Growing up, both my sister and I were heavily involved in dance. And when I say heavily involved, I mean that we practically lived at our dance studio. We joined the competitive team early, and took nearly every style they had to offer (except for Hip Hop. I never seemed to have the flair for it; and after partaking in one Hip Hop class wherein we did a routine called Whassup Dawg and wore gigantic multi-colored parachute pants and sequined crop tops, I decided perhaps the style wasn’t for me. And yes, it was called Whassup Dawg, spelled exactly like that).
My early childhood was just good ol’ fashioned jam packed with Tap, Ballet, Jazz, Lyrical, even Irish Step dancing; routine after routine; competition after competition. I performed in so many shows and on so many stages, my memory can hardly tell them all apart anymore. In fact, it takes my mother pulling out the tens of thousands of videotapes to truly re-live the crazy dance days. And, trust me, you don’t want to ask her to do that unless you have a solid 10 hours to kill and you have a decent place to hide a flask (just ask my poor, poor Captain Kev-merica…).
Yes, the stage was never an unfamiliar place to me. I felt very comfortable entertaining people from a young age. Amidst all those jazz-hand shakin’, rhinestone-covered performance memories that I can’t quite sort out, however, stands one that needs no videotape to spark. I remember, quite vividly, the first time I was in a play.
I remember every detail. It was sixth grade and the Meads Mill Singers would be staging The Wizard of Oz as the spring show. I had Spring Break to prepare for the audition, and remember mulling over sides and a character list while my family and I flew cross-country to Phoenix for Easter. I decided to audition for the Wicked Witch of the West as she had a relatively small part, but an important one. I decided that I wasn’t quite ready for the responsibility of the larger roles, like Dorothy (which, let’s be honest, would probably go to an 8th grader anyway. Duh).
I remember how my heart fluttered when I was cast as the villian. I remember holding my script for the first time, and carefully highlighting my lines in pink. I remember rehearsals and memorizing my role. And it truly was a small role. We didn’t do the musical rendition of the story that you may be thinking of. This script was some weird straight-play version of L. Frank Baum’s original story. Therefore my role consisted of just one scene, about 15 lines including a small monologue, yelling at Dorothy and, yes, melting. My mom bought me gigantic, curvy fake nails painted a deep gray so I really looked like a wicked witch, and my evil make-up was flawless. I was going to blow the critics away.
I remember the adrenaline shooting through me as I made my entrance. I remember the instant, small twinge of regret I felt when I stuttered through a phrase of my monologue. I remember thinking that “melting” (just slipping down and ultimately hiding) behind my throne as I whimpered what a world, what a world was true theatre magic. Overall, it was overwhelmingly positive. And as our single performance came to an end, I took a bow, made my exit and told my Mom, that was so much better than dance competitions. I had found a new love.
Don’t get me wrong. Dance, in my opinion, is perhaps the most beautiful way a person can express herself. And Dance will forever be my first true love, and will never escape me. Oh, but a play: live, delightfully elaborate storytelling. Playing pretend. Searching for truth in someone else’s experience, in someone else’s words. And if you believe in what you do, you’ll always find it. You’ll preserve a little bit of history or a little slice of life. And nothing compares to that rush you feel when an audience laughs or sniffles their way through a good cry; when they applaud to thank you for providing a brief escape. Oh, yes, there is simply nothing like a play.
When I wrote Soul Mates, it wasn’t for any great reason. I was driving along 96, and my heart felt light and the sky was pink and the idea sort of just came to me. And then I sort of just wrote it down. It seemed like a nice story, perhaps worth telling. Of course, from there, a writing process developed, loosely involving my becoming a schizophrenic. There would be days when I was so engrossed in writing a scene that the characters would be bickering in my head all day long. Full on conversations while I was at work, serving coffee to strangers. It’s true. And when I held a hard copy in my hands for the first time, I was a bit overcome with emotion. After all, I had accomplished something new. But I didn’t necessarily have big plans for it.
But someone else did. And so I passed it along and watched it grow. I’ve watched as a talented bunch of players jumped head first into my story, and brought their own truths along to flesh out the details. And now those characters bicker out loud. And they dance and they play. And they have the capacity to take an audience full of fellow drifters on a journey. And those people bring their own truths, as well. It’s so fantastically surreal; so fantastically collaborative. A play from a whole new perspective. Who knew?
I have found a new love.