Look, I Made a Hat
A few short days ago, on Monday night around 10pm, I walked onto a stage down in the West Village. Onstage with me were five dear friends, five talented, giving, incredible ladies, and one phenomenal gentlemen who accompanied us the entire night. We presented 85 minutes of singing, dancing, jokes, heartfelt moments, and audience participation, woven together by the common thread “Dream On.” In the audience were friends and family, hands ready to burst into applause, mouths ready to break into grins. It was one of the best nights of my life.
Here’s the thing that I find so ironic when all is said and done. This theme, Dream On, was something I pulled out of thin air a couple of months ago. I had asked some friends if they would want to participate in a group cabaret. “You know,” I said, “low pressure, low-key. Just for our friends and family. A chance for us to perform this summer, as well as a chance to hopefully get some new video up on our respective websites.” Easy, I thought. Simple, I thought. Get up there and sing some songs. Then the booking agent at the cabaret space asked for a show title and brief description. I made something up. And from there, with that little seed of an idea, a casual project quickly grew into something much larger and more complex. We had a script, and character arcs, and a through line. The songs were carefully placed in an order that we hoped would help the audience soar through the night.
It was a ton of work, most of which I took on myself. I was the firestarter for the project, and I could see when the flames had to be tended and fanned, or else the whole show would turn to ash. It was stressful. I was trying to think about my own performance on stage while simultaneously worry about pacing the script, sightlines for the videographer, and designing the program.
It was an incredibly rewarding experience. If you have never listened to “Finishing the Hat” from Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, do yourself a favor and listen now. I have been a part of many shows, and even worked on a few readings of new material. I have added choreography to songs and even directed a show or two. But this experience was so much more for me. There now exists something, this show of ours, which never existed before. We made that. Something out of nothing. A hint of a spark of an idea that turned into a flesh and blood show, with real people onstage and real people out in the audience. Acting so often feels like an intangible art. When you’re done you are left with the same dark stage you started with, and the experience lives on only in the memories of your audience members. But this, this was real. It has a name. It has a video record.
I am starting to understand, finally, why people can move away from New York, not caring if they were ever on Broadway. Yes, you get paid better. Yes, you get recognition and opportunities for even more work. Yes, you get to reach a much broader audience. But getting to reach people with the stories you tell- that can be done anywhere, anytime. And it is that ultimate fulfillment, I think, that brought us as artists into this career in the first place.
On a side note, that video record I mentioned has already brought up an interesting dynamic. One of the women in the show said “I almost don’t want to watch it, because it might burst my bubble about what a great experience it was.” How right she is. All too often we are willing to let a cold, blank lens, or even a critical opinion, dictate what we accept as truth, rather than believing in the physical, visceral reality of our experiences. It will not be easy to let go of judgment when I watch the video. But I will do my best to feel the warm glow inside my chest, and trust that as my impression of the night instead.