"Write about something that makes you happy." That was the prompt that most inspired me this week. Maybe it was because happiness has been kind of a scarce commodity lately. But I have been happy. I have moments of happiness now. And I will be happy again. Anyway, here's my love letter to theatre.
When I was seventeen I was in a production of Into the Woods. I was the cow. (A glamorous role, I know. #talented) I had been in several shows before that, but this one was different. It changed me. I fell head over heels for the show, for the cast, for the entire musical theatre rollercoaster. After Into the Woods I knew: theatre was going to remain an integral part of my life. After the show ended I cried and cried and cried. It felt like a break-up, or how I imagined a break-up would feel. I even made a sad playlist! (Having now experienced several break-ups I can vouch for the fact that the closing of a special show feels worse than the end of a mediocre relationship.)
I turned to the source of comfort in a modern age: facebook. I posted that my heart had been stolen and I was in pain. A comment was left on my page by a cast mate:
"It is an unfortunate truth that a show becomes (over time) the close friend of a performer, and once that final curtain goes down, that friend exists only in memory.
Allow me these few words of comfort: there will be others.
There will be other stages, other sets, and more five hour practices than you can imagine. There will be other warm-ups, and prop tables stacked so high that you risk spilling their contents to the ground whenever you snatch an item. There will be other costumes, far too much stage makeup, and other cast-members to share your time with.
One never quite gets the same friend back...but one finds things to take its place.
And given enough time, even stolen hearts tend to find their way back into one's chest.”
To be frank, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d be cast in anything again. Being cast in something that could afford me the same level of happiness? Impossible, I scoffed. (High school seniors know very little of life.) I copied down the comment and filed it away as something to cling to, even though such a wonderful experience could not happen twice. I was Princess Buttercup, asserting that she would never love again. And yet.....
I got a lead role in an operetta next spring. Singing that first solo onstage electrified me. I ran lights for a show in college. I moved to Utah and found myself surrounded by more audition opportunities than you could shake a stick at. Since that high school production of Into the Woods five years ago I have been cast in thirteen shows. I have had over two hundred castmates and four lead roles. Isn’t it lucky that we don’t peak at seventeen?
And now, a look back at the words given to me as a high school senior, with the benefit of five more years of life, and stage, experience.
“There will be other stages” : Our high school stage was a traditional stage. It was shiny and new, as it had been built only a few years before. Many of my theatre memories since then have come from performing in theatre-in-the-round, which is a whole ‘nother ball game. I’ve had the opportunity to perform at theatres that would have blown my high school mind, and also learned that the stage is much less important than the people on it.
“Other sets”: I have worked with very minimalistic sets and some that changed profusely from scene to scene. I have carried benches and tables and stumbled over trees stored backstage, holding my breath trying to not to drop glass bottles. I think I have stressed more over scene changes than the actual performance in a couple shows.
“More five hour practices than you can imagine”: This one seems doubly true. There have been five hour practices that seemed to pass in minutes and shorter rehearsals that felt like they would stretch into years. I have put thousands of hours into rehearsing and donated many whole Saturdays singing Christmas songs in October.
“There will be other warm-ups”: “I am a mother pheasant plucker. I pluck mother pheasants. I am the most pleasant mother pheasant plucker that ever plucked a mother pheasant.” Say that three times fast, but not if there are children present. (I’m actually really good at this one.)
“Prop tables stacked so high that you risk spilling their contents to the ground”: I have struggled with giant inflatable boxing mitts, a stack of “horrid” textbooks, and long, colorful ribbons to dance with. The constant struggle of keeping props where they belong is real. I was even lucky enough to be gifted a sword from one production.
“There will be other costumes”: Lacy orange dresses and long, swirly blue ones. Petticoats and corsets and thirty-second costume changes, oh my! I have worn wigs and massive hats and sweatpants (it should go without saying that these were in different shows). I have felt pretty and frumpy and awkward, often all in the space of one performance.
“Far too much stage makeup”: I have added pounds and pounds of makeup to my face over the last few years, the vast majority of it for the stage. Fake eyelashes, lipstick, and enough foundation to form an actual foundation.
“Other cast members”: To explain the amount of love that has overwhelmed my life in the five years since leaving high school is impossible. I have known the comfort of complete acceptance that comes from acquired nicknames and inside jokes and shoulders to cry on. I could write volumes about the cast members, directors, and backstage crew who have changed my life for the better. I love theatre people. Simply adore them. More astounding than that, they seem to love me. I stand in awe of their charisma and talent, of course, but the antics and conversations I have been a part of in the rehearsal process and backstage have endeared them to me tenfold. Laughing fits due to stress and sleep deprivation, frantically dashing around backstage searching for a prop, the moment of connection that thrills you during a performance when you look into your scene partner’s eyes and think, “This is it. This is what we both love, and we are rocking it.” These are the best things. Suffice it to say that the friendships I have forged in the fires of hell week are ones that will be treasured forever.
“One finds things to take its place”: Once I went a year without doing a show. It was pretty dreadful. But in those dry spells I have filled the time with books and Netflix marathons and late night conversations with roommates. Oh, and work. I started writing my own show. I’ve even had a few boyfriends, and let me tell you, those steal your time like none other.
“Given enough time, even stolen hearts tend to find their way back into one’s chest.”
They do come home. But I insist on throwing mine out over and over again, into another cast, another musical, another character. It would appear that my heart isn’t happy unless it is being constantly in a state of being stolen. To love is to lose, but it is also what gives our life value. “Where you invest your love, you invest your life,” as Mumford & Sons sang. The exquisite sweetness of an opening swallows up the inevitable pain of closing.
I will love again, and deeply. It always hurts when the inevitable end comes. I realize that. I believe that each show that you emotionally invest in never leaves your soul, not all the way. There is some portion of me still carrying a banner through Camelot, and another panicking at Charlie Brock's dinner party, while Cecily Cardew confides in her diary about Uncle Jack’s wicked brother Ernest and Kate Stanley chases her pirate to the marriage altar. I have put literal blood, sweat, and tears into each of these productions. I have performed with whooping cough and a possibly dislocated shoulder (mercifully not in the same production). I have cried in theatres and more often in the parking lots of theatres. I have been soaked with sweat from summer choreography and shivered through a snowstorm in the outdoor area we called backstage, and I would repeat all of it without hesitation. If I fall in love again it will feel something like this.