By Catherine Stuart
When others ask how I got started in theatre, I’m supposed to say I was inspired by my siblings.
Hah. In reality, it was because of my competitiveness against my siblings.
When I was three years old, I was loud, I was sassy, and I was slightly obnoxious. On the other end of the spectrum was my sister – quiet, peaceful, and humble. She, ironically, was the one my parents sent to theatre camp each summer, and in the summer of 2002, they sent me to this camp with her, hoping I would discover an outlet for my attitude other than their ears.
As summers passed, my sister and I attended this camp together until I was six years old. At that age, tragedy struck – my sister was cast in a play, and I was not. Fueled with competitive jealousy, I decided I needed to take my career seriously. No longer would I just attend summer camp, I would take classes year-round and train as much as I needed until I was cast in a play.
For some reason I’ll never understand, my parents agreed to my plan. I went to classes, I attended workshops, I got an agent. My life became one lived in the spotlight. After a couple of years, my sister quit acting to play volleyball, and I booked my first play (Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird). It was while playing Scout that I became hooked – I fell in love with the art of theatre. From the audition process to rehearsals to the peak of performances, I loved every second – becoming another person, telling stories, connecting with audiences. Even at nine years old, something about performing just felt right to me, like I had found where I belonged.
For the next ten years, theatre consumed my life to the point of obsession. I lived to be other people because in playing these characters, I found my identity in the role and my worth in the applause. Pretending to be someone else was soothing, comfortable, because being someone else meant I didn’t have to be myself. I didn’t have to worry about my identity, my relationships, my worth…until I did.
As I closed the stage door after a high-energy performance, instead of the typical adrenaline rush or gratitude for a show well-done, I felt unexplainably drained. I trudged to my car, and this emptiness intensified. Exhausted, I knew I could not drive the hour home in my mental state, so I went to the place a few minutes down the road that my family called a home. Sitting in a silent Adoration chapel, I cracked. Alone with God in the silence, I realized I had been deceiving myself. I had turned the stage into an idol, and on it I found my identity. Offstage, though, I had no idea who I was, who God was, or why I needed a relationship with Him.
I’d like to say I changed my life that night or I suddenly realized my identity as His beloved daughter or something along those lines, but that’s not true. I had this epiphany that I needed to change my life, sure, but I didn’t know what to do with it. Shocked and afraid, I drove home. There, I pretended on the outside that everything was normal while internally I faced a battle of identity.
To conquer this battle, I knew I needed to take a step back from theatre, as difficult as that would be. With my characters torn away, I was left with only myself – no more masks, no more scripts, no more stages. I was completely and utterly alone.
Not only was I alone, but also for the first time, I was not at rehearsal or a class or a performance, and in my solitude, I spent more time in prayer, with friends, and surrounded by family. I did normal junior year things, like the SAT and stressing about AP classes and spending late nights at coffee shops with friends. I looked like a normal teenager with no idea what I was doing or what my future looked like, but I was again just playing a character. I still felt isolated, strange, exhausted. When confronted with these feelings though, I could no longer run to a stage, hide behind someone else. I could only run to the Adoration chapel, hide behind a monstrance.
I came to Adoration not knowing what to say. I came to Adoration not knowing why I went. I came to Adoration not knowing what to want. I came to Adoration, and Jesus came to me.
Through spending time with Him, I discovered Him. I read about Him in Scripture and heard about Him at youth group, and sitting in front of Him, I came to know Him and His love. This love was not warranted and not earned. He did not applaud when I performed but asked for authenticity; He did not push me during rehearsal but asked me to rest. He desired me to be as I was, simply to be, because who I was – am – is His daughter. She is not a character, she is not someone I have to rehearse to become, she is not created or designed by people. She’s simply Catherine, and for Him, she’s enough.
By recognizing myself as His daughter, I learned that I am worthy by my identity, and that identity is as His own. I do not have to perform or be someone else to be loved. I just need to be me, authentically and unapologetically, scars and all. I may not be perfect, my wounds and brokenness may show, but I am who I am. I will not pretend, and I will not perform – unless, of course, it’s onstage.
Once I had found my identity, the stage was no longer an idol. Rather, it was a platform where I could use my gifts to glorify God. He gave me the gifts to understand others, to create art, and to perform well, and He gave me these talents with the intent that I use them. To throw them away would be to go against myself and Him.
I needed to take a step back so that I could remember for Whom I perform, but with Him in mind, there’s a difference now: the stage is not my own. The stage belongs to Him.