After the Show

All of my old world and all the
things in it are hard to find…
if they ever were mine.    —Shawn Colvin

I sang in the mixed chorus at my high school. Every year, students from the choral, dance, and drama classes put on a variety show, heavy on show tunes, they called the Broadway Revue. It was a massive production, too big for the school’s facilities, so it was held in a beautiful WPA-era auditorium in a neighboring city. My memories of the production are of a gradual ramping up of activities starting as a barely-noticeable background near the beginning of the school year. In the weeks just before the show, things would reach a fever pitch. We would leave classes at the end of the day and head into Santa Ana for rehearsals. Imagine a bunch of high school students, tending toward the creative spectrum, in an intense working partnership with a clearly defined goal, spending lots of minimally supervised time away from home. There was intense creative energy, intense sexual energy, big egos, frustration, climbing through the Byzantine labyrinth backstage, music and dance, all in a whirlwind of freedom that was novel to many of us. Then, in just a few weeks, the big dress rehearsal, the big shows (I honestly cannot remember how many performances we did; I think there were only two each year) with big, enthusiastic audiences and crazy cast parties.

Then it was over.

I remember getting out of class and feeling lost. What was it I used to do with my time? I must have had a lot of deferred activities, but I couldn’t think of anything to do. I remembered that I had often felt overwhelmed with homework, chores, music practice, and social activities, but those activities no longer seemed to fill my time.

Of course, life gradually got back to normal. The mundane activities of daily living once again seemed to take up more time than I had, and I settled into a routine. Something changed, though. Instead of slogging through each day’s duties without perspective, I had a sense of how things could be different and how daily life can be changed by a dramatic event.

The daily routine is comfortable for a while, but I think many of us, sooner or later, feel a need to be working on a Big Project™: something dramatic, compelling, absorbing, and preferably with a well-defined denouement. For me, at least, an important element seems to be the involvement and cooperation of talented, creative people. I became a professional entertainer, a promising career cut short only by my profound lack of talent and dedication. I do not think I understood it at the time, but in retrospect I clearly had a craving for the excitement of doing the big show.

The majority of us do not choose careers or lifestyles that give us a steady supply of well-defined Big Projects with dramatic and final endings. So what do we do after the show?

We can get our sense of purpose vicariously, through books, films, and television, but a half-hour sitcom or even a seventy-thousand word novel does not seem to give us a lasting sense of purpose. We can make holidays and birthdays into large, dramatic events. We can get involved in hobbies or volunteer activities that provide us with well-defined activities that have a dramatic finish. We act at our peril, however, if we choose to try to be satisfied with mundane daily activities that lead to vague, distant goals: retirement, “success,” children, career.

Sometimes, though, a Big Project can sneak up on you. As with my Broadway Revue experience, you don’t know you are in it until it is over. It can happen when you respond to a calamity, enter a relationship, join a creative endeavor, adopt a companion animal, or offer to help a friend. It is only when it ends that you realize that your life will never be the same.

— Ron – 09 May 2005