This week my beloved high school English teacher/soccer coach/theater director watched the 25 year old recording of our 1994 production of Godspell and posted his heartfelt recollections to many of us. His words reignited my own wonderful memories of that experience and also reminded me of my earlier and less successful attempts at musical theater. The magic of our Godspell production was that much more poignant for me because up until then I had sworn to never try out for another school show. I now have the hindsight to see our production as even more than a meaningful creative experience. It was a watershed moment in my willingness to get back up from failure and try again, a reminder in song and dance of my journey from fear to audacity.
My first attempt at high school theater began my freshman year when I accompanied my older sister to an audition for Grease. She and her senior friends were destined for lead roles as they were wonderfully talented and had put in their time over previous years. I was hoping for a small role, dare I even set my sights on being a Pink Lady? Instead, I got up on stage, hands shaking and voice wobbly, ill-prepared for the audition and I proceeded to absolutely massacre, and not in a good way, “Freddy My Love” from Grease. It was a terrible choice for me to sing for so many reasons, but mostly because it was a complex song for an alto and I was an inexperienced soprano. I stumbled my way to the end of the song after a couple of restarts and then walked off the stage in abject humiliation, the looks of pity from the senior girls following me out of the auditorium doors. I remember walking back to the dark parking lot to wait for my sister in the cold car, my CB jacket unzipped and open to the winter chill, and I vowed to myself that I would never again audition for a school play.
Fast forward three years to my senior year, my vow to avoid school plays faded and threadbare after bring trampled by three years of varsity soccer, basketball, hockey and lacrosse, two years of chorus and a semester at The Mountain School under my belt. The college application process in my rearview mirror, I figured, “what the hell, I’ll try out for Godspell.” I have absolutely no memory of my audition. NONE. I don’t remember preparing; I don’t remember what I sang or how well I did. I can remember every moment of my failed audition freshman year but not a glimpse remains of my successful audition senior year. Three years after I epically bombed my Grease audition I got back up and successfully tried out again, this time for Godspell. In my imagination, my newfound resilience and willingness to take a risk in the audition, were somehow visible to those around me and inspired my casting. As if there was some deeper destiny in my journey toward that moment, I was cast as Mary Magdelene.
The months of rehearsing and performing Godspell were a sublime experience. The memories of those days are still so vividly visceral I feel as if I could literally reach out and grab them. We were a small cohort of 15 students or so, all with our different talents. Some of us sang in beautiful harmony and some of us did handsprings across the stage. Some of us brought comic relief and some of us bared our souls to the audience. “We beseech thee, hear us!” I can’t tell you for sure what I brought to the ensemble — I didn’t have a particularly remarkable voice or a clownish sensibility; I didn’t have profound soulfulness or earnest innocence. I think I simply brought my nascent bravery to our production.
My own rebirth during those few months of Godspell in 1994, eerily paralleled the character I inhabited: a reformed sinner who reinvented herself. While Mary Magdalene’s sin was prostitution, my sin for three years had been one of omission: a lack of courage to try again, a lack of persistence to continue on, a lack of resilience when I had failed. But here I was, the night of the performance, a reformed woman as well. Clad in red sequins and black, shimmery jazz pants, I belted out, slight off-key, “Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways…” Walking down the packed aisles of the auditorium toward the colorfully lit stage, I had no religious figure to transform me from sinner to saint, but I had something nearly as holy to a 17-year-old girl. In that moment, I had bravery and belief, I had friendship and camaraderie, forged in the common mission of song and joy and audacity. I too could “forswear” my “foolish ways” to move past my failure, my sin of omission, my lack of tenacity, in order to achieve my own reformation to become one who dared, who risked, one who ventured. “Where are you going? Where are you going? Can you take me with you? Far beyond where the horizon lies.”