Friday, October 11, 2013

You're Free to Go

She hit that highway / With every ounce of faith she could summon
When courage finally comes / You never see it coming
Right outta nowhere / You open your heart / And that changes everything
You're going somewhere / And all you need to know / Is that you're free to go
-from "Right Outta Nowhere" on Kathy Mattea's album Right Out of Nowhere

The first time I met Kelsey Cooper, I thought to myself, "this little chick is going somewhere." The angelic 16-year-old with flowing turquoise locks had a voice that belonged on Broadway. 

She was one of the shining stars of a traveling youth choir. I had been a part of it when I was a teenager a decade earlier. My colleague Ron, the director of the choir, asked me if I would lead the group's drama troupe. I was excited about the opportunity to utilize my old musical theatre skills.

Kelsey was a natural. She owned the stage. But she didn't suffer from the all-too-prevalent diva attitude that has plagued so many talented performers.

For the past two years, it's been my privilege to work with Kelsey. I still get chills when she sings. I'm moved to tears when she makes one of my characters her own.

But I've known and loved an amazing number of talented people. If Kelsey was simply a great entertainer, I would be impressed. But she is so much more than that. Kelsey radiates love and goodness. I think her main concern in life is being kind. 

She drives forty-five minutes to volunteer with a children's choir every week. If I need help, she's one of my first calls. She makes time for her friends. She's a giver. 

Kelsey being funny at her AMDA audition
And she's leaving. In a couple of days, she'll be moving to Manhattan to study musical theatre at my alma mater - The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). I couldn't be more delighted, but I hate to see her go.

I moved to New York when I was eighteen too. I didn't know a soul living there. Manhattan seemed overwhelming to this West Virginia native. Living most of my life in western North Carolina had not prepared me for the hectic pace of the city that never sleeps.

But I grew to love New York. 

There's a creative energy there that I don't think exists anywhere else. 

The city was exotic and beautiful. I felt incredibly out of place but somehow also at home. I think it was the odd group of friends I was beginning to collect that helped create a sense of unexpected comfort. Drama queens, divas, serious thespians, dancers, and belters infiltrated my life. This behind-the-scenes girl was learning what it meant to express herself outside of words and paint.

To this day, some of my dearest friends are those I made as a fledgling actor in Manhattan. Just this week, while I was recovering from a painful surgery, I received words of love and encouragement from Jeremiah, Luis, and my old roommates Greg and Rahannah.

I seem to stay in a perpetual state of shock at my good fortune. How is it that one person can have so many diverse, brilliant friends?

Within a year of moving to the city, I realized I actually didn't want a life on stage. I loved writing and directing, but being the center of attention had never set well (and still doesn't). I enjoyed the craft. It was thrilling. Rehearsals were energizing. But performing in front of an audience - even a small one filled with my supportive classmates - made me sick. I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life and chose to leave the city that had quickly captured my heart.

I never expected I would ever encourage anyone to leave all they know and head to New York with dreams of marquee lights. Until I met Kelsey. She's the real deal. I see in her what I saw in those friends of mine - the ones I knew from the very first day of rehearsals would spend their lives in theatre. Kelsey, along with my old roommates and classmates, share this extraordinary passion and ridiculous talent. I fully expect to see Kelsey's name in bright lights one day.

And, like my still-working-in-the-field friends, Kelsey will find some semblance of balance. She will keep her authentic sweetness and joie de vivre. 

As Kelsey hugs her family and friends goodbye this weekend, I hope she knows our love goes with her. I hope she makes interesting, unique friends who fill her heart with a sense of home. I hope that when the city becomes a little too much, she finds a sacred spot amid the craziness. I hope that her reality surpasses even her biggest dreams.

Sweet girl, you're free to go.

To learn more about Crossflame Youth Choir - the incredible vehicle that brought Kelsey and Lindsay together - visit


  1. Lindsay, for someone as beautiful inside as you are to talk about how beautiful Kelsey is inside is quite a tribute to her. I think this is such a lovely send off for her. We wish her all the best and pray she has success and stays true to herself. To continue to use the talent that God has given her in all the walks and paths she is guided along throughout her years. We never know where those paths lead do we? I am so thankful a path brought a girl with WV roots, a big heart, and warm smile back to NC.

    1. Mary, thanks so much for your gracious words. As always, you warm my heart, lovely friend! Yes - our prayers certainly go with Kelsey as we are reminded how beautiful are the paths we're given.