The Rocky Road to Self-Confidence: A Vulnerable Share On Confidence
I’ve always envied confident people. Those people who glide through the world without questioning their every move. The people who aren’t afraid to say what’s on their mind, look however they want to or to take up space.
The funny thing is – a lot of my acquaintances would probably place me in that “confident” category. But I’ve always felt that my confidence was only surface deep; it was a role I was playing after a lifetime of performing, rather than a true reflection of my actual self-esteem. On the outside; I’m friendly, I speak my mind, I smile a lot. But inside I’m painfully insecure. Saying or doing the wrong thing has the power to keep me up all night. And let’s not even talk about my body image. As a curvy woman in a world where thin is in, I’ve spent most of my life in baggy clothes, or with my arms crossed over my dreaded midsection. I’ve always felt too big to be beautiful, but too small to fit into traditional body positivity movements. My insecurity is deep-rooted, and it impacts every element of my life.
That insecurity got a rude wakeup call in 2016 when some theatre friends of mine announced that they were organizing a shadow performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In case you’re not familiar, Rocky Horror is a genre-defying 1975 musical/comedy/horror film known for its campiness and super sexualized story elements. The movie (and the musical that came before it) had a huge impact on counterculture and the sexual liberation movement in the ’70s. In the 40 years since its release, it’s become a cult classic and is commonly performed as a shadow show where costumed actors lip-sync and act out the film in front of the screen. And let’s not forget the audience participation – audience members have their own lines that they yell at the screen, as well as various props and items that they throw at the actors. It’s wild, overwhelming, and pure fun.
Nell Campbell, Patricia Quinn, Tim Curry, and Richard O’Brien in the 1975 film.
But I knew none of this when I accepted a role in that 2016 production. My experience with Rocky was limited to one Halloween-night viewing at a friend’s house years earlier that I could hardly remember. I only really remembered one female character – Janet, the timid and naive ingénue who stumbles upon the castle with her fiancée, Brad. I agreed to play Janet in the shadow show. It seemed like a safe choice. Until I re-watched the movie.
Janet starts off as innocent and naive. But throughout the course of the movie, Janet has a sexual awakening. Her clothes come off. She has sexual encounters with not one, but two people in the castle (neither of which are her fiancée). Her big number is called Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me. I think you can assume what that’s about. How was someone like me supposed to portray a character like that?
Pretty much my reaction when I realized what I’d gotten myself into.
Rehearsals started off fine enough. I was old friends with many of my castmates, and we had a lot of fun learning to time our lip-syncing and movements to the characters on screen. I loved playing Janet – until our first costume fitting.
My first two costumes were safe. Vintage dresses that highlighted my curvy figure without clinging to any of my least favourite body parts. But just like they do in the movie, those dresses needed to come off.
Upon entering the lab, Brad and Janet are stripped down to their undergarments. For Janet, that means a white slip and bra. The bra, while revealing, wasn’t the worst of my worries. It was that damn slip – so thin and tight that no amount of spanx could hide the curve of my belly. I hardly moved the first few dress rehearsals because of how hard I was sucking in my stomach. It helps that Janet is uncomfortable at first – my discomfort was method acting at its finest.
Then came the pièce de résistance – black lingerie, complete with fishnets and a feather boa. I would probably feel self-conscious wearing an outfit like that around my boyfriend. How was I supposed to wear it in front of a crowd of hundreds of people? “You look great!” my friends said. “They’re lying!” replied my anxiety. The days leading up to that performance were hugely stressful, but not just about the dance steps or lines. I was most nervous about putting myself out there and being exposed. Susan Sarandon, the Janet whose beautiful image would be projected behind us, was probably 50 pounds lighter than me. Every Janet I’ve ever seen was thin and beautiful. How would the audience feel when they saw someone like me step on stage?
Some of my costumes from our 2016 production.
Vulnerability can mean different things to different people. When you’re insecure about your body, showing it off on stage can make you feel completely naked. Frankly, it’s terrifying. But it’s also freeing. This was about as far from my comfort zone as you could possibly get - but I’ve lived exclusively in that comfort zone for years, and it hasn’t helped my confidence. I was a seed, growing quietly under the soil for years. But sometimes you need to break through the dirt and into the unknown to see the sunshine.
On show night, I was a mess of nerves. I remember applying my makeup with trembling hands. I truly didn’t think I would be able to get through it… until the performance started. I could feel the audience buzzing with excitement. This crowd knew every line. They knew every dance move. And their enthusiasm was contagious. Like Janet, I was afraid and self-conscious in the beginning too. But as her confidence grew, so did mine. When I emerged in my lingerie for the finale, the crowd went wild. I danced. I sang. I had water thrown in my face (it’s part of the show, I promise), and my ears rang from the screams of the audience members. And yet, it was the best night of my life. I didn’t waste one second worrying about rolls or cellulite. For the first time in a long time, I lived in that moment, unafraid of what others thought of me.
It wasn’t until that night that I truly understood what Rocky Horror is all about. Rocky is messy. It’s kitschy, campy, and utterly ridiculous. It’s a lot of things – the one thing it’s not is perfect. This show is not about being thin. It’s about being you, being free, and being confident.
Liam Robbins and I as Brad and Janet, 2016. Photo credits to Dominique Roche Photography.
This guest post was written by Julianne Meaney, a performer, music educator, and lifestyle blogger from Newfoundland, Canada. If you’d like more posts about finding yourself in life and style, you can visit her blog here: www.findingjulianne.com!