This week is a little different…I interviewed myself! I just got off an incredible experience as a replacement on a tour, and it brought up a lot of crazy things for me. This is kind of like a diary entry, kind of like stepping into my thoughts. I’ve tried to be very open and vulnerable as I talk about the audition process, therapy, imposter syndrome, comparisons and more. I also talk about all of the amazing things that I learned about myself from this experience. If you’ve ever been a replacement, suffered imposter syndrome, or are just curious about what it means, here’s my brain on a page! Enjoy 🙂

Nemuna Ceesay (she/her/hers)
Photo by Carlo Albán

Being a replacement was a lot harder than I expected it to be. I guess I didn’t grasp what it truly meant. Sure, logically I understood that I would be new to the cast and I would have to work really hard to learn a track that was created before I arrived, but what I didn’t understand was how that would mess with my head. I pride myself on being good at acting, a quick learner, and a professional, likable person. All of those things are true, but being a replacement made me question all of it. Before I continue, I want to assure you that it was a great decision and there’s a happy ending! 

Here’s the story. A little over a year ago, I saw a show that changed my life. My best friend worked on the show and got me tickets to opening night. I had no idea what I was going to witness, but this show turned out to be like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It made me feel seen, it made me feel heard, it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I couldn’t stop telling people about it, and I hoped that one day I would get the opportunity to see it again. 

Fast forward about a year: it comes to my attention that this show is going on tour, and one of the actors isn’t going…there’s a spot. In the year since my life-changing experience at this show, I have worked with the director and I love her, and she loves me. Now is my chance. There is ONE role open, and it has to be mine. 

The director tells me the auditions are coming and I immediately email my agents to keep their eyes and ears open so that there is no way I am going to miss it. When I get the audition slot, I spend more time working on it than I have on any audition in a long time. I really want it. Now that I think about it, if I spent that much time on every audition, I’d probably book more jobs…anyway, I work really hard. The day comes but the director is not in the room and neither is the playwright, and I’m stressed because I know the director is on my team but these people don’t know me. Luckily, I get a callback because I was prepared and passionate, and preparation and passion are key. 

At the callbacks, I’m in the hallway waiting with about five other beautiful, black women, and all my confidence leaves my body. I’m comparing myself to all of them: I’m too light-skinned, I wore the wrong thing, I look way older than these people. Meanwhile, I’m also comparing myself to the original actress, remembering her energy from when I saw the show and convincing myself that all of these other women are sooo much more like her (I don’t know her by the way, never met her). Oh, the things our minds can do. 

Luckily, the director (who always makes me feel better) is here this time. I do the callback, I leave, and it’s now in the hands of the universe. The universe says YES, I book the job and I am so excited. I can’t even believe it. There’s about a month until rehearsals and I’m so happy…and SO TERRIFIED. 

So, on the day of the first rehearsal, I’m already scared. I’ve been freaked out for a month now and I get to the rehearsal space early. I have plenty of time to level up my anxiety. My new castmates start to file in and as I meet them, I get even more petrified because I remember how GOOD they are. 

In hindsight, I realize that it was both a blessing and a curse to have seen the show and have loved it so much. Knowing the show so well was helpful when I was auditioning, but once I started rehearsing it took me a long time to let go of what I thought it “should” be. From day one I was trying to make myself fit into what I had seen, instead of letting the show morph and change around me. Adding a new castmate will inevitably change the show, but I was fighting it for a long time, even way into the run. 

With only two weeks of rehearsal (I think I only had around 10 rehearsals), I put a lot of pressure on myself every day to be perfect, to be funny, and to be charming…of course, I failed at all of it. I don’t mean that in a self-deprecating way, I mean that in a realistic way. I was stressed about not only learning the show, but other things in my life, and even if I hadn’t been, there was no way I was EVER going to be perfect, let alone in just 10 rehearsals. I was trying to be funny in my scenes in the way that the actress before me was funny, instead of in my way, and not being my authentic self is never the answer. 

On the topic of authenticity, one of the things that really saved me during this time was my therapist. I have always sworn by therapy and tell all the artists I meet that they should be in therapy, but I have never been more thankful for my therapist than during these two weeks. I was talking to her about my crazy imposter syndrome and how I didn’t know how to stop myself from spiraling. She told me a few things:

1) Remember that if they didn’t like me, I wouldn’t have booked the job.

2) That I have to remember that I’m creating narratives in my head that aren’t necessarily true.

3) That I should come up with a mantra that I can say to myself in moments when I feel like I’m spiraling out of control.

These reminders really helped me, and the mantra I chose for myself was: My authentic self is all I need. I chose this because I was constantly trying to be something I’m not. And there was no need for that. 

One of the big things that I was struggling with during this particular process was the fact that this show is for black people, by black people and about black people. I love black people and I am a black person, but I am mixed-race, and for the majority of my childhood, I was not around many black people. It took many, many years for me to start to understand that no matter how I speak, how I carry myself, what my upbringing was like, or who my blood is from, I am black and I don’t have to apologize for the kind of black that I am.

No matter how much healing and how much work I do on myself, there are always triggers that bring back all my insecurities. This show was one of them for me because I was convincing myself (through these false narratives that my therapist warned me about) that I wasn’t “black enough” to be in this show.

Now, YOU may be a replacement in a show and not be dealing with this particular trigger, but it could look like something else. Maybe you’re replacing someone who you think is prettier than you or thinner than you or more educated than you, and your narrative becomes “I’m not attractive enough” or “I’m not skinny enough” or “I’m not trained enough”…being a replacement will bring up all the insecurities you have. BUT it is an opportunity to practice radical self-love and to trust that the people who made the decision to cast you in this show knew what they were doing. 

Once I got through rehearsals and we were on the road, my next hurdle was trying to “fit in” with the cast. I am an extrovert and like to think that I am easy to talk to and get along with. However, being the only new person in a cast that is very close proved to be another mind-game. I would say it proved to be harder than it looked, but the truth is that (once again) it was all in my head. I was constantly telling myself that I didn’t fit in or that they missed the original actor. Plus, we lived alone in our apartments, so it was easy to isolate myself. The good news is that I did a lot of self-care, but the annoying news is that it took me a while to feel like a part of the cast, and I think if I had been willing to be more uncomfortable early on, I would have felt closer to everyone and therefore more a part of the show. 

Since we know that this experience was ultimately great, let’s talk about some of the good things! Yes, it was really hard, but I believe that things that aren’t hard aren’t worth doing. I want to continue to move forward in my career and my life, and putting myself in challenging situations makes me stronger and helps me grow. 

The pros:

I proved that I can learn a really complex show in 2 weeks!!! That’s awesome.

I not only met some of the most incredible actors I’ve ever seen, but I became friends and colleagues with them.

I am a part of a show that not only changes lives but changed MY life. I’m in it! I still can’t believe it!

I now know what touring a show is like, and I know what I can and cannot put up with (touring is hard y’all).

I worked at some theaters that I have always wanted to work in and got to explore cities that I’ve always wanted to explore.

I got to learn how I deal with hard things and figure out how to show up more fully for myself.

Being freaked out brought me closer to those that I love who helped me through it.

I really am so grateful for everything this process brought me. Let’s recap, shall we? What Nemuna learned from being a replacement: 

  1. Work really hard for the things you want, and then continue to work hard once you get them. 
  2. Being the only replacement in a show will bring up intense imposter syndrome but remember that you wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t meant for you.
  3. You are enough. Your authentic self is all you need. 
  4. Don’t try to be what the other person was. Bring your own magic to it. 
  5. Don’t isolate yourself from fear of being rejected.
  6. Be grateful every day. Write down 3 things you’re grateful for. Every day. 
  7. Talk to your therapist so they can help give you the tools you need.
  8. Don’t have a therapist? Get one. 
  9. Lean on your loved ones when you need support and reassurance. 
  10. Go get a drink or dinner with your cast even if it scares you. Let them see you. Let them get to know you.
  11. Remember that doing exciting, challenging things is the only way to push yourself forward. Don’t let fear keep you in one place.
  12. Write down all the things that were good at the end of the process. 
  13. Do it again! 

I am a better person for being in this show and for everything unfolding the way it did. One of the best things about being a replacement is that I got to experience seeing the show and I got to experience doing the show. I mean, how lucky can one gal be? 

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