AWB and I have a very official beginning to our friendship. But I should probably start this story a little earlier. I've always wished that I could sing, and I've always been a bit of a theater groupie. I was friends with several kids in the theater crowd in high school and though gymnastics didn't leave time for much else, I painted sets and hung around rehearsals and crashed cast parties whenever I could. During the fall of my sophomore year of college I attended a student production of Cabaret and the following spring I walked into my morning English class to discover three of the 'cool kids' from the play sitting on the opposite side of the room (AWB was Fraulein Schneider, two of her friends, who played Ernst Ludwig and the emcee, were also in the class). We're talking serious adulation here. They were smart and funny and talented and horribly intimidating. I tried not to stare. Shortly after the beginning of the semester the same theater group announced its spring show - Jesus Christ Superstar. I loved Dan Kehde's local production (it was a close second to Hair as my all time favorite musical, at the time) and had some dance experience so with the encouragement of some friends, I e-mailed the director to ask if they ever cast strictly dancers. I said I'd be thrilled just to be in the back of the chorus, but that I absolutely couldn't carry a tune. She said I should come down to auditions anyway. I made it through round one, without having to sing, and was asked to callbacks. Callbacks turned out to be an emotional marathon, for everyone involved, which resulted in quick, fierce bonds. I was told I would have to sing during callbacks, and was quietly trying not to panic. Because this particular student group, despite its share of stereotypical melodrama, was full of some of the nicest, most encouraging people you could ever meet, a few offered to coach me as best they could before my audition. I remember walking into the room with the director, choreographer, and accompanist as one of the most frightening experiences of my life (since I later became friends with all these people, they hate that I still remember it that way). Anyway, back to the point of the story. While we all sat around waiting for our turn, I worked up the nerve to tell AWB that we were in the same English class. Well then, she said, tomorrow morning you will sit with us, and we will be friends.
Though the friendship has (clearly) been a smashing success, that particular show ended in heartbreak. The group failed to get rights to the show and had to re-cast something totally different at the last minute. But I was already completely smitten - that semester I was an assistant director, and for several semesters after I stage managed and was even president of the organization my senior year. My last year there the group finally did manage to secure the rights to Jesus Christ Superstar. My friends told me I had to audition again, it was too nice and symmetric and full circle to pass up. So this time I actually practiced and learned a song and managed to not sing horribly off-key during the audition and got my little part in the chorus!
So where am I going with all this? I watched (the movie version of) Rent tonight, and got to thinking about the fact that I haven't been even remotely associated with theater for three years. Sure, I thought about it, half-heartedly researched local undergraduate groups and asked about the need for stage-hands, but never followed through. Now, I used to give AWB a hard time about 'giving up' theater. She's crazy talented, and she made this sort of conscious decision, just said that with grad school and everything there wouldn't be time for that particular pastime anymore. I hung onto it a bit longer, probably longer than I should have for my own health and sanity. But many times it really was true that a bad day working on a show was still better than a good day doing anything else. I think about all the nights spent in Ford apartments, how that place became like a commune, with mattresses tossed on the floor, costumes made in the dining room, sets constructed and painted in the living room, and a perpetually full pot of coffee. Carrying sets through the snow at 3 am to the church that functioned as our performance space. The fact that being a stage manager was my serious back-up plan for a while. And yet...and yet I too have just let it go, quietly, hardly noticing. I scoffed when people said in grad school all you do is the thing you're studying. But what do you know? All I do is the thing I'm studying. (ok, and a little political activism and drinking and hanging out with friends and, starting Monday, coaching gymnastics) But still, take my word for it, this is way more focused than I ever used to be. I think in the long run it's a good thing, the way it has to be. But I don't like that it happened in a way that feels without my consent, without my notice. AWB decided when her 'career' was over, just like I decided when to 'retire' from gymnastics. But this was the very next thing that I fell completely, madly in love with and it feels like I didn't do it justice...well, either that or late-night viewings of Rent make me particularly emotional and nostalgic.