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Todd Heisler / The New York Times

May 4, 2020

YANG | Lights Up

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In September of 2017, I wrote my very first article for The Sun. It was a review for a production at the Kitchen Theatre. I can distinctly remember my nervousness submitting it to my editor at the time, and my absolute delight at the positive response I received. The next day, I went to get my usual morning coffee at Zeus, and for the first time took home with me a copy of The Sun.

Since then, The Sun steadily became a constant in my life without me even realizing. When I became a columnist the next spring, I spent days trying to decide on a name for my new column. I wanted to honor my history as a theater kid, as well as the fact that I started out at the paper writing theater reviews. A common phrase from my high school theater days jumped out at me then — ‘five minutes till places.’ It’s something we say backstage to remind the cast and crew how long we have until the show starts, and the five minutes call is often the last one before curtain.

In those last five minutes before showtime, we were often scrambling to finish up costume and makeup, checking for props and peeking through the curtains at the full house trying not to forget all of our lines out of stage fright. But those five minutes were also respite — I used to hold my friends’ hands trying to breathe, and we helped ground each other, to instill in each other the confidence that everything is going to be fine.

To be completely honest, I eventually chose the phrase as my column name out of familiarity and a sense of nostalgia, but — in retrospect — it was almost prophetic.

I spent the next two years of my college career in constant stage fright, almost always feeling like I wasn’t ready — not ready to make transformative life and career decisions, not ready to face harsh realities, not ready to fight my deteriorating mental health and most importantly, not ready to become the person everyone else expected me to become, leaving behind old hopes and dreams.

This column, and the people that I’ve met through The Sun, somehow became that five minutes of respite for me. I was able to ground myself through writing, say the things I want to say without reservation, utter the anxieties and sometimes even the truths I withhold from myself. Even in my worst hours, when I couldn’t gather enough motivation to get out of bed or speak to people, when I felt like I didn’t have the right words or had completely lost my voice, having the obligation of this column gave me a reason to express myself.

Some of the most intelligent and caring people I know now I met through the Sun, too, and they brighten up my darkest days. Former arts editor, Andrei Kozyrev ’20, whose thoughtful comments and encouragement on my first article were the main reason why I became a staff writer, I am now grateful to have as a close friend. Former arts and associate editor — and current arts columnist — Katie Sims ’20, current associate editor Peter Buonanno ’21 and my fellow columnist Ruby Que ’20 — my time with all of you during Compet solidified my love for the section. To my fellow Arts writers, I’m constantly in awe of your wide range of interests, your sharp observations of arts and culture, and I learn more from you all every day. To our beloved editor in chief Maryam Zafar ’21: You are a constant source of inspiration and kindness, and I’m so glad to know that the paper is in good hands in this turbulent time. Lastly to former assistant managing editor and my roommate Meredith Liu ’20: Thank you for having inspired countless column ideas with late night conversations, and for always being my first reader.

I realize now that I had forgotten something I’d remembered well in my high school days, which is that despite the seemingly incapacitating stage fright that I always get in those minutes leading up to showtime, when the curtains open, the lights come up and I step onstage, I’m always ready. In fact, I’ve been ready the whole time, only that I could never seem to believe in myself.

These past five minutes have been grounding and transformative thanks to The Sun and all of you, but it’s curtain time now, and the lights are up. The show must go on, and it’s time for me to overcome my stage fright, to become the person I need to be.

 

Andrea Yang is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at ayang@cornellsun.com. Five Minutes ‘Til Places runs alternate Mondays this semester.