One thing I love about community theater is how it reflects our off stage lives. Whether on stage or off, we all have roles (or rolls depending on how you look at it) that we play and they always leave us wondering who am I?
Take on stage, just this Sunday, I was asked to be a pole. Someone has to simulate the corner of the boxing ring during the fight scene in Twelfth Night, the musical. I was told that we’d be holding pool noodles. How many poles does it take to make the corners of a ring? Well, four, naturally.
So I started thinking about how best to be a pole holding two pool noodles. I could put into practice last year’s bit of advice from an experienced cast member, “Wow them from the neck up”.
So from the neck up, I’ll be a pole that taunts the leads to fight. “What kind of man are you going to be?”
There are so many pole jokes to go around, “at least they didn’t want me to be a pole dancer” or “I’m a pole, but at least I still have my noodles.”
I didn’t say they had to be good jokes but I could go on if you want me to. We have a lot of empty time on our hands at rehearsals to hang out with our cast members and crack bad jokes.
And now that I’m halfway throughly life, I’ve had a lot of other roles. Sometimes I start to question, will the real role please stand up? But let’s back track and take this one role at a time.
Daughter: Let’s face it, I was a daughter first. Here’s an incredible picture of Mom and me in that first role plucked straight from one of the newspapers buried in the basement. Mom spoke out quite a bit as she wanted people to know her story. It was hard being the wife of a man who loved basketball, while she loved the man behind the game. He’d be at the front door, bringing his duffel bag to the front door to leave for a road trip, and I’d hold onto his leg and cry. It must have broken Mom’s heart to have to see her daughter so upset. Meanwhile, she was publicly struggling to find out who she was. I was trying to figure it out, too. Only I was too young. I didn’t have the capacity to figure it all out, so I looked outside of myself for the answers. For me it translated like this…the teacher made me be a tree in our first grade play, therefore, that must be what I’m cut out to be in life: a tree. So I did what any kid would do, I waited until I got older so I could show that teacher that I could also be a pole.
Married: I didn’t enter marriage gracefully. It was hard to take on the responsibility, when I much preferred being free and unencumbered. When Alex and I got engaged, I almost threw the engagement ring out the window of the cab. I was angry because Alex had “tracked me down”. I was hanging out after work with my friends at the local bar downstairs and I lost track of time. The bartender stood there holding an old-fashioned telephone in his hand, it wasn’t old fashioned at the time, and he asked, “Is anyone here by the name of Stephanie?” In all fairness, I was hours late to a date that Alex had pre-arranged. It was the most callous, insensitive thing that I ever did because I didn’t get the marriage thing. But over the years, we’ve learned together and we’re beautiful because of it.
Daughter-In-Law: I hear more horror stories of people hating their in-laws. In fact, once at a writing retreat I was prompted to write about my mother-in-law and my story was the only one that was so beautiful I ended up sharing it with my dear Mother-In-Law afterwards. I love my in-laws and am graced and blessed by their love.
Mama: This one didn’t come easy either. I was so scared of giving birth that I tried to hold my oldest in. The very daughter I fought to bring into the world, looked nothing like me. But then there was my second. I didn’t fight her, in fact, we welcomed her wholeheartedly, she was my mini-me, only we didn’t have a name for her. They wouldn’t let us leave the hospital calling her “baby girl Ortiz”. To this day my oldest has a complex because we didn’t have choices of what we would name her. She said her friends all have funny stories, like her sister, that they “might have been” called Sage or Kendall. I told my oldest to use her sisters possible names. Now I know why I was so scared to have kids, I didn’t want to let them go when their time comes to fly. It comes so quickly.
Writer: If you haven’t noticed the pattern here, I’ve been reticent to take on any new role. That’s where community theater helps. Whenever I try to look at myself as a writer and the doubt sets in, I remember last year I got on that stage without any experience at all. So here I am, showing up on my blog, just like I got on that stage, one week at a time.
I’ve played all these roles, and so many more that I haven’t included here, or this could go on way longer than you’re probably willing to read.
When a play is over the girls always handle the aftermath with such grace. I’m the one who can’t get it out of my head. I”m scared to let it go, yes, even if I’m just a pole.
Only, about that pole, just as quickly as I became one, well, I just as quickly lost it. Yes, they asked me to go back to ensemble and they gave the pole, I mean role, to someone else.
At least I can be the pole understudy and I can always joke how I am part pole, and my kids, well, they’re a quarter pole…
You’d think now that I’m older and wiser and I know who I am. Or do we ever really know who we are? We’re always growing, no matter what our age, no matter what role we play. We always look to the roles and the actors around us to glimpse who we really are.
And no matter how I look at it, I have become the person I am today because of these roles. I might not be able to shoot a basketball, but I look just like my Dad. I don’t have a southern accent and southern charm to boot (put Mom in a room and she will come out of there knowing at least three important facts about every person in there), but I can write a story or two. I’ve learned from the best.
I loved Laura Dern’s quote from the Oscars, not just because she played Mom in Little Women, but because of what she said, “Some say you never meet your heroes, I say, if you’re truly blessed you have them as your parents.”
I was equally as blessed. I had a head start in life having great parents to help me begin to answer the question, “who am I?”. I have had great teachers along the way in the form of Alex, my in-laws, my kids, oh, and my first grade teacher who made me be a tree.
I’m grateful for all these meaningful rolls. Yes, I mean rolls, literally, this time. It wasn’t a family meal until Mom accidentally burned them. So even if I have to be a burnt piece of bread, I’ve been a tree and I’ve been part pole so I can take it on.
Even with my writing, when I begin to wonder where it might lead me, I need just apply myself to the role at hand.
Since all the world’s a stage, let’s just take life one role at a time and see where it takes us.