It’s hard to know what to write about my experience with MTP’s production of Gypsy.
For those of you who don’t know, I spent a portion of the last few months rehearsing for a part in the show and just finished a seven show run at the Palace Theatre.
I find myself struggling to articulate or process exactly what it meant to be welcomed into the MTP family over the past few months, but I know that something feels worth sharing. I think that on some level my role in Gypsy felt like a bit of a homecoming. For many years music, drama and theatre were a big part of my life. But during my time at university I found myself drifting away from that world and defining far more as a student politician than as someone involved in the arts. I’m not entirely sure why that happened and I don’t necessarily want to suggest that it was all a bad thing, but I certainly think that I allowed my love for theatre to disappear much more than I should have. I managed to keep the arts in my life–I added an English degree to my Political Science degree, I kept writing songs for The Chase, I worked at Starbright Theatre Company for a summer, and I ran for USC President on a platform with many arts-based initiatives–but for some reason I stopped feeling like I could own my identity as someone who loved the arts. I think that a lot of this has to do with the fact that I had a tendency to allow my role as a student politician to sever me from my prior identity. Once you get elected you have to adjust to most people meeting and viewing you through the lens of your role. That was a disorienting experience because I didn’t necessarily want to meet people as the ‘USC President’, I wanted to meet them as Adam. You might read this and find it quaint or falsely modest, but it is the truth. I relished the opportunity to enter rooms where no one recognized me so that I could just hear what people were saying and blend in with my surroundings.
Now, let me take a moment to make sure that you understand that I have no illusions of grandeur about my role at the USC. There were many rooms in the City of London that wouldn’t have had a clue who I was, but the reality is that I didn’t have an opportunity to spend much time in them.
Gypsy was an opportunity for me to walk into a room where very few people knew or cared that I had been USC President. I shouldn’t necessarily say that they didn’t care, because once people found out they seemed generally interested in finding out what the experience had been like, but they certainly didn’t define me by that experience. They were more interested in why I couldn’t quite master a time-step, why my character’s name was Angie and whether I would pull myself together as a dancer before opening night (the jury may still be out on that one). I can’t explain to you how much that meant to me. I felt like a human-being again; one who was free to work hard at something that I wasn’t sure if I would succeed at.
In the process of putting on the show I met an incredible cast and crew of people who spanned a huge spectrum of ages. The younger members of the cast reminded me not to take myself too seriously and not to be afraid of being a little bit goofy (I’ve got to give a shoutout to Matt Sendas on that one). The people my own age reminded me that asking questions, working hard and practicing was something to be applauded not minimized. They realized that I needed to keep rehearsing those dances over and over and over again and were kind enough to make it seem like they needed to do it as well! And those older than me reminded me that you’re never too old to follow a passion, a dream or your heart. They showed all of us that putting your head down and caring about people is the backbone of anything important.
More than anything Gypsy renewed my belief in the power of the theatre to bring people closer to their authentic selves. There’s something seemingly counterintuitive about a place of imagination bringing us closer to authenticity but I think that it makes sense. The imagination is a magical place where we all have the ability to be who we want to be. Theatre provides all of us with an opportunity to live our imaginations out loud and to show something raw and authentic to the world. When you’re onstage you don’t filter your character through the pressures of day-to-day life, you just let the moment carry you away. Good acting, like a good imagination has no pretension, no boundaries and no limits. To me, a life well-lived is another thing that should be free of pretension, boundaries and unreasonable limits. Think about the possibility of a world that looked more like the one in your imagination than the one that we tell ourselves is realistic, pragmatic or attainable. Now imagine yourself living in the world of your imagination. To me, the notion of living in the world of our imaginations is much more possible than we realize, but in order to do it we have to be willing to live by different definitions of success. Maybe success is quitting school, moving to Miami and teaching surfing, maybe it’s working at a restaurant to pay the bills so that you can keep acting, maybe it’s working at a Students’ Council so that you can have a life outside of it, or maybe it’s something entirely different. The point is that success can be whatever you imagine it to be and we shouldn’t be afraid of telling people that we define it differently than they do. Getting back to theatre made me think about how to bring the honesty, authenticity and imagination of the characters that we play onstage to the characters that we allow ourselves to play in the real world.
As I became more and more committed to my experience with the cast of Gypsy I found myself letting my imagination carry me through my life outside of the theatre. Paying more attention to my imagination has made me feel more open, honest and alive than I have in a long time. I’m fairly certain that I’m ready for adventure(s), even if that means making a few strange turns along the way.
So, to everyone who was part of Gypsy, thank you for helping me to get to know my imagination a little bit better and for reminding me not to be afraid to live it out loud for everyone to see.
Photo credit: Ross Davidson