When I was ten years old, I had my mom take me to audition for a community theater play. The group was new and they were putting on a Christmas show for families: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I remember sitting through auditions at what would later be my high school, filling out the form and waiting my turn. I do not, however, remember the actual audition. I must have done well, though, because I secured the lead.
I enjoyed the hell out of that experience, yet when it came time to follow it up with something, I didn’t right away. When high school rolled around and my depression hit rock bottom, I ended up auditioning for the spring musical as I climbed out of the fog that was, still to date, one of the worst years of my life. And although I wasn’t the star of the show, my love of all things dramatic was revived as a chorus member (and soloist!) in Bye Bye Birdie! (And, still to date, my mother insists on that being my finest performing hour.)
Throughout high school I lived inside of the auditorium. (So much so that Ms. MEPS and our friend Ms. SW spent the night there on a bit of a self-dare.) I acted. I sang. I danced. I directed. I did it all. I spelled theater as theatre and was determined to keep the dramatic arts in my life. I went to college, applied for a theatre scholarship and didn’t get it. But I still signed up for an upper level acting course my first semester.
And promptly dropped it.
I was out of my depth and I couldn’t find the use anymore. I immersed myself in my politics, my activism and my studies. But now and again the dramatic would pop back up for me in college and law school. But when I got into the legal practice–the one that Billy Flynn is famous for equating to acting in Chicago–I was never using this part of me in any intelligible way. Perhaps that’s why it never suited me well.
You’d think that I’d forget the prep work, the exhilaration, the post-show exhaustion. But after I got done with my first week of teaching classes full time, it all came flooding back to me. Teaching, especially at this level, is so much performance. I am on a stage. I am working it for the audience. I am giving them that “razzle dazzle” that Billy Flynn made so popular.
I engage, we discuss and it’s all improv. There’s an element of planning and delivery. There’s the need to be funny and entertaining. There’s never applause. But, then again, I was never in it for the applause. That didn’t feed me. The interaction did. Now, if I’m lucky, I get something better…a glowing lightbulb over someone’s head about something as important as their own civic identity.
The ability to leave something behind is not one I embrace fully. It’s all part of us whether it’s over or not. We all crave the same experiences we first found ourselves truly happy within if we can pinpoint what they were. The scenery may change. The first act becomes the second and the third. The lighting dims and fades only to be brought up again in moments of great drama. The ability to go off script never leaves you.
Perhaps that’s why some of the greatest stories ever told are still being retold.
In some ways, I’m still that ten year old girl, going into her first real audition, never remembering how she razzle dazzled her way into something so fitting for her. I think this theater…this performance…this stage…well, it’s just so awesome to me that even when it’s hard (and it often is), I get moments where I feel some sense of purpose again to move on to the next scene.
I hope that feeling never fades.