Before the darkness turned purple By Loey Jones-Perpich

Every morning for five weeks straight, I laid on the floor of black box 201.

It was the most beautiful room in the entire Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University, anyone could tell you that. Its wall of floor-to-ceiling windows let the summer sun stream in, illuminating every fleck of dust.

If you looked in the window at eight in the morning during those five weeks, you would see the 17 of us — all rising seniors dressed in black and white, brought together by pure love of theatre — lying on our backs. A tall man with salt and pepper hair would be standing barefoot in the middle of the room, talking us through our morning yoga. Slowly, you would see us begin to move.

You would see us cycle through downward dog and cobra pose, and then flip to our backs for our daily ab workout. When our limbs got close to giving out, we would quickly shuffle away, rolling up our multi-colored yoga mats and trying to take a sip of water in the 30 seconds that we’d been gifted. You would see us congregate in a circle in the center of the room and watch as the gray-haired man handed each of us a long, cylindrical stick. Maybe, if you squinted, you could see our eyes, focused so closely on the tops of our sticks as we attempted to balance them on our hands, elbows, and knees, but after 15 seconds or so, we’d dash across the room in an attempt to conquer gravity — you’d see us learn that there were some forces even we could not beat.

TOP LEFT: My friends and I walk to lunch after our morning classes, pausing for a photo on a disposable camera. Every day, we carried yoga mats and backpacks from class to class. TOP RIGHT: My cast practices trust falls on a cool July night. Sometimes, when the weather was nice, we would have rehearsal outside. BOTTOM LEFT: After our last class, we all jumped into Lake Michigan. The grass by the lake was littered with black and white tennis shoes. BOTTOM RIGHT: My friend captured this photo on a disposable camera. My friend Izzy, pictured on the right, and I rolled around on the ground in a fit of laughter. Behind us, our things are scattered in disarray; we spent most of our time at this program with our shoes off.

We would balance the sticks for 30 minutes, gaining confidence and trying new tricks, only to fail again and again. And then, if you were still watching, eventually you would see us snap out of it and begin walking in random patterns around the room, our eyes in a soft focus. We would walk, changing pace every few seconds, for anywhere between ten and fifteen minutes, and when music began to play, we would start to dance. You would see us moving our bodies to the music you couldn’t hear, without a care in the world what we looked like. You might laugh as we twirled, leaped, and rolled across the ground. You would see us learning to just be. And when the music ended and we left the room, heading to another class, you would think “What on earth was that?” and walk away.

For five weeks, I thought the very same thing.

It wasn’t until I went onstage for the first time in six months that I realized what we were doing in black box 201: We were learning to be human.

The impossible task of balancing our sticks taught us to fail; the seemingly silly dancing let us find what it meant to simply exist and breathe.We learned that we had the tools within ourselves to bring any character to life, and that if we gave every ounce of focus, energy, and passion that we had to our acting, we could never truly fail.

And so with five weeks of dancing, failing, and breathing under my belt, I stepped barefoot onto the stage of the Josephine Louis Theatre. In the second before the darkness turned to purple spotlights, with the fake fog swirling around my head, I breathed. I inhaled the truth of my character; her dreams, her fears, and the things that made her human. My lungs filled with the dusty air, full of energy from the audience and my castmates. I exhaled and let the fear of failure roll off my shoulders, knowing that nothing — not a hasty quick change, a stumble, or an unstable lift — could keep me from giving every drop of humanity I had to telling that story. And with the confidence that I was born to be on that stage, I turned toward the light, and the play began.

Created By
Loey Jones-Perpich