Two small things, and then a related story. First, I got an email from Company this morning with a link to a youtube video of the show Gloryland that we did back in 2000. The opening number was “America, the Dream Goes On.” Even watching it now, a decade later, I can see how incredibly stirring it was, and remember how thrilling and satisfying it felt to sing a delicious second soprano line choral with a perfectly directed ensemble. Still one of my favorite things to do in the world, and I know I’m getting close to the point where I need to be in the chorus of some Company show or die. I’ve been increasingly feeling a sort of desperation for it that cannot be denied. Vampire-thirsty.
Second, in the car yesterday, my daughter asked me if I could rent a smoke machine for the backyard musical they are preparing for Halloween with the completely wide-eyed, startled 8-year-old across the street and her equally somewhat-alarmed 4-year-old sister. Since we moved there in May, they still don’t seem to know quite what to make of their new neighbors who regularly knock at their door decked in sequins and feathers, carrying a radio. I said no to the smoke machine.
So, I’m working on Guys and Dolls (yes, again) at my fancy high school. I have many associations with this show, a long and twisted history frought with drama and stress. Why do I keep doing this show so often if it’s kicked my butt repeatedly? Well, sometimes, it’s the perfect show for the group I have. This is one of those times. My cast is perfect, my mission band is full of my beloved senior girls who seem relatively cheery about it, the staff is getting along well so far, and we’re off to a good start.
I had the worst single case ever of disgruntled I/My Precious Daughter Deserved the Lead madness that I have ever experienced, and hope never to encounter either party ever again. Anywhere. Utterly cruel and destructive, and full of the worst kind of petty smallness. My friend Ellie always reminds me to ask, “What is the gift in that?” whenever things are going badly…and the gift in this is twofold. One, it reminds me yet again how lucky I am to work with so many incredibly smart, compassionate, talented teenagers who are kind and mature, and two, that karma is a red-hot bitch-slapping Mama, because this kind of behavior will reap what it sows. I think, too, that there were lessons that needed to be learned somehow for the girl who got the part, and got the flack for it, so a milestone was reached on her journey.
We had our first group rehearsal yesterday, intentionally choosing the complicated “Runyonland” tapestry of an opening number, because it built in wait-time, and would give the kids a chance to socialize in this new grouping, get to know their cast-mates, and gain an understanding that rehearsals, no matter how meticulously organized, have down time. My choreographer was hard at work with the kids, so I mostly drifted about the groups, or ran the CD for her as needed.
I watched one small group closely. Freshman and sophomore girls, scrolling together through one’s iphone music list. It was clearly full of showtunes, and I could hear them chatting about Wicked and Gypsy and Spring Awakenings and singing quietly to an obscure Kristen Chenoweth song called “Taylor the Latte Boy,” to which all four of them knew all the words. I thought back to who I was in high school - I was those girls, head full of showtunes, lyrics constantly playing in my head, or scribbled on notebook pages. I lived for rehearsal times, for whatever the show was, and I have very few memories of high school that do not take place in the auditorium or in the choir room. And in fact, of my classroom memories, nearly all of them are bad ones.
The difference, though, between myself and these girls was that I was me, alone, and they have each other. Oh, I had Lisa and Chris in high school, and truly felt that they were the only friends I needed. But they both were involved in sports and had actual lives beyond theater, and far beyond me. And I was never pals with anyone in the shows other than them, and never knew anyone else who knew all the words to Trouble in River City or Just You Wait ‘Enry ‘Iggins, or to be impressed by the fact that I did. I kept my theater geek Freak Flag safely in my journal until I got to college and then let it fly, unabashed and celebratory, part of a community. Here’s my hat, fellas…I’m staying where I’m at, fellas…
I love knowing that whatever else I’m doing in my life, I’m year to year providing community space to the musically disenfranchised and socially awkward too-loud girls in this corner of the world. Tomorrow night, we're having a cast party to watch the Glee premiere, yet another way to remind them that they are not alone. So while I’m already feeling significantly frayed around the edges in this tiring season of my life, I can clearly look out at swaying sophomores singing “Seasons of Love” and think, yeah…there’s the gift in that.
And, if I should give in about the smoke machine, I totally know like three places to get one.