Exactly Where You Shine – Pavanne Hawkes

I’ve been reading a book called “Big Magic”. It speaks about inviting fear to accompany you in your life’s journey, without letting it be in charge of the destination, route or water stations along the way. The theory is that it’s an easier emotion to tackle when we are no longer giving it oxygen. 

There are lots of concepts like this which have resonated with me along the way. Book titles such as “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”, “Taming Your Gremlin” and infamous quotes like, “Fear Makes the Wolf Look Bigger”. Although I understood these concepts in theory, I believe it was becoming involved in the Northumberland Players production of CHICAGO which allowed me to REALLY put them into practice. 

Pavanne Hawkes in "Chicago"
Pavanne Hawkes in CHICAGO

You see, I was being asked to do something I didn’t believe I could do well. Up until then I had stuck to levels I felt comfortable with, or took “risks” I felt fairly confident I’d master enough to get by. I was developing at a comfortable rate which I see now is just one way to grow. It’s not the sweet spot. It’s not where the power lies. 

As a parent and educator, I realized it was important to follow my own words of advice and push through paralyzing feelings of fear and inadequacy in order to try something different. How could I expect my sons and students to tackle something I myself couldn’t put into place even with decades more practice? 

Historically, I didn’t have a strong track record. Although dance was my passion from a very young age, I lacked personal confidence which in turn affected my ability. I was okay, but not the best. CERTAINLY not gifted. 

As a child I recall feeling shocked when I was not accepted into the National Ballet of Canada. In my teens I felt similarly when I was offered a Chorus part after auditioning for the coveted role of Cha-Cha in my high school production of Grease. By 20-something I was starting to figure it out and walked out of my Toronto Raptors Dance Pak audition. I was in WAY over my head and this time, knew it.

With growing maturity I had more successes in my 20s and 30s. Then along comes an opportunity to dance in CHICAGO, but this time I have years of wisdom and decades of life experiences under my belt. “You can do hard things!” I was told to tell my children when they faced adversity. Now they were old enough to repeat it back to me and I had no good reason to say otherwise.

So with my family as my cheer squad, I went for it. I walked into that audition carrying years of emotional Arts baggage and hated every second …but didn’t walk out. Eventially I was offered a part in the Ensemble and I was utterly thrilled with that, as were my innermost circle. 

Throughout the rehersal process I was startled to learn how big of a part the Ensemble actually was. Whoa baby. Besides that, I was surrounded by talent, like genuine TALENT, and a massive production budget. It dawned on me that this was kind of a big deal and I found the feelings of inadequacy at an all time high. When were they going to discover they’d made a mistake? How long until they realized I was a fraud and was going to ruin their entire show?!

Although the fear never went away, it got more manageable. As the cast and crew became more familiar with one another the bonds began to form. The production team prioritized the development of our connectios and the more experienced cast members normalized each emotion we novices faced. 

Pavanne Hawkes, bottom left, with several of the members of the CHICAGO ensemble.

There was a busy moment during tech week where I plonked down at my designated make-up station, rifiling through my rehearsal bag as I began the day. Two of my castmates lovingly poked fun at how I hadn’t even bothered to brush my hair before coming in that morning. (I was about to have ten pounds of Bobby pins put in my head so didn’t see the point.) Out of my bag I pulled 3 different pairs of character shoes, 4 pairs of fishnet stockings, my script, scrappy choreography sketches, 2 pairs of leg warmers and tasseled shorts to go underneath my flapper costume. I froze. This is was it. I had arrived. I was literally living what I had always longed for. I looked up, drank in the hustle and bustle of that dressing room and went forward each moment there on in with one hundred percent presence and gratitude.

March 1, 2020 was our final performance of CHICAGO and we had no idea what was about to hit the world. Thinking about how lucky we were to finish our show nearly brings me to my knees. To the cast and crew who not only gave me a chance but invested and believed in me, THANK YOU. At 46 years old I didn’t think I’d be having any more life changing opportunities on such a grand scale. That was nothing short of epic. For a short while I was doing something just for me. I felt like I had teleported into someone else’s life  and you were a family I don’t ever want to forget. 

Now I get it. The euphoria you feel when you accomplish something genuinely difficult is POWERFUL. It’s interesting that the world stopped at the precise moment I felt I was catching lift off. I don’t know why it’s worked out that way but things will make sense in hindsight.

I hope we can all remember to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Rich and rewarding experiences can pass you by. Don’t let them. It’s okay to do something purely for the love of it. You don’t have to be the best to be part of something. There is a place for you. Maybe chorus is exactly where you shine.