There’s a smell and a sound to it.
The chalky aroma of pancake make-up and slightly singed hair from curling irons.
The robust odor of people sweating under intense lights.
Slight decay and decades old musty mildew from ancient costumes.
From behind the curtain, the gentle murmur of hundreds of voices whispering in the dimly lit auditorium.
Young ladies and gentlemen humming their scales in warm-ups.
Consonants clicking and popping with various rhymes and verbal gymnastics.
The squeak and grinding of gears and sets.
And then the moment arrives. Instruments tune, a hush falls, and the whisper of the curtain drawing itself open to an overture.
I loved every minute of every show. From the three hours of preparation before to the hours afterwards. Fine tuning a fantasy until it came to life so realistically that the line between truth and fiction was blurred. I loved the auditions and the rehearsals, the endless hours painting and hanging lights and designing. I loved the theater. I loved it in a way that I never could describe or portray accurately enough.
The great craftsmen of musical theater had a gift for bringing the human experience to life. In some of my favorites, the very darkest shadows of the soul came to life. Carousel – the pain and twisted joy of an abusive marriage. West Side Story – gang violence and falling in love in an urban jungle despite the odds. Phantom of the Opera – sacrificing light for the sake of fame while watching your mentor crumble into insanity because of deformity. Les Miserables – war, vengeance, and a young mother abandoning her child. Even the Disney animated musicals from the 90s had this ability to capture the very essence of human existence. They told the simple truth that life is not fair, it is often ugly, but it is our Spirit that trumps those dark places. Light can always penetrate the darkness, and there is always a blessing to be found in love – however tragic it may be.
I miss it.
I can’t even say how much I miss it. I sing along to my favorite musicals, but it almost hurts to put the music in my playlists. When I hear the beginning bars of the Carousel waltz, my heart breaks for never having had a chance to sing those songs for an audience. When I hear “There’s a Place for Us,” one of my only regrets is that I never got to play Maria on stage.
That was my dream for the longest time. Playing Maria on Broadway. And only slightly less so? Singing as the voice for a Disney musical.
But times have changed. I’m older, I never made it in ‘the biz’ because I wasn’t splashy enough, wasn’t skinny enough, wasn’t *whatever* enough to cut it.
I never believed I would ever be enough to sing “I Feel Pretty” on the big stage.
But I think the beautiful thing about nostalgia, about hindsight and learning who I am… I know that feeling pretty isn’t about what others think about me. It’s about who I’m designed to be. The person that I was created to be. I was designed with a vision and a purpose. My dreams have significance and meaning. And I may never play Maria on Broadway, but I may just audition for some community theater when I return to the USA.
I may never be the image of a starlet that the world tells me I have to be in order to make it.
But I’m in the image of something far greater. Something that spoke worlds into being and whispers life into my own dreams. The music from West Side Story will never stop moving me, inspiring me, leading me to tears. And the truths in the lyrics will always rattle my sense of purpose:
There’s a place for us, a time and a place for us.
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there.
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there.
Somehow, someday, somewhere
I’m taking time to learn how to follow the dreams that I have and to lead others into the hearts of their own. I may never stand on stage again, but I just might chase that dream someday. I’m consciously deciding each day to live and believe that I am more than enough. Whether I’m overweight or short, or not dressed properly.
I am precisely where I need to be.
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there…
What dreams have you let go as you’ve gotten older? Do you ever have nostalgia or longing for them?
Do you dwell on all the ways you’re not ‘enough’ or do you allow yourself to be perfect exactly where you are?
A Velvet Elvis hung on the wall. Next to a black velvet sunset. Beneath it sat a bright orange couch which I had fallen asleep on numerous times. This was my refuge, my safe place. It was public, so nothing could happen to me here. I was surrounded by those who loved me and would protect me at any cost. And once or twice a week, they would let me sing.
You walked into this place, and you felt a bustling sense of home. It didn’t seem to know its purpose, yet it seemed to be fulfilling it all the same. Tables out front had chairs filled with people, one hand casually drawing lit cigarettes to their mouths, ashtrays overflowing. The mugs steamed on the tabletop, decorated with drizzles of chocolate, swirls of whipped cream.
My chocolate drizzle was always the same. A treble clef. He said it was because I sang like an angel. No one ever really commented on my guitar-playing, but then again, I think the saying goes… “if you can’t say anything nice…”
And some nights, groups of us would laugh and dance. Or we would sit in the small pedestrian alleyway that led to the bathrooms. We would drum and we would sing, and our lives were rich and bohemian. Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Love. We had it all.
When it closed forever, it sold everything. Including the Velvet Elvis.
I bought the velvet sunset. It reminded me of safe places, love and beauty.
And when the doors closed for the very last time, I walked down Main Street completely at a loss. Knowing that the bohemian girl was going to go into hibernation, and I didn’t know if she would ever return.
It had been an incredibly long day. I had left Berkeley early that morning, a bit rough from the night before. I’m honestly not sure whether or not I had even slept. But I arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon. I hadn’t come for a specific purpose, but then again, in those days, I ran full gypsy, embracing the road like a drunken lover. I had left Berkeley in order to run from something – I was usually running from something – and arrived in Los Angeles in order to escape.
Dead tired, red-eyed from lack of sleep, I decided my next step. It didn’t matter that it was nearing midnight, or that I hadn’t even rested in days, I headed out to the Nuart. It was Saturday night, and Sins of the Flesh was on. I had never wanted to perform in the show, but normally it was enough to go and see the old crowd. Various people would come at various times. But this night was slightly different. Someone was joining the navy the next day.
I think many of us were still wondering why