BETTY GILPIN, ’00
As an actor approaching a scene, you’re supposed to look at the given circumstances. It’s winter, I’m an astronaut, my neighbor is trying to murder my cat. You then specify your objective. I want to save my cat. I want to save my cat by…making my neighbor feel weak? By poisoning him with my glares? No, killing him with kindness? How should the scene be played?
As an eleven-year-old, this was my dilemma. In my mind, becoming an actor someday wasn’t an objective—it was a given circumstance. I had ten fingers, I lived on a dirt road, I was an actor. The objective was less clear. The bones of the scene of my life were there- the overwhelming love and respect I had for theatre ensured me that there was no other direction in which my life could point. This was knowledge I held in my hands; the actual execution of my dream seemed so far away. At the end of my 5thgrade year at a public school, I was a short, scrawny, awkward (once mistaken for the youngest Hanson brother!) little girl, an “old soul” in that I was already completely crippled by the insecurity that my peers wouldn’t find until years later, if at all. I ruined most family pictures by putting both hands over my face, or hiding behind my mugging brothers. I was generally embarrassed by my own existence, the polar opposite of the fully inhabited, confident actors I had grown up watching. The objective of becoming an actor seemed about as likely as saving your cat by going knife-shopping with your neighbor. I braced myself for middle school.
This happened to be the year my parents decided to switch our schools and send us to WMS. This announcement was the perfect opportunity for me to throw myself on our chaise longue in sobs, a shattering tableau I hoped would change my parents’ minds. It didn’t.
In the three years that followed…I didn’t change. Instead, WMS helped me find and celebrate the person that was already there. I watched my teachers embrace qualities in their students that I had thought were flaws. That’s Mark, he’s loud, isn’t he fantastic? Amanda never speaks, but have you read her story about ducks? It’s revolutionary. (It was.) My adviser Kathy Coe had a magic way of seeing exactly who each student was, and giving them the specific care and attention that they needed. I remember her saying that if Romeo and Juliet had survived, they would get bored with each other. It was the greatest thing I’d ever heard. She looked at people from every angle and drew out the thinker in every one of us. We were twelve and reading stories we’d written out loud to each other. At my old elementary school, when we had to answer multiplication questions out loud, my face would blush purple and my voice would shake. Now I was playing the part of the demented wizard in my story for Sheila’s writing class. I got the best grades (albeit check marks) of my life because I was celebrating my ideas and collaborating with my peers. I didn’t know it then, but WMS was giving me the essential ingredients to become an actor. I walked around in socked feet, high-fiving teachers. I had found a comfort in being myself that enabled me to trust my own creativity and intelligence. I thank WMS for this and try to call upon it for every job, every challenge, every family photo.