This last week presented an odd combination of stage fright scenarios for me. Oddly, the things that used to scare me no longer bother me at all, and the things I used to do without breaking a sweat tied me up in knots this week. As long as I can remember, I have been on stage, back stage, building the stage – you name a preposition that goes with stage, and I’ve probably been there as a dancer, a singer, an actor or a techie. All through my childhood and into high school, I was a dancer and a singer. I even managed to pull off a few solos without too much quaking of the boots. I remember doing a capella auditions for All-State Choir and not really worrying about much other than finding the lucky audition dress and pronouncing all of the foreign language songs correctly. Of course, I was a little nervous, but I don’t remember panicking.
In college, I was a theatre minor, so I had to audition and act on a somewhat regular basis. I spent most of my time on various tech crews, but I was still required to audition for every show. Singing and dancing were no big deal; acting, on the other hand, had been slightly terrifying for me since high school. I never felt comfortable in character, and I had a hard time getting into character without feeling like I was playing dress up somehow. Now I know that I really didn’t know myself well enough to slip someone else’s mask over my own character. My favorite classes have always been the subjects that were the hardest: AP History, Composition with Dr. Metress, Chinese and Hebrew… My required acting class should have been in that list, but it always scared me to death: I knew that the professor would not like anything I did, and I couldn’t ever figure out how to improve my skills. You can study harder to learn a language, but acting is tougher to study since it relies on experience as much as skill. I finished the semester extremely proud of my B because I knew I was at best a mediocre actor. I had found my niche as a director and a tech grunt.
Fast forward about a decade to this week. Palm Sunday morning the church choir presented a worship musical, and I got to be a part of the praise team that sings out front. No big deal, right? I’ve been singing in small groups in front of people for decades now. Wrong. I don’t remember ever being so scared to sing in my life. It’s funny now, but that Sunday morning, my throat was dry, my hands were shaking, and my stomach was grumbling its anxiety. There is no logical reason for me to have been afraid except for the presence of a microphone directly in front of me. I knew the music, I was singing with a group with the whole choir and orchestra behind me, and I was shaking in my clogs. And right now, it makes me laugh to think of how tightly I had to grip the mic so that it didn’t shake out of my hand. (Actually, it made me laugh to myself even while it was happening, but I was still helpless to stop it.)
Thursday night, we finished a two-night run of Journey to the Cross, which was a hybrid multimedia/drama production based loosely on the stations of the cross. It was a walk-through event with a clip from The Passion of the Christ at each stop along with a monologue from a character in the story acting as an eyewitness. The sets were well done, and we had a great cast of actors and supporting church members to put it all together. I played Mary, and I performed my monologue in front of around 500 people in total. There were something like 30 small groups, so we all performed the monologues at least 30 times in two nights. Based on my acting experience in college, this was the event that should have scared me. And yet… my biggest fear was not getting all the actors made up on time or the special effects makeup coming off before the end of the night. Acting in front of hundreds of people? No big deal. I even mangled a few of the lines and recovered without panicking or alerting the audience to my mistakes.
I’d like to say that it’s a testament to the vast improvement in my stagecraft since college. While there’s no doubt I’m a much better actress now that I’ve lived more of life and come to know myself far better than I did in college, I’m no dummy. There were easily dozens of people praying for this production on a daily basis. And I learned last week that one group was praying specifically for my role as Mary. There is certainly no doubt whatsoever that I was never worried because of the effect of those prayers. God honors the work that we offer up to him, and there were a lot of sacrifices involved for a lot of people to make this production possible. But most of all, God honors the hearts that submit to him, and we could not have been this successful without those folks who committed to pray for every aspect of Journey to the Cross. The experience of playing Mary is not one I’ll ever forget, but not because it was a good role or because it was exciting to get to play any part on stage: this experience reminded me how much the Church (not just Green Valley) is a unified body. We each have a role to play, and we each are a necessary part in the Body of Christ. We can’t all be heads and eyes – some of us are hands, feet, or even armpits. Whatever we are designed to be, there is a gap that must be filled when any part of the body refuses to act. I won’t pretend that I’m never part of that gap, but I know I served my purpose in this production. I thoroughly enjoy working backstage – being the hands and feet of a production without having to be the face of it. It was an honor to be a face this time and still know how much work behind the scenes went into putting the actors out onto the stage. It was also a huge reminder that I am not as consistent in my prayer life as I am called to be. It was a humbling reminder of how tiny each of us is in the grand scheme of things, yet how great we are when we function as one body.