After experiencing Thespian Festival this past December and enjoying it, I decided to step out of my comfort zone again and do The Young Americans Workshop. I participated in the YA workshop in 2014 during my freshman year, and it was a fun experience for my first time onstage. But throughout high school, I’ve become a bit more introverted and developed quite an issue with social anxiety. This time around, stepping out of my comfort zone was going to be a challenge.
In my freshman year, I had a lot of fun doing the YA workshop. I got to make new friends, sing some fun songs, and play. I’m so glad that I had this experience. But for those three days, I was surrounded by people. As an introvert, I don’t hate people; I am just energized by being alone.
My social anxiety is a whole other story. It comes in waves and sometimes I get mistaken for being an extrovert because of my outgoing personality and willingness to do anything. While standing in a big crowd, I could be experiencing anxiety and no one would ever realize it. Social anxiety can be different for everyone. The only reason I talked to people at Thespian Festival was because of my social anxiety.
On Monday during 2nd hour, I didn’t feel much dread about the workshop. The week before the workshop, my family got an email that we would be having two Young Americans stay at our home. Even though I like my personal space, I was quite excited to meet the two girls that would be staying with us. Back in 2014, during my first workshop, they seemed like magical creatures that you read about in fairytales. They could sing better than anyone in my choir and dance like nothing I had seen before. Maybe it was because I was 14 and the YA were four to seven years older than I was, or it was because of my lack of performing experience as a freshman.
The day before the workshop I had a bit of social anxiety. It mostly started in my 3rd hour after I got really tired singing a really crazy song in WOSWE. My anxiety just got worse throughout the day. But then our Young Americans arrived. I was sitting at the piano in my house playing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when the door leading into the garage opened up. In walked Sophie and Maliyah. From that moment, The Young Americans felt a bit more real.
On the first day, I arrived at the workshop with my little sister Tegan after we got out of Forensics rehearsal. I saw friendly faces of excited YA all around. Then all of us students in the workshop sat in the theatre waiting for it to start. I saw a group of my friends from Arsenic and Old Lace and Crazy for You talking to each other, but I decided to sit near Soph. Brooke Freeman and Jr. Jesse George. Pockets of high school students filled the front of the stage. I sat quietly. Because I was a bit anxious, I started talking to my friend Jr. Jennavieve Gilliam. But then a YA named Kahlil introduced himself to me because he liked my Dashiki. I felt less self-conscious about myself.
We were introduced to the whole cast by their company manager Bill Brawley. Then the workshop started. We broke off into three groups and learned parts of a dance which the YA said would become our opening number. We then learned a medley called “Love in any language” which included six different languages. The High Schoolers learned “Frere Jacques”, “One by One” from the Lion King, and a Russian song called “Kalinka”. After that, we learned a dance for “Footloose” which would be the closing number. By the end of dancing, my calves hurt so bad. I saw that Sr. Mitch Frauenheim and Sr. Adam Jongekryg seemed to get the dance pretty easily. But then a YA came near me and kept on encouraging me to try harder and just let go of my anxiety. Even though I was near great dancers, I didn’t compare myself to them. I just let loose and danced.
Next, each group showed each other part of their dance. I felt safe in that environment to let my introverted self go sit in the audience. The YA took the High Schoolers into the Harbor Lights Band room. We sat down and had a show and tell time. We said our names, our voice part and our favorite type of potato. Then we sang about five seconds of one of our favorite songs. Sr. Mario Acevedo sang “Just the way you are” by Bruno Mars Sr. Grace Scheerhorn sang “A Dream is a wish your heart makes” from Disney’s Cinderella. Sometimes there was clapping beforehand done by more outgoing students. When I was picked next there was no applause. I introduced myself and then I sang “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. Immediately I felt an odd vibe of energy in the air. I saw jaws drop and eyes widen as I sang. When I was done singing there was a sudden triumphant roar from the other people in the room. Then we went to the stage and had a dance party. We had a circle and people who wanted to dance would do something in the middle. I went in the middle. I was pushed out there by a YA named Chloe. I let loose and just danced.
On the second day, Friday, I woke up and my legs hurt so bad from giving it my all dancing on Thursday. I drove my siblings and me to the workshop. A YA named Tyler, led us in stretches so we wouldn’t hurt ourselves in the classes on Friday. It was really nice that I wasn’t in school. There really wasn’t any pressure to be perfect. I really appreciated it.
Like the day before, we broke up into groups and focused on various aspects of performing arts. The high schoolers focused on lyrical dance first. Just as I was dancing onstage, Choir instructor Pamela Pierson had called me off the stage. She was standing near a rather small girl with tear-welled eyes. She was a freshman from Allendale High School. She was having some fear about looking awkward dancing and Pierson knew that I had quite a bit of anxiety about dance too. So I took her hand and asked her if she wanted to dance. Unfortunately, the girl said no. So then I asked her if she wanted to have fun. She shyly nodded yes and I held her hand running back onstage. We then went through the lyrical dance altogether. I messed up a bit. I turned the wrong way a few times. I believe that the Allendale girl noticed that she didn’t have to be perfect.
After dancing, the high schoolers all went into the Harbor Lights Band room to learn improv. We started out with a few imagination games. We all went into a circle at one point and one of the YA’s put a random object in the middle. The goal was to use creativity and originality in using the object not for it’s intended purpose. Frosh. Kelsey Linton and I went in the middle and pretended that the bottom of a music stand was a venomous spider. Then after playing the game, we collected back in the middle. Then a YA named Matty G began to talk to us about how improv can be just like all of our life stories. Matty then asked us to tell our stories if we felt comfortable to do so. One by one the other students began to share their stories. I was the last one that was called on. By the end of my story of overcoming depression everyone was astounded. We then made a circle again and each of us listed a word about each other’s stories. One by one words were said: love, light, hope, truth, and courage popped up. In that moment I didn’t feel like I had to hide in a corner. Many of the YA’s found me and gave me the biggest hugs I’ve ever had. I felt that all of these caring eyes were on me.
All of us then went into the Harbor Lights Choir Room for our next class. Songwriting. After the experience we all had in the choir room, we collaboratively wrote a song about overcoming. One by one the YA named Andrew picked us to create lyrics. I came up with some lyrics with Soph. Hannah Piersma and Sr. Nicole Linton. They both really liked mine so then Piersma and Linton voluntold me to share ‘You’ve got scars on your heart but stars in your eyes’. At any Young Americans workshop, you are in a supportive environment. After I shared, everyone in the room was flabbergasted at my wordsmanship. Some remarks I heard were, “I never realized that Mac was that deep”, “She’s a poet”, “I wish that I could come up with something like that”, and “ She is really talented”. I shyly sunk back into where I was sitting.
After creating our “Overcoming” song, we went onstage to learn a medley. I was almost ready to go onstage to learn this medley but then a YA named Megan took me aside. I followed Megan to the door outside the greenroom. She told me that I would be playing Belle from Beauty and the Beast in the medley. She was very happy that I knew the song. Both joy and anxiety rushed through me. I’m a little bit uncomfortable doing solos but there must have been something that stood out about me to the YA. It was fun dressing as a Disney princess with and having my own little bit of the show. I felt really special.
We all had a break when the workshop gets out. After the break, the YA showed us another part of the show. It took music from the movie Selma. I sat next to my little brother as they performed. There was so much passion in their eyes. A few of the YA guys had tears streaming down their face while singing about standing up for something they believe in. Then they had us learn what they just did. Not just the music and the movement but the vulnerability to show that we are all humans and that we all have stories to tell. I stood near a few of the Vocs men and saw their power in their movements and heard it in each of their voices. I belted my heart out to the empty chairs in the audience and felt that I could let out my secret personality that I hide. At six, the day was over and everyone got their t-shirts for the performance.
The third day of the workshop was our show day. We rehearsed through the whole show once with sound and lights before our two o’clock performance. Pierson freaked out a little bit when she found out that I would be playing Belle from Beauty and the Beast in the show.
The first act of the show was the YA’s gift to us. They had a tribute to Broadway shows in their act. When I saw YA Matty G walk on stage as Nick Bottom from Something Rotten I knew what was up. Immediately I started fangirl. I almost fell out of my seat telling Frosh. George Iles that they were going to do a number from Something Rotten. Sr. Lauren Galien was rather annoyed by my enthusiasm. They also did a medley from Shuffle Along. YA Andrew from the songwriting workshop walked on stage as Dewey Finn from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock. After his comedic monologue, the cast filled the stage to perform the musical number “You’re in the Band”. After that musical number, a beat dropped and the crowd went wild. They were going to perform the opening number from Hamilton. And then after the Hamilton number, there was a mentally percussive beat going on. Then Maliyah appeared wearing a red sparkly dress. Then a YA named Garrett joined her. YA’s crossed the stage wearing neon shirts. They were doing a medley from On your feet which is the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. Their half of the show was breathtaking.
We got on stage to start the second act. First, we started off with a hip-hop dance number. A YA had pushed me to the front. I had little to no clue what the heck I was doing. Then we had the choral medley in six different languages. I had so much fun belting in Zulu. Then was a rhythm number but I had to leave the stage so I could get into costume for the next medley. I stood on Stage Left as middle schoolers crossed the stage. Frosh. Jayden Branderhourst-Sauceda came from stage right as Little Red-Riding hood from Into the Woods. Then I soon made my entrance as Belle. The little girls on stage and in the audience had wide eyes when I sang. I didn’t tell my parents I had a solo. So when they came to the second show they were really surprised. In the first show, Meghan who had taught me the solo said that I would be sharing my story that I told in class fourth in the next number. Frauenheim was playing the violin as I spoke to the audience. After I was done, the audience was in tears. The mood then was lightened up by a rock and roll dance medley. The Elementary kids did a dance to “We Go Together” from Grease. The Middle school boys entered from stage right and did a jive to “Born to hand jive” also from Grease. The middle school girls did a to “You can’t stop the beat” from Hairspray and then all of the high schoolers did a dance to the song Footloose. Then all of us joined together for the song “Shout” by The Isley Brothers. We then finished both of the shows with a YA traditional song “If we hold on together” recorded by Diana Ross.
After the shows ended until the end of the night, people came up to me and told me that my story inspired them. Elementary and Middle School girls came up to me and gave me the biggest hugs and asked me why people had treated me like I wasn’t a princess. They saw that I was talented and kind and could even grasp the concept of how badly I’ve been hurt. Moms found me in the Harbor Lights band room and thanked me for telling my story.
Overall, the YA 2017 workshop was a powerful experience for me. The YA’s made me feel okay being an introvert and noticed that I am someone who opens up way more onstage. They were able to turn my awkwardness into something beautiful. From doing this workshop I had learned that everyone has a story that has turned them into the person they are today. I would recommend being a part of a YA workshop to anyone. It is an amazing experience to have and I would love to participate in another one again.