Arguably, writing training is only a small part of what I learned at The National Theatre School of Canada (NTS).
Mostly, I learned how to deal with myself.
How not to quit, that I don’t have to quit, that I am extraordinary and that I owe it to my extraordinary self to get through things.
I killed the quitter at NTS. Or, at least, I broke up with her.
I won’t summarize my entire NTS experience (although I have posted about it once already). I will be releasing articles about each of those experiences, or at least the important ones. Instead, this is:
My very first NTS panic attack
I am Invited to a Party which Initiates a Slow-Burning Panic Attack Because That’s What Invitations Do To Me.
Weeks before I arrive in Montreal, I get an event invite on Facebook. I do not know who sent me the invite, I do not know if I was one of the original recipients or it was sent along to me as an afterthought, I don’t know but I feel shock upon receiving the invite,.
I am invited to the NTS Opening Party at the NTS House.
I have never heard of the NTS House.
I have been to the school once, to have my interview. The building is old, vast, almost a castle. It was (or at least half of it) was once a juvenile detention centre. And, it shows.
When I read of an “NTS House” on the invite, the first thing I think is: Oh, a stone Montreal mansion, Yikes. I think of a ballroom. I think of entering down a large stairwell, being asked if I’d like some white wine, being escorted away from the stairwell as soon as possible so that some beautiful ballgowned actor can appear behind me.
I think of fear. Immediate fear.
The invitation includes the detail that Sandra Oh, a famed alumnus (one of the only famed alumni), will be at the party. “Dress well,” they say.
O.K. Oh. Fuck. I need a whole new wardrobe and also a list of things to say to Sandra Oh.
Do I? What do I need?
I scroll through the people on the invite list but I don’t know anybody.
I could email Michaela, the other playwright admitted into the program with me (only two people get in every year) but I’m scared. I’ve only met her once, at the interview, and she seems very put together and she seems unafraid.
I am a fearful mess. My email will sound Fearful Mess. No way.
I decide to forget about the invite.
I think about it every day.
None of my friends really know about NTS, other than a few who know that it has a reputation for being prestigious, fancy, stuck-up.
“I think it’s in a huge hall of some kind and also Sandra Oh will be there.” I wow my friends who don’t really care and who also don’t know any better which only makes me feel worse because I am not a WOW PARTY kind of person.
Luckily, Michaela e-mails me. Two weeks before school starts, she wants to know if I want to meet for a glass of wine. How civilized and thoughtful and, unlike me who can only worry about myself, generous.
We agree to meet two nights before school starts, a night before the party.
It calms me down a little to know that I will be meeting with Michaela before school starts.
The upcoming move to Montreal has me feeling awkward.
I feel uncertain and confused. I feel unprepared and I feel,
I worry about what people don’t know about me
No one at NTS knows that I am an anxious, depressed quitter.
In fact, it seems I have gotten into the school based on the presumption that I will succeed or, at least, graduate in some capacity, that I won’t quit, that I am reliable in my passion and ambition.
No one knows that I quit Syracuse University due to a mental breakdown.
No one knows that I almost quit, but then merely changed majors at, The University of Toronto, due to a mental breakdown.
No one knows that years ago, I had to change high schools due to a mental breakdown.
What do I mean by mental breakdown? I mean a sudden and complete resolve to no longer function mentally. I mean a puddle on the floor. I mean sedation. I mean quitting.
On the drive to Montreal my dad tells me to remember “really remember” that I am smart.
“I want you to really remember,” he says, “because I think you get into these rooms and you compare yourself and you, I don’t know what happens, but you seem to forget how smart you are.”
I cry every time I think about that conversation.
When my parents leave me in Montreal, I think about that conversation and I cry and I don’t know what to do.
Help me, so help me. And then,
I Meet Someone Who Can Help Me But I Am Too Nervous To Appreciate Their Help
I meet Michaela for our glass of wine.
She seems happy. And, she seems to have information that I don’t have, about the school, about our classes, about our first day.
I envy her knowledge. I feel competitive, suddenly, in a way I didn’t expect, like she’s the better student. There’s only two of us so it’s pretty easy to fall into a fictional binary with one another and in this moment I feel like my usual mess, presuming her to be the polished golden female figurine I presume of basically everyone but myself.
I ask her how she knows all her NTS wisdom and she tells me that Brittany, one of the third years, in fact lives with her.
They live in the NTS House.
I am astounded.
She lives in the NTS House? And she has met all these people and she knows all these things!
It has been years since I wanted to be part of a club (not since The Babysitter’s Club).
I don’t like the idea of Clubs. Clubs creep me out.
I am turned off by the feeling that everyone gets along, in one house, sharing information.
Something about the Club nature of where she lives makes me not want to go there.
As she tells me about The NTS House, her room, the other people, the legacy, I immediately want to go home. I want to go home to Toronto. I want to be alone. I don’t want to have to fit in. I don’t want to have to be confronted by anything she’s talking about. None of it.
“Do you want to come over? And maybe Brittany can even answer your questions or you can at least see the place and we can have some wine there?”
I haven’t yet learned to say No (I learned that at NTS).
I go home to Michaela’s club house.
Reality is Unintimidating
The NTS House is a shitty apartment overtop at Deppaneur (a convenience store.)
It is NOT a stone mansion.
I find myself on a balcony with a very tiny woman who is wearing sweat pants, a large t-shirt and an unenchanted socks/sandals combination. She is sitting with her laptop on the balcony.
This is Brittany. I have actually spoken to her over Facebook. She added me almost immediately after I was admitted into the school. I had heard she had a show down the street from me and I almost went to see it. We spoke briefly, She has been very kind.
She intimidates me greatly in this moment.
She asks if I want to know anything and I don’t really, I just want to go home.
She tells us about each faculty member. I hate this. I don’t need her point of view. I’ll see tomorrow.
I think one of the reasons I am never prepared for anything is because I have this cringe reaction towards anyone trying to tell me the way things are going to be.
I barely listen. I don’t want to know. I will find out as it happens. This is all part of an attitude that has lead me towards quitting in the past but, still, I’d rather fail than have to talk to people.
The conversation dies. I thank the women and I walk home.
I don’t like the evening.
I feel alone.
They live together and I am alone. They get along and I don’t really want to talk to either of them. They are prepared and I am not prepared.
I have one more day before school starts.
I prepare all afternoon for the party.
I pace around my apartment with a drink in my hand, having fake conversations.
I wonder about my makeup and my hair and my outfit.
All thoughts are dedicated to succeeding at the party.
It boggles my mind to think about how safe I feel, pacing around and talking to myself, but then how terrified I am when faced with having conversations with actual people.
I do love conversation. That’s why I’m a playwright.
I just don’t like real conversations.
I get drunk, I get dressed, I head to the party.
Walking across Mt. Royal, I hold wine in my hand. I am smiling when I leave my house. I am having nice conversations in my head.
I am not sure where I am going.
I am not sure how long it will take to get there.
I realize, I don’t know how to get into the building.
I don’t know what to do when I walk into the room.
I don’t know where I will put my wine.
I don’t know what I will do with my coat.
I don’t know anything. I am a stupid loser who is ugly and no one will like me or talk to me and I shouldn’t be here.
Remember how smart I am? Ok, dad, but how do I remember to remember how smart I am?
I am suddenly a baby.
Everything is bright and loud and unappealing. Everyone is speaking a language I don’t know. Everywhere I look is something new and it’s supposed to be home but it isn’t and I’m supposed to be happy but I’m not.
I walk almost halfway and I involuntarily stop walking.
I don’t know if I should go anymore.
I stare ahead of me, should I or shouldn’t I go.
I turn around, I shouldn’t go. Oh yes I should, I turn back around. I turn around, no. YES YES, I turn back around, no don’t turn back around, pivot, walk, run, home.
I enter my building as if someone is chasing me.
I sit on the couch, legs squeezed together, hands in lap and wonder if I can fall asleep like this.
In the morning, first day of school.
I know no one.