Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?
When I found out I had been cast as Emile de Becque in the musical South Pacific, I was excited but confused, and even a little scared. Why had I been picked as the lead, even though I was a sophomore with no experience singing in the operatic style of Emile? How was I going to pull off a French accent? What did a French accent even sound like? Was I just going to make a fool of myself? These questions agonized me. I seriously considered telling the drama teacher that I thought she had made a mistake, that someone else could do the job better than I could, and that I’d rather take a smaller role. But then I remembered why I enjoy drama so much. I love the pressure. I love how you have to face the audience, showing no fear, and become someone else for those few moments on stage. Most of all, I love the sense of accomplishment after a good show. I realized that, because this would be my most challenging role yet, it could end up being my most fulfilling one. So, after laughing at the insanity of what I was about to do, I set to work. First, I tried to figure out how to speak with a French accent. I looked at old versions of the play, and tried to mimic the way Emile spoke. My drama teacher told me I sounded like Count Dracula, so I started meeting with one of the French teachers at my school, going through each of my lines and trying to say them the way she did. When I tried again for my drama teacher, she said that my accent sounded forced, as though I was trying to repeat each line exactly as I had heard it. My drama teacher was not being too harsh; I still didn’t sound at all like a genuine Frenchman. I didn’t understand why this was so difficult for me. I was very good at Spanish, the language I studied in school. Shouldn’t I be able to pick up the accent of another language pretty easily? Eventually, I found an accent I could comfortably and consistently use for all my lines, and I was proud that I at least sounded like Dracula after a long vacation to Paris. I then tried to work on my singing voice. I love music, and I had been in musicals before, but I had never had a voice lesson, so I had no idea how to sing in an operatic style. At first, I tried to force it, and just wound up off-key. But by working with the music teacher, I found a way to sing naturally that worked with the music. I was no Pavarotti, but I knew that Dracula couldn’t sing like that on a sunny day. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to sing like that on a sunny day, because the weather turned nasty on the eve of the show. Though many students usually attend our out-door performances, only a few were kind enough to keep our parents company in the freezing cold. None of the tech for the show worked out, either: the microphones cut out, the voice-overs were too quiet, and the sound effects came in at the wrong times. The school newspaper aptly described South Pacific as one of the least successful school plays in memorable history. After the show, I once again found myself excited but confused, and even a little scared. How could I be so ecstatic after such a monumental failure? Should I see a doctor? I knew the show was bad, but I also knew that I had taken on a daunting task as best as I could, and had become a much better singer and actor as a result. I learned the only way I could have—from experience—that there are worse things than failure, and better things than success.