There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in. -Graham Greene
I’ve been thinking about my beginnings in Musical Theater and my ten year old self a great deal recently. Even from the very beginning, I was fearless on stage, which is strange because I was, and in many ways still am, a very shy and fearful person. There were nerves to audition, certainly, but for some reason I wasn’t nervous on stage, not while singing. There was something about performing, creating a character, inhabiting an imaginary world, that helped me transcend my fears and find only joy in the experience.
I also had infinite patience for learning at that age. I was happiest when watching the adult actors in those shows I did with my first theatre company. I did not realize then how much I was learning about Musical Theatre, acting, singing, style, stagecraft, musicianship and professionalism, just from watching them work. I was very fortunate that the theatre company I worked for attracted a large number of professional and semi-professional performers who also wanted to live more stable, comfortable lives rather than duking it out in New York City (man, do I understand that all these years later!). They did the shows out of love and a desire to perform in their “spare” time while making their money in other professions. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how profoundly valuable those lessons were. And painless too- I was just enraptured by the whole process. Watching great performers work is as important as any formal schooling. Frankly, watching and learning from anybody, at any stage of ability is incredibly valuable.
I was never afraid to try something when I was doing those first few shows. I was never afraid to be wrong since I knew my directors, both stage and musical, would not only correct me, but more importantly, help me find a better way. I truly was blessed with those first directors, who thankfully thought of themselves as teachers too. They were firm but loving, kind but insistent. They taught me that doing your best and striving for better was actually more fun than mediocrity. These lessons are always in my mind when I teach, especially when I teach young people. I want to instill in them a love of performing but also a love of learning and growing; a love of the process as well as the product. I always loved going to rehearsals- what would we create today? I was never bored either watching others rehearse or watching the parts of the show I wasn’t in during the run. I would tuck myself into a hidden corner backstage, out of the way of props, scenery or audience sight-lines, and soak in the magic.
I still think it’s magical- the way the lights obscure the audience and transform the stage and set into a new world, the orchestra starting up, the hush right before the curtain opens, the very act of singing and acting and creating in front of people- magic. I’m still fearless once I get on the stage, but the nerves can still be pretty intense leading up to that moment. Oh, but it’s worth it even 35 years later.