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Harnessing Inspiration

I was 12 when I saw my first Broadway musical, A Chorus Line, at the Wang Center for the Performing Arts in Boston. I distinctly remember not wanting to go. It was March of 1991, and my mother had surprised me with tickets. It was snowing heavily outside that day, and venturing out of the house was the last thing I wanted to do. Back then, people got all dolled up for the theatre. I didn’t feel like putting on a dress and trekking downtown in the middle of a New England blizzard. I had better things to do (or so I thought).

After putting up a good fight, I ultimately lost the battle. I had to get dressed and head to the bus stop with my mother. I thought for sure once we arrived, we’d be the only two people in the audience, but despite the weather, the theatre was packed. I sat in my seat with a frown on my face and my arms folded across my chest. Determined to play the role of stubborn preteen who didn’t want to spend an afternoon with her mom, I had to stay in character. But when the lights dimmed, and the audience began to clap, I knew I was in for something special.

A Chorus Line is a musical centered around seventeen Broadway hopefuls. Through song and dance, each character shares his or her life story while auditioning for a role in the show. There’s no scenery, so the production is supported entirely by the raw talent of the cast. “One,” “Nothing,” and “What I Did for Love” are just a few of the memorable songs that have resonated with fans.

From the moment the show began, I knew I was in love with the theatre. I had performed in my fair share of dance recitals over the years and loved being on stage. But this was on another level. Theatre was so complex. You had to sing, dance, and act at the same time. Even at 12, I appreciated the effort it must have taken the actors to build their characters. And I could only imagine the joy that they must have felt every night stepping onto the stage and into those tap shoes.

But by far the most emotional part of the evening for me was the curtain call. As the performers came out on stage to take their final bows, I could feel their awe, relief, and pride in accomplishing yet another stellar performance. As the audience rose to its feet amidst thunderous applause, I was almost jealous. I longed to know what that felt like. And from that moment on, I vowed to do everything it took to get involved in musical theatre in high school.

I was a pretty shy kid, so putting myself out there wasn’t going to be easy, but I was determined to break out of my shell. Whenever a play came into town, I'd ask my parents for tickets. I’d buy the Broadway soundtracks and play them on loop until I memorized all the lyrics. I spent hours in my room choreographing dance routines. Then whenever my mom left the house on an errand, I’d sing showtunes at the top of my lungs, trying to hit the high notes. I was training in secret.

When I entered high school, they were putting on a production of Anything Goes. I sat in the audience at auditions, watching all the upperclassmen belt out lyrics, and I knew I wasn’t ready to get up there. So, I ultimately chickened out. I auditioned for the dance chorus instead, and to my surprise, I was one of only two freshman who got a role. It boosted my confidence slightly, and I took the opportunity to observe everything I could about theatre. My sophomore year, the production was Pippin, and though I felt ready to audition, I chickened out at the last minute again, opting for dance chorus instead. By my Junior year, I had finally gathered enough courage to do a group audition. It was a baby step, but a good one. I scored myself a solo line in an ensemble song in The Pajama Game. I was moving up in the world!

By my senior year, I was at the top of the food chain. What did I have to worry about? The director chose Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as the school production, and we were all forced to audition with a song called “Jacob & Sons.” The song was manageable – until the chorus when you had to leap up several octaves to hit a high note. I knew I couldn’t do it. But I had to do it. It was my very last chance to audition.

I got up on stage and began to sing, then right in the middle of the song I stopped short and asked, “Wait. Can I start over?” The entire audience of hopefuls erupted into nervous laughter. With my outburst, I managed to make the day just a wee bit less scary. I think people were grateful for that. And when I started over, I crushed it.

The director had to change the musical before casting it because Donny Osmond was touring with Joseph, and it was coming to Boston that season. Samuel French wouldn’t release the rights. The production was changed to The Wiz, and I was cast as the Scarecrow. My first lead role! The school didn’t have enough money to hire a choreographer, so high on my recent accomplishment, I volunteered my services. Before I knew it, in addition to memorizing lines, I was back in my room choreographing dance routines – only this time they really mattered.

In the spring, I auditioned for Guys & Dolls and was cast as Miss Adelaide – my dream role. I was also asked back to choreograph. I was even paid! Stepping out onto that stage and taking a bow with my fellow cast members at the end of our run was like no other feeling in the world. I can’t describe to you how gratifying it was to have created something up on that stage and been able to share it with the community. Even more gratifying was the fact that I proved everyone who didn’t think I could do it wrong. A shy, unpopular nobody can come out of her shell and shine if given motivation and opportunity.

Looking back, my life could have easily gone in a different direction. If I had stayed home during that snowstorm, which would have been the easy thing to do, I never would have been inspired to pursue theatre. Those years in high school were some of the best years of my life. They shaped me into the confident, daring, and self-deprecating woman I am today. While I don’t sing, dance, or act any longer, I do still love the theatre, and it still moves me. At every curtain call, you’ll find me holding back tears as I stand and clap for the men and women on stage who are living out their dreams. How amazing is that?

Whether you’re 12 (like I was then) or 42 (like I am now), pay attention to the things that inspire you in life. Let them drive you to new heights. Don’t ever let them go. Dreams are only dreams until you make them your reality, and we ALL have that potential.

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