Last night, I spent the wee small hours of the morning journaling in the Athenaeum, a pretentious name for the very humble space that is my watermelon-slice-colored sanctuary, but a name that has stuck all the same. I wrote a lot about theater, and worked through some things. Some of might make it into a blog entry, but one discovery really struck me.
In a life already very full of theater, I’m actually IN a show right now. It struck a lot of people as insanity that I would take this on in addition to everything else, but I am very grateful that I have for three important reasons.
First, there are four people at this theater that I adore, and being in their presence lifts me up, inspires me, and makes me want to work harder to be worthy of their affection. There are certain friendships that are nearly impossible to retain with very hard-working people, unless you actually become a part of their work. I know this better than anyone, and I’ve been very glad to be able to reconnect.
Two, because I have learned once and for all that there are certain things in life that I cannot do. I tell my students all the time that we are all smart in different ways, and I educate them on the multiple intelligences and sing the praises of every different kind of learner. I cannot dance. My feet do not do what I tell them to do, ever. In the midst of this intricate, carefully constructed dance routine, I know that a maxi ford is coming…16 counts from now, I will have to shuffle-hop-step-something or other, and every single time, while I tell my feet “Shuffle, goddamnyou!” they ignore my directive. Probably because I’m simultaneously thinking, “Right arm up, and make sure you step left before the Charleston...or is it step right?” I am not wired to do all of these things at once. It makes me feel so frustrated and embarrassed, and like I’m letting down all of these people who are working so much harder than me to successfully do things that are so much easier for them than they are for me.
When I teach Buddhism to my 6th graders, I tell them a story about this ant who has to carry a stalk of grass. For me, myself to carry a stalk of grass is no big deal. But for an ant to carry a stalk of grass ten times his size makes him the greatest ant in all the world, because he has to overcome a great deal to be able to do it. (Not greater than other ants, mind you, but the greatest ant that he, himself, can be.) When my most exuberant and extroverted 6th grader makes his Greek mythology presentation successfully, I am proud of him. But when my most shy and insecure 6th grader makes his successfully, he is the greatest 6th grader in all the world for having made it through.
If I ever manage to make my arms and feet simultaneously go the way they are supposed to, I will feel like the greatest ant in all the world. If not…I will be grateful that I have the very next speech after the dance sequence and a really good excuse to plead with the directors to let me get the hell out of it before I utterly destroy the ending.
The third reason I am so glad I did this show is the most surprising to me…I have spent a lot of years feeling like theater has become nothing but a job to me. That I have lost all sense of inspiration and passion about it, because it is now all about having to be in charge rather than just creating theater for the joy of it. If I could only be in something, I thought, I would find my way back to that place of elation at just being a part of it all, the third second-soprano from the left, finding that funky b-flat note in the chord and feeling it ring with all of the voices around me.
That has not turned out to be the case. There is very little group singing in this show, which has been disappointing, because that’s my favorite part. And while I enjoy everyone in the cast save one irritating person, I do not feel incredibly connected and part of this tight community. I have the four people I am happy to see, and that’s pretty much it. The show is going to be amazing, and the two leads are a thrill to watch, and I’m proud to be a part of it, but what I have learned is that I don’t need this to make the other theater I do worthwhile. It is no longer about being “up there.” So while someday down the road there might a role that I would love to play or I’ll get a chance to jump in and be an understudy, or there will be a score that I would love to sing with a chorus, I have found that really…this part of my life has undergone a chemical change. I’m not that sixteen year old singing “Cockeyed Optimist” seven thousand times in my bedroom – happily – to prepare for an audition that’s four months away. I’m someone else now.
I am so grateful that I have done this, and will enjoy every moment of the process, knowing that is likely to be a certain kind of ending. I will try to master that effing maxi ford and step-hop-shuffle-toe, and smile big in the umbrella finale and drink tequila shots at the cast party, and then I will get back to the business of directing yet another production of Annie, with a thirteen-year-old in the title role who may or may not, somewhere down the line, make theater a part of her future. At the very least, she’ll have one of the best weekends of her life and make her mother proud.
That’s what theater has become for me now. And I’m okay with that.