I have had an amazing summer. I had one of those experiences that can only be classified as life changing; I was in a show. When I say life changing, I mean it in the one hundred percent literal interpretation of the word. This entire summer has been about reinventing myself and rebuilding after a myriad of life demolition experiences. Through being involved in this production, I remembered who I was. As a matter of fact, I was recognized tonight for smiling. I, who had a fairly awful time and a incredible stressful past semester, was recognized for smiling. Maybe I’m not so broken after all.
I had great experiences in theatre as a kid. When I was in six grade, I went to my first audition. I had my ratty old organ book tucked into my backpack, and I sang “My Favorite Things.” When I was done, the director asked if I had ever had voice lessons before. (I had not.) And then she had me sing it again. I had a HUGE solo in that show; it was the first of many. While I didn’t fit in offstage, onstage was a place where I was certain I belonged. I wasn’t the best, or the prettiest. I couldn’t dance to save my life. But I could sing. Between the cello, piano, and singing, I ventured out into the world. When I was onstage, when I was performing, I was me. I was good enough.
I don’t remember when I stopped performing. It was gradual. I played for the Lake Geneva Symphony for several years, but it was quite a haul from where I lived with my then husband. The longer we were married, the more he complained about it. “You already work fifty hours a week.” or “It’s so far away and you’re spending so much on gas.” or “This keeps you away from home too much.” I got so sick of hearing about it that I stopped going. I didn’t travel to the symphony. I didn’t play the cello or the keyboard with the band I had been in anymore. I just stopped. I gave that part of myself up; I let him follow his dreams rather than pursue mine. I only played at home, and only when he wasn’t home. I wasn’t good enough.
When I was pregnant, I used to play for my son (in utero) quite frequently. I envisioned that he could perhaps succeed where I had failed, that perhaps he would be the next awesome musician and love the passion that I had given up. It was when he died that I gave up music altogether. I just quit. I didn’t want to play if I couldn’t play for him. I started teaching again in an effort to fill the hole, and I realized that even if I wasn’t going to perform, teaching was a definite passion. While it wasn’t the same as being onstage, it still gave me the opportunity to form those connections. It took over six months before I touched a piano again, and more than a year before I played the cello. And it’s still sporadic, even three years later. I go through spurts; when I’m really sad, I play the piano. When I have something in my head that I need to work out, I play the piano. But it is not the piece of me that it used to be, not by a long shot. I am not the person I used to be.
I had to be pushed into trying out for this show. It was heavy dance, and that’s my (admitted!) weak spot. I was scared; while I am content and quite comfortable teaching, I haven’t been a performer myself in a long time. My audition was not my greatest hour; it was the first real audition I had had in a long time. I sang fairly well, but I flopped in the dance audition. However, I got a part in the ensemble. The first real rehearsal we had was the one in which we spent four hours learning the dance for our amazing opening number. As I tried to pick up the dance steps and failed, repeatedly, I wondered why I had thought trying out was a good idea. I was NOT good enough. I pondered whether it would be better to quit rather than fail. I sat on the side during the water break that night and made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to not cry, and I decided that this dancing was something that I needed to conquer. With so much of my life in the past few years being uncertain and out of my control, this was a battle that I could fight and win. So I kicked uncertain me out of the way to make way for confident me. It didn’t come easily. I practiced during breaks at rehearsal. I went to extra rehearsals. I practiced at night. I practiced for the students I was teaching at camp. A few weeks into the production run, at one of our extra “people who can’t dance” remedial practices, I realized something amazing. I had the dance down. Maybe it wasn’t the most graceful, but I had it. I learned that dance, and I learned five others to go with it. I was able to do them all during the show run with very few errors. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t analyzing every single move I made. I just did it. This doesn’t mean that I suddenly love dancing. It just means that I now know that I can conquer my fears. It was about so much more to me than mastering dances, in ways that people will never be able to even BEGIN to understand. I can’t explain it beyond the statement that I’m not a victim anymore; I’m not lost; I haven’t lost. I am performing; I am winning. I AM good enough.
When I’m performing, it’s like I’m an entirely different person. I’m not uncertain, because I know what I have to do every step of the way. It’s scripted, choreographed. This different person, this one that I don’t know in my real life now who is definite and certain and sure, this is the person that I really am. The only time that I see her is when I am performing, (or writing), and this summer I found her again. My hope is that I can carry her over back into my real life now that the show is over. Now that I’ve found her again, I don’t want to let her go. I’ve survived a lot; I’ve gone from having a steady job and husband and a son to having nothing to slowly crawling out of the hole that was left to start earning my degree. The life that I have now is amazing, and the crap that happened in the past can’t have a leg up to destroy it. The past will not bury me.
This show has meant the world to me, not just for the amazing cast, crew, and directors, as well as my amazing friends that had such a GREAT time with, but for the things that it has taught me about myself. I had a small part, but I learned so much. I learned that despite all of the garbage that has happened to me, I can still do the things that scare me. Performing gives me back the voice that I thought was lost. I also learned that in this period of life in which I feel like everything that I am has been completely erased, I am still there. He didn’t take everything away from me; I can still come back. I will come back.
For the last ten weeks, I was that little girl with the brown braided pigtails and the raggedy organ book tucked under her arm. I was that girl who knew what I wanted and did it, who smiled and laughed and was okay just being myself. I was that girl I thought had been destroyed forever. She isn’t lost after all. Just because I was hurt doesn’t mean I have to stay that way.
I am still me, and me is a totally okay person to be.
I don’t see myself as a smiling person. I worry too much, about everything. I obsess over the past, I let myself get stuck. This isn’t normal, this whole smiling award thing, at least not for the me that I am now. Or rather, the me that I was. Because I’m making every effort now to keep the smiling me around. I like her a lot. I don’t want to disappear.
So goodbye, TMM and theatre. Until next year. I’ll be waiting.