Like many parents with a love for the arts, I recently found myself watching 'Julie's Greenroom' and thinking back to when I first discovered theatre. If you haven't seen it just imagine Sesame Street in a theatre, puppets and all. In the first episode the fabulous host Julie Andrews says that famous line, 'the show must go on!' when the characters find themselves faced with adversity (no spoilers). The characters in the scene are hearing the phrase for the first time and Andrews explains its meaning for them. It left me thinking about all the times I had experienced that almost irrational determination to continue despite adversity in the magical world of the theatre, and it left me feeling amazed.
In my experience everyone involved in the theatre has an amazing story of a show 'going on' and those outside the theatre are often shocked to hear what can go wrong without the audience's awareness. At first I thought the best way to explore this topic would be to collect stories of crazy happenings and share them. I reached out to theatrical friends and wasn't disappointed. Some are what you'd probably expect: a costume fail, a missing prop, a dropped line or ten, a missed cue, a sick actor, etc. Those can be serious challanges but then there were the bigger problems that can sometimes happen: the 'cast flu' where perhaps half the actors are sick, an accidental fire on stage, theatres leaking in the rain, loss of power mid performance, audience medical emergency, actor injury mid performance, etc. I thought about collecting the most dramatic (pun intended) of these stories and recounting them with names changed to express what the simple phrase 'the show must go on' means to many passionate artists. However, as I read through these accounts of disaster and persistence I worried that retelling them would simply make what we do seem disorganized, dangerous and perhaps even a little mad. In total honesty it can be all of those things but that was not the feeling that reflecting on theatre's best known phrase illicited in me.
The feeling that I had and wanted to share about this cliched yet beautiful phrase was about hope, sacrifice and love, not chaos. About that deep belief that a story is worth telling. About a commitment made to your fellow artists and to your audience. So I'll tell you a different story.
'The Show Must Go On,' not simply because this struggle must be overcome but because 'The Show', every show, is important.
The show must go on because someone in the audience needs to laugh tonight.
The show must go on because someone in the audience needs to cry tonight.
The show must go on because someone in the audience needs to escape for even just a short time tonight.
The real magic of theatre is not that the lights, set, sound and performances can take you to another time and place but rather that in that other place there is truth that someone may need to hear.
I have seen actors miss family weddings, perform the night of a family death and overcome many other personal struggles. I have seen and heard harrowing stories of all the ways a complicated recipe for an immersive story can go wrong and yet be held together through sheer force of will and duct tape. Why do these theatre artists do it? Do they perhaps need the escape? Certainly. But do they also believe, deep down, that art is powerful and valuable enough to commit to? Without question. We can all embrace a determination to tell our stories; you never know who might need to hear them.