The ‘Dirty’ Line that Conquered A Great Fear

                            By James Ng

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“I love it when you talk dirty.”
I want to run from the sentence my mind cannot escape: “I love it when you talk dirty.”
I went to bed replaying and dreading those words. They ruined my morning, as well. As usual, I left my house at 6:45 for the 40-minute train ride to school. I wanted the ride to last forever. I wanted first period Mandarin to go on all day. I did not want to leave second period history. Then butterflies burst from my stomach with the third period bell.
It was Dad’s fault. I did not want to take acting. He suggested I sign up, feeling the class could cure my extreme shyness.
I now find myself trapped in the first week of scenes. My assignment: William M. Hoffman’s As Is, a drama about a gay couple facing the realities of having AIDS.
My partner for the scene, Brian, is the opposite. He’s an outgoing guy who lives for the drama. He volunteers us to be first to perform.
I try to clear my mind and begin. As I recite the lines with fear of that dreaded sentence, I hide my fear. The bomb nears. I tuck in my gut and somehow find the courage to proudly say to Brian:

“God, I love it when you talk dirty.”
I quickly glance up at the class expecting lots of laughter. Other than a few slight chuckles, no one laughs. The students follow the scene seriously. I feel my peers’ growing attachment to my character and his feelings. This character-audience link helps me realize that there is nothing to be afraid of when performing. All of my pre-performance worries disappear because I finally understand that no matter how embarrassing something seems in my head, the people around me may not be laughing. In this case, the audience even seems impressed with my courage and riveted by my performance.

My shyness has always induced a fear of speaking in front of people. A few weeks before my scene, my legs shake uncontrollably and my face turns redder than a tomato. I am presenting an analysis of George Washington’s Farewell Address to my U.S. History class. I begin, take a quick peek up and see 30 pairs of eyes watching me, including the stern, dark eyes of my teacher. Fearing for my life, I immediately bury my face into the paper, reading the words instead of presenting them.

I now wish I had completed acting class before that presentation. Acting class helped me feel more comfortable in front of strangers. Throughout the semester, the class required us to be foolish and overdramatic in front of each other. Some days we were on the verge of committing suicide; on other days, we were gorillas at the zoo. After that first scene with Brian, I enjoyed the class, laughing more than I panicked. I learned to speak with, not to, the audience. The scene with Brian conveyed this belief, as we helped the class experience the same sorrow we expressed through our characters.

The summer after the class, I attended Cooper Union’s MakerSpace STEM program. Groups were required to give weekly presentations on their projects in Cooper’s Rose Auditorium. Unlike my former self, these presentations did not phase me. Sure, I felt some jitters, but I did not fear speaking to the crowd when I stepped on the stage and in front of the podium. In fact, I even took command of my group when a presentation began to go astray. I was no longer alone on stage because it no longer felt like a stage.

James Ng, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, will be a freshman at New York University in the Fall.

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