Becoming Sarah: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (A.K.A. Act I, Scene 3)

Becoming Sarah: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (A.K.A. Act I, Scene 3)

Alicia Dempster

When working on a show, regardless of your contribution to it, there are points in the process where you begin to doubt yourself or question your choices. Generally speaking, everyone is working toward a common goal – to put on the best production possible. However, as humans who are putting something out there to entertain or connect with other humans, those inevitable moments of uncertainty are bound to appear. There are the universal questions that we all ask: Will the show be good? Will people come? Will they like it? Then there are the personal moments of doubt that we deal with throughout the process.

The first time I heard about the “FUD factor” was in my role as a marketing professional in the corporate world. Regardless of its corporate roots, the “FUD factor” – or Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt - has certainly been alive and well in my journey to bringing the role of Sarah Goodwin to life. I’ve already talked about the daunting task of learning a ton of lines and thankfully I have somehow managed to rise to that Herculean undertaking. Yet there remains other points in the show where I find myself more vulnerable than others. In my ever-obsessive mind, I have dubbed a particular scene in the show as TheFUD Scene, where seemingly trivial fears, uncertainties and doubts seem to crop up in quick succession. I always breathe a sigh of relief when those moments in Act I, Scene 3 are over and I can get out of my head a little bit.

Fortunately, these moments come in quick succession and are over within five minutes of performance time. The first moment comes when my character has to fall to the ground. Having been injured in a roadside bomb in Iraq, Sarah is outfitted with a fair share of medical equipment, including a full leg brace, arm sling, wrist brace and crutch. To make the fall even more exciting, I have spent the better part of the last eight weeks recovering from foot surgery. Every time I fall, I am painstakingly aware of how I will fall, how I will land, where the crutch will go and, most importantly, if I will feel any pain in the recovering foot. So far, most of the falls have been without incident.

OK – so I’m on the ground and presumably have not broken or bruised anything. Now I have to get up. Remember, I have a full leg brace and an “injured” arm, so I can’t just bounce up like a Mexican jumping bean. This is where Aaron, the actor playing my boyfriend, has to help me up. Let me tell you, my right quad muscles have gotten quite a workout while trying to assume as much of the effort of raising 150 pounds from the ground as possible. But does it end there? Oh, hell no! Now he has to lift me up and carry me across the stage. As someone who has spent the better part of her life worrying about her weight, that 30 seconds is generally spent in silent prayer hoping I don’t end up on the ground again. Thankfully, I haven’t been dropped yet. And now I’ve been transferred to the bed for what the producer has affectionately dubbed “sexy times.”

As someone who has spent the majority of her acting career as the sidekick or in a supporting role, I have managed to generally evade the need for any romantic interaction onstage. My first onstage kiss was in The Fantasticks when a 15-year-old me was portraying Luisa. My last onstage kiss was about 20 years ago when I was doing an irreverent mash-up Christmas comedy and, as it would happen, that kiss was with the man who became my husband. The reality is that I haven’t kissed another man onstage or off since. Now let me tell you, musical theatre and comedic kissing is very different from kissing which is meant to come off as believable and is generally not set to music. Yeah, I panicked about this a little. It gave me a newfound respect for all of those actors in Spring Awakening, who had to take onstage intimacy to a whole new level. The reality is that onstage kissing is less about romance than it is about mechanics, like blocking, finding your light and being aware of volume and projection during the dialogue. It is also about having mutual respect for your scene partner and maintaining a sense of humor, which thankfully exists in my situation. Most importantly, it is about avoiding onions, garlic and tuna fish. Thanks to Liam Hemsworth for the reminder!

So, I’ve made it through the fall, the transport and the sexy times all with what is perhaps my biggest underlying fear, which unfortunately does not go away at the end of the scene. As a Type 1 diabetic, I am constantly thinking about my blood glucose levels, hoping they don’t plummet to the point where I pass out onstage. Mind you, this has never happened in my six years as a diabetic but the thought is there, nagging at me like a child pulling on my pants leg. In this production, I spend very little time offstage. Fortunately, there are Skittles stashed in the dressing room, in offstage spots and I diligently test my levels when I can to avoid any kind of dramatic medical situation. I honestly don’t know how Elaine Stritch or Victor Garber did it. I have such a newfound respect for them and I breathe the hugest sigh of relief when I’ve successfully made it through the final scene of the show.

The thing about fear, uncertainty and doubt is that they are surmountable. When you face your fears head on, you become a stronger and more agile performer. Thankfully, conquering my fears in The FUD Scene has given me a new respect for both myself and for performers that overcome similar uncertainties, if not more challenging ones. In all honestly, I feel taking a little risk and exposing yourself more than you normally would is what makes for an interesting and memorable performance. So by the time this performance is over, I will no longer fear The FUD Scene but embrace it for all it has done to develop my character and me as a performer.

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Thank You Patti LuPone, But You Accomplished Nothing

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