That Time I Was 8 and That Theater Teacher Kicked Me Out of Class For Being the One Reasonable Kid in the Room
“Just let it out! Let it go! GO CRAZY!!!”
That’s what one of my first theater teachers screamed at 8-year-old me.
For the record, I was not a child who let anything out. I didn’t let anything go. And I never went crazy.
I was serious child. About once a month, I would dump out all of my toys into the floor and organize
them by size and color. I gave all 200 or so of my stuffed animals names and put them on a written
rotation of playtime so that none of them felt left out. I tried to record books on tapes with my
friends, but most of the recordings are of me yelling at them when they mispronounced words or
didn’t perform with enough dramatic irony for my taste.
I didn’t “play,” I “explored myself through creative activity.” I didn’t “have fun,” I “participated in
events and sorted out how I felt about it afterward.” In the 4th grade, I told a teacher that I didn’t have heroes because all of us were imperfect.
It’s possible that it was because I was such a rigid child that I was so fascinated by acting and
performance as a young person. I loved the idea that for a bit, just for a bit, you could put on a
costume, be someone totally different, live a different life, impact others, then come back to the
emotional safety of never really leaving your bedroom. I loved that there was space to spread your
wings just a little, but that there were also rules so it was safe—there was a script after all, characters had specific things they were supposed to do, there were parameters to the fantasy, so you knew
you were going to be okay in the end.
I liked all of that.
I did not like “just getting crazy” and “going wild” in a room full of my runny-nosed peers.
I grew up in bland, suburban South Texas, a region of the country not known for its nuanced acting
training, so every class I was in consisted of overly caffeinated graduate students grinning like crazy
and telling us kids to lose our goddamned minds.
Young Aydrea would have been totally cool with doing this if the MFA candidates had been able to
tell us what running around like a chicken had to do with understanding Elizabethan scansion.
In case you’re curious, yes, I asked. No, they did not have answers.
But one teacher did have something to say:
“I don’t really think this is for you. You don’t have to come to the rest of class.”
Now, I’m not amazing with children. I’m the kind of adult that will straight up stop reading the
bedtime story if the kid doesn’t like my voices (hashtag, irony). I’ve definitely given a kid water in a
glass that used to have gin and tonic in it without washing it out first. I have no problem talking about my toxic exes in front of tweens who are about to go on their first dates. And I’ve definitely said the
phrase, “why would I have kids, I still have friends and my dreams haven’t died,” in front of people
who were younger than 18.
But despite all that, I know that you’re not supposed to tell a little kid that they can’t achieve their
dreams. I hope that Chad never finished that dumb extra degree.
After he kicked he me out of class, I still went anyway. I had enough shame to know that I could
never tell my parents that I failed at attending a perfectly voluntary, non-grade-based summer
program. So every day I got on the bus, rode across town, sat outside of the classroom and hoped
that Chad would come to his senses.
A few years later and I was taking my first proper theater arts class in Middle School. I knew that I
couldn’t get kicked out of this class because the law said that I couldn’t be truant and anyone who
signed up for any elective could take it. Ha! Life 1, Aydrea also 1.
In this class, I did reasonable things like decide to perform Hamlet’s Soliloquy for my first assignment. Yes, everyone else chose pieces from books with titles like “100 HILARIOUS MONOLOGUES FOR
KOOL KIDS.” But I was more elevated than that.
Was my performance of one of the Bard’s greatest passages “good?” I doesn’t matter. It was serious
and it was mine and it gave me the confidence to audition for my first real play.
The play was about a tree that granted wishes and was appropriately titled: The Wishin’ Tree.
Shakespeare, it was not. But, I was allowed to be in it. Fuck you, Chad, I thought. (I didn’t think that. I don’t think I dropped my first f-bomb until high school…unless my mother is reading this, in which
case, I have never ever used profanity in my whole life).
I played an uptight, nosy neighbor who mostly had to snark around on stage and be snippy and then march off all upset. What had 2 thumbs and no problem with the aforementioned part of the performance? This girl.
But then came the scream.
At some point the titular tree grants a wish in front of my character or something…I think the tree was actually meant to put something in my hand and I had to scream. Loudly. At the top of my lungs. And run around the stage like a maniac.
It was a real defining moment for the character and a real nightmare moment for me.
No one else in the play had to be that wild and unhinged. Everyone else got to say measured words
in carefully planned ways. I had to let go. And just go crazy.
Every embarrassing moment from that horrible class came flooding back to my brain and so every
time my scream came up during rehearsal, I froze. Couldn’t do it. Couldn’t bring myself to be that
Was Chad right all along? Did he see a failure in me that he was just trying to protect me from? Was it possible Chad was a messenger sent from beyond with difficult yet prescient news that I needed to
heed lest I be shunned, embarrassed, destroyed? Was this really not for me?
Maybe. Possibly, for sure. There is a strong possibility that there are people who don't want me to be doing this. And I respect their positions. But I wasn’t quite done.
Because as shy as I could be, I was also extremely proud. So when my teacher/director gave me the very simple ultimatum of “scream or be recast,” I found my voice. I knew that if I lost this role, I’d go
crazy in the bad way, so I decided that it was better to go crazy in the good way. It still scares me
from time to time (read: 100% of the time), but I've been screaming ever since.
And okay, fine. I hope Chad got his MFA.
I still remember this moment like it was yesterday. I remember exactly where I was. The way that time slowed down. That knot in my stomach that lurched into my throat when my director approached me in the kitchen and said in a quiet voice:
“Hey, so… we lost all the footage we shot this morning.”
It was our first shoot day and until that moment, everything seemed like it was going well. We got started on time. The craft service was yummy and plentiful. The weather, which had threatened to rain, was holding. Everything was happening according to plan.
But that’s not how filmmaking works.
At the moment in question, we had been shooting for about three hours. We had already called and wrapped one of our actors. As far as we were concerned, we already had nearly an entire episode in the can.
Our editor had come by to collect and test the footage transfer and when he tried to get it off the drive, it wasn’t there.
We still don’t really know what happened, but it quickly got sorted out so that we didn’t lose any more footage that day. We would, however, have to reshoot the entire morning. So I began hoping, praying, and lighting candles to ensure that we could get our actor to come back to set 5 weeks later and that we could create 4 more hours in our shoot schedule without adding a day to the schedule as everyone on the crew already had other work scheduled. And there were still 8 hours to go in that day and I had to get through those 8 hours without letting on to my cast and crew that I was so scared we wouldn’t be able to get our actor back and that we wouldn’t be able to make up the shoot time and so I just wanted to run away and cry and scream and re-think all my career and personal choices to that point.
And that’s why it was my favorite day.
It was one of those days where you really figure out what you’re made of. A day where you have to dig in and get things done. A day where you worry that you cannot do the things you deeply want to do. A day where your heart breaks a bit because you feel like you made a terrible mistake and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel but you just keep moving forward.
These days are not fun. But they are necessary. And we wouldn’t have the good days without them.
I have another blog called The Oreo Experience (check it out here...but not now; wait ‘till you’re done reading this). It’s about how I’m a super white black person (Black on the outside, white on the inside--like an Oreo). I make a lot of jokes there about how yes, I’m black, but I also really, genuinely love Renaissance Faires and have never heard Lemonade. I’m not even sure if “Lemonade” refers to one song or an album or a short film.
People often think that I’m joking about this. To be fair, I am being funny about it, but I’m not “joking” per se. I don’t know very much about pop music and I’m a big ol’ Anglophile.
You might be wondering how a black girl growing up in South Texas fell in love with all things English. You also might not be wondering this at all. If it’s the former, congratulations, I’m about to tell you how this came to be. If it’s the latter, no matter! It’s still a lovely story.
When people find out that I’m an only child, they usually respond with some version of “Ohhhh, you must have been so spoiled!!” I was not spoiled.
It’s true that as an only child, you get all of your parents’ love and attention. You also have to bear the brunt of all of their issues by yourself. There’s no sibling to dull the shock of adult problems. And there’s no peer co-conspirator to let you know that you’re not crazy and that you are interpreting your parents’ weird behaviour correctly.
Mom was the chatty one. She’s outgoing and energetic and will talk to anyone. She’s extroverted and loves to be the center of attention. I was a shy child--I couldn’t even look adults in the eye until I was nearly a teenager. And so I preferred the attention of my quiet father. He was a big reader, he studied meditative Eastern religions and he didn’t like to make a fuss.
My only complaint: He was, and is, too quiet. Even for introverted me. My dad is in part, not untypical of his generation. Men then weren’t supposed to be emotional or connective. They were supposed to provide for their families, which my father did very well. My dad also grew up as a black person in the segregated South. He’s seen a lot of traumatic stuff. And he saw it well before therapy was something that was OK for regular people to do. So yeah, he’s quiet.
Even today, when I call my dad, our conversations are mostly silence. He doesn’t ask me about my life, or my job, or my partner, or my work. Once he works out that I’m alive, he doesn't have too much to say.
It can be awkward.
I spent my allowances on various Shakespeare translations. I recorded Much Ado About Nothing onto tape and listened to it every night. I started practicing my RP. I began attending Renaissance Fairs. I began performing in Renaissance Fairs. I swooned over every costume drama I could get my hands on. I started buying and building my own costumes. Five years ago, I went to England for the first time and have gone back at least twice a year every year since. And this year, I made this webseries, committing my Anglophilia to film.
Today, I don’t know that my dad could tell you what my job is or what my partner does for a living. I know he knows I live in California, but I don’t know that he could pick out which bit or if he knows whether I have pets or not. But I can ask him about anything that Basil Fawlty did and my dad can tell you the season, the episode, nearly every line of dialogue that comes before and after the scene in question; and he kind of won’t shut up about it.
Honestly, that can be awkward, too.
I don’t know if I would have found British comedy and unearthed my Anglophilia if it weren’t for my father--South Texas wasn’t known for its transatlantic tastes. And if he had been a naturally chattier man, maybe he wouldn’t have needed dry, repressed jokes to relate to. So yeah, it might have been fun to have a livelier life back then, but I’d be missing out on so much that I love today.
We just approved the final updates to the post-production schedule today and I still can’t believe this whole project is happening at all! A year ago this time, I would never have guessed I would have a project of this scale about to wrap. I’ve co-produced one webseries in the past (you can watch that bit of magic here. It’s called WE’RE SEEING SOMEONE and it still makes me happy) and I figured that would be my one go at producing something like that.
I felt that way largely because as much as I love the collaborative experience of creative work, I am a huge introvert. So yeah, why not invite a cast and crew of 20 people to your house every weekend to make something?
As a writer, you can snag tons of alone time while you’re working on scripts. As an actor, you actually get plenty of time by yourself while you memorize lines in a vacuum or wait around on set while the rest of the crew figures out how to set up shots. But as a producer, you are never alone, you are always talking, and it is exhausting. There’s always a schedule to discuss, a problem to solve, a concern to assuage. It’s relentless. And it goes on long before the shoot and lasts for months afterwards.
Don’t get me wrong. I like people. I actually like people a lot. I can be blunt, to the point, and I definitely suffer from Resting Bitch Face (as well as Angry Black Lady Face), but I love seeing people do what they do. I adore watching other creatives be in their element and kick ass at their callings. I am inspired when I am see people doing what makes them tick.
I just prefer to do it from afar and I don’t want to necessarily talk all about it.
When I have a ton of social time or a bunch of events in a row, I absolutely need a few days with dim lights and near silence. I am at my best when I’ve had lots of time away from people. You’ll know that I love you when I tear myself away from my very comfortable couch to be social with you on a whim. Or if I call you. On the phone. That’s… a very big deal. (But if I don’t do any of those things, don’t take it personally. I just really really need recharge time. Without it, you don’t want to see me, anyway.)
The point is, being super social is an actual challenge for me. Without that time away from the fray, I get nervous, full of anxiety, and pretty unpleasant. And I forgot that when I decided to produce this project.
I think it’s kind of like childbirth. I don’t have kids, but I hear the process by which they get outside of one’s body is quite painful. And though I’ve had many mothers tell me about the pain in great detail, they all also say that you “forget about it as soon as they hand the baby to you.” On one hand, this can’t possibly be true because it’s ridiculous. On the other hand, this must be how it goes, otherwise, we’d all be only children and the human race would die out.
Sometimes we just have to step outside of our comfort zones to pursue that which which is important to us. We have to become uncomfortable to make something that matters--whether that’s a baby or a piece of creativity.
I love being creative and I love seeing creative work come to life. Especially when it comes to life on film. And you can’t do film by yourself. A moving picture (whether it’s on actual film, for cinemas, TV, or the Internet) takes a small army. It takes a lot of passionate people coming together in exactly the right way at exactly the right time. I am so grateful for everyone who helped make this happen. They are some of the best and I’m not sure that I deserve to know them.
I’m also very tired. Very happy. Extremely proud. But very tired.
Right now, as I did after WE’RE SEEING SOMEONE wrapped, I’m telling myself that that I just don’t see how I produce like this again.
I’m probably wrong about that. We’ll see how I feel after this nap.
Please keep watching this space for more updates and behind the scenes stories from BLACK GIRL IN A BIG DRESS.
If you like what you see, please tell your friends. If you don’t like what you see, please tell people you don’t like--it’ll be a perfect way to get back at them.
You can find us:
Here at the website, www. BlackGirlinaBigDress.com