Doing What I Love
“I’m quitting acting,” I announced to my mom. Slumped in the passenger seat of the car, I had made up my mind. “I’m washed up,” I said, watching my rehearsal studio fade from view in the mirror.
My audition for the city’s professional theater company was approaching, and even though I’d been staying up late every night to rehearse, it felt like a waste of time. There are only three open spots in the program, and most of the other girls had chosen the same two monologues. I’d chosen two totally different ones. Plus, in the past, no one who made the cut looked like me. There were only two other Black girls in my acting program, only one in the professional troupe, and none on the theater’s creative team. Everyone but me looked like the professional actors and creative team. I loved acting too much to have it reject me, so I wanted to quit while I was ahead.
“Come here, Imani,” my mom called a little while after we got home. She laid some old photos across the kitchen table while her left arm hid something behind her back. In the photos was a little girl who looked a lot like me, with a big smile and long skinny legs standing on a small stage. “That’s me,” my mom said warmly. “I loved performing too, you know.”
As I looked through the fading, dusty photos, my mom went on: “But there weren’t many actresses that looked like me. I didn’t want anyone else telling me that I didn’t make the cut, so to take control, I stopped performing. I stopped doing what I loved.” She put the book she was holding behind her back on the table and pushed it toward me.
Called The Shadows Onstage, it was a memoir by a beautiful Black actress who had won almost every award possible. She looked about the same age as my mom.
“She didn’t quit, Imani,” my mom said as we leafed through the glossy pages together. “She chose monologues that worked for her, and she never stopped doing what she loved.” She was describing exactly how I was feeling. Mom said she, too, had dreamt of being in this professional company when she was my age, but she never actually auditioned. “You can’t give up on what you love,” she said. “Your little sisters look up to you, and the more girls who keep going, the more girls that look like you can be on stages around the world.”
Knowing that my mom believed in me and that I could keep making change for performers after me was enough to keep going. I had to at least try.
I went back to the studio the next day and rehearsed my monologue for hours. I was more determined than ever to keep doing what I love. I want to do it for my mom, who never did. I want to do it for my sisters so that I can tell stories that can show them opportunities they hadn’t thought possible. Performing is so important to me, and I won’t give up on it just because I don’t look the same as most of the other people auditioning. I know that my mom and dad and my sisters believe in me, so I believe in me too. I will find roles and companies that want me because I’m not doing the same monologue as everyone else and that will value me for exactly who I am.