‘All the World’s a Stage,’ and I Want to Be On It (If It’ll Have Me). Day 97, “The Me Project”
In high school, I discovered the only place I ever felt truly comfortable was in theater class with those weirdos. My natural tendencies of creativity, extravagance, and honest emotional expression were seen as a good thing instead of a liability. I loved delving into a character- studying people, as an empath, has always been my hobby- and getting to pretend to be that character, pretend to be in a scene with another hard-working actor, pretend to live a new life, it was all so interesting and exciting…all while people had to just sit there and quietly watch me! Amazing! It was pretend but it felt more real and raw than a lot of the social bullshit I was learning to do in real life.
I started eating up all the live theater I could and watching the classic movies known for great acting and writing. I determined I wanted to find a way to live a life on or behind stage. I wanted to direct, to create theater, to put on stage something that could hurt and heal, teach, and challenge. I went to art camp with some very pale kids who feared spiders, and majored in theater. One production we did was about the Holocaust. People cried. The director/writer told me I “owed the world to let them see me on stage.” I was sick to my stomach living that character for a week, but it was worth it. We gave something important and crushing, and it got me out of swimming the 6am Polar Bear Challenge.
When it came time to choose a career path, by way of college major, I planned to do theater. I wanted to immerse myself in all aspects of it, while still getting an education and having the safety net of my parents nearby, paying for my life. Eventually I expected to move to New York and live in a dump, waitressing to support my unpaid small part in an off-off-off-off-Broadway show. I knew it would be hard, near impossible, to actually cut into the competitive, insane world of theater, but I had to try.
I auditioned twice for an esteemed public university’s theater program and didn’t get in either time. I think it broke my heart, but my heart didn’t have time for that, because the day I got my second, final rejection, I got the news that someone in my extended family had been kidnapped and gang raped. She survived and now, twenty years later, from what I can tell, is doing well, found safety, love, and recovery, and that’s really all that matters in this story…but on my end, the feeling of my dreams not working out, and that horrifying, violent, crime is always sort of jumbled together. There wasn’t space to wallow about something as insidious as not being good enough to pursue a dream that was probably dumb anyway, the real world was cruel and terrible, and wounded people needed my love. So, I went for my backup big money-maker, social work. If I couldn’t shine through stage, I could serve. I put down the sequins and picked up the khaki pants.
I worked in medical social work in free clinics and hospital settings, which eventually led me to start taking science classes, which was a huge, scary leap for someone who was convinced she was dumb in all things but English and Theater. Eventually I applied for, and got in, to a Physician Assistant program. I completed it, which taught me things about my brain I hadn’t known. Then I went to work. I served and hustled and tried hard to make this identity match the one in my head. It came close. It was practical. I could make enough money to support my family. I was doing tangible, objectively good things for the world, serving those in need.
My silly heart’s need for the stage had mostly been quelled, mostly, especially because I got some creative outlet and audience feedback from my writing, which I picked up during PA school. I did some community theater stuff here and there, to scratch the itch. I just couldn’t justify putting any more of me into something like that when there were REAL needs, real hurts, real people.
I saw ‘Hamilton’ the other day and remembered why I once believed that theater was the answer to all my questions. That show sizzles- it’s so frank and urgent and funny and bright and devastating. It brought up so many emotions. I sobbed through the whole second act (not just me- the whole crowd). That show GETS HOW IT IS TO BE A PERSON. That’s a huge triumph- the writing, the performances- they hurt and healed and taught and challenged. And it was SO valuable to me, to all of us.
So, once again, I’m learning how art is more than a triviality. It’s a gift to make people feel things and learn about themselves and the world. It’s a gift to take someone out of their day and carry them somewhere new. We need beauty, we need to be entertained and swept up in imagination. It’s good for the soul.
So, I don’t plan to leave my family and run away to try to make it in New York, but I am thinking about writing plays. Now I have all this life experience. I’ve “been in the room where it happens” for a lot of pain and joy and life and death. If I could put that into words, words that mean something, that DO something for people, and see those words brought to life on stage, I think I’d feel like all my me’s were lining up.
Anyway. I saw ‘Hamilton’ last week. Na-na na-na boo-boo.