Every so often during rehearsals for Good Night Desdemona, I would put on the Juliet dresses and look at myself in the mirror. Having this literally be my dream role since I saw a live performance in 2005, I thought I’d have a reaction that was very different to the one I was actually having. That is to say, the words, “I don’t belong here.” repeated over and over in my head.
Say it with me: Imposter Syndrome! Catastrophizing! But also... Maybe this was also a little on the nose. I was surrounded by seasoned artists who were thriving with their characters, each just as real and inspiring as the last. I however, was off on the side learning metrical pentameters and popping pills like they were candy in hopes that at least one of these things would help me feel more grounded in the work. (Spoiler alert: Tom Keenan's help with everything Shakespeare really, really helped, AND I was always following my doctor's medical advice. But, you know. Catastrophizing.)
There were a lot of reasons I could have cut myself a break and excused my growing feelings of inadequacy. By then, I'd only been in a few professional shows, so it was beyond me to expect that I could stand toe to toe with my show mates who had years of experience backing them. Also, my body was in rough shape. Even though one couldn't tell by looking at me, at the time it felt like I had been hit by a truck. Simple things such as taking off my boots and changing into indoor shoes proved to be the most frustrating and unrewarding parts of my day. But the reassurances from friends and colleagues still struck a chord of dissonance in my chest. My feelings were still very real, and I didn't want to feel like this the next time I was on a job I should have been enjoying. Surely I could be doing more than stumbling my way through each project. So night after night, as audiences were laughing at our zany show, I began to wonder what I could do to go from "newcomer Joanne Roberts" to "local powerhouse Joanne Roberts". (Thanks, Tanner. You're the best.)
As I write this, I’m fresh off my first meeting with Red Betty Theatre. The first Decolonize Your Ears Festival is happening this year on June 22-26 in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s a festival meant to amplify voices of IBPOC womxn, and I’m so excited to announce that I’m one of three playwrights chosen for this new play development initiative. Waitasecond, Iwasjustanactorayearago…
As an emerging artist, I’d always been aware that we work with an unspoken hierarchy in each room, and I’m used to being at the very bottom of it. For fear of embarrassing myself in front of established artists, I stayed quiet even though I had burning questions. I didn’t contribute to artistic discussions, and I reasoned with myself that because I was still learning, I had nothing useful to say. But today, I was so engaged in the work that I didn’t take the time to size up each of the artists in our Zoom call. (Okay, okay. I admit that I was sending Ardith messages in all caps freaking out about the talent in the room. She had to remind me to breathe. But that’s totally different.) I was so present in the discussions that I raised my hand each time I had something to say, and I was okay with my words being taken or discarded as people saw fit. I spoke and I listened. I shared and I learned. I felt like I deserved to be there.
Imposter? I think not.
But seriously, how the hell did I get here? Faith, trust, and a little pixie dust? No. I had to take a hard and unpleasant look at myself. My mental health, my financial situation, and the realities of a female, Asian artist’s chance to thrive in this industry, regardless of drive and talent…
Learn more about Joanne Roberts on her website