By: Emily Foley
Eight years ago, a very small, thin, frightened me walked through the doors of the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory for the very first time. This is what I remember: I wore a bright pink hoodie with the word “peace” in rainbow letters across the front, which I thought made me look extremely hip and was a nice change from my usual school uniform. The Conservatory handbook had suggested “jazz pants” for class, and I had no idea what those were, so mom and I had gone to Target and bought my very first pair of yoga pants, which made me feel like a real-life dancer and somewhat matched the results of our google image search. On my feet, I wore my Irish Dance soft shoes, because who knew whether it would be worth spending the money on those “jazz shoe” things?
I could barely even get myself through the doors. I had two classes scheduled for that day: one was Live On Stage, for which I was absolutely terrified, and the other was Intro to Voice, for which I was absolutely terrified. There was a fifteen-minute break between the classes, which caused me copious amounts of anxiety, and I had begged my mom to drive back to the Conservatory to sit with me, because the Green Room was filled with people I didn’t know.
When the doors opened for classes, an tall man with fancy Nikes came out and invited our class into a very large black room unlike any I had seen before. I quite literally quivered with nervous energy. I remember fear and discomfort as he hugged some of the other eight-to-ten-year-olds in my class. I was very obviously the new kid, since I had entered between semesters and most kids stayed the entire year. The man explained to us that we would be singing music from Broadway shows, which made me happy, since the only music I really knew had come from the Cats and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat tapes that mom played in the car. We were given sheet music - a new concept for me - to a song called “Doctor Jazz,” and my discomfort slowly melted as this new concept of singing and dancing at the same time entered my world.
A few weeks later, I was chosen as the understudy for the solo in that song, and it was the most excited I had ever been. When the semester ended, I donned a black leotard, a red ballet skirt, and shiny new black jazz shoes. Mom let me wear mascara. I felt glamorous. I was absolutely, soul-crushingly intimidated by the older kids in this new thing called “Showcase.” I had heard somebody mention the world “company.” Did they get paid? After the show, mom gave me a huge hug and asked me if I would like to come back. I said yes. The next semester I would move up to the 11-13 class, who were the cool older kids who got to use props in their dances.
Today, eight years later, I have my last performance with the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory. Since then, those doors have housed some of the happiest and hardest moments of my life. I became one of the terrifying older kids, although I can’t recall making any money off of it. The big black room has become a sanctuary for the biggest discoveries and strides I’ve ever made. The kids in the Green Room that I didn’t know are now my family. The tall man with fancy Nikes, his now-husband, and the rest of the teachers at NCTC have given me my entire world. It’s fascinating to realize how much has changed. And scary. But if that day had not happened, if I had not walked through the doors, sat in the Green Room, and waved to the tall man with cool Nikes, I have no clue where I would be today. All that I have left is gratitude.
Photo: Curtis Brown Photography. L-R: Emily Foley, Matthew Sheaffer, Becky Layko Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat July, 2016