It’s a tale as old as time—a book-loving beauty named Belle in an unlikely alliance with a handsome prince-turned-Beast.
Early on in my community theater career, I got caught up in the magic when I doubled as a townsperson and an enchanted vase in Beauty and the Beast.
Kim, our director, demanded nothing but the best. “Three times, perfect!” she’d say, and we’d run the scenes until we could do them in our sleep.
Behind the scenes, we worked just as hard to captivate the audience. Our director would admonish us with, “Don’t spoil the magic!”
Here are just a few of the hard and fast rules of theater:
- Never peek through closed curtains.
- Stay in character no matter what. (No waving to your mother!)
- Don’t let the audience see you in costume before the show.
- Keep your hands off other people’s props.
- Silence backstage. Keep voices, footsteps, and all movements quiet so the audience doesn’t hear it.
Attending to hundreds of little details like these is what makes for a magical performance.
After months of work, it was finally opening night.
“Places!” The stage manager’s announcement reverberated throughout the dressing room.
“Thank you.” I slipped out the dressing room door while tucking breath mints into my apron pocket.
Other actors stared as I walked down the hall in my French peasant cap, blouse, and black stretch pants. They were probably thinking I’d forgotten my skirt. Most of them were in full costume, but those of us climbing up into the alcove weren’t wearing skirts, since the audience could only see our heads and torsos through the “window.”
My daughter, Mariah, met me backstage, and I let her go first up the twenty-foot ladder. Then it was my turn. I took a deep breath and gripped the ladder on both sides. Don’t look down!
From the pitch-black alcove, Mariah and I had a bird’s-eye view of chattering, relaxed audience members finding their seats. To our left, we heard programs rustling and coats unzipping as people settled in for the first act.
We stepped in with marshmallow feet, holding our breath. To surprise the audience, we had to be absolutely silent.
Finally, the house lights dimmed. Curtain time!
After the prologue, lights went up on the front stage and Belle worked her magic.
“Little town, it’s a quiet village…” Her crystal-clear voice beckoned the sleepy town from their slumber. One by one, supporting actors emerged. The song livened as a hundred people filled the stage.
A thrill shot through me as the spotlight hit the alcoves. We sang the chorus, punctuated by hearty “Bonjours!” as townspeople passed Belle on the street.
Though I smiled as my character was supposed to, the smile broadened when I heard tittering in the balcony.
We’d done it! They had no idea there were actors in the alcove, and the surprise had added to their delight.
I beamed a smile and carried on a silent, lively conversation with Mariah. But under the window, I tapped my toe and counted measures.
If I’m late—
“I need…six eggs!” I belted out my line with the loudest, most shrew-like voice I could muster, a noise that couldn’t even be considered singing.
I scrunched my face in displeasure and shook my wooden spoon, then grabbed a big silver bowl and stirred while we continued singing. Three more measures…two…one—
“You call this bacon?” Again with the grizzly face, but I heaved a sigh of relief. Both of my lines were done, and on time.
Two months before, I thought I’d never make Kim happy during rehearsals. Not loud enough. A beat too late. Not surly enough.
We finished with a flourish, and Mariah and I climbed down the ladder to get ready for our next scene. We approached them all with the same trepidation.
After the first weekend of shows, I asked Kim how she felt about our performance.
“It was magical,” she said with a grin, her eyes lighting up.
My heart leapt. To me, her approval meant as much as the sold-out house and uproarious applause.
I credit Kim for my love and passion for theatre, especially excellent performances. She taught me so much. There’s nothing wrong with hard work to put on production worthy of a standing ovation.
But in real life, creating a magical, stage-perfect façade destroys body and soul. Striving to make people like us, to be accepted, eventually wears us down until our own light barely shines.
I’ve blogged before about my turnaround a few years ago, when God came to me and asked me to trust Him with my story. It was a life-changing moment that gave me permission to be who He created, so I wouldn’t have to work so hard to be what I thought people expected me to be.
Have you been there, friend? It’s exhausting. We lie and tell ourselves that we’re pursuing excellence, but we wear our health down and waste precious time worrying if we’ll ever be good enough or do enough.
If you’re waiting for permission to lay down the perfectionism and performance mentality, consider this your official endorsement. Today is a great day to start the process. Learning to live as your true self takes a bit of patience, so be gentle with your self-talk.
As you get to know God (not the man behind the curtain, but the One who created you with all your talents, passions, and quirks), you’ll see that spiritual growth comes naturally with a relationship.
Throw out the long list of rules.
Forget the choreography and the lyrics.
Enjoy spontaneous bursts of singing and dancing.
Save the performance for the stage.
Do you feel burdened by others’ expectations, both explicit and perceived? What ways does your life resemble a well-rehearsed stage production?