...and gain a valuable life experience.
By Alisha Giampola (Actor)
I'm not a particularly fearful person you guys. I don't get worked up easily about walking home late at night, or taking expired aspirin, or missing my train, or the inevitable heat death of the universe.
But let me get really honest with you here. Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away (Florida) ... I had a vocal injury that put me into about three months of major vocal rest and nine months of weekly vocal therapy during my freshman year of college; a year that I had orginally been planning on spending singing my face off.
I had already been studying voice for several years with the head of the vocal department at the University of Florida and was absolutely certain about the course of my future: It was going to be all singing all the time. I had already gotten a head start, like any good musical theatre high school geek: performing in every community theatre production I could audition for, going to state with my high school's International Thespian Society and winning Best Solo Musical performance there, and even performing in one of UF's mainstage productions during my junior year. There was no question that I was about to spend the rest of my life singing every thought that came into my head, possibly while swinging around a lamp post in the rain.
And then, at the beginning of senior year, I began to sound different in my voice lessons. At first, it wasn't anything I couldn't fake my way around, and then it was unavoidable. The hoarseness had seeped into my speaking voice. My ability to control the volume of my singing voice in my upper register had disappeared. My voice teacher insisted I make an appointment with her otolaryngologist who specialized in performer's voices at Shands, the big fancy teaching hospital associated with the University of Florida.
The appointment itself was interesting. A scope was inserted through my nose and down my throat to view my larynx and a picture of it was even printed out so I could see what the doctor was seeing.
For me, at seventeen, with dreams of greasepaint and crowds dancing in my head, the doctor telling me I had a polyp on my cords was the equivalent of telling me I had a terminal illness. In fact, I remember dramatically sobbing to my mother in the car on the way home, clutching the vaguely disturbing image of my voice box to my chest: "He may as well have told me I have cancer!" (No, that would be so so much worse, seventeen-year-old-Alisha, you are such a diva.)
Anyway, it was pretty much the worst news I had ever received up until that point (yes, I realize this is a hashtag-first-world-problem) and I spiraled into despair of ever recovering my ability to sing. Only a few years earlier, Julie Andrews had experienced her famous botched vocal surgery, and doctors were feeling a little hesitant about recommending them. (Although successful surgeries absolutely do occur.) My doctor had encouraged me to attempt a regimen of vocal rest and regular voice therapy to correct issues with my speaking voice that may have exacerbated the damage on my cords. I proceeded to do both of these things with a mixture of hope and dread. I was devastated that I was not allowed to sing at all, which meant no more voice lessons (and as any singer knows, going to voice lessons is essentially a form of therapy) and obviously there went my plans for jumping straight into a BFA program and killing it.