Put a big smile on it, and don’t be afraid

In the fall of 2014 my daughter enrolled in a theatre program with the Curtain Playhouse, a local community theatre troupe here in northwest Denver. Since then, she has performed in four productions with the Curtain and my son, who joined this past fall, has been a part of two of the performances.

They did “The Little Mermaid” in the fall of 2014, “The Knight Before Dawn” in the spring of 2015, “Beauty and the Beast” in the fall of 2015 and, now, they are in the middle of a week-long set of performances of an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach.”

The first season our family was involved with the Curtain, my daughter was cast as one of The Poor Unfortunate Souls in “The Little Mermaid.”

When the performances rolled around in the late fall, I responded to a request from the directors to help backstage for the first night of the production. At this time, the Curtain was operating out of a church basement (they have subsequently moved to their own space in a kind of strip mall in a neighboring town). As far as church basements go, this one was classic: linoleum floors, low-level candescent lights, 1970s paneled walls, long narrow hallways that led to isolated, windowless rooms, dimly-lit staircases that led to even more dimly-lit hallways and, of course, a kitchen that smelled vaguely of Hills Bros. coffee and the kind of cookies you’d purchase in long plastic cylinders.

The director told me that my job was to help the boys with their costume changes and he pointed to one of the dimly-lit rooms as the end of one of the dimly-lit hallways, handed me a detailed, typed sheet with the names of all the players and all of their costume changes and said, “They’re all in there. Keep them occupied until the show starts and make sure they’re ready to go at curtain call.”

Somewhere in the middle of the show, as kids were racing down those hallways in their elaborate costumes, laughing and talking with a kind of confidence and excitement that filled me with a kind of joy that made me feel like a kid again, I stopped and thought to myself, “So this is what’s it’s like to be in a Wes Anderson movie!”

I didn’t get to see the play that evening, given that I was backstage, but the next night, my wife and I were in the audience. The lights went down and when they came up again, there was my daughter, all six years and 50 pounds of her, in a tattered sailors costume, standing at the prow of a makeshift boat and singing and smiling like her whole life depended on that singular moment.

Two years and four productions later we are in the middle of a run of Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach.” My daughter, who is eight now, is still in The Ensemble—she’s a Vagabond and a New Yorker. Here she is as a Vagabond:

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And my son—he’s 10 and just in his second production–is Ladalord, a kind of magical seer who narrates much of the play through voice and song.

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Last evening, on our way home from opening night, I asked my son how he felt before the show began and he replied, “Well, I’m a little nervous, but when the lights go down and they start to play the overture, I just look in the mirror and tell myself, “Go out there, put a big smile on it, and don’t be afraid.”  I was looking at him through the rearview mirror as he said this, and it was delivered with a kind of a belief in the truth of what he was saying that could only come from a child, and I didn’t need to do anything except nod in agreement.

We sort of stumbled into community theatre. My wife did a little theatre in high school and I think it was a bit of her prompting but mostly just the interest of our kids that got them involved.

I could make all kinds of things that this point: that theatre has given my kids confidence, that it’s drawn them into a crowd of really smart and wonderful children, that they are developing ‘skills’ that will help them in the ‘real’ world.

Whatever.

What theatre has really done for us, is to bring us joy and that, frankly, is what theatre has been doing for us, as a people for a very, very long time.

I’m so grateful to the Curtain Playhouse, and my kids, for bringing theatre into our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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