Sunday, July 15, 2012

Make it happen

Ever have one of those moments when you feel incredibly moved by something, maybe even to tears, but you can't understand what or why that is? When your heart pounds faster and your eyes start to feel tense and red; something's either wrong or, if you're me, you've been touched by something profound that even you can't put your finger on.

Today I had the pleasure of seeing a brand new musical at the La Jolla Playhouse, a small performing arts center where a lot of burgeoning Broadway plays get their starts.

Looking at the program, or even walking around the place you find out bits and pieces of its history. This is where Jersey Boys and Memphis both had their initial runs before making it onto Broadway and into the Tony Best Musical hall of fame.

Less than a year ago I saw a musical adaptation of the film Little Miss Sunshine with a score by the composer of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in La Jolla. Sadly I was disappointed with the outcome, to an extent that I may not consider expounding upon.

But this time I had the chance to see a musical that meant something to me - that could make tears well up for some reason beyond even my comprehension. A few hours later and I'm still struggling with an answer.

The musical was called The Nightingale. It has just started its run in La Jolla. The play is about an newly crowned emperor who has been trapped behind golden walls all his life, unaware of the toils of the kingdom which he becomes ruler of once his father has passed. When he is introduced to the very true tale of a nightingale that sings at dawn and dusk, he forces a girl with knowledge of life outside the golden palace to find the nightingale and bring it back for him and his court to appreciate forever.

When you realize, though, that this show isn't so much about some unrealistic spiritual awakening through a songbird as it is about growing up and finding your way in a restrictive world, it's the kind of story that resonates. The experiences are fictional, but the feelings are real.

For most of the show - and this is true of most musicals - I found myself getting wrapped up in the music more than anything else. I wanted so much to capture and hold onto my favorite songs, that I forgot to look at the whole entity objectively.

After the show ended, I talked a lot with my dad about what I liked and didn't like, what change I could see making sense, what aspects of The Nightingale were so perfect that they required no alteration.

We descended into a conversation about theater in general. What is it we like about it? How do we find it on the cheap locally? One concept we discussed was plays versus musicals. Because we are both quite partial to these branches of entertainment, the conversation lasted for a long while.

I reasoned that much of my reason for enduring any theatrical art is to search through the roughage and eventually find something that brings clarity to my world.

The Nightingale tried to do that. Unlike Spring Awakening (which has the same composer and lyricist as The Nightingale), it didn't have such strong emotional depth or raw power (throw a boy with crazy hair into red lighting [à la "Don't Do Sadness"] and you have one of the most wonderfully lit scenes in all of theater and one of my favorite scenes from Spring Awakening).

Yet for some reason I walked away feeling like I'd learned something. I think what it was had little to do with the story itself. While the plot was pleasant and intriguing, the dialogue wonderfully intellectual and the music beautiful, The Nightingale gained importance for me because it was a reminder of how important theater really is in my life.

At school, I've been to dozens of plays - with music and without. My closest college friend and I consult lists of shows every weekend so we can find some event on campus to participate in. The effort is hit or miss. Sometimes we're really touched by a performance, other times we use it as an example of what went wrong or what to laugh at.

We quantify our feelings so decidedly, that as I sat in the audience at the La Jolla Playhouse, applauding for the cast, I figured that perhaps my eyes then dangerously close to tears were facing that fate because I was so glad to be the type of person who connects with theater at all. Instead of being judgmental at that moment like I am so often with theater at university, I was just feeling myself open up to The Nightingale.

Wanting to be a theater critic is one thing - and it's certainly my thing as well. But beyond that, I'm moved by my own passion for the stage, my need to find myself in it and want to express my devotion and love for it with others.

I guess this is something I already knew about myself, but until today I don't think I firmly grasped the depth of my desire to live a life somehow involving the stage.

I wonder whether anyone else feels as strongly as I do about what are essentially forms of escapist entertainment. As I was driving to La Jolla with my dad today, we talked about what life would be like with other professions. I explained to him why I wanted to have a job in the arts rather than as a lawyer - since we'd been discussing law as well.

My emotions are worn on my sleeve. I feel so passionately about my cause, my love of theater, that it's inalienable from my character. I want it to be my life through my work. A lawyer, or most professionals for that matter, leave the work day and forget about it. It's an afterthought if they can make it one. But my outlet of emotions with theater spans every moment of my life, and it helps me to express myself - to feel moved and to try and figure out the source for those feelings.

So I sit here pontificating on the value of theater. But for others there are other things that inspire these same feelings. That's why we all should pursue our dreams. And not in the trite, fairytale-like way that even the characters of The Nightingale might illustrate, but in our own way. In a way that suits our lifestyles and makes us feel like we want to wake up in the morning every day, even without the goading sound of the nightingale's song, and make it happen. Let's all make our dreams happen.

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