From the Archives:
This is a repost of an entry from my old Livejournal blog. I’ve reposted it in its entirety, because it captures a moment seven years ago. The details have changed, but the swell of emotion from remembering that moment has not.
One of the passingly beautiful memories I have of my mother’s Amphitheatre was exploring the subterranean prison set from Man of La Mancha. It was bleakly magical, with a terrifyingly long, winding staircase. There was a blood-shuddering creak of an opening door; from that cold shaft of light, the Inquisitor descended. Within the crawl space of this set, there were cells – the persecuted prisoners could lean through the bars and tug at the clothes of their passing persecutors. Dante could not have envisioned it better. During one of the dress rehearsals, I crawled into a cell with one of the actors and played out the scene with him, all hunched over; I howled for mercy on cue, banged on the unyielding cell door, drooped hopelessly into the corner like the wizened, diseased, forgotten prisoner I was. That night was the first night that I saw Don Quixote sing “The Impossible Dream” in costume, on the set.
To dream the impossible dream.
To fight the unbeatable foe.
To bear with unbearable sorrow.
To run where the brave dare not go.
He had a thrilling voice, a trained opera singer, and he thundered out with a tenderness that I could hardly bear. I, balled up in the darkness of the cell, strained to see through the rusted grate where he stood in a pool of light.
To right the unrightable wrong.
To love pure and chaste from afar.
To try when your arms are too weary.
To reach the unreachable star.
Every night, I was spellbound during the song. He was a battered old man, ridiculous to most and consumed with delusion, but had a dignity that was transcendent.
This is my quest, to follow that star.
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far.
I have found my star.
I have been drifting for a long time, as I have tried to deny the undeniable. Theatre courses through my blood and to try and do anything else is a bit of a farce. It is my birthright.
I never realized how unorthodox my upbringing was until I was much older. From the time I could toddle about, I was underfoot backstage. My playpen was the orchestra pit. I learned to sew buttons (badly) in the costume shop. I dodged wood shavings in the workshop, perched under the conference table at auditions. I ate ice cream at Ehrler’s with Ado Annie and played hopscotch with Little Orphan Annie. My first kiss was in the lobby, the son of my mother’s assistant director – purely by accident. We were playing tag and bumped smack into each other. I had the best Halloween costumes in my school.
Once I was eight, I was permitted to audition like everyone else. If I was cast, I could do no more than one show a season. Still, I accompanied my mother to endless rehearsals, gorged on Moon over My Hammy at Denny’s at two in the morning. I was her Best Girl, her P.I.C. (Partner-in-Crime). I took scores of notes for her on legal pads, fetched her Diet Coke, always called her Mrs. Meade. I watched, enrapt, as she scolded, praised, and inspired her actors. I watched whole worlds unfold, worlds that were once only inside her head, now shared with the world outside.
On the vastness of the empty stage, late at night, when no one was around, I bowed countless times in endless curtain calls to an invisible audience.
Last week, I stood on another empty stage and looked out at the audience. I was four states away, a decade and a half later, and yet for a moment I was that girl again. Saint Augustine has a brand-new, 4500 seat outdoor ampitheatre that has no theatre company. The official state play of Florida, Cross & Sword, has been shelved for ten years. In the space of the last month, I have met a woman who studied costume design in school, a lighting/sound designer friend has moved down from Kentucky, and my mother said in passing that I should start a theatre company and she would come down summers to help me. Last night, I was having cocktails with a friend and she confided that she had always dreamed of doing set design…before I’d even told her about the theatre project. Events are overtaking me and I am a little afraid.
But I know this is what I ought to be doing. And I’m a little scared of failing, but I’m more scared to not try it. I am the youngest among the people I have collected around me, people whose talents complement and underline my own. I tell myself, ‘I am the Artistic Director’, and it sounds like a role I am playing. But I have to do it. My beautiful, brilliantly creative mother is scrapbooking and arranging flowers. My friends are all working jobs that are not fulfilling, daydreaming of doing what they really want to do. And I’m there with them, but I’m not willing to wait any longer.
Now is the time and I’ll follow my star.