As a young actor, I found the idea of directing intimidating. I couldn’t imagine the pressure of having everyone relying on me. I could handle enormous and public personal responsibility--memorizing and reciting pages of monologues, or performing two shows-worth of Eliza Doolittle back-to-back. Setting another actor’s props, assisting with scenery changes--anything that might trip up another actor (beyond feeding them a line of dialogue)--made my stomach play dead.
Until very recently I maintained that directing does not come naturally to me—I saw myself sitting demurely to the side—in a soft, flattering light—quietly studying my own part and delivering it with aplomb.
Your cackling is disrupting my astute self-awareness, by the way.
I didn’t notice how closely SIT ON YOUR BOTTOM, DO IT OR GO TO YOUR ROOM and THAT’S A THREE--TIME OUT resemble PLACES, ACTION and CUT. I never imagined the comparative ease of helping another adult with a quick costume-change versus trying to get tantrum-ing toddler limbs into a snowsuit. If setting Henry Higgin’s bowl of marbles made me nearly lose mine, it must’ve been because I’d never packed a family for vacation. My KNOW WHERE THERMOMETERS PACIFIERS LOVIES TYLENOL AND EVERYTHING IMPORTANT IS AT ALL TIMES sonar had yet to activate.
Then I remembered the ballet performance when all my classmates forgot the choreography: Step. step. step, aannd…step (we were five years old). I began directing traffic—trying to cue my fellow chubby woodland sprites as subtly as ground traffic control with neon batons. Hey, I couldn’t see the audience, so obviously they couldn’t see me. If you believe the legend of Ann and the sobbing pre-ballerinas, when the other small tutus did not comply, I began physically moving their bodies around the stage for them. That’s when the audience erupted with laughter, we wept and bawled, and our teacher had to come out from the wings and usher us off stage. Fait accompli!
Fast-forward to fourth grade and find me corralling my classmates on the playground, improvising musicals such as Say Hello To Buddah! involving Martha Graham-esque skip/flail choreography and speaking in tongues performance art. The Chinese jump-ropes must’ve been booked that day.
Next consider the manner in which I foisted Husband at least 10 years ahead of his preferable schedule in proposing, wedding, and childbearing. Beginning with pointed glances toward Marshall Field’s bridal window displays as we walked arm-and-arm down Chicago’s State Street, to me pregnant with our second child and moving us to my hometown of Madison--I even snuck in that fourth bedroom with plans to fill it--Husband didn’t stand a chance. By his calendar, he’s still trying to finish the sentence “Nice…to…meet…you.”
Just a few years ago I told my sister and one of my closest friends I never wanted to do what they do—run organizations and manage people. It seemed so daunting. Today I direct a project that spans ten cities and hundreds of people. The logo I chose to represent it? A bright. red. megaphone.
Motherhood brought out the director in me, but apparently she existed all along. Hello, Buddah!