People say a lot of things about life in “show business”. There’s the romantic, vaudeville-throwback imagery; the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd. There’s the coked-up Hollywood version, all flashbulbs and magazine covers. Then there’s the self-aware, self-deprecating cracks: “I’m a classically trained server.” Each contains a grain of truth but nothing close to the vivid, awful, invigorating reality. In the last few weeks I’ve been really wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.
The show opens tonight. In terms of theatrical gestations, it’s been a short one. We wrote the seed of this show 1 year and 2 months ago. We wrote the script and music over the last 6 months. We rehearsed over the last 6 weeks. We teched just 48 hours ago. And it will be all over in 10 days. But in a grander sense, I don’t think any performance is ever just the sum of those little increments of time. Each aspect represents the grand total of a life in the theatre, years of training, years of living and breathing and creating.
The show has been the center of my personal little universe. As the playwright, I spent weeks pondering, writing, stopping and starting (for much of it with one broken hand) and stressing. As an actor I spent time decoding what I wrote and lifting it into playable actions. As producer it filled my inbox and voicemail daily. As publicist it’s all I’ve talked about. I rang up my credit card and phone bill, didn’t sleep or eat much. My boyfriend and my roommate are both in the show. My best friends are the composer and director. There was no escape from it. We are young, own no property, are still the children of our families instead of having children of our own. We can afford to be single-minded and dedicated wholly to our art. We throw ourselves in all the way because nothing else seems quite as important.
And then sometimes you step outside, feel the sun on your face and the pavement under your shoes and come to the phenomenal realization that something so consuming, so special and with so strong a pull that it can turn your whole world around has absolutely no effect on the people you see walking next to you on the sidewalk. And that, not to put too fine a point on it, is fucked up. I haven’t been able to eat a full meal or sleep through the night for weeks, but here are people riding bikes, eating brunch with their kids, driving cars. Walking around. Breathing. Umm, you guys? Did you know my show opens tonight?
That is the ecstasy and pain of passion. That something can be everything and nothing all at once. And my guess is anyone who has found their way to these words here ‘gets it’. You get that the passion of creation is worth any amount of nausea and insomnia. That the all-consuming drive to dedicate oneself wholly to a show is essential to fulfilling its infinite (and yet completely intangible) potential. And you can probably understand why after months of hard work, knowing that some of the most influential people in our community and the media will be watching the fruits of our labors unfold on stage tonight, I (and I think all of us involved in the show) are feeling a little out of our minds right now. I feel grateful to have a passion that can leave room for little else, but at the same time it all feels insurmountable, too big to handle.
This is just the beginning. And if I’m going to survive this stage of my life in the theatre, I need to find the quiet place. Somewhere where I’m free of the anxiety and perfectionism, the high stakes and the squeezy feeling in my chest. I think I’ve found it. It feels like sitting in the house before the audience comes in. It feels like a comfortable silence with the person who knows you best. Like early mornings when the world is quiet. It’s a place that remembers that the center of your universe simply spins you around within the greater rush of time and life – that without sunlight and pavement and friends and family and life, there would be no stories to tell or music to write. And in that quiet, at last, I am ready to begin.