Saturday, January 7, 2012

Quitting Time

Captain Hook and Smee
My kids recently expressed sorrow that I finally stopped performing in our children's theatre. For some reason (wonder why?) they’d always enjoyed seeing their mother make a fool of herself onstage, fussing and fuming as the Wicked Queen in Snow White, "flying" and sword fighting as Peter Pan. I've been playing these parts since 1979, when I was a mere slip of a girl, and it wasn't quite such a stretch to imagine me skipping down the Yellow Brick Road.

 When Steve and I were young marrieds, it was just the two of us, hitting the road, and the stage, in hundreds of schools, libraries, recreation centers and theatres all over the Northeast every year. Looking back, I truly don't know how we did it. We averaged 2-3 performances per day, nearly every day, with travel in between. The show went on, through fevers and broken wrists and even pregnancies. I became an expert at concealment, donning ever larger and looser dresses so that the viewers weren't traumatized by the sight of Dorothy, six months along, waddling to Oz. Along the way, we acquired endurance (our record: 5 Pedrolinos in a single day). We developed thick skins, when the kids were either rowdy or--worse--eerily still throughout the show (this often happened in Catholic schools, after Sister Mary Authoritarian warned everyone to be QUIET in her pre-curtain speech. Nothing quite as embarrassing as doing comic pratfalls and making jokes to pin-drop silence). We became flexible, as our venues ranged from huge auditoriums to a tiny space between library bookshelves. We learned to live and work together, 24/7, with a remarkable level of civility, even when my lousy map-reading took us three towns in the wrong direction when we were already late for a gig.

For years now, I have been gradually bowing out of the shows, citing the demands of my other job and my ever-advancing years. Yet I remained the go-to actress when Steve was in a pinch, largely because of my scary-good memory (in the script area only--in all other areas, the memory is scary-bad). With no rehearsal I could (literally) leap into Toad's Escape and sweep into Cinderella, without missing a beat. Little wonder, I guess, that my husband still depended on me to save the theatrical day.  So, through my forties and early fifties, on I trouped. Our young audiences, bless them, never commented on the fact that, clearly, Alice in Wonderland was as almost as old as their grandmas.

Elise and Steve @ Rehoboth Summer Children's Theatre, 1982
Alas, all things must come to an end. I have hung up my crazy costumes for good, and retired my ruby slippers too. I have kissed a large and very important part of my life goodbye. It was a heckuva lot of fun while it lasted. Now it's quitting time.

Knowing when to stop is one of life’s most valuable lessons. I pray, as I grow older, I can recognize all the other quitting times in my future. And make my peace with them.

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