So, here’s a funny thing. I create these little theatre productions. That’s my job. And not alone, of course…I’m always part of a team, and we work together and try to build good experiences for kids. Some seasons, it’s just a job. It’s a to-do list, part of my day, a task I do to earn money to go to Disneyworld and keep up my fruity martini hobby. It takes a lot of energy, and sometimes it’s more energy than feels worthwhile to me.
Other times, though, a production has a certain magic to it. It’s a sparkly little bubble of camaraderie, and warmth envelops everyone. I’ve been on both sides of that particular magic – within the cast, like in There’s Life After High School, and Bring Back Birdie, and Godspell, and Pippin. I’ve experienced it as a director, like in Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Midsummer and Once on This Island. This show, Bye Bye Birdie, has that kind of energy.
In my summer show this year, there have been kids that I have really connected with, supported, ignited, admired, and have felt on the receiving end of the same. That doesn’t always happen, to tell the truth. But when it does, I feel like I’m in the flow, and that it’s part of my soul’s mission to share these open connections with kids at very emotional times in their lives. I am humbled by that gift.
Yesterday our tech designer was trying to set a specialty light for Ursula. He had me stand in for the focus, and part of her blocking includes yelling “Oh, Kim!” and sliding tragically to the floor. I imitated her voice and her blocking, and Amanda said, “Kelly, you missed your calling!” My response was so immediate and so resolute. I thought, “No. THIS is my calling. Making the show. Setting the light, not being in it. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing, and it’s an honor to get to do it.”
This will veer into my new-agey way of thinking, but I often think of myself, and of many other people, too, actually – as a vessel. Things need to be done in the Universe and different people are given the hands to do different tasks. I look at people who have a certain set of skills, and then use those skills to actually do something, make something happen, and I think about Buddha teaching how to be the best person in the world. Everyone can be the “best person in the world” if they do the best they can with what they have. If they try to do what’s hard for them as well as what’s easy, and try to do no harm to others. Doctors and carpenters and environmentalists and the people who collect your trash and make sure your sink is running and make really funny movies and serve you a spectacular meal. If you do what you can, and do it well, you’re the best person in the world. (I’m sure any Buddhist I know would be appalled at my simplification here, but that’s how I explain it when I have to teach it to sixth graders.) By that definition, I know so many of the best people in the world. I’m trying to be the best I can by doing the thing that I can do.
So, anyhow, back to being a vessel…the Universe, in my opinion, works through people to allow for choice and growth and learning and love for others. It’s true of parenting, and of being a sibling or a good friend or a mentor or part of a challenging relationship. All of those things help people grow. And for reasons I don’t totally understand yet, theatre is a thing that brings those opportunities to light. Friendships are forged, vulnerabilities are heightened, romances bloom and mettle is tested. People who are involved in theatre as high school kids often have their first kisses and their first crushes and their first heartbreaks and their first real sense of belonging, sometimes smack in the middle of a rehearsal while the rest of the cast drills a dance combination. Relationships that happen in that setting gain their own particular fresh-paint-scented, sequin-dappled sweetness. In fact, I can’t actually think of one important relationship in my life that wasn’t created through, or at least deepened by, my involvement in theatre. Huh. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.
Bye Bye Birdie, with 88 kids between the ages of 7 and 15, will open tomorrow. It’s adorable. They are adorable, my two curly-headed, bobby-sox clad daughters among them, and so excited and so full of fun and joy about it. I love this cast, a core handful of them in particular, and I’m so proud of them and delighted to know how much fun they’re going to have this weekend, and how they’ll remember it forever. They have grown so much in poise and commitment and recognition of how freaking much fun it is to be part of a show. They will forever have connections to each other and branch out into other friendships they wouldn’t otherwise have made just from having known one another. We’ll all cry to say goodbye and recognize that it’s an end of something and a beginning of something new.
And we’ll know that because Maria told us so in The Sound of Music. “Whenever the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” We live by the Gospel according to Julie Andrews and Sondheim’s Seven Principles of Relationships. To varying extents, we are Theatre People. Dorky, way too extroverted, passionate, awkward, self-obsessed and open-hearted. Dreamy, freak-flag-flying little lambs lost in the wood. I saw a new mom recently with a t-shirt that said, “I make milk! What’s your superpower?” My super power is that I am a Shepherd, gathering these lambs together and saying, “Look! Here’s another just like you!” Now, sing a song about it. Hold hands and sway.