Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My Theatre Hero: The Way It Is

Working on THE WILD PARTY has been an amazing experience in every way. First of all, this is an intense show (to say the least). Second of all, this is some of the most difficult music I have ever had to perform. And then, on top of everything else, the cast has had to deal with injuries and illnesses. A couple of weeks ago, Jeffrey Pruett (Burrs) suffered a bloody nose during a dance rehearsal (a collision). Earlier this week Nikki Glenn (Madalaine True) had to get a steroid shot because she had lost her voice almost entirely! And last week, I wound up in the hospital after rehearsal because I split my eyebrow open in the 2nd scene of the show during rehearsal! To my credit, I performed the entire show. Luckily we have a cast member who is part of the medical community, so she was able to bandage me up pretty well, although I did manage to bust it open again later in the evening when I was REALLY singing out...

My point, though, is not that I am something special because I continued on despite a potentially serious injury, but that carrying on is just the way it is in theatre. The show really must go on--there literally isn't anyone else there who can fill in on a moment's notice (not with what small, professional theatres are able to pay), and we all truly depend on each other. I think that a few people thought it was impressive that I went on...and, in retrospect (considering how I felt the next day), I suppose it was impressive...but I have a theatre hero who will always be my inspiration to go on, and I think the story deserves to be told here.

Back in December I had the esteemed honor of playing Sister Mary Ignatius to my son Adam's Thomas (he turned 11 during the run of the show) in the Stray Dog Theatre production of SISTER MARY IGNATIUS EXPLAINS IT ALL FOR YOU. I'll tell you what, I learned more working with my son than I ever learned in an acting class at university. There is nothing quite as honest as a child actor--every moment is real and new. It was an experience I will forever cherish, and one from which I continue to draw wisdom.

The biggest lesson my son taught me, though, was that the show ALWAYS goes on, and that's just the way it is.

On Tuesday, December 1--of Tech Week--at about 5:15 p.m. our most precious little dog Bridget was run over by a car in front of our house...pretty much in front of Adam. It was HORRIFYING to say the least, and both of us were a HUGE mess. Seriously, I have never experienced anything quite so devastatingly awful, and certainly this was the most agonizing tragedy Adam had ever faced.

I managed to get a hold of our director at about 5:45 from the vet's office, and we decided that Adam and I would get to the theatre whenever we could (a stranger had driven me and Bridget to the vet...and I was waiting for my husband to pick me up). Adam was at home trying desperately to pull himself together with my father (who lives with us) and his sister, Madge. When Dan and I walked in the door, my father was sitting in the kitchen crying, Madge was waiting at the door to dissolve into her daddy's arms, and we could hear Adam crying in the shower...

Somehow Dan got us all to the theatre by 7:15...the whole family came to the dress rehearsal because we couldn't think of anything else but to be together.

And, when we got to the theatre, the director gave us the option of just doing a line-through (no costumes, no movement...just speaking the lines), but Adam chose to do the full dress rehearsal. We decided that the best thing for us to do was to get onstage and do our job...and I just followed Adam's lead.

There were some poignant moments that night; probably more so than on any night during the run. Bitter moments were more bitter. Funny moments were more ironic. Sad moments were, well...tragic.

The most amazing performance imaginable came from my son, though. You see, he spent nearly the entire run of the show alone in a little room just off stage. He sat in there by himself, almost in the dark, listening for his cues--there was no one to send him on stage, he just did his job (and, just so we're clear, he NEVER missed an entrance. Ever). And that night, the night that his favorite little dog, Bridget, was killed, my son made every one of his entrances as Thomas, and he was funny, and he was charming, and he was dead-balls-on with his lines...

But I spent most of the evening alone on stage as Sister Mary...and I could hear him. We all could. My sweet, precious, professional actor/son spent his time off-stage, that night, sobbing alone in the dark. Wailing sometimes. The thought of it haunts me still...what he was going through...the pain he was feeling...and the fact that each entrance he made was flawless and with no sign of the tears he had been shedding back stage.

I come from a theatre family. My father's parents were Vaudevillians; my parents met in a summer stock company (of which my mother was the Artistic Director and ran with my Godmother for 15 years) and spent their winters working in NYC until I was father is still active in professional theatre--so we function in a certain way that other families probably wouldn't understand. I spent some time in the NIH several years ago and my father couldn't come to visit me because he was in a show (it was out of state for both of us)--but I wouldn't have had it any other way! The show MUST go on...

That is just the way it is.

But of all my heroes in every area of my life, my son Adam showed me a living example of what it means to have a life in the theatre. There is no excuse for me to not be present and accounted for while I am in a show. Unless I am contagious or mortally place is on the stage doing my job. I did nothing heroic; I did nothing extraordinary; I did not go above the call of duty. I did my job.

My son became my theatre hero that night. He will always be my hero for so many reasons and in so many ways, but professionally, he is the standard to which I hold myself as an actor.

...and that is just the way it is.