We had an all-staff meeting, the first of the new season, yesterday. As a way (I guess) of showing the new hires how long people tend to stick around, the managing director had folks stand up in groups according to how many years they’d been here (5 years, 10 years, and so on).
This is my 19th season here.
I don’t remember a lot of stuff from my twenties, but I do remember my first day here. I remember walking into our tiny lobby, and looking up at these fabulous old lighting fixtures, and feeling instantly at home. I loved every inch of this building, from the creaky and perpetually swollen Dutch door in the coat check to the top of the proscenium (which reads: To hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature).
I was 22 years old, and had come over with a couple of other folks from the Cambridge Theatre Company when their season folded. I understood, at this point, that I would probably not become a professional actor, as everyone had expected. My principal dedication was to the written word, and I had also come to the realization that I simply lacked the drive and ambition to live from job to job and primarily out of a suitcase. But I loved the theatre. I loved it because it saved me, gave me an outlet, provided me with an abundance of friends and unconditional support at a time when I truly didn’t have much of either.
At 13 years old, I had been bullied right out of one school, and had entered into another with all the battle scars – visible and invisible – inherent to one who has spent those crucial early adolescent years more or less constantly being told she was fat, weird, a loser, and unworthy of adult intervention. I had learned to keep my head down and to avoid detection at all costs. Until I took a drama class at my new school. Until I tried out for my first musical. Until I joined the Drama Club and met the friends who are still my friends to this day.
I have worked in theatre all my “adult” life, because of an abiding sense of responsibility to give back to the very thing that cracked open the shell I’d formed around myself out of necessity. Bullying nearly killed my spirit; theatre revived and nurtured it. I believe in the importance of the shared experience that theatre is, whether you are in the audience or on the stage. It fosters cooperation and tolerance and a willingness to suspend judgment and disbelief in the service of the consideration of someone else’s story. To hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature, even if we don’t particularly like what’s being reflected back at us.
And just so you all don’t think I am some noble, dour acolyte of Thespis, working only for the Greater Good Of The Theatuhhhh, it’s not entirely self-sacrifice around here. I don’t have to cover my tattoos in the office, for one. I’ve performed in a Les Misérables flash mob with Zach Braff. It is not uncommon for people in my office to burst into spontaneous performances of musical numbers with improvised, and totally inappropriate, new lyrics. I’ve met Jason Alexander, Paul Benedict, Phylicia Rashad, Gregory Peck, Esther Rolle, John C. Reilly, Carrie Fisher, Olympia Dukakis, Nathan Lane, Victor Garber, and Carlin Glynn (Molly Ringwald’s mother in Sixteen Candles). I regularly get to tell Doris Kearns Goodwin how fabulous she looks.
Why would I possibly want to work anywhere else?