Thirtyish years ago as a young Jewess—immersed in imaginary play and wearing my older sister’s pink tutu—I was interrupted mid-soliloquy by sibling cackles .
I would never outlive this episode, forever fossilized in the family cannon of moments-you-never-live-down as
“Whah am ahhI? (hand flourish) Whah ah my pawents?”
(Translation: WHERE AM I? WHERE ARE MY PARENTS? THIS IS A VERY STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL LAND I’VE AWOKEN IN AND I’M AN ENCHANTING AND GIFTED BLOND PRINCESS VIOLINIST NAMED CINDY!" I just never got to the rest what with all the hysterical laughter and snorting).
As an older child I spent hours alone, singing along to musicals on my parent’s record player. I memorized all of the ingénue parts, and improvised the story in between. It consumed me wholly, and served me well when I went on to play most of those exact parts as a teenager and young adult. I didn’t know I was practicing then—I just loved singing and pretending, even by myself.
I didn’t have opportunities to act in an a production until high school, for which I now feel grateful (it takes decades to get rid of kid-stage-voice—it’s a whole other layer of puberty, combining Nellie Oleson with a British accent). I sat in the audience a lot though, craving the stage. When the lights went black and I heard the actors in their character shoes walking to their places, it felt like when your middle school crush stopped by your locker one day--as you turned your infected starter earrings--smirked and grunted “hey.” That powerful.
As a girl, acting wasn’t so much about the audience for me. I found my people and got to express and extend through and past myself—letting my voice blend with a chorus of others, and soar over the audience’s heads. All that energy—all that potential—finally released, and the joy of sharing it with others made performing addictive. I imagine running a marathon gives ultra-athletes a similar feeling, or yoga for people whose hamstrings actually allow them into the full expression of a pose, or playing an instrument for musicians who can play so well that they can just let go and let Bach.
Throughout high school, college, and my years in summer stock, theater served as the vehicle to express my potential and maybe God-given talents, but mostly it served my joy. Until it didn’t. In my first experience among Equity stage actors, I noticed how they withheld from the bonding and affection we kids gave so freely to each other. Professional actors, it seemed to me, found their joy in their work—but undeniably it became work. Perhaps a life of goodbyes and next gigs does that to a person. The hierarchy of professional vs. amateur stymied the dressing room schmoozing. People didn’t hand out heartfelt notes on opening night, nor stay out all night after closing the show, writhing to Aretha Franklin while eating nachos and crying.
The harder it became for me to find acting jobs after college--combined with missing that bonding with my cast cohort—the more I fell out of love with the work. Also, after eight years performing, theater became more and more about the audience for me. Without easy access to an audience, I no longer invested in the work of acting. I got lazy about honing my skills and craft, and my auditions reflected my malaise. Wanting to hang out with my fiancé scarfing quesadillas on our couch at night instead of rehearse in roach-infested storefront theatres might’ve impacted my decision a tad, too.
Today I realize the opposite has happened for me with blogging and writing. Flattering comments about my humor and writing used to give me a high once reserved for fun-dip and New Coke. Since founding LTYM, I’ve noticed the half-life of praise shrinking. I still get an endorphin ping with a re-tweet or “like”-- and part of me misses that intoxicating trip that used to set me sailing in a sea of ego—but mostly I’m relieved that neither praise nor rejection sets the tone for my entire day, sends me adrift, nor defines my self-worth to such an extent.
Despite the fact I no longer spend a fraction of the hours here that I used to, today I keep this blog going less for the applause (or hate mail) and more for the same reasons I originated it—for the writing discipline and practice, and because I love the cast of characters in this community. The irony is that the LTYM behemoth that keeps me from blogging as I used to and would like to, also affords me the equanimity to focus again on the work for its own sake.
I still love my cast. I want to eat nachos with you and writhe to Aretha Franklin, and remain part of this thriving creative online community as long as I can sustain it. But instead of craning my neck around the wings comparing last night’s audience to tonight’s, you might find me backstage spinning around in a pink tutu.
Three years ago a post like this would’ve kept me buzzing for days—maybe even weeks? I would’ve written a post that very moment and linked back to it with pride and in gratitude. What has happened to me? Am I an ingrate? Thank you, Alexandra The Empress, for honoring me among such an exquisite group of bloggers and women. Your boundless positivity, graciousness and prolific talent inspires all of us and makes blogland brighter.