They were doing “High School Musical,” of all things. Of course I would come back to support my sister and my old theatre department, but “High School Musical?” The movie is iconic and an essential part of my childhood. The stage musical is an awkward embarrassment to theatre and Troy Bolton himself. So the fact that it was the show I was returning to my worst nightmare to see somehow made an already unfortunate occasion worse.

I have done theatre pretty much all my life, to the point where it pretty much is my life (yes, I’m one of those kids). I love theatre, it’s my passion. But my experience with high school theatre often made me forget that love and lose my passion. Throughout my four years of high school, I had a lot of damaging experiences that really impacted me, even to this day. All those memories came flooding back as I filed into the alumni row of the auditorium I knew so well.

Since leaving my high school theatre behind, a lot has changed in my life. I was a lead in a summer show at a respected community theatre, I started school at the University, I made great friends and new memories. Not only had my life changed, but I changed. I was no longer that little high school girl who was damaged by disloyal friends and hateful directors. So why did I still feel so small being put back in that environment?

The problem was, I didn’t feel like I had overcome my past yet. My demons from high school were still haunting me. I had applied to the School of Music, Theatre & Dance but hadn’t heard back yet; I hadn’t been able to do a show. I didn’t feel like I was any more successful in theatre than when I was shoved into chorus parts and berated by directors. I still heard the taunts ringing in my ear. I still felt like I wasn’t good enough.

Luckily enough, I did end up where I wanted to be. At the time I went back, I had no idea all the good things in store. I didn’t know that two days after seeing the show, I would get cast in my first college show. I didn’t know that four days after seeing the show, I would be accepted into the School of Music, Theatre & Dance Bachelor of Theatre Arts program. I didn’t have that knowledge of success shielding me from the insecurities I felt when I was back where success seemed impossible.

The thing is, sometimes you have to face your demons without knowledge of your current successes shielding you from your past failures. I had to find that strength in myself, not what I had accomplished or how far I’d gotten since leaving high school behind. Instead of allowing not only my high school experience to be ruined, but also my post-high school experience. I tried to remember the little things that made me happy there and all the happy emotions I felt being back. I still loved theatre. I still was immensely proud of all my kids up onstage. I still hugged my sister and congratulated my friends. Of course, I avoided my old director like the plague and practically sprinted to the other side of the lobby when I saw my ex-best-friend — that pain isn’t leaving anytime soon. But I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying the — albeit questionable — show, and I certainly didn’t let it haunt me when I returned to school Sunday afternoon.

Sitting in the alumni row of my old high school auditorium, seeing my past up on the stage in front of me, I realized that I will never be able to forget my experiences in that theatre program. Maybe I hadn’t completely overcome my past. Maybe I wasn’t necessarily where I wanted to be. Maybe I would never get to either of those points. But I could take comfort in knowing how far I’ve come, and that I’ll never be back where I was again. I found the strength in myself to face my demons, and they were a lot less scary when they looked like Troy Bolton.

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