For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now. To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post. Today’s theme is, “Don’t Rain on My Parade!” Whatever that means to you, feel free to comment, link your blog, or repost online with any stories of your own. Thanks for reading!
Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina. Please check out my fundraiser here!
Day 1: Don’t Rain on My Parade, or…That Time I Almost Didn’t Go to the Tony’s
In April of 2010, I peeled my 22-year-old self off my parent’s couch and took the 193 bus to Port Authority, dressed rather unstylishly for an internship interview. The months leading up to this moment included hiking the Camino de Santiago, struggling through a damaging and humiliating breakup, and trudging through a job with a bullying coworker, all the while working through a pile of depression. I was not in fine shape. By the time I moved back home earlier that year, quiet and tired, I was not averse to lying in bed for days at a time, waiting for night to fall so I could sit up and watch Colbert reruns until I feel asleep on the couch. I once woke up to my side table covered in flowers because my mom was determined to inspire me to simply start moving again. Slowly, I did. One morning, I walked one loop around the lake in my parent’s neighborhood; this gradually became two loops. But even after hiking 500 miles, my ability to free myself from my weight of depression was a slow, tedious process, and as it had before, walking is what saved me.
Eventually, I started to poke around for employment that wouldn’t send me over the edge. This is how I found the Broadway Green Alliance. The pattern, and that path I was headed in, was suddenly interrupted by landing this part-time, low-pressure internship. Ten points for Playbill.com.
And so, three times a week I drove to the Willowbrook Mall, hopped on the bus, and walked five blocks up to the Broadway League offices. The job itself was straightforward, friendly, and primarily entailed taking minutes in meetings surrounded by Broadway professionals—actors, company managers, and designers alike. The imaginary, exclusive curtain—no pun intended—that surrounds the Broadway community was taken down in a matter of weeks. I geeked out silently and took decent notes.
Two months go by, and suddenly a coworker pops her head in to announce that the interns were…get this…welcome to be seat fillers for the Tony Awards. I didn’t even know what that meant at the time, but—yes, yes please. I will do whatever that thing is. I will fill Tony seats. I floated home on cloud nine and started to prep for finding a dress. Yes, I was living with my parents, and no I didn’t have any friends in the area, but damn it, I was going to the Tony’s. New York City was a magical place.
I find a black gown on sale and borrow earrings, a purse, and heels from my mom. About two weeks before the big night, I hopped in my car at the bus stop and headed up route 23 in the June heat. And then it hit me like a wall of rain. Holy. Crap. I never RSVP’d the damn Tony email. What. How. Why is this happening? My brain began to spiral. I thought I had everything together. No wonder I didn’t get any information emails. How could I be so careless?!
When you’re recovering from anxiety, it’s easy to fall down the self-deprecating “I don’t have my act together” well of doom when the slightest thing goes wrong. And this is where I headed.
Stuck in traffic, I precariously wrote an email to my coworker about my mistake. She almost immediately wrote back saying she wasn’t sure what she could do, but she would try to squeeze me in. I was horrified and embarrassed. I had made a huge deal to my family, to Facebook, I had bought a dress, I had gotten myself out of bed! And here I was with my first opportunity to do something amazing in NYC—totally blown because I wasn’t focused enough to answer the damn email.
The long weekend trudged on as I waited for people to return to work to determine my first-world-problem fate. In my world though–in my head–this was far more than simply going to some event. This was triumphing over the damaging words of a cast-mate that told me I was too unstable to work in theatre, over six months of dragging myself out of bed to face a day full of depressive exhaustion, over going from a bedside table of flowers to taking meeting notes with Broadway actors. By Monday, this beloved coworker said she fit me in, there was room for me. I took a breath, and started to think logistics.
Okay, so I didn’t live in NYC, nor did I want to take the NJ Transit bus dressed in a gown and heels on a hot June afternoon. Also, seat fillers get to attend the late-morning Tony’s dress rehearsal, to which you wear regular-people clothing. So my option was to carry a bag and a gown, see the dress rehearsal, kill 5 hours, change in a Starbucks bathroom, ditch my bag of day clothing, go to the Tony’s, and somehow make the last bus back to NJ by 11:30. Yeah, okay.
So I swallow my pride and message the one group I know in the city at the time. As often happens, sides were taken in my recent breakup, and this group was definitely not coming to my side of the chalkline anytime soon. Things were uncomfortable, to say the least. Days passed, and I finally got an answer from each person. Everyone was out of town or unavailable. Nuts. Then my parents made a suggestion that I had carelessly overlooked—I have a cousin in NYC! Fabulous! My family was never particularly close on either side. It’s not that we didn’t like each other, we just all lived around the country and didn’t make the effort. I give my generation huge credit for remedying this over the past five years. So we call my cousin Christa who lives up in Harlem, and I’m all set for a place to stay with a fantastic person.
On the day of the whole shebang, I head into the dress rehearsal and watch the wonderful hijinks unfold that the tech and management team have put together to keep the eager audience entertained. Overall, I am the happiest of ladies. Look at me! Independent! Doing my thing and having a great day on my own. As I sit there between transitions, I start to casually flip through Facebook on my phone. Lo and behold, I come across a post about a Tony’s viewing party—in the city that evening—hosted by the group that told me that would be out of town that night. I had been blown off, quite ungracefully, so they could watch an event that I was actually attending. Oh the beautiful irony. And to think, we all believe we’re such mature adults at 22. There’s that “falling down a well” feeling again.
I take a breath, try to brush off the negativity threatening to send me under, and head up to Harlem to have an amazing and rejuvenating afternoon with my cousin. We eat dinner, I do my hair, I have some wine, and I hop in a cab to Radio City Music Hall to get the rundown on how to be a seat filler. Here’s the deal: when the camera pans over the audience just after commercial breaks, they don’t want viewers to see a bunch of empty seats. People get up to present or perform throughout the night, so there’s also a chance you end up in a famous person’s seat for quite some time. It’s all random. You line up on the side of the audience and are sent sprinting down the aisle during commercials like a bunch of dolled-up race horses. I loved it.
My first seat fill was next to a woman currently in Fela, who was not pleased that I was suddenly sitting in her mother’s seat. I get it, I wouldn’t want some random super-fan sitting in my mother’s seat on the biggest night of my life either. But take a breath, I have no choice in this matter. As I sit there, it all starts to sink in. Six months prior, I was on the verge of backing off from theatre. Theatre had been my life and my soul since I was eight years old, but the pain of the past several years had begun to kill the hope that is would be a possible career for me. My theatre community no longer existed, my relationship with my parent’s theater company had run its course, and if I could barely get out of bed, how could I get on stage.
And then Lea Michelle came bounding down the aisle with a message for this emotional, slightly tipsy seat filler. As she began to sing “Don’t Rain on My Parade” like a madwoman, I somehow popped out of my fog of self-pity. It’s one of the most fierce, angry, and crazed renditions of this song I have ever heard or seen performed. And she has me in the palm of my hand. Every evening crying on the floor of my Florida apartment, every triumphant day on the Camino that had been overshadowed by the months that followed, every jealous, vindictive person who had implied that living and working in NYC was only for the select few, was churning inside my exhausted head. And so here I am, crying next to an angry woman from Fela, who doesn’t understand why I’m crying, and probably wondering what the hell happened to her mother. But I wanted to turn and say, “Damn it! People can be really shitty sometimes. And things can really suck, for a long time. But now this lady is singing at us about not taking it anymore, and gosh darn it, lady from Fela, we should celebrate, and hug, and sing with Lea Michelle!” Luckily, I said none of these things, and simply continued to fulfill my duties as a seat filler. But I thought these thoughts, and was suddenly somehow grateful for being blown off by a group that wouldn’t have celebrated my private moment with Lea anyhow. This city, my city, was a chance to start over.
I spent most of the remainder of the evening sitting in Daniel Radcliffe’s seat, just behind Helen Mirren who hilariously made quips throughout the evening about the presenters. I never came off my cloud. I took a cab home, told the driver all about my night, cried some more, and then slept soundly next to my cousin’s cat Henry. I have no pictures of myself from that night. I didn’t need them.
It’s easy to get caught up in our own realities—even if our concerns and problems are legitimate. But at certain times, the world opens up a door to a new reality, a simpler one, and the petty issues of our small bubbles suddenly lose their crushing weight. I look back on that night as the time NYC reminded me that beautiful—and more importantly—unexpected things can happen that can change your view of yourself. In the depths of difficult years, there will always be those that fight to pull you down further, but the world is more than this. It is full of those who will support—and fight for your place in the community.