Saturday, October 17, 2015

If/Then, Idina Menzel and the power of Theatre

Theatre has always been one of those precious things in my life. I saw my first show when I was 9 years old. It makes me chuckle to remember it now. The theatre was “huge” and there were “so many” people. In addition, the show was “A Chorus Line” which was amazing, and relatively inappropriate for my age, to put it kindly. When the curtains opened that night, the lights came up, and I breathed a deep, expectant breath and suddenly, I was a thespian. I felt the calling in my bones.

There is something, a tangible sense, a warm exquisite blanket that wraps itself around you as those lights come up. What you are about to see will never happen again. Only the people in that room with you, in those moments, will share that experience.

Theatre, without fail, teaches. In that quiet space, a story spills gracefully out onto the canvas we call a stage, and it tells us our story. Theatre reflects back those truths we've missed and makes connections between our heart and our head. It uses the beauty of life to poignantly contrast the tragedy that comes in tandem.

Tonight, I learned a great deal, and so much of it is trapped in the recesses of my heart, evolving. I know the lessons will emerge gently as my deepest parts thaw from the winter that has set in to make way for spring. Yet, others, I was ready for.

“If/Then” is a new musical and my best friend and I are lucky enough to live in Denver, the first stop on the show’s national tour. Two of the stars, Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp, are our absolute favorites. I thought tonight would be a fun way to love on my friend, laugh (and then cry, because that’s how we roll), and then we would enjoy a show and another day would end. Instead, I am deeply challenged, changed and a little bit scared of what might come next.

If, then. If I do this, then this. What if? In a nutshell, that is what the musical is about. A woman lives three different lives, though it is only one, and each life plays out as a vignette of how each choice might have unfolded. Beth, the main character, sings about “some other me” and the life that person might be living. She stumbles through, painfully sorting through who she is, what she wants, where she is going. She wants the answer, the right answer. There are marriages and children, a prestigious dream job, and of course several men to choose from. A chance meeting in a park, a marriage that fails, a war that pulls love away. What if?

Liz sings:

“Tell me what if I'm bound for disaster?
What if I fall off a cliff?
Will I ever just learn how to live and not wonder 'what if?
Tell me how could this make any difference?
How could it matter at all?

We question everything about our lives. We question our choices, our friends, and our career choice. We look at our spouses and we doubt, or we wonder, is this as good as it gets? All the while, the part of life that we cannot control lurks, waiting. While we throw ourselves through the mental gymnastics of “What if”, the very things we complain about or take for granted are in danger of being forever altered, permanently removed from our lives. Sometimes they are, and our lives are dramatically transformed, and we regret what we did not do, what we did not say, and the choice we did not make.

Life is nothing if not change, we have heard this all of our lives. Yet, I still find myself surprised and devastated and in awe of the way life continues to unfold, outside of my influence. Dreams have died and been reborn and realized. Despite my best efforts, friendships have fizzled, great pain has gripped my family, and recovery has had its fits and starts. Yes, we make the choices that build (or destroy) our lives. We are undeniably responsible for what we create. Still, there is an intangible agent of the universe that takes over. Call it fate. Call it God. Call it whatever helps you understand that our agency is not all there is. All things must be broken down and rebuilt into something better and we need the force of fate. As people, this often means our lives or our hearts must be broken and beat up a bit so we can be woken up, so we can make different choices and build something new. We are always starting over.

In the show, after have lost he husband, being left a mother of two children, Liz sings:

“Am I always starting over
In a brand new story
Am I always back at one
After all I've done
'Cause I've burned all of my bridges
And learned every last lesson too
So how can I start new?

I learned tonight how to start new. It does not involve the mental gymnastics, self-criticism and finger pointing we distract ourselves with. It is not about figuring out all of the patterns and formulas that can help us predict how any path we take may turn out. How can we start new?


With all of the doubt and fear, without all of the information, with no promises or assurances: Start. Build the new thing.

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