Broadway dream

July 4, 2019

I was born singing. From as far back as I can remember I was aimed for a career on Broadway. Things obviously didn’t work out that way.

Over Winter break this year I went to NYC to pay homage to Lady Liberty and to go to a Broadway show. All those years, all those trips to New York, and I’d never even walked on Broadway. I decided it was long overdue. So I went to see Kinky Boots, which is about a northern England industrial town with a shoemaker going out of business but who has a brainwave and starts making great boots for drag queens. I saw the movie years ago and it was pretty plodding but I figured by now it would’ve been dusted off and turned sparkly.

On 25 December I was able to do honor to Lady Liberty and just soak in the vibes of New York, a city I adore. I did some wandering around and read a great book in the evening. The next day I went to a natural history museum until my hips were screaming in pain and I returned to my AirBnB. I started to get nervous. Why was I really here? I thought I was coming to just have some fun over break and have my creativity recharged but I realized most importantly, I was on a pilgrimage to see if I could’ve made it.

I sang in every possible outlet from age five. I started in community theatre at age 11. The directors put on shows that were better than Cardinal’s, but it was free theatre. When we did Brigadoon in Main Square we had 5,000 people come to each show. I sang there, I sang in church, and I sang in three or four different ensembles at school. I started singing professionally for weddings and other events at age 11. I was the youngest supporting actress in the school’s history when I was in ninth grade and the youngest lead in 10th grade. Do you get the picture I’m painting? I had shooting star written all over me. I was going to Broadway and nothing was going to stop me.

Everyone wanted a piece of me, of successful me. I can’t tell you the number of autographs I gave away, the number of times I heard my mom’s voice in my head “Be gracious” as I said thank you to some 100th fan. Everybody wanted to say, I knew her when.

I was an arrow from a bow. My parents briefly tried to convince me to minor in journalism in high school as a back-up but I wouldn’t hear of it. This train had only one stop, and it was on the Great White Way. I was born with an iron will and all my ambition went towards manifesting my dream.

Then.

Then.

Things start getting hazy for me around the start of senior year. My parents and I were arguing more. Something was wrong with me but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was depressed a lot and writing reams of bad poetry. But then I decided that hey, this was my senior year, I was unlikely ever to see these people again, so I will just bury my feelings deep and stay present in the moment and drink every drop of enjoyment I could squeeze out of it.

It seemed to work at first but then I started having wild mood swings. My depression came screaming back but I swallowed it. I was anxious and insomniac but still the life of the party. Things got worse at home so I spent a lot of time in the school theatre and hanging out with theatre friends. Worse worse worse. I was having this bifurcated life where on the outside I was in love with life and my friends and all my activities but inside I just wanted to die. On Easter morning my first soulmate boyfriend broke up with me and as I dried dishes in our kitchen looking out the window, tears streamed down my face as I talked to my mom and sisters behind me, modulating my voice so they wouldn’t know anything was wrong.

School got whacked and I was getting death threats in the hallways. When I left my house for a weekend Speech & Debate competition I had friends on patrol guarding it. It wasn’t enough.

By then the hallucinations had come. My mental health was crashing into a total psychotic breakdown while I still managed to go to school and do my chores and hide, hide, hide this nightmare that I still didn’t understand. I faltered in my Broadway dreams but I’d been accepted into IU’s Music School so I figured everything would go back to normal once I got out of the death-dealing Calumet Region.

I lasted a year at college. I was just too mentally ill to continue. Plus I wanted to become financially independent to remove that source of tension between me and my folks. The government determined I was too poor for financial aid (yes, you read that right) so I was out of school for three years, absolutely dirt poor and completely mentally unstable. When I went back to school it was for graphic design because I figured that would bring in the money and I could sing in my free time. Boy was that naive.

So that’s a chronological view. Here I was, in New York, over 30 years later, wondering: Could I have made it?

The show was great, lots of fun, perfectly executed by perfect professionals. The music had been composed by Cyndi Lauper of ’80s fame and was really fun. The theatre was old and really beautiful and everything was just wonderful. I looked through my copy of Playbill to see the artists’ bios and see what other shows were on. Something pinged in the back of my head and I knew I would want to review this more closely back at the apartment.

I finally made my way back and settled down with chocolate and milk and Playbill. And as I read through it I felt a great wave of grief. I could’ve made it. I doubt if I would’ve been a star but I have no doubt I would’ve gotten small roles with the occasional supporting actress gig. I would’ve worked onstage but also learned offstage how to use a MIDI and compose my own music (which I had already started to do in the Music Scool). When I got too old for the roles, I could’ve devoted myself to smaller productions and writing music for friends who were writing shows. I could see it all spread before me. I could feel it in my gut. I could’ve made a life out of the performing arts and had a helluva good time doing it. And worked hard, which I always loved. Pushed myself.

What happened? Why hadn’t I done it? I would’ve needed acting and especially dance classes but I would’ve gotten those in school. Why did I give up this all-consuming dream???

Somewhere, somewhere in that three-year period of being poor and insane I let it go. I decided making money was the most important thing because I had gone to bed hungry enough for one lifetime, thankyouverymuch. But is that real? Did I set myself down and do a pros and cons list? Did I even think rationally at all? Did I just become hard and greedy and use that iron will to find a good job in Bloomington and agitate for higher wages, always higher wages?

I know I stopped singing. For about five years. Then the Goddess gave me my voice back so I could glorify Her when I was in England in ’92. I joined a chorus. I started writing songs again, this time for women’s voices. I helped start an informal singing group called Friday Sing because, oddly enough, we came together on Fridays to sing. Then of course there was 14 years of glorious Kaia and now Pandora’s Box.

But in my mind I hold that Playbill in my hand and look at aaaaaall the shows playing and there in the middle is My Fair Lady, which I played the lead in junior year. When I was in high school the one niggling fear I had about Broadway was that every show would be Fosse Fosse Fosse and overly sexualized. But of course some of these older shows get revived. Not that I would’ve played the lead in such a high-profile show in my 20s or 30s (I wasn’t that good), but it would’ve been a show I could’ve auditioned for with confidence and maybe been in the chorus.

Gods above and below, what has happened to me???? My life revolves around mental illness more than anything else. I’m so fragile. And I used to be unstoppable. And I don’t know why things changed — I don’t even know precisely when things changed. I just suddenly find myself in a life I didn’t sign up for with a past I can’t remember.

I lost my way a long time ago. My brain chemistry derailed my life. And I’ve gotten worse over the years overall, not better. Would I be more functional if I had achieved that childhood goal? I’ll never know. I just know now I carry this anguish inside, this grief, for a path I turned away from and I don’t know why.

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SoM closes

January 5, 2010

I’d hoped to have time to blog while the show was running, but I spent my time actually doing the show instead! It’s now over—Sunday afternoon was our closing show—and I find myself sad because of it. While I appreciate the swathes of free time that have opened up in my schedule, I miss the camaraderie of working towards a shared goal.

The run of the show was great fun. We had terrific audiences—very warm and appreciative. Backstage was fun, too, though we always had to be mindful to keep the noise down! Mary, Philippa, Phil, and I made up the “adults’ table” out in the stairwell off stage right during the party scene, swapping stories and trying not to laugh while we waited for our next cue.

I ended up grateful for my nun’s habit because it kept me warm! The weather was frigid and, with two outside entrances/exits, I appreciated the scads of wool! People loved my party dress; the little girls in the cast would tell me so with their eyes shining.

One day/night stands out in particular for me: my birthday. I was standing in the wings before the evening show, talking to my sister who was 200 miles away. It was a bit of a lonely birthday (I turned 42) but I was very glad to have the show to fill the time. I don’t know why that image sticks with me so clearly, but I can practically feel the cell phone in my hand now.

Presents were abundant throughout the run. We had yellow roses and pink carnations on opening night. Lynne Schwartzberg (or “Cookie Lynne,” as Esther called her) kept us stocked up on incredible sugar creations throughout. Philippa gave everyone tiny plastic “flying nuns.” Caroline Dowd-Higgins handmade photo greeting cards for us and gave us them along with cookies from Vienna (she played the baroness from Vienna). Mary gave all the nuns candles as a memento of our pyrotechnics. Nick, who played Friedrich, gave everyone a can of Vienna sausage and a bit of Swiss chocolate along with a clever Von Trapp limerick he invented. Philippa very kindly gave me a cool little handmade dish for a birthday present. Perhaps the cleverest gift was from the ever-gracious Melissa Bohun, who made candies that looked like stained glass window panes. She delivered them in “brown paper packages tied up with string.” What a generous company!

We struck the set Sunday night, carrying big pieces of wood through the freezing wind from one building to the next, taking down lights, and stuffing a piece of pizza in where we could! I feel sorry for the Cardinal staff that has to go through all the costumes and debris to organize everything!

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to perform in this show. I hope to be able to do another Cardinal show in future. The show was good, the experience rewarding, and the people outstanding. I am thankful.


SoM opening night!

December 23, 2009

Woot! Just home from an exhilarating opening night of Sound of Music. While the show was fun, the best part was the audience! We could feel the warmth and appreciation even through the downstage monitor speakers. Everyone was upbeat and happy, givin’ it all back to this loving crowd. Backstage, we kept crying out, “We love this audience!”

Mother Abbess gave all her nuns yellow roses for the opening, and Esther, our indomitable choreographer, left us pink carnations with a wonderful note. Phillippa, our sister nun, gave each of us three teeny plastic flying nuns that look like they have superpowers. Well, let’s face it, if you were both a nun and a being capable of flying, you’d have to be a superhero!

I remain terrified of the runway (the 3′ wide arc that reaches out beyond the stage) but have determined to conquer my terror sometime before the show is over.

This show has given me so many reasons to think of my Aunt Dolores, who died several years ago. She was Sister Dolores Marie McLaughlin and she was an inspiration and a friend.

She would have loved to have known that I was playing a nun again (I played Maria in high school). If only there were some way to make these things happen faster in life, so that so many who have passed beyond the Veil could still take part—in a corporeal way!

I think of my grandparents and certain aunts and uncles, imagining what it would be like to have them in the audience. It would be such a joy.

With family so far away (or so dead!), I rely primarily on friends to fill that emotional need for someone in the audience to connect with. When they are able to come, there’s no easy way to link up with them afterwards—the Bus-Chum has no green room.

I think it’s so important to have a way to link back up with the audience after a show. They are often hungry to close the loop and give back some love with compliments and kudos. And then you shine it right back with thanks, and it all becomes a big love fest!

The theme of this post seems to be all about love and longing, doesn’t it? I believe Four Things In The World, and one of them is that “love is the best thing.” Take it as you will, but I believe, love is the best thing. May you find it and keep it with you and yours.


Oliver!

November 23, 2008

Widow Corney. Also choral co-director. I had mono, so much of the production is/was a blur. My favorite performance story of all time: I blanked the lyrics during performance and sang “vas-uh-veh shuh foo luh hang oo ra la” instead. Only the choral director knew the difference. Highland Theatre Company.


Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

November 23, 2008

Chorus member (on purpose) They really, really wanted me for lead but I was too chicken to tell them that I wanted the carefree life of a chorus girl one last time. I told them I couldn’t dance. While dancing was not my strong suit, I could certainly carry the role. But  just kept lying until they gave up. My voice coach gave me a wicked tongue-lashing, including the sage advice, “If anyone asks you if you can do something, you say ‘yes’!!” Boy, was she mad. No idea why I didn’t just tell them the truth.

No idea whose production this was, but it may’ve been done in Merrillville, IN. It definitely didn’t include Gregg Ladd.


My Fair Lady

November 23, 2008

Eliza Doolittle. Highland Theatre Company with assists from the Gregg Ladd company.

What a terrific show. “When musicals were musicals.” Though one of our directors briefly considered changing the ending so that when Higgins says, “Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?”, she would smile and get them for him. The cries of “Outrage!” and “Blasphemy!” made the director come to his senses.

In addition to playing the lead, I helped with marketing and did much of the costuming for the Ascot scene. I still remember the fumes as the divine Devonne and I blockaded ourselves in my garage and then spray-painted the hats black, white, and silver. We eventually coughed and hacked our way to the side door to avoid asphyxiation.

Chuckles made my stunning red and black dress for the ascot, cunningly fitting a Cool Whip container in the top of the hat to give it shape and sturdiness.

This was also where I met my first soulmate, a dashing and romantic soul who made me a better person. He would appear from nowhere, grab me by the waist, and whirl me into a flying waltz. <sigh> What more could a 17-year-old want? (Or any-year-old, come to think of it….)


Pippin

November 23, 2008

The Leading Player. Highland Theatre Company. I would (almost) kill to play this part again. I loved it at the time but wasn’t old enough to understand its depth.

This show introduced me to the vagaries of critics. One who reviewed the show named every male leading character but didn’t mention me at all. He mentioned Dave Vail, a chorus member, and didn’t mention me, the (say it with me) “Leading Player.”  Turned out (I discovered later) that the reviewer was a closeted gay, which explained a lot.