Friday, April 30, 2010

Reality Check

Sometimes the universe has a mean streak. It has a way of slapping you back to reality with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Today was one of those days.

A bit of context is needed. I grew up worshipping Liza Minnelli. She was Liza with a Z. I'm Lisa with an S. She even sang a song about that. Cabaret is one of my favorite movies. Sara Lee (there's no H just Sara) is one of my favorite songs. I've seen Liza in concert. Since I was 7, my dream has been to play Sally Bowles. I've got the pipes to sing Cabaret with the best of them.

Our local theatre company, one I've performed with before, decided to stage Cabaret this year. I jumped at the chance to audition. I've worked with the director before, I knew I could sing and act the part. I thought my first audition went well. I got called back for consideration for lead parts.
 At the callback, instead of reading for Sally, I read for Fraulein Schneider, the widowed German housekeeper. First reality check. I was old enough to be the mother of most of the people in the room. One of the cattier little divas actually pointed that out to me by saying I sounded just like her mother in my read. Another of the youngsters told me I looked like Patti Lupone. Amazing talent...and older than  I am. I wasn't sure if that comparison was a good thing or a bad thing.

And then I got offered chorus. In Cabaret, unless you can be a Kit Kat Dancer, chorus translates into random people being audience members. Unlike some plays, like Gilbert and Sullivan where chorus has a big part to play, Cabaret is character driven, and there really isn't a chorus. I was a competition level ballroom dancer once upon a time...Kit Kat dancer? uh, no.

Reality check. I knew going into it that I was 20 years older than the character of Sally is supposed to be.turns out, I was almost 30 years older than what the director wanted.  It's been a rough couple of years health wise, and I've never been heavier than I am right now. I've struggled with my body image, with my confidence and with accepting myself as I am right now. I knew that I could sing well enough to play the role. I knew that the director knew what I was capable of. I knew that I could act the role. I thought it would be enough. It wasn't.

As my "can't see the point of theatre anyway" mother will no doubt point out to me, I really shouldn't have expected to get a part. I'm too old. I'm too fat. I shouldn't be away from my little girl and my husband that much. I'm not a trained actor. Be happy with the Grand Philharmonic Choir. Be happy with chorus, it's more than I got the last couple of times.

But here's the thing. Mommy needs to get out more. I work from home. I am primary caregiver to my daughter and although my mom is still pretty self-sufficient, I take care of her too. I run the house, do the laundry, do the cooking. I run my business, often simultaneously with my other roles. Grand Philharmonic Choir stops for the summer, and with a new artistic director at the helm, there's no guarantee that I will still make the cut for the choir go forward.

When the Phil ends, I am home 24-7, except for mass on Saturday and the occasional funeral or wedding. I haven't been booked to sing any weddings this year. I don't mind the at home part, but even introverts need to get out sometime. I was really looking forward to being "Lisa" instead of mom, wife, daughter and business woman.

Aside from the fact that Cabaret was my dream since I was 7, musical theatre is fun. "There's no people like Show people" aren't just lyrics.They are funny, generous, loving people and you bond as a family during a show. It's also a huge time commitment, and I'm not sure I'm willing to make that commitment to be a random person. There aren't any real chorus parts to sing in Cabaret. And if I'm being honest, and my blog is honest, I don't know if I want to watch some young kid play my dream role. That's a bit too much of a reality check.

I guess I forgot what my chronological age is. My daughter is 5. My world revolves around mothers much younger because their children are the same age as my daughter. I have lots of 20 something friends. I am up on social media and I am a twitter and facebook social butterfly. My heart and my outlook are young. They're just trapped in a middle-aged body. A fat, middle aged body.

I'm trying to objectively analyze why I have tears streaming down my face and a profound sense of loss and disappointment. Part of it is most assuredly the death of my dream to play Sally.I've wanted to play that part since I was 7 and the dream is done. Finished. Gone. Fade to black. I let myself hope. I let myself believe. I let myself forget the reality in exchange for living the dream. Dreams hurt when they shatter.

The other part of the tears, however, are tied up with my lifelong struggle with body image, self confidence and self image. My father used to tell me that I was a stupid, fat, ugly, lazy slut. Some of it stuck. My mother, never one for tact, reminds me constantly these days that I weigh too much.Yep. I do. I never dreamed my scale would go that high. It did. I'm trying to do something about it but hormones and injuries are putting up road blocks. All I feel these days is fat.And frumpy.

I know that I am a competent person. I know I am smart. I know that I am a good friend, a good mother (most of the time, but we all have our moments) I try to be a good wife.(most of the time, but we all have our moments.) I am a fiercely loyal friend. I try to be a good daughter. (most of the time but we all have our moments.) I can be lazy. I can own that, but I can also work like a fiend. I'm not a great housekeeper. Dust bunnies have nothing to fear from me. I know I'm a good baker, if not particularly fancy at it. I know I can cook a good meal. I am a good writer.  I am not, nor have I ever been a slut. I don't even think my dad knew what it meant, really. It was just something else to say when the booze was doing the talking. I know that I can sing-people keep asking me to sing at their weddings, their funerals and I've been in various choirs, including the Grand Philharmonic Choir, since childhood.

What I don't know, especially lately, is the fat and ugly. It's what I see when I look in the mirror. It's what I've always seen. There's just more to see right now. So tied up in the ashes of the dream of Cabaret is this conviction that fat ugly girls don't get to play Sally. They get chorus. And as the song "At 17" by Janis Ian which could have been a page from my teenage diary said :
To those of us who know the pain of valentines that never came,
And those whose names were never called when choosing sides for
It was long ago and far away; the world was younger than today
And dreams were all they gave away for free to ugly duckling girls like me.

Tonight, one of those dreams died, and no matter how unrealistic it was, it still hurts.I know in the grand scheme of things, it's small potatoes. It's not even a karmic blip on the radar...except that it mattered. The 7 year old girl still cared..And now the spotlight fades to black without the show stopping finale. Life isn't always a Cabaret, old chum.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

If I had a Million Dollars...

The Bare Naked Ladies would only eat fancy dijon ketchup. What would you do?

This blog post is inspired by a conversation that I had with a friend of mine a couple of days ago. He is at a crossroads and trying to decide what to do next. I asked him if he won the lottery and money was no longer as issue, what he would do. Would he go to Grad school, which was one of the options he was considering? No, he didn't think so. Well, what would he do, then? Work in theatre doing lighting, electrical etc. Do it then.

Once he realized where his heart and passion lay, he started thinking about ways to get on with it. He could apprentice. He was already building a good working reputation in the theatre community, and often hung from rafters and scaffolds at various theatres helping to offload and set up sets, and strike them after.  He had contacts in the industry, and the price of a cup of coffee could inform him about other options. Like any profession, networking is half the battle. In an industry like theatre, where a light that isn't hung right or wired correctly becomes a danger, reputation is important and there isn't time to re-do it later. The other professionals in the industry would know about opportunities. What had started out as a discouraging, "I don't know what to do next" conversation ended with a plan of action to pursue a passion.

It's easy to fall into jobs that pay the bills but don't feed your soul or your passion. I know. I've had tons of them and for long periods of time. (And may again if I don't get out of my own way, trust my instincts and start marketing my abilities better. "Do you want fries with that?" is not an option) There's something to be said for a steady paycheque, pension and other benefits. But no paycheque is worth your health, your self esteem or your peace of mind. Trust me. I learned it the hard way, complete with hives, insomnia, waking up screaming "No" because of  nightmares about a Monday conference call and leaving with my self esteem and confidence in my abilities in piles of rubble around my feet.

So what would I do if I won the lottery? Exactly what I'm doing now, except I'd be able to spend less time querying magazine and newspaper articles and finding corporate work and more time working on my YA novel that has one good draft and now needs a good re-write, the other YA novel that I believe in, but let others talk me out of and maybe finally have the courage to let my poetry see the light of day. I'd work on the non-fiction book about the boarding house in Ottawa where my mother lived during World War II, because I'm getting wonderful information from former residents whose stories need to be told while they're still alive to tell it.

I'd, as my friend Jean Mills puts it, joy write. I'd write for the sheer pleasure of getting lost in the characters and letting them tell their story. I'd forget about dishes, bills and the new tires that I know I need for my car, which is why I'm still driving on snows. I'd write to forget about debt, my daughter's future education bills, and the fact that I still don't have a real office. I'd revel in the frustration of having a character refuse to do what is on my plot outline and instead do something that I hadn't thought of, but suddenly makes perfect sense. I'd remember why I returned to my first love-writing. I'd write with no other goal than the sheer joy of writing.

But reality beckons. I have an editing deadline, articles due, a small child to parent and keep busy, dishes and laundry to do and income to generate.

But maybe there's time to sneak in some joy writing first. Joy writing makes job writing worthwhile. I need to remember that. No time like the present.

What would you do?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

High School Musical

We all have hallmarks of Spring. Spring for my husband is heralded by the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. My mother and I mark Spring by the arrival of the "open" sign in the seasonal Dairy Queen. My father left footprints in the garden every spring watching for the snowdrops to arrive. Jesus Christ Superstar marks Easter for me.

I love the music of Lent and the Easter season. Perky is probably not the first word that leaps to mind when people think of me...more like intense or intimidating, or so I've been accused. The rituals and rites of the Catholic Church during Easter Week are powerful, except for the darned incense. I could live without the incense, and so could my asthma. It was all just words though, until Jesus Christ Superstar and high school.

I started high school in Dorval, QC at Queen of Angels Academy.(high school in Quebec is Grade 7-11, and you do two years of CEGEP before university, or at least that's how it was when it applied to me)  It was a private, write an entrance exam school with an emphasis on academics. If you weren't in the top 5 in the class you were pond scum. We were taught by nuns exclusively, with the exception of the gym and Spanish teachers. We had high academic standards, we learned needlework and how to set a table properly (although I still have to look that one up) We would be expected to pop up and give a list of prepositions while sitting in Geography class.(I can still do it.) It was THAT kind of school, and I loved it.

And then we moved. Not only did we move provinces, we moved cultures. I was used to the French culture. We moved to the heart of German culture.  And we moved in time for me to start Ontario high school. I should have started in Grade 9 with my cousin Pat, based on my birthday date. One look at my academic transcript, and I was skipped ahead to Grade 10, and Grade 11 in French. Academically, it was fine. Socially, not so much because friendships are established in Grade 9. I was the new kid, I was socially inept, I was shy and introverted and I was smart. It was a lethal combination.

Two years into high school hell, the girls and boys only Catholic schools decided to combine forces to produce Jesus Christ Superstar. It had a huge cast and orchestra, a set that filled half the school gymnasium, and enough controversy to sell it out for 10 consecutive nights. Many people only knew that JC was a "rock opera", and questioned the suitability for Catholic schools to produce it. Without ever seeing the show, people branded it left, right and centre as sacrilegious. Letters to the editor filled the pages of the local paper. The teachers and advisors stuck to their guns and we produced a show that is still a legend in the local community. We stopped the critics nightly with an encore of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus.

I can't recall if I'd stumbled into high school drama before JC. I'd certainly discovered the solace of the choir. I could sing. I liked theatre and when I heard that the school was going to produce Jesus Christ Superstar, I leapt at the chance to audition.I was a natural for high school drama. I was chameleon, changing personae to fit who I thought people wanted me to be and feeling lost and adrift. Acting was easy. I did it every day.  I didn't get the school. I struggled with the German culture so different from what I was used to. Being smart was not acceptable. The school seemed to emphasize sports and school council more than academics, and I didn't fit into either of those things.

And then I joined the cast of JC. From there, I developed friendships that have endured the 30 odd years since high school. I fell into a group of theatre people, more men than women. If we weren't in the plays, we were gluing flats, painting sets and working behind the scenes. We were smart. We listened to Springsteen and read Thoreau for fun. (and understood it.) We looked out for each other. Many of the group of people who befriended me during the days of JC remain close friends.

Being a part of Superstar ranks as a highlight of my high school days. I still have the t-shirt, the signed program and with a bit of effort, I can still remember the Superstar dance, chicken wing bits and all. I can sing every bit of the score and I still remember my cue to enter the stage during the overture. It mattered. It mattered a great deal.

Superstar had an unexpected impact on my faith life .  I remember sitting in church on the Good Friday immediately adjacent to our performances of Superstar. It happened to be the liturgical year for the gospel of John, which influenced much of Superstar. As the words droned on, suddenly I was back on stage, living the words being read from the pulpit. Except that they were no longer words. They were flashbacks of a life experience that made the Passion story more vivid. The organist had been the music director of the play, and he played snippets of Superstar as people walked up to venerate the cross. Several cast members were in the congregation, and we kept catching each other's eye in camaraderie. We were in on the joke. The rest of the congregation remained oblivious to the fact that "rock opera" music was playing during the holiest of days in the Catholic Church.

It took many more years for me to be comfortable in my own skin, so Superstar was certainly not a watershed for me. It was the start of acceptance that it was fine to be smart, although it took until university for me to be completely comfortable with that. It was the genesis of accepting my creative side. I still have an eclectic and varied group of friends with a myriad of interests who probably wouldn't mix together, but who nurture and sustain the various bits that make me who I am.  Snippets of the score to Superstar still roll through my mind when I hear the reading of the Passion at Easter, although now it is often intermingled with snippets from the various Bach works I've learned. It has become part of the soundtrack of my life and my life has always been remembered by the music that was playing.

More than anything, I think Superstar was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere. It was the first time that I remotely fit in the new place that had become my home. It was the start of a love of theatre in general and musical theatre in particular, the start of a love of dramatic singing although the discovery of the power of my voice came years later. Most importantly,  it was start of friendships that have endured.

And so every Easter I dig out my soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar, first on vinyl, now on CD. As I go about preparations for Easter, in between Easter choir commitments, Jesus, Herod,  Judas, Mary Magdalene and Simon Zealotes will keep me company like old friends I only see once a year. I might even sneak in a few steps during the Superstar number while I boil eggs to decorate with my daughter. I will stop and try to remember the steps to Herod's dance, although I was never a part of Herod's angels. And I will know that Christ has risen. Hallelujah.