Real Stories

Community Theater

Some moments stay guarded so close to the chest, they seem to live deep in the wounds of my youth. While I’d always thought I told my mother this thing that hurt me so, it only came out in recent weeks. I’d buried it way down deep into those depths. 


Jen had developed a talent for singing in front of people. She auditioned for Annie at the playhouse, but that story I still do not know. All I do know is that my neighbor took Jen and her daughter to audition and my neighbor was furious when she brought her home. She told me, “I am never going to do that again! I don’t know what happened but, the director of the play was very unhappy with Jennifer.”


I sort of struggled with everything. There was a time when I was around 10 years old that I decided to cut my own bangs—straight down the nub of my scalp. Scissors in hand and proud, I stood there in shock as some form of “time out” was doled for the exploration of my sense of beauty. Funnily enough, to this day, that portion of hair tends to grow a bit odd.

At 10, the world seemed cruel, relentless; one bad event came after another, and I tried to claw myself out of the abyss. My mind was overcome by doubt and insecurity, overflowing to the ground as I walked through life, and I was only a decade old.

Annie, the musical, was being cast at the local playhouse in the city at the tippy-top portion of the Keystone state, Erie, Pennsylvania. Community theater was not glamorous really, but I was determined to try, as singing had become a recent release of mine to deal with inner turmoil.

The day of the audition, my mother sent me with a neighborhood friend and her mom. I don’t really know why, but I had become their responsibility throughout the day of that event. It was supposed to be relatively quick: in-and-out and cast as a member of the chorus. There was a dance sequence to execute, some reading of which I can’t recall and then a moment to sing with the director.

I fumbled. The dance sequence was hard; I was the largest girl in the room, and I’d newly trimmed my bangs to the point of having about a half-inch left on one side. “Awkward” is a word to describe it, sure, but it felt so much heavier than that as I twirled and whirled to what seemed to be a unique interpretation of the routine.

Peers moved in and out of a room at the back of the hall, a glorified audition galley set in the top floor of a worn-down warehouse in the heart of downtown. The door open and shut to a rotation of crooners as I tried not to stare too deeply at each passing talent, but I found myself caught up in it all.

Moving on to the reading: I put my head down and focused on the words before me, speeding through to get it over with, and then done. Okay, that wasn’t so bad.

The neighbor that had taken me to the audition had her daughter get dismissed early on, but my name kept getting called for various things, and hours went by. It seemed clear that the chorus still had a few positions available and that must be what was on the table for me.

There it was. My name called yet again and I stood, finally, in front of the director and right next to one other girl. The girl was pretty. She was blonde and cute, petite and with giant beautiful blue eyes. I knew her from school.

Both the girl from my class and I sang “Tomorrow,” the most popular song from Annie that I knew, at least. The director would have her sing one portion and then point towards me to pick up where she left off. It went on like this for what felt like a good while, though it was likely a few minutes at best.

Sitting on the piano bench and commanding the room, he was large and boisterous, a little scary and quite well known in that small-town theater community. At one point, he stopped and told us not to be nervous, and just as he was laying his hands upon the keys; I said, “I’m not too nervous.” Truthfully, I only said that because my way of dealing with anything uneasy is to joke or ramble incessantly. “If you’re not nervous, then why are you fidgeting?” said the director, voice bass-like and echoing against the lofted ceiling. Rather than stopping to admit I was, in fact, nerve-racked, I said, “I’ve never been judged on my voice before.” Our eyes locked, and his cheeks took a pigment of rose growing from the center out. His eyes nearly started to water as beads of sweat became visible on his brow. He stood.

Rushing out of the room from the back of the audition hall—the door that open and shut the entire day through—came me, crying with my head in my hands and cheeks flushed with embarrassment. It played over and over in my mind. It wasn’t until the moment he stood and shouted, “GET OUT! YOU JUST LOST THE PART OF ANNIE! YOU WILL NEVER AUDITION HERE AGAIN!” where I learned I had been auditioning for the lead role all along. It was down to just two, either me or the cute blonde girl from school.

The drive home, looking out the window and shades of a garnet hue gracing my skin, I kept silent.

Days went by, posters went up with the cute blonde girl splashed on them donning a wig as the famed orphan Annie and jealousy seethed within me. Insecurities took hold and, while I sang in future choruses, I never again auditioned for a lead role.

I sort of struggled with everything.

Like this post? View similar content here: A Girl I Used To Know, Someone I Used To Be
by Jen Ryan Conley

As a life long journal writer and trauma survivor, I explore the world through the written word to share pieces of my heart, wide open.
With a professional career in customer experience, spanning the course of two decades, I've been granted opportunities to connect with thousands of humans across the globe. This has helped to serve me in inspiration towards seeking the lens from another's perspective.
Taking on the newest avenue of exploration, I'm collaborating with my Mother as we write stories of womanhood, both independent from one another and entwined.

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