Sunday, August 14, 2011

Not On Stage

I took myself to see the Glee movie this afternoon.  I’ll start by owning to the fact that I am a complete and total geek.  I went by myself to see a 3D movie of a live concert of a TV show that, just by itself, easily qualifies me for serious geek status.  That’s not the point of this post, though.  The movie interspersed footage of the concert with stories of or brief interviews or clips of fans of the show, primarily teenagers positively affected by the show, which I thought was very sweet.  One particular person, shown for only a short moment, however, was the one who I really related to. 

I’ll pause here to explain a few things about the show – only enough to make this story make sense for those who’ve never seen it.  First of all, one of the central characters of the show is Rachel Berry.  Rachel is, above all else, a performer, and intends to let nothing get in her way of fulfilling her dream and becoming a star on Broadway.  Second of all, this past season, there was a special episode titled “Born This Way” that focused on the students dealing with and embracing those aspects of themselves that they’ve wrestled with, or been unhappy about.  The final musical number, using the eponymous Lady Gaga song, had all the choir members (and their teacher) wearing white t-shirts emblazoned with a word or phrase naming that something that they struggle with.  Unsurprisingly, many of the fans pictured in the movie were wearing similar shirts.  Some of them wore shirts identical to those in the show – “Likes Boys” was particularly popular, although I think it loses most, if not all, of its significance, when it’s worn by a girl, not a teenage boy, as it was on the show; but I digress – but a few were original, and the one that caught my eye and attention was one that read “Not On Stage.”  The wearer was given a few seconds on screen; “In high school, I wanted to be just like Rachel Berry,” she said, “but I’ve now joined the Marines, so I’m not on stage.”  She then saluted the camera, and that was that.

What was unspoken, or at least un-shown in the film, was the thought that, while the Marines might be exactly where she wants to be, not being on stage was a sacrifice she had to make to get there, and, while no-one has to worry about my joining the Marines or any branch of the military in this lifetime, I know exactly how she feels.

I was in my first play when I was ten, and my last play spring of my senior year of college, when I was twenty-one.  For the record, that’s almost eleven straight years of virtually uninterrupted theater.  I’ve done musicals, Shakespeare, student-written plays, and pretty much everything in between.  I also danced and sang in high school, and a little in college, all because the stage was one of my favorite places to be.  I won’t claim that I was a star in the making in any of those arenas, but I certainly had enough success to last eleven years in it.  And moreover, the point wasn’t necessarily to be the best or the most talented.

Like the kids in Glee (I swear, this isn’t some gushy post dedicated to the show – I’m just using it as a jumping-off point), every time I walked into the auditorium for rehearsal, I went from being a nerd who got fun of for studying too hard and not having many friends to someone who had a community, a family.  In high school, the people I spent lunch with every day and the people I’m still friends with were the ones who helped me put on my stage make-up and memorize my lines.  At each college I attended, I immediately found a community of friends and people I could rely on by getting involved in theater.  My senior year at UC Berkeley, I was even on the board of directors of my student theater group.  Throughout college, my summer job was teaching and directing at the summer camp run by the fabulous San Francisco Shakespeare Festival.  I’ve acted, sung, danced, directed, produced, and done hair, make-up, and costumes.  I’m not sure there’s a part of theater I haven’t had at least a fingernail of experience in.

But I didn’t major in theater.  Back in middle school, and even for much of high school, I wanted to be a performer when I grew up.  I wanted to act, preferably on Broadway, and get the rush of adrenaline that comes with stepping onstage and the overwhelmingly lovely, adorable, adorably incestuous community that comes with being in a production.  At some point, though, maybe at the end of high school, maybe early in college, I decided that, while theater was terrifically exciting to me, it wasn’t a life style I wanted.  Live theater has always been the most attractive to me – movies and TV, while lovely, were simply never what I wanted to do – and being successful in live theater means not having nights to yourself.  When I started thinking about the family I wanted to have in the distant future, I decided I didn’t want to be coming home every night after my kids were asleep, not being home to have dinner with my spouse.  So English, with the goal of teaching at the college level, was my plan.

Let me be clear: majoring in English was never a second choice or a Plan B, nor was teaching.  In fact, back when I was two or three years old, and my parents gave me an interview for my nursery school yearbook, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said either Dorothy (yeah, so?) or a teacher.  So when I say I chose to major in English and pursue the path I’m on instead of pursuing a life in the theater, I am by no means saying I’m not doing something I absolutely love and adore and have a great passion for.  After all, the same year I was on the board of directors of my student theater group, I was also treasure and vice-president of my English Undergraduate Association.  But I have, like the Marine in her shirt, given up being on stage to be here, and it’s a sacrifice that hurts sometimes.

Unfortunately, it’s a sacrifice I pretty much have to stick to.  Maybe at some point in my future, I’ll be able to do a community theater play or two.  Right now, though?  I’m about to start my second year of graduate school, which means I’ll be taking graduate seminars, sitting in on undergraduate lecture and teaching discussion sections, and preparing for my first qualifying exam at the end of the year.  All of which means I’m not, and can’t be, on stage.  I was last on stage two years, three months, and eighteen days ago, and the fact that, while I haven’t necessarily counted each day, I still know exactly how long it’s been just goes to show how significant a sacrifice it is for me.

Maybe it’s all my own fault for being so darn passionate about two different paths, two paths that, at least for now, aren’t compatible.  I don’t regret my choice – believe me, if being in grad school weren’t so goddamn rewarding, I’d be out of here in a minute; after all, it would be an awful lot of work and small salary for something I wasn’t 100% sure I loved and wanted to do.  But sometimes I feel the itch to get involved in a show, and I have to mourn that sacrifice.  I wouldn’t trade where I am and what I’m doing for the world, but I am definitely (and, I know, somewhat paradoxically) sad that I’m Not On Stage.

So, am I the only one, or have any of you sacrificed or traded one dream for another?  How do you deal with having given up something that inspired you, even if what you’re doing is just as inspiring?

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