“Everyone ready?” Silly question to ask because I already know the answer. What is it they say though…Fake it till you make it?

I’m met with deafening silence.

Then crickets…Well, not really crickets, but if this were a movie there would be crickets.

As I look around the circle of faces, holding hands on the stage, I see the furtive glances of unsure eyes. Say something…I can hear myself tell myself.

“Everyone take a moment to close your eyes and take a deep breath.” The faces do.

“You can do this. You’ve worked really hard. You’ve got this.” I try an re-assure.

“What if we forget our lines?” One of the faces asks. It’s a legitimate question and likely would be more accurate if it had been phrased like this, “What do we do when we forget lines?” There’s a part of me wanting to go back in time. There are things we could do differently. Yet, here we are, ten minutes from the audience entering the house to take their seats.

“Improv.” I smile. Fake it till you make it. “You’re right. It might happen. You might drop a line.” I intentionally let that linger in the air. “You know the script. You know the story, you know your lines. [At least two of those are true.] If you drop a line, take a breath and improv. You know the story and where it goes so improv your way back to what you know.”

The eyes looking back at me don’t seem convinced. Yeah, me too, folks. Me too. “You’ve got this.” Is it a lie if I want to believe it?] You’ve worked hard. Just be in the moment and tell the story.”

The doors open, the audience takes their seats, the lights dim and the story begins. Of course, on this particular night the story is a train wreck. A glorious, spontaneous, once-in-a-lifetime, magical train wreck. I spend the first act of the show vacillating between dejected face buried in my palms and riotous laughter.

Just when I come to terms with the joyful horror that is this show, just when I relax every so slightly, just when I begin to imagine maybe this can be salvaged…it happens.

A botched entrance.

A dropped line followed by…

…”What the f***!”

I didn’t just hear that, did I? I couldn’t have. No, no, no, I’m imagining it…this is Catholic high school theater.

The pin drop silence from the audience and the wide-eyed frozen look of horror from the actors tells the story.

Well, this is going to be a thing. My head slumps back into my palms.

Eventually the lights fade out. What was advertised as a coherent, slap-stick comedy, with a supposed plot concludes. The actors bow and what-we-just-witnessed-and-subjected-a-paying-audience-too finally ends.

After the show, I brave heading into the lobby to kind of fly-on-the-wall hear what the audience has to say, and make an abject, profuse apology to my principal and boss.

Who was at the show.

As the audience are mingling in the lobby and making their way to the exits, there is a lot of chatter. Most of it, well…almost exclusively all of it circles around a single, improv’d word. A four letter word beginning with the letter ‘F’.

There was of course, “That is the most offensive thing I’ve ever heard from the mouth of children! I need to wash out my ears!” [That wasn’t the exact comment, I’m taking artistic license here,] to, “THAT WAS THE MOST INCREDIBLE THING I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” [No artistic license with that one.]

If anything, it was an experience those of us who were involved in will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

“Okay, so what’s the point, Shelton?”

Sometimes we f*** up.

“Really, Shelton? That’s where you’re going with this?”

Yes.

That is where I’m going with this… 🙂

Sometimes we f*** up. That’s theater. That’s life.

What we do with that f*** up. That’s where the magic is. That’s where growth happens.

There’s a lot of pressure in theater to ‘succeed’. Heck, there’s a lot of pressure in high school to ‘succeed’. To be ‘perfect’. To do everything, and be everything for everyone including ourselves.

#theaterlifehack. You can’t.  You can’t be perfect. You can’t be everything for everyone.

AND.

THAT’S.

OKAY.

You can be you. You can be kind and authentic and grow everyday into a fuller version of who you are and who you are meant to be.

That. Is. Enough.

Love yourself. Love others. Do your best…that’s enough.

And when you do f*** up. Give yourself grace. Do what you can to make amends and use that to be a fuller version of you.

And yes, sometimes in life the most appropriate response might be, “What the f***!” However, on your high school stage in front of your family and friends might not be that place. 🙂

Sincerely,

M. Shelton