The Magic Of Theater

Discover Challenge: Tough Questions

“Why do you do it?” My mother asked me after I spent the last fifteen minutes telling her about my weekend. My family and I volunteered our time to a local community theater and this weekend was the opening of the Mary Poppins musical. My youngest son has a small part in the cast and helps backstage, my oldest son is working spotlight, and my husband works on raising and lowering the backdrops and flying Mary Poppins and Bert around. I help with moving the set pieces during scene changes. It is one of the most complicated plays I have worked and I was explaining all the challenges to my mother. She could not understand why we would volunteer so much time and effort. Her words were “You are not the even on stage, and nobody sees you, so why do you work so hard for little or no recognition?” Why? It was a tough question.

I do it for many reasons, one being I love the creativity of it all.  I do it for the same reason I write, or gardens or complete complicated puzzles. It is creating something from nothing, and slowly it becomes something worth seeing. In theater, everyone has a part – big or small – and like a puzzle it all comes together under the guidance of the director. The magic of a story coming to life on stage is only part of it because behind the scenes it is just as magical, one only has to willing to be part of the puzzle.

Skilled carpenters build a setting and make it possible to change scenes as easy as it is to turn the page of a book. Creative painters brushed on reality – each stroke creating dimension and illusions to fool the eye. Light crews carefully placed lights to highlight the details. Spot lighters are trained to show the audience the importance of the scene. Strong and precise fly rail operators added backdrops to complete the illusion on the stage. The costume designer creates costumes for each cast member, – most wearing more than one. Dressers are ready to undress and redress in record time. Crew members are moving pieces on and off the stage with each scene change–like it’s own kind of dance. When it all comes together, the story telling is the finished product and the audience the witness. It is a craft done as a team.

I love opening night.   I wait in the wings – with butterflies and chills – surrounded by crew and cast, my youngest son among them, their nervous energy contagious. Across the stage, I see my husband with the stage left crew, their hands wrapped around the ropes of the curtain backdrops and others poised behind pieces of furniture ready to be set in place. High above in the catwalk, my oldest son aims his spotlight, waiting for the star to emerge from behind the curtain. I hold my breath – the whole room holds its breath – as we wait for the show to start. I look over my notes for the hundredth time, praying I don’t forget something and then the music starts, the curtain rises, and the story begins.

On their cue the actors spill out onto the stage, their voices clear and their eyes shining in the light. I am soon lost in my backstage world, listening for cues, anticipating the scene changes, moving large, awkward pieces – disguising their noise during the climax of the music. Everything else fades as I and my fellow crew members concentrate on our task until the final bow and the roar of the audience. We have succeeded – this army of theater volunteers – we have accomplished our goal of making the audience forget the outside world for a couple of hours, and they are appreciative.

Everyone is grinning and hugging after the show as they make their way backstage. I collapse on a bench used in one of the scenes. The excitement of everyone’s voices carry up the ramp to where I rest; I hear my sons’ laughter in the mix. My husband joins me, and we sit together listening to the joy of a successful opening night. To us, it was worth every single minute, the weeks of preparation, the brutal technical week and the sacrifice of three weekends – this moment makes it all worthwhile.

I believe we go through life hoping someone notices that we contribute to the unfolding story that surrounds us. When one participates in something as extraordinary as a theater production and is aware of all the intricate components of each task that each person does – then one will learn a lifelong lesson. It is a lesson I want my children to learn – and one I need to remember. One does not have to be in the spotlight to make a show worthwhile; it is the one behind the spotlight, behind the curtain and in the dressing rooms. It is the people, who weeks prior were building, painting, choreographing and planning. And of course, it is the actors, those brave souls who face the crowd and give their heart and soul, as they become the characters of the story.

The most important piece of this puzzle is the audience and what they take home from the experience. Theater gives us an arena to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones, to find what we are made of and to use talents we never thought we had. We hope someone in the audience will want to be a part of that magic. I remember sitting in the audience, and I was in awe of a theater production, but I did not think I had enough talent to contribute until someone told me I did. I found there is a place for everyone, even someone like me.

“And someone like you,” I told my mother, and she laughed “No, not me.”

“Well Mom, as Mary Poppins would say ‘Anything can happen, if you let it.'”

Reach for it…

Daily Writing Prompt Reach

My dreams were within my reach. I am transitioning into the next stage of my life. My children were nearly grown and I find myself with free time. I feel the beginnings of hope that I might achieve to be something more than their caretaker.

I played in the creativity of writing like the child I was never allowed to be. It felt incredible to spread those creative wings and express the jumble thoughts that always roam around in my head. I felt I was on the verge of flying, – then obligation tethered me.  I am expected to start working full-time.

I have to squeeze a lifetime of yearning into Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. It feels like I am standing before a huge mountain and I am to shape it into something profound with a tiny chisel – it will take a very long time with such a small tool. I don’t know how I will conquer it. I do not know where to begin. I lie down in the shadow of that mountain and stare up at its massive size. “It seems impossible”.

I recall the massive mountain of motherhood I had to face when my children were babies. The days were filled with so much responsibility and I felt I would never have a moment’s peace. That mountain has been honed over the years and before me stands the most impressive masterpieces. All that time was well worth it.

I also recall the mountain of grief – that formidable sheet of rock that seemed impenetrable, now has a wide canyon created by a river of my tears. It is still impressive but navigable. Or the mountain of guilt weathered by forgiveness and the mountain of pride conquered by humility; they both are now manageable foothills.

Life is a series of mountains, one right after another and this mountain that stands before me is no different. As I imagine myself lying in the shadow of my metaphor, the huge chunk of rock blocks the sun. I look up I can see the beautiful rays creating a halo around the peak. If the mountain were to be removed I would be blinded by the intensity of the sun. I thank the mountain for protecting me, shielding me. The mountain immediately loses it menacing appearance and becomes something to behold. I can see something begin to take shape in the rugged edges and sharp points. I approach it with my chisel and chip away small shards of rock. I work until my time is up and I put my chisel down until next week. I accomplished very little today but over the years it will become something spectacular.



My garden is in the stage of summer slowly dying into autumn. I follow the path in search for inspiration and tiny moths  bombard me. They dance around my head making me dizzy.  They swarm to a nearby patch of marigolds.  They hop from flower to flower drinking in the nectar until they seem drunk on it’s sweetness, then they leap into the air whirling and twirling like leaves in the wind, trying to impress a mate to complete its life cycle.

I want to continue my search in nature’s wonder for a spark to ignite my imagination, but fear has joined me on the path. Fear wants me to get back to business. Fear wants everything to run smoothly and demands me to do everything perfectly.   Fear reminds me of all the people who are counting on me to do my share. “But I am hungry for inspiration and I long to create a story” I argue.

I am about to give into fear’s demand and give up on my quest when a small jewel of a bird hums past me and takes a sip of the sweet juice from the nearby feeder. It dips its head twice before taking off like a helicopter, hovering for a moment than disappearing. I noticed that I was holding my breath and I let it out slowly. The cleansing breath has subdued fear for a moment and I finally can hear myself think. I let the quietness wash over me until I hear the buzz of another hummingbird. As I watch it dine, I feel the stress fade away and I can feel the words lining up and a story taking shape. “Yes my little friend, I need this as much as you need that nectar”.

My feather muse leaves its perch and hovers in mid-air; he lets out a battle cry chirp as two smaller hummingbirds threaten to drink from the feeder. They circle each other readying themselves for war. I watch them spar with their tiny sword beaks and chase each other around the garden. I have read that the hummingbirds need frequent feedings because they use so much energy in flying and this time of year they need to fatten up to migrate. Why would they waste so much energy fighting with each other when there is plenty of food?

They fly around me; their beautiful feathers shine with brilliant colors as they move in the sunlight. With each twist and turn each one shines with it’s own kind of radiance, a jewel dancing on the wind in a perfectly orchestrated ballet. It is a story of nature and how a creature will fight for what he believes he needs for survival.

One of the birds flies to where I am standing and directs his angry chirps at me. I imagine him saying, “What are you looking at, punk!” I laugh at this image and answer the little gangster, “Are you going to fight me? It’s my garden and my feeder.”   The war ends as quickly as it began. The feeder sways gently in the breeze and the pegs are bare of patrons. All that energy used and still no one has eaten.

I look around at the fading garden and I can see why nature is in a state of urgency, the season is changing and there is much to do. This time of year is busy for us humans too.   It seems that we go from slow summer days to fast and furious fall. Our schedules are filled and there is little room for leisure activities like searching for creativity in the garden. I find myself sending up curt prayer to God. I shake my fist and chirp angry words at him as if it is his fault. I can almost hear him say, “You are going to fight me? It’s my garden and I have provided for you.” I smile at this irony and I take a sip from the inspiration placed before me. I allow it to trickle down into my soul where it will be use to color my world with words. The morsel of dancing hummingbirds will forever live on the page and I will snack upon it when I can’t convince fear to allow me to have a full-course meal of inspiration.

It is energy well spent.

Mocking Birds….

I’m having a hard time finding quiet time.  The mornings are too dark and cold.  It also has rained most of the week.  There was one beautiful day scrubbed cleaned by the rain.  I dropped everything to spend a few minutes outside in the sun and noticed new growth everywhere.  The garden has forgotten that winter is around the corner and comes alive after a much needed rain.  A beloved rose, once thought as dead now shows signs of new growth.  I rejoice in this beautiful moment, made even more complete by a flock of birds flying in unison in the cloudless sky.  They seem to dance on the wind, shifting and turning to music that only they could hear.  Were they rejoicing too? Continue reading