Starring as Herself

When I was young, (maybe eight? nine?), my parents (or just my dad?) took me to see a professional performance of The Sound of Music.  I’m not sure if it was the very first live musical I’d ever been to (because clearly I need professional memory help, or maybe a metric ton of ginko biloba injected into my hippocampus) but man was it the first one I saw.  There were kids up there! Kids my age! Singing and acting and performing in front of hundreds of people! I wanted in, and I wanted in bad.

The wheels began turning during Act 1, and by the time intermission rolled around I figured it was time to get started on my acting career. I concocted a plan, and it was surefire: get people to notice me. In my head that was how it worked – you just had to look dramatic or show a certain panache, and the director, (or famous movie producer, who was to say?) who would surely be out in the lobby getting a box of Raisinets just like you, would whip around at the mere peripheral glance of your essence and say “GET ME THAT GIRL. SHE IS A STAR.” And voila, you were discovered.

So during intermission I walked out into the crowded lobby and laid down spread eagle in the middle of the floor. DRAMATICALLY.

I have a vague (natch) memory of my Dad looking down at me in confused horror and saying “What in the WORLD are you doing?” and helping me up. You might think I would have felt embarrassed, getting a reaction like that, but despite my brain’s 97-year old memory capabilities, I’m pretty sure what I thought was “Poor Dad, he doesn’t know the first thing about talent.”

Needless to say, no one sprinted from the back of the popcorn line that day to cast me in their next feature film, but I had been bitten by the performance bug, hard. I started auditioning for plays in the area and finally landed my first role as one of the children in South Pacific at a community theater. All my lines were in French and they painted me brown from head to toe every night so that I would look Polynesian, and I felt like I had found heaven on earth.

Fast forward twenty-some years, years in which I dabbled in music and acting when I got the chance (well, and that sort of intense time when I kind of got a college degree in vocal performance), to a few weeks ago when I saw an advertisement for Mary Poppins at the Fox Theatre here in Atlanta. The ad had a discount code, and after staring at it for a minute I thought, you know what? It’s time. Noah is old enough to sit for a whole performance, he’s seen the movie, this is IT. And I bought the tickets, excited as a kid a few weeks before Christmas.

The tickets were for a Friday night at 8pm, which was late for Noah, but I wasn’t worried about how he would do. How could it be hard to stay awake for such magic and music and dancing? He would be too excited to be tired.  But leading up to our departure that evening, things got a little hairy. He was slow, and I was cranky and worn out from a long day, and more than once I found myself snapping at him to PUT YOUR SHOES ON RIGHT NOW THIS IS THE FOURTH TIME I’VE ASKED YOU……so we could make it to this magically fun evening together on time. I hadn’t envisioned it going this way, and I started to feel like I had made a mistake, he was too young, it was too late, it wasn’t his thing, etc. etc. etc.  But we were dressed and we had the tickets, and I sure wanted to see the show, so we went anyway, faking smiles for pictures and running to the car afterward so we wouldn’t be late.

So totally stoked

On the way there, I thought about how different Noah is as a child than I was. He would no sooner get on a stage to perform as he would throw away all of his Matchbox cars. But even though I didn’t have any grand illusions that his reaction to Mary Poppins would be at all as crazy as like mine, I did sort of hope that when the curtain rose he would see the people all aglow in their costumes and makeup, dancing and singing and drawing us in, and recognize it for what it was: magic.

After we arrived, and after a harrowing ten minutes of bathroom negotiations and the procuring of one plastic booster seat, we settled in and waited for the show to start, talking about the people we saw and the blue-lit starry ceiling. Then all of a sudden the lights fell low and the audience tittered with excitement as the curtain rose on a bright city scene, actors frozen in place. In strolled Bert, peddling wares and beginning to sing, and the stage sprang to life. The chorus began their choreographed bustle as they launched into the opening number, and I turned to look at the expression on Noah’s face right at the moment that he grabbed my arm and gasped, “They’re real!”

And I thought: yes. That.

As we drove home from the show I realized that although Noah may not ever have a great love of the stage, it’s still important to me that I share with him something that has meant so much to me in my life. Maybe partially because I hope that it will help him see better who I am as a whole person, outside my role as his mom. I want to keep coming back to the things that make me feel alive, so that Noah and Rosie can see the best version of me, the me that believes in magic. The me that lies down uninhibited in the middle of a crowded room, arms and legs splayed like a star.

(I’m speaking metaphorically on that last one, of course. You’re welcome, Noah and Rosie.)


1 Gramps { 05.03.10 at 5:47 am }

Funny–I don’t remember the lying down in the lobby floor. But I do remember your saying to me as we left, quite excitedly, “Daddy, if there’s another ‘Sound of Music’ somewhere around here, can I try out?!!!?” I said yes, and you were about as grateful as I had ever seen or heard you: “Oh, THANK YOU, Daddy!!!!!!”

2 Mandi Davis { 05.03.10 at 8:02 pm }

Oh, that one made me cry a little…. I TOTALLY get it. Including the need to lie down in the lobby dramatically.

3 Lynn Peek { 05.04.10 at 5:05 am }

Some of my greatest memories are sharing theater with my daughters-both observing, acting, and being a (non-pushy, of course) Stage Mom. I think it helped make all 3 of us who we are. I’ll never forget the moment in rehearsal I thought to myself, “Who is this woman dancing next to me? I don’t know her.” It was Anjie, age 14.

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