“I thought, ‘I am about to die,’” Cassidy Santaguida tells the audience during the monthly live-storytelling show Testify Austin. She grips the microphone and continues to recount the time she nearly died from drinking too much water after running a half-marathon and hiking in the desert. About 100 people fill the crowd at Spider House Ballroom, waiting to hear what happens next.
When she’s not on stage as a live-storyteller, stand-up comedian or improvisor, Santaguida, lead information technology manager at UT, spends her days in the Flawn Academic Center running the training program for the campus’ software developers.
Just five years ago, performing arts were not on her radar. Science-minded, Santaguida graduated from UT with a biology degree in 2002, and the thought of speaking in front of a large group of people terrified her. She even broke out into hives when she agreed to officiate her brother’s wedding. After being promoted to lead IT manager in 2010, her job required her to do a lot more public speaking.
“I was like, ‘I have to do something to make this better,’” Santaguida said.
She signed up for improvisation classes at Austin’s Hideout Theatre to improve her public speaking skills. During the first class, she said about three words. But the first performance changed everything.
“I said something, and it wasn’t a joke that I had prepared because everything was off the cuff, but [the audience] laughed,” Santaguida said. “I remember being in awe, like, ‘Wow, it really worked. I made somebody laugh.’”
What once terrified her is now something she loves. Three to five nights a week, she’s either rehearsing or performing at a live show.
“I feel more comfortable with the idea of going for it and not holding myself back for fear of what might happen,” Santaguida said.