“I found the theatre and I found my home.”
When Audra McDonald stammered these words through a layer of tears during her acceptance speech at the 2012 Tony Awards, goose bumps shivered their way up my arms and my heart swelled to double its size. She’d captured the essence of being a performer in a mere nine words. A mere one word: home.
Hot stage lights, bobby pins scattered over floors, missing coat hangers, itchy costumes, the thrill of quick changes, the smell of hairspray, ripped stockings, hearing the hush of the crowd as the overture begins, seven-minute-long dance numbers and bowing to a standing ovation: these all are just little things performers love (or hate) about what they do. Inevitably, there is a constant balance between delight and despair, and here is a handful of the good and the bad things that come along with a musical obsession:
DELIGHT: Every show we see teaches us a life lesson. Sometimes the message is sung loud and clear, like in Spamalot’s finale ‘Always look on the bright side of life.’ Other times, such as Wicked’s take on moral relativism, an implicit meaning is intricately weaved through the script. Newsies teaches us to seize the day, Rent shows us how to measure a year in love, Eliza from Hamilton explains the importance of forgiveness and Mary Poppins allows us to believe that anything can happen if you let it. One thing is certain: every time you exit the auditorium you’re a little older and a lot wiser.
DESPAIR: When you live in Brisbane (which is approximately 15504.42 kilometres from Broadway and 16531.18 kilometres from West End), you only get to see around three professional shows a year, and you don’t get to choose which ones. It’s heartbreaking to love a show without being afforded the opportunity to give it a standing ovation. Australian thespians just have to make do with cast recordings and (only if you can avoid the guilt train) bootlegs.
DELIGHT: Audiences are catapulted to eras and worlds unlike our own. Through the stories musicals tell, we are continuously learning about lives unlike our own, problems we may never have to face and cultures we’ve never experienced. For example, because of Hamilton, I understand 18th century American history and politics far better than I understand America now.
DESPAIR: Theatre is not an everlasting art form; all shows must close eventually. Unlike movies or books, which can be watched or read repeatedly, musicals can only be experienced once. Or, if you’re rich, maybe twice. Performers themselves must endure the heartbreak of leaving behind the roles they’ve become acquainted with, saying goodbye to costumes and dressing rooms, and fare-welling a cast that won’t ever perform together again. PMD (post-musical depression) is real.
While these four arguments all describe the good and the bad of musical theatre, none of them define the art form as precisely as Audra did when she nailed down that one significant term: HOME. Home means a place to feel loved by the people you adore, familiarity, protection from the outside world and somewhere where you can be yourself. In my opinion, the definition of theatre doesn’t stray far from these selection of words. One time, on a six hour bus ride back to Brisbane after doing three shows in Bundaberg (boy, were we tired), someone asked what the address of our rehearsal studio was and three of us simultaneously shouted it at the poor, startled girl. My point is, we all knew it off by heart.
I hope you all find a place to call your second home, because I know where mine is.