Teaching us how to see the world

I don’t remember the first play I watched. I know it was either Antigone or The Glass Menagerie; both plays came to my junior high via a local company that took shows on tour to the area schools. I remember watching both transfixed; I remember skipping classes to watch a second performance the following day of The Glass Menagerie because I wanted that magic again and didn’t know when I’d next have the chance. I remember thinking – no, knowing – that I wanted to be a part of that. That I wanted to be on that stage. That I wanted to be the one telling those stories to the people sitting hushed and transfixed in their velvety folding chairs. I auditioned for my first show not long after that.

I don’t remember the first musical I watched, either. I know the first one I watched on a television screen was Grease, and my mother thought it was too risqué for me (I think I was probably 9 or 10 at the time.) As for onstage, I think it was Bye Bye Birdie, a high school production when I was a freshman or a sophomore. I can’t sing a note and me dancing looks a lot like someone being electrocuted, but oh, do I like to watch others doing those things, and doing them well.

I don’t even remember my first Sondheim show. I want to say it was A Little Night Music, which I know I saw early on as a college student, but when you see as many shows as I have over the years, things start to get fuzzy around the edges. I do know there’s no way, seeing it as a college student, I would have understood it all. There’s no way I would have understood that when Petra sings “Every day a little death” in “The Miller’s Son” that “a little death” was an old-fashioned euphemism for an orgasm. Mostly because I’m pretty sure at that stage in my life I barely knew what one was. (Yes, that is totally an indictment of the men I’d dated up until that point.) And I am absolutely sure I didn’t get the utter sadness and longing and bitter sweetness of “Send in the Clowns” at my ripe old age of 18 or 19 or however old I was when I watched the show. When you’re that age, you can’t understand, not really understand, the meaning behind “Just when I’d stopped opening doors/Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours/Making my entrance again with my usual flair/Sure of my lines/No one is there. ” You have to have lived a little life to understand that. I’ve lived a little life. I get that now.

Since then, I’ve seen West Side Story with its doomed lovers and joyous “America” (in a strangely compelling high school production); Company a number of times with its utterly rapid-fire perfect “Not Getting Married Today” and triumphant “Being Alive” and wistful “Barcelona,” Sweeney Todd, again a number of times, once even with my mother, and she still sometimes sings “There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit! And it’s filled with people who are filled with…” and then she looks around to make sure no one’s listening and she whispers “shit” and giggles; Into the Woods, which I can’t even choose a favorite song from, I love so many of them (but sometimes I’ll find myself singing “I wish, more than life, more than anything, more than the moon” around the house when I’m in a particular mood); and of course, my most beloved Assassins, which I see any time I can, no matter who’s putting on the production (I’d probably see a kindergarten production of the damn thing, I love it so), which I actually got to work on last year.

I know I’m missing a lot in Sondheim’s body of work. I’m seeing Sunday in the Park with George for the first time this week, which is a huge thing for me. And I know I could watch some of these things on DVD, like Gypsy, but I really want to see them onstage first. I’m biased. I like the actors in front of me singing and acting. I feel it’s the way it was intended. At least the first time I see it. Once I’ve seen the stage show, I’ll watch the movie version. That’s the reason I haven’t watched a lot of movie musicals, actually.

I grew up in a very small town, and there weren’t many opportunities to see or do artsy things there. You had to drive half an hour to get to a very broken-down movie theater that played the same movie once a day for a month. You had to drive an hour and a half to get to a live theater, which didn’t open until I was in junior high. I wanted more, and I wanted a lot of it, but never really thought I’d get it. I didn’t dream huge. I thought maybe people only saw one play a year, maybe. I thought that’s how life was.

I am one of the very lucky people who had a dream and has been able to continue that dream in her life. I see a hell of a lot more than a play a year. In an average month, I see probably 4 or 5. I’ve gotten to work on more plays than I can count in my life. I’ve met some amazing people. I live in an area I love so much that sometimes I wake up and can’t actually believe I’m lucky enough to be living here. I’ve had such huge experiences that if I’d thought of them when I was a little kid sitting in awe in a darkened auditorium in junior high, I’d have laughed at my own folly.

And tonight, I got to sit about six feet from Stephen Sondheim and listen to him talk about sixty years of working in musical theater. I was close enough to see him tear up, talking about how important art is to our lives. “Art is a form of teaching,” he said. “It teaches us how to see the world.” (I hope I got that right; I’ll admit I was a bit choked up when he said it.)

He talked about seeing the original version of A Streetcar Named Desire when he was young, and getting a thrill that he was part of the theater world, that he was lucky enough to work in this art form. And then he said he saw another show in London recently that made him think the same exact thing. He’s 83 years old and he still gets that thrill, realizing how lucky he is to be a part of this.

The small-town girl who thought she’d get to see one play a year, maybe, if she was lucky, got to see one of her idols tonight. I’m not that small-town girl anymore. I’m all grown up, and I left the small town behind over half a lifetime ago. But that girl comes with me, you see. She comes with me wherever I go. And she is amazed at the opportunites that I have. She is so damned proud of this life I’ve made. And tonight, the two of us sat in our velvety theater seat, hushed and transfixed as if we were thirteen again, watching one of the great icons of musical theater talk about how lucky he feels, to be a part of this life as well.

Sometimes this is really just a beautiful life, you know? Just so beautiful, it hurts to even look at it head-on.

(I didn’t take photos as we were told not to and I didn’t want to be ejected from one of the best memories of my life. This person works for one of the local papers and did. I was closer than this, but here’s a shot from tonight.)

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About lucysfootball

I'm not the girl with the most cake. Someday. SOMEDAY. View all posts by lucysfootball

27 responses to “Teaching us how to see the world

  • sj

    Why you gotta make me cry?

    Like

  • jbrown3079

    Dreaming about living out a dream can be pretty good. Being able to live it out though is pretty damn cool. Happy for you.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      Thank you, John! I know, I really have to pinch myself sometimes. I wish there was a way to go back and tell young Amy that things were not just going to be ok, they were going to be AMAZING.

      Like

  • Kris

    Wow. So cool you got to see him in person, and that he’s still so passionate.

    (I think I got seasonal allergies reading this…)

    Like

  • wordsmith94

    I’ll be the first to admit that I’m utterly uneducated in the form of theatre, musical or otherwise. (I’ve never heard of Sondheim – shush.) I will be lucky to see a live play or musical once every two years, though I want to change that with the freedom that university and having my drivers licence brings.

    Also, my most favourite musical is ‘Next to Normal’. Just sayin’.

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    • lucysfootball

      I bet you know Sondheim without knowing you know him. You’ve heard of “Sweeney Todd”, right? It was a Johnny Depp movie a few years ago. That’s Sondheim. West Side Story – Sondheim. Into the Woods, which you’re going to be hearing a lot more about very soon (it’s about to be a Meryl Streep/Johnny Depp movie) – Sondheim. I think because he’s the lyricist, he’s not as well-known outside of us crazy theater folk who just worship him. Oh! Wait, I know. You’ve heard the phrase “Everything’s coming up roses,” right? That’s Sondheim! He wrote that, and now people say it all the time!

      See more plays. That’s a prescription, and I’m writing it for you right now.

      And now’s when I admit I have never seen “Next to Normal.” It came here a while back, but I missed it somehow. It’ll come back, though. Things come through here multiple times. I live in just the best place. I love it so much.

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      • wordsmith94

        Ah, I’ve heard of all those things you said! I do know Sondheim! I feel much less uneducated now.

        I shall follow your prescription, Doctor Amy. It’s just hard because I live in quite a rural area, and plus Australia seems to charge a fortune for tickets — like anything from $40 upwards, and this doesn’t sit well with me, me who is currently unemployed.

        Please see it! Please please please!

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        • lucysfootball

          Yay! I knew you did. Most people do, they just don’t KNOW they do.

          That’s so expensive for a show! Does your university have a theater program? That’s how I got to see a lot of theater when I was a poor college student – there was a college discount for students, and some of them were even free. (Not all of them were *good*, but at least I got to see them!)

          I will see it! Promise! As soon as it comes around again!

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          • wordsmith94

            Maybe. I haven’t heard of any yet, but I’m definitely keeping an ear out! I know there’s plenty of drama classes, but I’m not sure when/if they perform publicly.

            Shows are really very expensive here for some reason. And we have very limited show runs — sometimes shows are here for only four weeks, and they’re in the city, which is over an hour’s drive plus finding parking, etc. It’s so much hassle. When I travel (I know I will someday) seeing shows are very much on my list of things to do!

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            • lucysfootball

              Four weeks is actually a really long run here! Usually shows run for two weekends around here (the theater where I work does three, but we’re a little different) and the fancy theater usually only has shows for a week. But $40 for a ticket is steep. Smaller theaters charge around $12-$20 here. (The bigger two theaters charge substantially more – anywhere from $20-$120 – but that’s because they bring in touring productions and pay the actors, etc.)

              You will travel someday! And all the theater awaits!

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              • wordsmith94

                Four weeks is probably the longest run. Normally about two weeks, but that looks to be normal, so maybe that’s not too bad. But yes, the money is a problem.

                Yay! Travel! Theatre!

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  • Heather

    The first “real” play I remember seeing on stage is The Glass Menagerie. The local community college put it on in their Black Box Theater, and my Nonny and my mother took me to see it. I was maybe 12 or 13. I loved it. It has remained one of my favorite plays.

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    • lucysfootball

      It’s really an amazing play. Williams will always be one of my favorite playwrights. “A Streetcar Named Desire” is also a favorite of mine. (Last night, Sondheim said that the first time a character really cursed onstage in a play was in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” – Big Daddy says “bullshit” – and the audience was SCANDALIZED! Because up until then, no one had dared say anything but damn. I found it fascinating that Sondheim’s been around long enough that he remembers when people didn’t cuss freely onstage. It was just the coolest night ever.)

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  • mfennvt

    So much yay! I was actually on the same candlepin bowling team as one of Sondheim’s professors (he died recently). One room in his house was covered in Sondheim (and other Broadway) posters and he would tell stories. :)

    Like

  • becomingcliche

    I have only recently seen good theatre. I need to get out more.

    Like

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