Abraham Thacker walked into the ShadowBox Theater in New Orleans on May 18 after his bartending shift ended at a country club.
Mr. Thacker, 23, was preparing for his first performance in a burlesque variety show at the theater. Although he did not plan on peeling away clothes while gyrating to blaring music on stage, he would be revealing perhaps his most intimate parts, and he was nervous.
This night was not about drama and spotlight. This night would be a turning point, the beginning of a transformation into his future, more vulnerable self.
“I feel like performing is a way to get over these old feelings of insecurity, addiction, depression,” Mr. Thacker said.
He struggled with depression as a teenager. His downs included substance abuse, cutting and attempted suicide. He now channels his obsessive-compulsive disorder by running almost 10 miles daily and habitually cleaning.
Though Mr. Thacker is not currently on medication, he said he realizes that he may have to be medicated later in life.
In the meantime, performing is also a way to tackle life’s familiar hurdles, like being insecure about his body and breakups.
“I want to not feel like I am being antagonized when I walk into a room,” Mr. Thacker said. He said he wants people look up to him, and sees the stage as a way to achieve that.
Maintaining friendships is another matter. “I can’t skip class,” he said, “but I could skip talking to my friends.” (He has a 4.0 grade point average at the University of New Orleans and has three jobs.)
Mr. Thacker chose to sing “Million Dollar Man” by Lana Del Ray, which he said mirrored his leftover feelings from a recent breakup.
Despite how triumphant Mr. Thacker feels after his performance, he said he accepts that the feeling can be fleeting, so his performance will be one of many.
The audience was a source of validation for him, he said: “It made me realize that it is O.K. to express yourself as being vulnerable. It’s O.K. to let other people know that things have not been easy for you.”