I’m onstage tonight. No, really. I am. I’m in a ten-minute play written by a friend that’s being performed in a café that looks more like a bar and is masking as a theatre. For the one minute I’m onstage—a minute-fifteen if I’m milking it—I get to say things and, hopefully, say them funny.
They say that most people have a greater fear of public speaking than they do of death, but I’ve never been called “shy.” For most of my life, I’ve done everything from school concerts to musicals to Shakespeare to British farce to drama. My dream at seventeen was to move to New York and become an actor. Instead, I went to school in Chicago and took acting and music classes. I still shudder to remember how, during my freshman year, I got up the nerve to audition for the national tour of “The Phantom of the Opera,” something I truly had no business (or talent) pulling off. With the earnestness that can only come from being barely eighteen, I waited around all day until around five o’clock, after nearly everyone else had gone, to go in front of the producers and warble “If I Loved You” from Carousel. And like that, it was over. (Ah, no, I didn’t get the job.)
My love of theatre—combined with such delusions of grandeur—can be traced back to when I was three years old and the neighborhood families got together to put on a backyard production of nursery rhymes. (It was the late Seventies—we did these things.) Surely those present that day could recall how I killed in my debut as the Wife of the Farmer in the Dell, one of the Three Blind Mice, and the Seventh Little Indian. You might say I was a triple threat—acting, singing, running. Before long, teachers were casting me as the leads in class plays. In first grade, I played a donkey who ran away from the circus—no six-year-old had more pathos. My second grade triumph was as a lost Valentine’s Day Card that needed to get to the proper mailbox. This required me to sing. I was so terrified that I asked the music teacher to let me practice when the other kids were at recess. Come show time, I transformed from a bundle of stage nerves to a Hallmark card tour de force as I crooned:
“I’m a lost little Valentine,
A sad little Valentine,
And I can tell you just why.
The mailman dropped me (ouch!)
Out of his mail pouch.
I must find a home or I’ll cry….”
In my twenties, I got involved in the local theatre scene in North Carolina, performing in community theatres, college productions, and independent companies that, despite having smaller budgets than the city’s lauded repertory theatre, were doing some amazingly provocative work with abundantly talented people. It was also during this time that I learned I also had a knack for playwriting and directing.
Ironically, by the time I moved to New York—almost seven years ago—my dream of making it on Broadway had subsided. I wanted other things, like a life that didn’t require me to be at rehearsal every night. But as time wore on, I started to miss the stage, which is why I find myself in a bar tonight, standing on a 5’ x 10’ platform, pretending I’m a woman trying to get into Heaven, making my New York theatrical debut in a short play festival. It’s funny how it all comes roaring back—the lines, the nerves, the excitement. Who knows, maybe it’ll be another seven years before I trod the boards again. It’s just nice to know that, when I’m ready, the stage will still be there waiting for me.
Got a passion that you do, or used to do and now miss? Tell me all about it.