Spotlight on Saya Hillman

by Tracey on April 23, 2014

We are so honored that Saya Hillman auditioned for the 2014 LTYM Chicago show. Her supportive and joyful personality has brought nothing but positive energy to our cast’s experience; thank you, Saya!

“Tell us something you did that scared you…”

by Saya Hillman 

Doing things that scare me is kind of my thing. So much so that sometimes I feel that when I share my newest challenge, people are internally rolling their Oh this again eyes…

In high school, I locked myself in the Community Service Club room, Stuart Smalley’d myself, and called Phil the Northwestern student I worked with at the NU bookstore to ask him to my prom. He very sweetly, and very taken by surprise, said no. While embarrassed to face him at work the following week, I eventually realized this was a good lesson in though the world may feel like it’s ending and you may feel like the biggest loser EVER, life goes on and soon Phil will become a distant memory and eventually fodder for a blog-post eighteen years later.

When I moved back to Chicago after a Boston college-stint, I really wanted to run the Ricky Byrdsong 5K. But chunky and having never run more than the mile required during high-school’s Presidential Fitness Test (perhaps the worst creation EVER!), I was too nervous to sign up. I was afraid that I wouldn’t have the right shoes, that my rubbing-thighs would start a fire, that I would be the only one waddling on the course hours after others had finished. So I trained for and ran a marathon instead. Three miles, twenty-six miles – they scared me equally as much, so why not GO BIG? 


San Diego Marathon Finish Line

After I saw RENT eight times my freshman year of college, for one night I wanted to be Mimi, the sexy vixen who sang, acted, and danced with gut-wrenching passion. So what if I couldn’t sing, act, or dance, and was scared to do any of them? Everyone should get to be a rockstar, basking in a standing ovation glow, regardless of skill, at least once. So I gathered sixteen other ‘bad’ dancers, hired a choreographer, rented a studio, rented a theater, and after three months, we danced in front of and received a standing ovation from 350. I’ve since gone on to fearfully do ‘bad’ improv and ‘bad’ stepping in front of sold-out theaters of 750 as part of my creation Fear Experiment.


Fear Experiment Steppers at the Park West

Because I think we wrap ourselves too tightly in friend and significant-other security-blankets when we go out with people we know, often huddling with them in the corner of a party or networking event, not meeting anyone new, I started going out solo in my mid-twenties. Though it was nerve-wracking especially in those early years when I still cared what people thought of me, really positive results – confidence boosts, deep conversations, gaggles of new connections – started, well, resulting. I still have those “Where should I sit?” “Who can I talk to?” middle-school cafeteria thoughts upon first arrival, but I push through the apprehension because of the eventual goodness. E.g. in my nine years of self-employment, I haven’t spent any money on marketing due to the word of mouth’ness of my expansive network, many of whom I garnered during the Solo Life.

In my early-thirties I became enamored with being a professional speaker. Get paid often-gross sums of money to travel the world sharing your passions? Yes please! Nevermind that I had no idea what I’d talk about, that I sweated profusely under bright lights, that the idea of being expected to inspire and enlighten via my thoughts was terrifying (especially without the security-blanket of notes!). I wanted to command a room while wearing a Madonna head-set mic and advancing slides via a sleek remote-control, gosh darn it. So I put on my website that I was a professional speaker with instructions on how to hire me. Two days later, a conference curator asked me to speak at his conference, which is how my first paid speaking-gig was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in front of 300. And how, because of my bio on that conference’s website, I became a TEDx speaker.


Now in my mid-thirties, I’ve “professionally-spoken” multiple times. So while I still get butterflies, I’m not usually scared. This lessening of the fear-factor coincided with the rise of the art of storytelling, for which I’m head over heels and completely in awe of.  Thus when I was asked to participate in Here’s the Story, an evening of people telling ten-minute stories with NO NOTES, I fearfully said yes.


Telling a story at Theater Wit

So doing things that scare me is kind of my thing.

Enter May 4th, 2014.

As part of Listen To Your Mother (LTYM), I will join fourteen other ladies in reading ridiculously personal short essays as we “give motherhood a microphone.”

And there are all sorts of Fear Experiments going on with this new journey.

It was vomit-inducing just to indicate interest in show-participation. I had to audition. I haven’t auditioned since my Chiaravalle Montessori days, when I tried out for a school play. Standing in a cavernous empty room at a photography studio in a Chicago industrial corridor in front of the two LTYM producers who were working on not reacting to the stories – guess there had been too much reaction the year previous – was ridiculously awkward. That was funny, why didn’t you laugh?! Silence. That was moving, why didn’t your eyes tear up?! Stone.

I’m nervous to share my writing. I have a Boston College BA in Sociology and English and you’re supposed to be good at what you degreed in. This will be the first time since my college days that I’m putting my penned-words out there, to be judged. In true English major form, what I do for a living has little to do with my major. I haven’t written a book or a play. I’m not a blogger. I use Excel more than I use Word. I’m not a writer.

This is the heaviest I’ve weighed in my adult life, back to a weight I worked so hard to leave in the rearview mirror. The rehearsal photography sessions, the sharing of our photos as a way to market the show, the eyes of hundreds and the video cameras zoomed in on my jiggling rolls May 4th – not fun. Untag me please.

But what I’m most nervous about is one person in the audience. So much so that I almost didn’t invite her. My mother. We have an open-closed relationship. If I ask for info, she’ll happily supply. But she isn’t one to diarrhea of the mouth when it comes to life details. I’m 35 years old and just learned that my mother met my father (whom I’ve never met) on a park bench outside of a Maui library and that he played in a band and she helped him with his shows. Which I found out in preparation for LTYM, as I asked questions I had never before asked.

Also, I’m not one to gush appreciation for my mom to my mom. To others, sure, I’ll often share the goodness that is Debbie Lyn. But she rarely hears it. Dumb, right? But that’s how it’s been our entire relationship.

So the thought of her being there while I read a story entirely about her and how I feel about her, amongst hundreds of strangers, is scary.

Which is why I signed up for it.


Mom taking care of the school’s garden (me in the red shirt and blue pants)


Saya, I cannot wait for people to hear your story! And, already knowing your story, I cannot wait to meet your mother!

Tickets are still available for the May 4th show, but you need to hurry! The show is nearly here!



Tracey April 23, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Thank you for the post, Saya! So glad to have you in the show!

Kim Z. Dale April 23, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Saya, you are amazing. I’m so happy to have met you. I am honored to be in this show with you.

Melisa April 23, 2014 at 6:34 pm

We love you, Saya!

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