FEARLESS AND FEAR
Last Thursday, Feb.20, the revival of the musical “West Side Story” opened on B’way, but three weeks before, Feb.1, it had opened in Theatre Orb in Tokyo with my granddaughter Emma playing the female lead Maria. How I wish I could have been there; alas, I can no longer physically cope with the travel! But I thank God that I was able to see her in “Merrily We Roll Along,” the first musical she was in six years ago and in “Sister Act” the following year. On the flight back to New York after having seen the first musical, I had a dream/nightmare which I wrote about in an essay. At that time I had not yet started my blog, and so I’m taking the liberty to post it now. Maybe it will evoke dreams you once had of becoming………. or maybe you lived them!
There she was on the stage of a large theater in Tokyo – my granddaughter Emma – singing, dancing, acting, completely at home, and delightful in Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Merrily We Roll Along.” In Japanese, of course, so I didn’t understand a word of it, but no matter, it was thrilling to see Emma, in her first stage role and the female lead, totally in command, as if she had been performing for years. From her first entrance, I knew I had nothing to worry about. I saw that Emma had the confidence I had never possessed. But think again, think back, remember………
And I did remember that I, too, had complete confidence when acting in my younger years whether in a college production or in our community theater, The Morningside Players. No need for a prompter as insurance against forgetting lines. Then in my senior years the fear of failure that I had dealt with all my life, exacerbated by side effects of anti-depressants and not being able in my 60s to master Method acting after four years of classes, began creeping in, that I would forget, that I would mess up. I remember reading about the famous British movie star Deborah Kerr in her 70s being booed in a theater in London when she forgot her lines.
It was a very short trip to Japan and back, leaving New York on a Thursday evening and returning at dawn on Tuesday morning. My granddaughter Sarah and I boarded a flight for New York at 6:45 AM; I had stayed up all night planning to sleep on the plane. Luckily there weren’t many passengers aboard, so, thanks to Sarah’s request, each of us got five seats across and could stretch out comfortably. The steward and stewardesses were all very solicitous and brought me a warm comforter and pillow from business class (perks of old age). As soon as we got up in the air, I took my sleeping pills. Nine hours of sleep interspersed with several trips to the bathroom. I should have stayed awake after the last one.
Instead of watching movies which I had done all night on the flight going to Tokyo, this time for entertainment my unconscious created its own movie, “Nightmare on American Airlines.” I dreamed I was up for my first leading role in a movie or a play, and that I was competing with Meryl Streep. For the audition the director told me to use an Australian accent, so I managed to dredge up something that sounded sort of British. He was so taken with my reading that he immediately gave me the part. I was pleased at the thought that the media would be informed of the news. However, as soon as we started rehearsal, the director and others on the set began to criticize me. I thought that was unfair, because I was seeing the script for the first time. My confidence now shaken I lost my British accent and making sense of the dialogue. Meryl Streep was called back; she seemed very much at ease and confident around the crew. The director said he didn’t know now which of us should get the role. I thought maybe he was unhappy with me, because I wasn’t standing up straight, so I pulled in my stomach and tried to straighten up but that didn’t seem to help. I was fired. When I asked the director why, he said Meryl Streep would be more fun to work with. It was all over. I thought I would feel badly, but instead, a sense of relief came over me; it had been so nerve-racking and unpleasant an experience. Mercifully, at that point I awoke, all tensed up, my body and hair drenched in perspiration. The dream was more real to me than reality, but after downing a glass of water and a ginger ale from the galley, I came back to normal. Aside from the anxiety dream – and maybe because of it, it was a great flight!
Most of my life I lived with the illusion that I might have made it to Broadway if only circumstances had been different. Now I know that I could never have withstood the pressure. My granddaughter Emma is not possessed by these demons. At 25 she has already made it to Tokyo’ s Broadway. Seeing her perform on that stage was one of the happiest days of my life. She has lived out my dream!