Dressing Room Door Dragon

photo by Bjorn von Thuelen

photo by Bjorn von Thuelen

I coach, write and workshop on dealing with gremlins all the time.  The Gremlin is our inner critic who usually is telling us we are either not enough or that we are too much and therefore we should quit risking the status quo and we should turn back now.  I like to think of it as an over protective parent on steroids.

I teach that a gremlin is a voice in your head, which might come from the past (teacher, parent, friend) or might be one you created, and I work with people to identify their gremlins and then bust them for the non authentic kill joys they are.

I also know that they are insidious and powerful and never should be underestimated in their power.

Imagine my surprise when minutes after a performance I gave this season, a real live gremlin showed up at my dressing room door.  This gremlin was definitely not inside my head, but she had a lot of dialogue that sounded familiar from the inside of my head.   A real person who had a gremlins speech prepared to cast doubt on everything I’d done and, with well wishers right behind her, proceeded to criticize everything from my voice, my choice of repertoire and finished up with my teacher and threw in her disappointment with me in this performance to boot.

I promised myself I would write about this very personal experience, despite the fact a Gremlin sits on my shoulder as I do so, telling me that people will read this and say “that woman after the show was probably right.”  Part of my healing, and my reclaiming of that event is to tell you, the reader, not what was specifically said, but my journey after this.  It is my sincere belief that by sharing my dark moments, I cast light for myself and for others, so it never need be so dark again for any of us.  Gremlins don’t have to be so powerful and they aren’t ‘right’ just because they murmur from the shadows.

Just as I encourage my clients to name their gremlins, to give them an outside identity, I took care of mine and while this one has a real outside identity, to me she is now-The Dragon.

The Story unfolded like this…..

The Dragon Appeared

Initially, when she began, I was in a state of shock.  I was totally surprised by her words and my polite singer responses that were meant to make light or deflect her comments did not deter her from continuing.   Gremlins are very powerful and while a positive comment slips to the side with a hug and handshake, the negative comment sticks to you.


photo by Travis Wise

photo by Travis Wise

The Dragon  Burns Everything in her Path

As this dragon continued to spew forth her fire I found my gremlins coming out to support her.  ‘Huzzah!’ They said., and ‘I always secretly thought that too’.

Caught at the door as I was I end up   saying things like you’d say when the roast was over done at  dinner.  “Yes, well, maybe I’ve left in the oven too long, but it wasn’t so bad”.    The dragon was having none of this, and turned up the heat.  The voices of my rapidly assembling Gremlins say ‘maybe it is true.’

Calling all Dragon Slayers!

There is a time in every battle when the hero is backed into a corner and the enemy is advancing and you think the fight is over.  Our hero seems to run out of options, when suddenly, the hero discovers that magic

photo by Walt Stoneburn

photo by Walt Stoneburn

ring, or the pistachio shell in his pocket that all dragons are allergic to, or some such thing that turns the tables on their nemesis.  This was that moment when my dragon slayer needed to produce just such a weapon before the gremlins began a full fledged riot.

The weapon I had was ‘choice’.  Will I choose to allow this to continue, or will I choose to refuse.

I planted myself.  When asked who my teacher was, I answered proudly, when that was mocked and other teachers were suggested I responded with conviction about my choices and for a brief and needed moment, I saw her scrabbling to maintain her position of ‘expert’ and ‘authority’ .  I saw her as the gremlin she really was.  She was spouting doubts and fears with no real root in fact.  She gave me her baseless opinions that I didn’t have to take on.  She was the Dragon gremlin that builds itself up by tearing others down.  Her status is raised by mine being lowered.  My dragon slayer for this brief and shining moment saw it and delivered the final blow. I told her she was wrong and I disagreed totally.

The Battle Field Remains

The dragon retreated to other dressing rooms on the row to singe and torch others and I was free, but the battle had left a sour smell in the air and blood and wreckage on the ground.   I was still wounded and it was a slow bleeder.

The Aftermath

This living breathing dragon ruined those performances for me in that moment.  While I had successfully vanquished her from the door, there was still a huge stain on all I had accomplished and I couldn’t bask in the moment  of satisfaction post performance.  Her gremlin dialogue was too loud and my gremlins had stayed around to replay it and replay it.  Inside I was trying to put each remark on trial and vet it. This provided fertile ground for the performers worst enemy amongst the gremlins to come forward-The Fraud Gremlin.

“You are a fraud.  Every one knows it and finally someone said it to you.  She isn’t alone.  Many  people feel this way and everytime you open your mouth you are a pretender and everyone knows it.  FRAUD!”  they chanted.

As I left the theatre to go to a reception I became angry that I allowed one person to spoil something that over 2000 had experienced.  That I allowed one persons reaction to become the whole reality and color of a 6 day experience.  I allowed one persons vitriol to wipe out feedback from friends, family, respected colleagues and the conductor.   As the spiral goes it begged the question-“If I take her criticisms to heart shouldn’t I quit?”  And then, in a sort of Grinch who stole Christmas moment my heart opened up.  In my heart it was revealed to me that I didn’t sing that piece for her.  I didn’t give that performance for her.  I don’t even respect her let alone like her even. No,  I gave that performance for me.  I sing for me.  I perform for my satisfaction, my expression, my need to express.  Others are invited to witness it, and a performer needs and audience and I want to be in relationship with them but I don’t do it for them.  I sing because I want to and because in a way, I have to.  So whether or not the dragon liked it was really of no matter.  I guess she wasted her time coming to hear that piece, but I didn’t’ waste my time creating and performing it.

Next installment:  Dragon Slaying Tools I Discovered

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