Monday, July 18, 2016

My LTYM Experience or How I Accidentally Ended Up On A Stage

The final chapter of my participation in the Listen To Your Mother Show ended with our live performances. I turned 39 on May 3rd and on May 7th, I was on a stage at the beautiful South Orange Performing Arts Center with 12 other souls  (as well as our incredible producers, Sandy, Brooke and Deborah) that handily out-shined the beauty of the space. It all still feels as if it may have been a dream. A very gratifying, emotional dream.

It ended the same way it began, with my worrying about clothes. Before our first rehearsal, I was stressing out knowing that the next morning, I would be meeting a room full of strangers. Not only that, I would be taking a cast picture with these strangers and reading a story of the worst moments of my life. It seemed like too much to be vulnerable about my story and about my precarious self-esteem at the same time.

Despite all of that, I got into my car on a Saturday morning, armed with coffee and the soundtrack to "Hamilton." Clad in the pink and grey sweater I had chosen, I entered the loft space of the SOPAC to find a circle of chairs and the only faces I knew- those of our producers, who had sat before me as I auditioned in that very same space.

The rest of the faces trickled in, faces I knew vaguely from Facebook. I had no idea what stories I was about to hear, I just knew they would all be better than mine. I really had no idea what I was doing in this room. One of the women was even having a book published, for God's sake!

There were introductions and hugs and lots of "Hey, it's so nice to finally meet you!" We drifted to our chairs, and then it began. It sounds cliche and dumb, but these weren't just stories. There was so much truth and vulnerability and bravery, and it suddenly all made sense. I would have never made it to this room alone- none of us would have. We all needed each other. I could see the connections from one story to the next, like strands of sliver that tethered us all together. What an outstanding job the producers take on, to create this living being from nearly one hundred random tales.

We met again a month later. Instead of being impervious to the stories we'd heard, we were somehow even more open to absorbing them. We gathered after to eat lunch, giggling and exchanging pictures of our people and enjoying the indulgence of an afternoon cocktail. I realized that these were people I was going to know.

One more month and I found myself, again, stressing about clothes on a Friday night. But this time, it wasn't a pink and grey sweater at the ready, but a dress and heels, accessorized by jewelry chosen by a heavily pregnant sales girl at Nordstrom Rack. First thing that morning, I made one last drive to South Orange. I went in through the wrong door and, in a few steps, found myself onstage.

Many moons ago, in a life previously known as mine, I lived to be onstage. The itchy, awkward girl, plagued by acne and low self-esteem, would lose herself in Sandy or Mary or the screamy life of a Sweet Apple teen. Talent shows, Homecoming, every school choir concert, I would remember that there was something I was good at.

Fast forward about ten years (and at least forty fucking pounds) and there I was on stage again. This time, I wasn't playing anyone else. I was just myself. But despite the reservations I felt about being myself on stage, I found that the feeling of waiting in the wings to go on, the glow of the lights, and the sound of genuine, kind applause hadn't changed. It felt like a combination of a warm bath and an electric shock- two things that do not generally go together.



I sat on stage with my people and listened to their stories. Despite the fact that I was up there in front of hundreds, the stories felt as visceral and real as they always had. I had tears in my waterproof mascara-clad eyelashes when it was my turn. I walked up to the podium and totally blacked out. Seriously. I know I read my story, but it was like I was underwater. I forgot about the audience, didn't worry about looking fat. I could see the story I was telling as if it was happening right there.

My story was about the most terrifying moment of my life so far; I could not find PJ, and feared he had wandered from the house. As I read my piece, I was in my bubble until I got to the part where I found PJ, safe and okay, and the entire audience audibly groaned with relief.



That groan was the single most gratifying experience I have ever had as a writer. I suddenly remembered all of the people in the theater and realized that they were with me on this journey. It meant that I had told my story well enough for them to understand how terrified I was, and the crushing relief I felt when I found PJ safe. That was an amazing and unusual experience for a writer. I have no way of knowing if the things I create have any impact whatsoever because I am not there when people read it.

After the show, after all of the incredible stories had been told, I headed out to the lobby to find Pete before the second show began. We talked a bit and as we did, people came up to me with words of sweetness and encouragement and thanks. It meant that telling my story served the purpose I wanted it to- to let people know that sometimes, blame and finger-wagging and I would never let that happen's are just hot air on a fire.

We moved on to the second show, and I felt a new jolt of electricity go through me as I thought of my sister and my friends who had schlepped almost two hours to come see the performance. The second show had a different vibe, more intimate and serious. But it was a great show and before I knew it, we were backstage again, celebrating with champagne sipped from hijacked Dunkin Donuts cups. The performance space was transformed into a reception area, where I sipped a little more champagne and ate the most delicious meatball ever. I switched my very high heels out for a pair of socks that were more forgiving, if not fashion forward. We partied together until there were just a few stragglers left, and then we moved the party across the street to a great little bar.

In my grown-up life, there are not a lot of opportunities like this and that's okay. Seeing my son perform the first time, and to be witness to how much joy it brought him, eclipsed my biggest performance high times a million. I love my life, even when it's messy and dumb, but I also loved this glimpse back to who I was. Ironically, the bridge that took me there was who I am now. Either way, I could not be more thankful for this incredible opportunity.

I can not encourage you enough to visit the channel for our show and listen to all of my amazing, brave, talented, beautiful cast mates. Our stories, all together, made the show, not any one piece. To borrow a phrase, you will be changed for the better.

"My blurry lines, my messy life
Come into focus and in time, maybe...
I can heal and I can breathe
'Cause I can feel myself believe
That everything changes..."
-Everything Changes- Waitress Original Broadway Soundtrack

3 comments:

Kate said...

Sharing our experiences, getting past our fears, helps others.

Anonymous said...
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Richard Carroll said...
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