Usually I try to be witty and funny. I've learned when to pause for laughs, I guess. Tonight, however, I hope you'll indulge me in something else, something "long and boring." I guess this is proof that sometimes I miss writing. And performing.
About a month ago my mom called me up and asked if I would come home at their expense to pay them a Christmas visit and watch them in their performance in the high school play. Of course I said of course. Bryan would need to study for finals anyway. So I flew in on Friday night, would see the play Saturday night, and fly out again Sunday evening.
When I graduated from high school back in 2004 I had performed in and participated in (meaning I was a crew member for "The House At Pooh Corner") somewhere around twelve plays (and at least three dance concerts) during the course of my high school career.
I knew a lot of people back then--that just sort of happens when you live in the same house your whole life--but I didn't expect to recognize anyone in this play except for the teachers. Even the kids who were freshman when I graduated had now graduated, so I didn't really know anybody left at the high school, I thought. Instead I found out when I arrived that all the primary kids are seniors now and there they were giving me hugs and treating me like I was their hero big sister back to pay them a visit. I felt unexpectedly (and perhaps uncomfortably) noticed and appreciated. Anyway, so I expected to hide in a shadow of too many years past and only come out for a few hugs. I expected to float by as a person completely too far distant from a world I'd left to even really be said hello to.
But I didn't. Instead of just going and leaving I found myself feeling it mandatory to stop at Freddy's on the way and buy flowers for my parents. Despite my grandparents' generous offer to pay, something deep down wouldn't let me. I had to give back to all the people who had brought me flowers back when it had been my turn and made me feel like a real somebody. I thought of the blue roses from Kate and Whitney and so the flowers had to be completely from me. Then I almost cried writing the notes to my mom and Vati and Karlyn and Mark. I never knew going to see one high school play would be such an emotional experience for me. In fact, I almost cried quite a few times before we even walked into the theater.
The play was great. When my mom first invited me she told me they were performing "Our Town," so I had to shift excitement gears for what I was looking forward to when I showed up yesterday and my mom and Vati were wearing t-shirts for "It's A Wonderful Life." Mom had said the wrong thing a month ago and never thought about it to re-tell me.
But it was a great performance. And Vati had a pretty big part! I was genuinely surprised and truly impressed by his sincere performance. Some people don't seem natural on stage, but he sure was. I think I was always afraid to be myself, to be a real person when I performed, but he didn't seem inhibited by that. When he made a personal aside to George Bailey to make sure he was okay, that he couldn't offer him some kind of assistance, I had to hold back some tears because, as his daughter, I have experienced personally that same moment during difficult times. He wasn't so much Mr. Bishop as just Vati and Mr. Haynie and Brother Haynie and Dad. He gave a part of himself to the audience that I was always too insecure to offer. I guess real grown-ups are like that.
Mom was also very mom. And very excited to be in a play. And rightfully so. Despite her lack of lines, she was the kind of ensemble actor that none of us could ever help being. There you are walking on and off the stage feeling like a star when probably nobody is paying attention to you except for your family and friends (and in Mom's case all of her students who went to catch her one line in order to get extra credit in their English class), but you don't even care because you get to be included. You get to be a part of something. You're in. And it's all worth it. I know. I've been there. I know I was in more plays than David, but he certainly had more fame... and lines.
The thing that got the music playing through my head and the costume on my body and doing pirouettes and falling on the floor, however, was the after-performance rituals. On closing night the cast always has a little ceremony after they've greeted all their guests where the same things always happen. That was when the music started playing loudly enough for me to hear it. My toes started tapping to that all-familiar rhythm. Karlyn and Mark (the director/ costume designer/ everything else and her set designer/ builder/ sound booth/ everything else husband) showered the backstage crew with praise and presents. The seniors gave their gifts to everybody. They gave Karlyn her charm. They gave Mark his Mountain Dew. I found myself whispering to Mom, "You guys are lucky. Before they started the tech. theater class we used to have to strike the whole set and put away every single nail and board and sweep the stage before we could even start this. And then it would take hours. And then we'd still be going to the cast party. That's why we were always getting home at three in the morning."
Although a lot more people than I had expected (since I was expecting none) came up and said hello to me, as the ceremony went on I found myself fitting more and more the fly-on-the-wall description I had initially spelled out for myself since this particular ceremony had nothing to do with me. I could hear Karlyn's words echoing in my mind, "It is not all about you." She said that once in reference to an inappropriate audience who had been yelling cat calls when certain cast members would come out on stage. But I've always remembered it and taken it to heart and I still think of it whenever I think of saying or doing something just to be noticed. After all, it's not all about me.
After everyone else had left to go to the cast party and I was still hanging around to chat with and say goodbye to Karlyn and Mark it seemed like any amount of chit chat couldn't reconcile my flood of memories. They were thinking of the show they had just finished producing and of what days to take down and put away what and of going home to their beds. But I was thinking of "Okay. Beans. Bye." I had the beginning of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat" playing through my mind in a way I couldn't get to stop. I was thinking of "treacle tart" and the oohs at the beginning of Blood Brothers and the way that Jesse always made me laughing and mad right as I was supposed to go on stage. I was thinking of "Dearly Departed." I was thinking of how I had dropped my line at the beginning of the pageant in our dress rehearsal for "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" and how I looked across the stage at Karlyn and she didn't know my line either and finally I blurted out something that took us to the next cue, but meanwhile the audience was busting up laughing because the whole thing fit my character so well and they thought it was on purpose. I was thinking of how I didn't even know about so much of the drama that was going on back stage during "A Piece of My Heart" since I didn't leave the set for the first fifty pages or so and how that made me feel like a real lead. I was thinking about the award from my final performance when Karlyn honored all the seniors and bragged about us individually for a moment and confessed how much she'd miss us.
I'm sure she did--I know she did-- but the trouble is that the productions didn't stop just because I graduated from high school and moved away to college and got married. Instead the primary kids were standing up front being seniors and handing out gifts to the crew and I'm sure during the coming spring performance Karlyn will cry when she starts to talk about how much she really will miss them too.
It's funny-- in a sobering kind of way-- to think back on the things and people that your life used to revolve around. I used to live and breathe for these plays even though I wasn't some great star, which I knew. I don't think it ever occurred to me at the time that I was giving months of rehearsal for three days (or six days for a musical) of performances. It was all I aspired to; I didn't think about that we were only putting all that preparation into one or two weekends. Even if someone had come out and said it to me the idea still wouldn't have made it into my bloodstream. All I knew was to enjoy it for as long as it lasted and then stress about auditions for the next one. And I loved it.
As graduation came on closer and closer Karlyn and Kline urged and committed each of us seniors to continue to promote the performing arts throughout our lives in some way. I tried to be sincere as I committed myself, but I knew deep down that I would be offering the joy I found in theater as a sacrifice for going away to a new place void of my Kate and Whitney, my Sabrina, my Brad and Malcolm, and especially my Karlyn and Mark. I know I was perhaps a small memory in their lives, but they are still so much a poignant memory in mine.
For most students in the drama program all they knew of it was what they had experienced during their four years of high school, but for me plays were primarily OCHS productions. Karlyn would refer, sometimes, to productions from five or six years previous and I was the only kid in the class or cast who remembered those scenes without any help since Mom had been taking me to see the high school plays for as long as I can remember. I remember when MyLiege and Sierra were in "Quilters." I remember when Rocky was a high school student doing volunteer art projects with his hand-made O.C. history coloring pages in my third grade class. I was there the night someone pulled the fire alarm part way through "The Miracle Worker" and they had to start back at the beginning of the scene after everyone finally filed back into the old auditorium at Jackson campus. What do I do with those memories now?
What am I supposed to do with any of this?
I never quite know what to do with myself when I visit home anymore. Is there a way to not make it all about myself and still not be forgotten? Or forget? It makes me wish I could bring my gaggle of girls with me anywhere I go so I could still make myself happy just making a fool of myself. I know that I can't. And so I feel a little sad about a world I thrived in which I cannot be a part of anymore. After all, what is performing good for except to know that you're making Sabrina laugh and Whitney cry? It's fun to dance just to dance, but it's priceless when you know that Kate is looking like a robot photographer next to you. So I don't mean that I could never perform again, but that it's the OCHS productions that I still have dreams about often enough that I can't deny how much it meant to me or how much it became a part of me. I pulled a muscle tonight. And although it was muscle memory, it was one which I had forgotten would move that way.
I wish I could offer something insightful to close with, but it's too hard to close when my heart is still wandering "[w]ay, way back many centuries ago[.]"