Between Dreams and Reality

everydayI guess I’ve always wanted the opportunity to document. To write. I’ve always wanted to be able to write a magnificent novel, but that endeavour always felt too enormous. So I wrote short stories, but I wasn’t sure what their larger purpose was… So here I am attempting to ‘document’ instead.

Now I’d better preface this collection of what I suppose could be called Everyday Essays by a Performer, by saying I am not famous or even well known to anyone bar my family and colleagues. So I guess you could say I’ve just left my diary unlocked and bookmarked on the desk with the hope, one day, it might enlighten someone, in whatever capacity that enlightenment is born.

I remember my first theatrical experience clearly. I was cast as a singing possum. It was a thrilling and eye-opening experience as I stood on stage dressed in a brown jumpsuit made by one of the ladies from the local church where I grew up. My on-stage debut. I couldn’t believe what this performing ‘thing’ was. All I knew was I loved it.

I followed it up by creating a spin-off rock group with all the kids spawned by the bandmates of my parent’s own band. We were very popular in lounge rooms around town. I quickly moved on to starting a dance troupe at my primary school which then forced this small Western Sydney school to put on a full school concert in order to accommodate a certain 12 yr olds’ creative desires. Apologies to all those teachers and parents who had to sit through some classic 90’s Jazz routines.

At this point everything I knew of this thing called “performing” had come from an innocent and naive place of play. I felt something, or was moved by something and then needed to share my opinion of what I felt. And not by just saying so, but with music, colour, tap shoes, and by the social and artistic fellowship shared between the performers and the audience. I believed the value of the message warranted the effort of imaginative and dramatic display. There was nothing that would hinder these missions.

Naomi Livingston
Naomi Livingston is currently appearing in Les Miserables.

I’ll never forget seeing my first musical. Les Miserables. Oh my. It blew my mind. What was this medium!? It was followed by The Secret Garden. Watching Phillip Quast and Anthony Warlow pouring their hearts out on stage in (still) one of the most beautiful duets I have ever heard, I can actually say changed my life. I wanted to be an actor, a singer, a dancer, an artist, a writer…whatever! Just let me tell stories – like the duet – about love and loss and hope and all those universal things that tie us together as a species! The grandest dreams spewed forth from my twelve year old head. We can change the world!

So. The impression I have clearly given is that I was fast-tracking my way to achieving my dream of becoming a performer and creator. But when does reality step in? When does our creative and joyful dreaming end? We grow up; play becomes guarded, innocent acts of sharing ideas are now judged and rated and worst of all, creativity is stunted by fear. The child-like openness that once drove all those dreams into tangible fruition has dissipated and those dreams have now turned into hideously embarrassing moments that we cross our fingers don’t get re-told at our milestone birthday parties. I have too many of those to mention. Perhaps I’ll skip that next birthday bash.

[pull_left]We grow up; play becomes guarded, innocent acts of sharing ideas are now judged and rated and worst of all, creativity is stunted by fear[/pull_left]

Fear gets us stuck between dreams and reality. Fear stops us giving validity to our desires. Fear keeps us from the openness of our childhood play. My dream is to tell stories that create change. I’m oh so frightened of doing that. Sharing with people means being vulnerable. Means adding to the list of embarrassing moments. Means failing oftentimes. And I have failed…often. I have thought, and still do sometimes, that I am so tired of ‘character-building’ obstacles and why can’t we just be handed our dreams. I stamp my feet and think, “Haven’t I been through enough? Don’t I deserve it? Why do others seem to have their dreams become reality? IT’S NOT FAIR!”

This is where I stop myself and think: “Ah. First world problems. My coffee was burnt, the banks close at 4pm and I should really look into getting my teeth whitened.”

We are so quick to encourage children to play creatively and tell them of the endless possibilities and potentials for their lives, why is it we stop doing this for other adults, or even ourselves?

Why do we keep trying? Or do we quickly give up on that project and run to another in a continuous cycle? Fear of judgment, both from others and from ourselves, is so ingrained in most of us that we’ve forgotten to be open. Any wildness or ingenuity of thought we have is quickly halted by our inclination to edit every thought, so that we fall back onto the most conservative or safe option in order to minimise any potential consequence of putting such thoughts/projects/performances out in the world. That inherent desire to be accepted is so profoundly human. If we are not accepted we won’t survive. So we think. We end up living an inauthentic life where we quash what makes us unique.

How do we re-learn the openness we once possessed? How do we allow ourselves to chase dreams?

[pull_left]Fear gets us stuck between dreams and reality[/pull_left]I know I personally am much more free and silly and creative when I am mucking around with Henry, our dog. Or with my husband, Drew. Or with my best friends. I think it’s because I trust them. I feel safe to play. And even though they may laugh at me and think my improvised songs are ridiculous, I know they aren’t really judging me, but in a way, engaging with me in my exploratory play, however banal or outrageous. And this trust allows me to take creative risks.

The act alone of pursuing the dream, letting the fears and the resulting experiences drive us, pulls reality and dreaming together. And that means trusting myself. That is all I can have control over. I can trust myself, no matter what the outcome may be. It doesn’t mean every project I engage in will succeed, but pursuing the dream will ultimately lead to insights which will then fuel my trust further. It does involve taking that first, somewhat frightening step; to make the choice to start pursuing the dream, but isn’t that half the joy of that child-like openness? The not quite knowing what the dream will grow to be? I think that is what it is to live with authenticity.

For me, trusting myself and pursuing the dream means telling stories through performance. Yes, you’ll be glad to know – though it was a long road and it continues to be (as dreams go on and on) – reality follows close behind, giving me the chance to create and share stories with people, from the stage and from this here computer-machine-thingy, travelling the country and the world, experiencing other cultures as I do so.

I think my twelve year old self would be proud and would understand the battle fear continually gives me, gives many of us.

So there it is: my stream of consciousness hidden slightly behind existential ideals. I’m shaking in my boots.

But that’s the journey between dreams and reality. Let’s see where it takes us next. I’m open.


Naomi is an actor, musician, composer and first time mother. She is a WAAPA graduate but only after a detour via an arts degree where she majored in Theoretical Performance Study and Psychology. Her work includes The Libertine (Sport for Jove), John and Jen (Sydney Fringe), Wicked (GFO, Asia Tour), the release of the album “So Long Lives This” (Drew and Na Livingston) and currently performing in the Australian Tour of Les Miserables.

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