“To thine own self be true.” William Shakespeare

It’s a funny thing as a performer, finding the truth out about yourself through other characters. Week 3 of COSI is ending. One more week left in this process and it’s been extremely challenging, thought provoking, spiritual and therapeutic. Suor Angelica, a nun who secretly has a child before being sent to the convent who eventually takes her own life (spoiler alert) to be with her dead son because she simply can’t take the thought of living without him. Zoe-Elizabeth Renelda McCray, a girl floating around life trying to live with a bit of purpose and searching for the beauty in the darkest moments in life. Puccini did me a huge solid by writing a character that I’ve been exploring emotionally and vocally for the past year. Being in Italy starring in an opera is the LAST thing 13 or 14 year old Zoe thought she would be doing. Let’s visit that girl.

Carl Sandburg Middle School. 7th grade Zoe looks up and realizes she’s been surrounded by a whole bunch of people that look nothing like her. 13 year old Zoe realizes she’s one of the only if not the only black face she sees in her classes. She realizes she’s suddenly a foot taller than most of her friends. When she heads to gym class, she realizes all the other girls can loan each other clothes to borrow and she can’t because she’s roughly 10 clothing sizes bigger than most of her friends. Zoe realizes she is not the conventionally pretty girl that gets all the attention of boys and girls alike. Zoe talks to her mom about looking and feeling different than everyone she’s around and 2007 Desire McCray assures her that she was created in God’s image and what makes her different from those around her is what makes her special and that she NEVER needs to feel compelled to fit a certain mold of beauty. Zoe decides then and there to accept who she is and has ever since. NOWHERE in the waking-up-every-morning-grateful -and-happy-to-just-be-you was there a need and desire to be a professional performer. That came much later.

Flashforward to years later, senior in high school Zoe knows she SHOULD go into medicine, that it would make her family happy and would meet the standards put on her by her community waiting and anticipating a young educated black female to rise to heights those before her never could. The love for music (choir….our fam couldn’t afford private lessons growing up) and musicals stayed with me like a stomach virus. Every time I thought about going to Virginia Tech, my parents Alma Mater, to be a doctor something felt wrong. Thank God I followed that feeling in the pit of my stomach and my family nurtured that feeling, reluctantly at first (exact quote from Thanksgiving 2011 when I announced to my family I wanted to be a music major instead of pre med ”Honey, that’s not a real major. You have to rise to your full potential and get a real job”) and are now my HUGEST supporters and the reason I keep going, and frankly have made it here, sitting in my Air BNB in Italy writing this very blog post. 5 years of undergrad. 5 years of not knowing what the hell I was doing and second guessing why I chose this path and feeling that feeling in the pit of my stomach reminding me I’m not me without music. 22 years of learning to accept, appreciate, love and showcase all 6 foot 2 of me. Learning to know my worth. Learning and deciding to bet on myself every time. Trying day by day to not sell myself short because the “who would want to pay money to see YOU” talk in my head has all but ceased. Striving to find the true Zoe and showing that bomb ass chick to the world. Suor Angelica, COSI Summer 2017 in Sulmona, Italy is the vehicle to that right now and I’m embracing every moment of it.

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