Artist Blog: Fiona Sauder
It’s a surprisingly chilly day in June, I’m in bed and I’ve deleted this document I’m writing in four times now. I’m struggling to write anything down without rolling my eyes. Even in the infinite space that is the Internet, I hesitate to take up space. Why?
Being born a rather confident young dame, for most of my life I’ve been confused about humility. Specifically how to reconcile feeling very large, dreaming big and wanting a lot in an industry that lends itself so well to feeling like that’s inappropriate. Despite my successes, in the interest of modesty, I try to make myself small; I lie. This habit of oscillating between fearless self-reliance and feeling the need to apologize for it has come up a lot lately.
Unlike many of my colleagues in the building, I don’t work at Soulpepper often. In fact, this is my first contract with the company as an actor proper and I’m still a bit in awe of that. But this isn’t what I talk about when friends ask me what it’s like at work. I catch myself talking about it like a grocery list. These are some details, this is what I like, this is what I wish I had more of etc. etc. I inject my thoughts with a neutral tone of ‘it’s just work’ when the truth is I’m bursting. The play I’m working on, La Bête, is a miraculous writing achievement and watching my cast mates tackle the thing is nothing short of a master class. Working for this company is a gift. I get a little electric buzz every time I use my key card to beep myself into the building (this is not because the electric lock system is broken, it’s because I’m pee-my-pants-happy to be here). I have felt welcomed, celebrated, challenged, intimidated, seen, cared for and inspired in entirely new ways by this process and the people within it. I’ve also been frightened on a daily basis that I’m not skilled enough to be playing at this level. Nothing makes me feel less like myself than not saying exactly that to anyone who asks me what work is like. Why is it always my last instinct?
I had a similar experience the last time I worked in this building, though the context was a bit different. Last year I had the immense good fortune of bringing a show my own company, Bad Hats Theatre, created and previously produced to Soulpepper’s Family Festival over the holidays. It was an adaptation of Peter Pan that I co-wrote, it starred a handful of my closest friends and I played the title role. Does it get better than that? Pretty much never.
Still, I tried to make it less than it was by changing it’s outward perception. I habitually performed the song and dance of ‘this is all normal’. I lied when I said ‘Thank you for coming, yes, it’s a really fun show to do’ because what I actually meant was ‘AHHHHHHHH THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING IN THE REAL WIDE WORLD OF MY LIFE I CAN’T BREATHE!!!!!’ and that’s what I should have said. The moment of working on that piece, in that place, with those people felt as magic as I had always dreamed it would be. I felt really guilty for being happy in that way and it manifested itself in all kinds of pretending.
My relationship with the Young Center dates back further still. I trained at George Brown Theatre School, which lives in the same building, just across the hall from Soulpepper. This pattern of undercutting myself was present then, too. I used to put away my scripts from school to read other plays in the lobby in the hopes that someone might mistake me as a professional instead of a student. A completely hilarious and reasonable fact, but did I admit this to my classmates? No. And now that I work professionally in the building, do I tell other company members how desperately I longed to join their ranks back in school? Absolutely not.
What the hell is that about? I can only speak for myself but I do often recognize these habits in colleagues of mine as well. Why are we wrapping our artistic experiences in calculated bows for the public and each other? When did candor get so stuck in our throats? Saying ‘I thought this thing I worked really hard on was deserving of the attention it got’ shouldn’t make me feel egocentric. The fact that I’m still learning and want to learn enough to earn a seat at a table I revere shouldn’t be the thing I’m scared to admit. Why are we so hesitant to shout ‘I’m scared! I don’t know what I’m doing!’ or ‘I feel amazing! I love what I’m doing!’? Perhaps we’re afraid that no one will care, or that feelings will be hurt because work is so scarce, or that making too much noise might get us in trouble with someone or other. The fact is, it probably will. Maybe that needs to matter a bit less.
I’m not sure when exactly I decided that being joyful in my work meant I was a narcissist or that practicing humility called only for self-lessening, but I’m trying to undo those attitudes. There are myriad obstacles to making good art and being good people, feeling unwelcome to express the many facets of that journey shouldn’t be one of them. I think there is immense value in feeling small if, and only if, it’s in the face of a challenge, or a place, or a moment so beautiful you have to reach for it. And, whatever the reaching looks like for you, I think it’s okay to shout ‘Look at me! I’m reaching!’