Kaitlin Goldin is professional Timothée Chalamet impersonator. She’s also a student at Brown University, where she studies Storytelling. She is currently mounting her first original play.
I enter the black box theater and immediately feel like I am walking into hell. It doesn’t help that the room is an 80+ degree inferno and there is a 20-foot-tall cross standing in the corner. After only a minute or two, I have sweat through my overalls ( from anxiety, heat, or religious guilt? Who’s to say!).
I had always imagined that my first time performing standup in person would be in a dodgy dive bar in New York City, not a well-kept theater on an Ivy League campus. But, when a college’s theater group posted a call for performers to mark the destruction of a set from March 2020 (and to reflect on the chaos of the pandemic), I signed up without a second thought.
This was about as comfy a mic as I could get—an audience filled with fellow students, a familiar theater, and full permission to put whatever I wanted onstage? Sounded pretty freakin’ good to me!
That is until I entered the space. I am the only one here, save for a few hard-hat-wearing members of the theater group, who are attempting to cut down the massive cross from last year’s play. Immediately, I can feel a drip of sweat down my inner arm and an acidic burn in my chest. My stomach turns, and my fingers begin to buzz.
“Welcome!” one of the Hard Hatters says, filled with a liiiiittle too much pep for the heat. “Feel free to paint!” They point to some brushes in the corner.
“… Paint what?”
“Anything! The walls, the windows, the set …” I can’t tell if I have entered my first mic, a hippie cult, or a scene from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Nevertheless, I grab a thick brush and try to calm my sweaty, shaking hands with smooth strokes of color.
As I paint (and sweat), I grow oddly nostalgic for the days of Zoom performances. Online, I can shake out these kinds of nerves from below the frame of the camera, or point a fan at myself if my face gets too hot (not sure why my college can’t put fans in a theater though…).
I can split my screen between the computer and the audience and even look only at my notes if it’s a particularly anxious day. I can write off a lack of laughs to video delays and muted participants. For a comedian with an anxiety disorder, these rituals can become a lifeline.
Especially after a full year of performing online with GOLD– Zoom felt safe. I barely felt anxiety anymore when I sat down to an open mic.
But I had gotten too comfortable. I had said to Liv, a fellow GOLDie, just a few weeks before, “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do it in person. I’m just not sure I’ll be as funny.”
I put my fear into swirls of greens and blues against the purple walls of the “pastor’s office.” I mentally walk through my beats and watch as the time ticks away. Slowly, friends join me, and I distract myself with conversation. But before I know it, one of the Hard Hatters pulls me aside. “Is this where you want the mic?” I nod. It’s time.
“Do you want any kind of introduction?” she asks. I think of Lynn and all the times I’ve been introduced on Zoom to the cheers of my virtual GOLDies. No hasty introduction before a room filled with strangers could bring me that kind of comfort.
But maybe that discomfort is necessary. It’s like the GOLD instructors always say: you have to bomb to get better. How can I bomb and get better if I let my nerves stop me from even getting up to the mic?
So I give my own introduction in a deep breath. I jump up and down and widely shake my arms—what do I care if the audience sees my nerves? I walk up to the mic, and the room falls silent. I smile, still shaking, and begin.
… And how’d it go? Well, I didn’t melt in a pool of my own sweat, and I didn’t bomb either! Of course, this experience didn’t rid me of my anxiety (although wouldn’t that have been nice!). But it did remind me that on the other side of all that worry, there’s so much room for joy and growth.
Watch for yourself to see what I’m talkin’ about!