What do Rose Dewitt-Buktater, Bella Swan, Scarlett O’Hara, Vivian Ward, and Carrie Bradshaw all have in common? Aside from being smart, effortlessly beautiful, and charming, each of these women fall under the category of “the leading lady.” They’re the protagonists, the heroines, the heart and soul of their individual films. What would The Titanic be without Rose and her iconic love story? Vivian Ward was the Pretty Woman. And Carrie Bradshaw, of course, was the glue that held the Sex and the City gals
together. Would Charlotte, Samantha, and Miranda ever have discovered the Cosmopolitan if it wasn’t for her guidance? I think not. These leading ladies are the women who get the guy in the end. They’re the focal point of the movie posters and theatrical trailers. We’re highly invested in them and their stories.
Often we forget that behind every leading lady is a devoted sidekick. The best friend. She (or he) may not have as many wardrobe changes or lines of dialogue, but she is crucial to the story in an entirely different way. The best friend is the source of comic relief. She is reliable and a constant support system for the leading lady to fall back on when chaos ensues. Her unconditional support for the protagonist is what allows her to go on all of her protagonisty (yes, protagonisty) adventures. At times, the best friend can be self deprecating. She rarely ends up with her own happily ever after because she’s too busy sacrificing her own needs for those of others. However, she still manages to grace the movie screen with a smile any chance she gets.
As a little girl, I saw the world through lenses where people fit into one of two categories: the leading ladies or the best friends. I felt early on that I was best suited as a trusty sidekick since I had always identified closely with the supporting roles in my favorite fairytales. I was the jester of my royal family, always easing any tension with a joke or five. My sorority sisters deemed me the “Pepto Bismol” of our chapter, because I have an uncanny ability to neutralize any tense situation. I possess the gift of setting people at ease and well…care-taking. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the more I told myself that I wasn’t leading lady material, the more it became my reality. I was the best friend, never the girlfriend- the bridesmaid, never the bride. Needless wantless. I found myself in relationships with people where I did the giving and rarely reaped the benefits. I never knew things could be any different.
Recovery Through Performance opened my eyes to a whole new way of existing in the world. When I received my first draft of the script and peaked at the cast list, I had a visceral reaction. The play was called Twin Falls and I had been cast as one of the twins. Did that mean…no, no it couldn’t. Was I a lead role? Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m aware that this play doesn’t have true designated lead roles. However, as I leafed through the script more thoroughly, I came to the realization that I was going to be on the stage for the majority of the play. I had a significant amount lines and great deal of the plot revolved around my character, Sylvia. When I came to this conclusion, I immediately felt apologetic. It was intolerable to sit with the fact that I was going to have to take up this much space and be a focal point for the audience. I wanted to leap back into my best friend comfort zone. I had gotten so used to dimming my light so that others could shine. I didn’t know what on earth (EARTH!? WE’RE ON EARTH?) the next couple of weeks would bring.
As the Recovery Through Performance process continued, I truly began to connect to Sylvia on her emotionally freeing and inspirational journey. I could feel myself becoming more and more open to the idea of this leading lady way of life. Having the support of the other cast members as I navigated this unchartered territory was such a gift. They helped hold up the mirror for me and see things in myself that I never knew were there. I began to think, “What if I had actually been leading lady material all this time but was simply behaving like the best friend?” What if smart, assertive, lovable Sylvia has been inside of me all along?” That thought is equal parts terrifying and exciting. It means that the old narrative I’ve been living by for the past 24 years was never supposed to be mine. That somehow there was a mix up, and as a little girl, I got the idea that I wasn’t supposed to shine when really, I have enough light to fill an entire room. I guess this would mean that I could finally come out of the wings and make my way to center stage in my own life. I could take more risks, tell people how I really feel about them, find new things I’m passionate about, and allow myself to really be human.