“Quiet onstage!” the director whispered. “Music on in five, four…”
My heart pounded frantically as the curtains inched apart, the anticipation stretching a few seconds into an eternity. What have I gotten myself into? I thought. I can’t sing. I can’t act. As the opening of “Party Rock Anthem” filled the air, I smiled and shifted to autopilot, thankful for the power of muscle memory. Just dance.
I’m a self-admitted introvert. I make a beeline for my room when my roommates invite friends over. I sacrifice participation grades in class because I hate talking for the sake of talking. I can only handle parties if I have a specific task to do that will keep me from awkward social interaction.
And yet somehow I found myself in the cast of the St. Vincent de Paul Society (VDP) pantomime, or “panto.” It was not, as I had guessed, a silent mime production, but rather a full-fledged musical-comedy performed by college students and children in front of hundreds of people. In other words, it was an introvert’s worst nightmare, and it started as soon as my fast-talking Irish roommate introduced herself.
“Hiya, I’m Lauren,” she began. “And you must be Meg. I’ve already met Mayra.” Before I had time to respond, she continued, “I’ve got a big favor to ask. D’ya mind if we hold auditions here?”
After taking a few seconds to process her Dublin accent, I replied that I didn’t mind and spent the next two days avoiding the apartment as much as possible. On the second day I returned home and found myself face to face with someone I immediately took to be an Irish Barbie. She asked if I was there to audition.
“No,” I replied meekly, horrified at the thought. “I live here.”
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” she laughed. “You must be Meg, Lauren’s other roommate. I’m Karen, the director.”
I didn’t audition that day, but Lauren, who was the show’s choreographer, persuaded me to come to the dance audition the following week. I pointed out that I had no acting or singing ability whatsoever, but she reassured me in a classic Irish way: “It’ll be grand, sure.”
And so it was. With only Lauren’s recommendation and my dance audition, I was in the chorus. The first few weeks were rough. As the only American in the cast, I kept my mouth shut to avoid calling attention to my Chicago accent. Dancing and singing were great fun, but down time was insufferable because it invited small talk with strangers.
Out of the group of 30, I barely knew Lauren and Karen and didn’t know anyone else at all. I brought my homework to rehearsals to avoid unnecessary social interaction. This broke not one but two unwritten rules of Irish conduct: Never be seen doing homework in public, and make conversation whenever possible.
“Are you feeling okay?” the other girls would ask me, their voices full of genuine concern. “Why don’t you come sit with us?” My introversion, it appeared, so differed from their way of life that they actually thought I was ill. So though it pained me, I put away my books, dragged my chair out of the corner and joined the conversation.
By the time the show rolled around, I was ready. I looked forward to the performances, nerve-wracking as they might be. Despite my usual aversion to social gatherings, I couldn’t wait for the cast party, where I knew we’d have a blast busting out the panto songs and choreography in a club. Above all, I was thankful to have another five months or so with my VDP friends.
So when I greeted the audience on opening night with a huge grin on my face, it wasn’t forced. Bigger because I was onstage, maybe, but still real. That smile stayed on my face long past the final curtain, through hours of conversation and countless cups of tea, through sharing culture and home-cooked meals, through laughing until we cried and crying until we laughed.
That smile is still here as I write this, remembering how my Irish friends made a foreign land feel like home for this introverted American.
Meg Morrison ‘13 spent her junior year at Trinity College Dublin through Notre Dame’s Office of International Studies Dublin program. She is the magazine’s summer and fall intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org