How Theatre Saved Me

Christina Giannelli 

OnStage Contributing Columnist


This is the story of how theatre saved me: how I ventured back onto a stage just over a year ago, a completely broken person, and was slowly but surely made whole again. I’m still a work in progress, as most of us are, but day by day since beginning this journey I have become stronger, happier, more confident, more….myself. I am healing a bit at a time and I have theatre to thank for that.

I have always loved music and acting. I dreamed of pursuing it as a career as a teenager, moving to New York and making my way onto the stage. It never happened because…well, life happened. I can’t say that I am altogether sorry, I am now a mother to four incredible children and I would not change that for anything. But, it has always been in the back of my mind and heart. Then in the Fall of 2013, I saw an advertisement for a community theatre group who was holding auditions for “Jesus Christ Superstar” and that dream made its way back to the very front of my mind.

I made the decision to attend this audition, at what was the very lowest point in my adult life. I had always battled with anxiety and depression and in the last several years it had taken over my life. After going through some very stressful situations, postpartum issues and a car accident I was living with a fairly severe case of panic disorder with agoraphobia. I felt completely broken. I could barely do anything at this point. I was suffering through a dozen or so panic attacks daily. I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t be anywhere outside my home without them happening and they had begun happening at home as well.

My husband came home one day to find me curled on my kitchen floor, hyperventilating. I began therapy sessions and medication. They helped somewhat but I was still miserable and barely living. I didn’t know what to do. Then at an appointment with one of the professionals I was seeing she made a comment I’ll never forget. She said you know what the most surefire way to help you get better is? Deal with it. Confront the things that scare you the most. Do things you know will make you panic. It’s the absolute most difficult way but also the best way to actually get better. Force yourself through it. It was shortly after this that I saw that ad and made the decision that changed my life. If I was looking for something that would scare the shit out of me this surely was it.

I signed up for a time slot and counted the days. I panicked at home thinking of doing it but I felt I had to. I had always wanted to do this again and never thought I would be able to. It was really my biggest nightmare at the time, being in a strange place, in front of people I did not know, being judged and watched. But, I knew I had to do it.

The day of the audition came and I was a wreck. I don’t know how many attacks I had that day but I kept going. I drove myself there and sat in the parking lot for a while just trying to catch my breath, I went through every relaxation technique I had been taught. I went into that auditorium terrified. Luckily, this group was very kind and easygoing. I introduced myself and got on that stage. I could barely breathe, I was shaking, I was having tunnel vision so I couldn’t see that well but I got through my song and made it out. I felt ecstatic. I had done it.

I was put in the show because this group kindly took everyone. It was very difficult. The first day of rehearsal I was literally just trying to make it through without running out which was all I really wanted to do. I was a wreck through everything but I was doing it. I was having attacks at every rehearsal but I was dealing with them, albeit there were many trips to the bathroom or dressing room to pull myself together. I did end up telling a few people as we got closer to the show’s opening. They were all so understanding and kind. I made it through the performances, medicated and panicking but I did it. At the end, I had made it through something I never thought I would be able to. To this day, I am still so grateful to this show and the group of people I worked with there who helped me in ways they may never even know. And FYI, I picked the perfect group, they were welcoming, friendly, fun, laid back and not to mention, put on a kick ass show!

Since then, I have done more shows and every time it gets easier. I cried after the last show I was in because although I had a few mild attacks during rehearsals, I made it through every performance with not one. I was able to just be on that stage and just enjoy what I was doing. Also, it was with the same group I had first worked with, the difference was astounding to me between who I was that first time and at this point. My son was also in the show and seeing him do this as well and love it was amazing. The real beauty is that this also spread to the rest of my life. I made many wonderful friends here, I can drive panic free, I go out daily, and I have a life again! I feel good about myself again. I feel like a complete, healthy person again. I have reconnected with something I love to do, and not to toot my own horn, but I’m good at!

So, this is my story of how I re-entered theatre, how I found my way back to the stage and back to myself but just to be clear, this is just the beginning of my story. I plan to add much more to it so stay tuned world…….I’m back!!

Photo: Seaver College's Theatre Program