I believed I was, I have learned more about myself than I ever dreamed I would.
I thought I would be learning how to be a better actress. Instead, I learned how to be myself.
The thing about Cherubino is that he's brash. He's brazen. He gives zero cares. All he's really interested in are women (one in particular). I had to put myself forward in ways I'm not used to. I had to hold my body in new and different ways. The first time our director told me to spread my legs wide while sitting down, I laughed, and so did my castmates -- but something else happened. A light went on in my head. I knew who the character was.
As the rehearsal process went on, I got braver in my choices. I developed more swagger. I became bolder. After only a couple of weeks of staging, I didn't feel awkward anymore. I told my roommates, "I don't feel like I'm putting on a character. He's in me. I can feel it." There is a part of myself that had always been this character, even though he is a boy. Something about me is free and bold and brash in the same way he is.
There's a chunk of my personality, a part of me, that told me that acting like this character is awkward. That side of myself is unladylike, inappropriate, not myself. But if the actress singing Cherubino doesn't go all out, he won't play. It won't work. In order to step into his skin, I have to turn that hiding part of myself off. I have to turn to her and say, "Girl. Listen. I understand that you're trying to help me out. But right now, I have to do this, because if I don't go all out, this won't work."
See, that protective part of me knows I want to be good. She wants me to be good. She knows what it takes to be good. So she backs off.
And then Cherubino says, "Let's play."
For the three to four hours that I'm in that character's body -- in the suit and tie and wig and suspenders (glory be to those suspenders) -- I'm free. I'm uninhibited. I have so much swagger and so, so much game.
And when I leave the theater at night, I don't have to put that freedom away.
Freedom isn't something we take off and put on. It's something we live in.
Playing Cherubino has showed me that I am free. I am wild. I am funny and confident and uninhibited. He has shown me that I don't care what people think -- not really. He has shown me that I'm not a prisoner to my own expectations of myself.
This role has been the most freeing thing I've ever done. This character, who is so utterly different from my personality, has taught me what it means to be myself.
And that's really what I take away from the theater when I leave at night.