If I tell you that my favorite album of 1987 was REM's Document, don't believe me. While Document may have become my favorite album of 1987 in 1988, during the actual year of 1987 in Athens, Georgia, I was rocking out to the Broadway recording of Andrew Lloyd Weber's Cats. Love Tractor may have been rehearsing down the street, but I didn't hear them. I was too busy choreographing routines to "Jellico Cat" on my roller skates in the driveway.
I may tell you otherwise, but there's evidence against me: an electric blue trapper keeper with a Cats playbill tucked into its plastic cover. I saw Cats, my first Broadway show, on a brief family vacation to New York City, in which my gay second cousin and his "roommate" ushered us around town. I glimpsed Kathleen Turner dining al fresco in the Village, and desperately wished to trade places with that gorgeous Puerto Rican girl sitting on her stoop with big gold hoop earrings and a t-shirt falling off her shoulder. Did I mention it was 1987?
That playbill was a symbol of everything I wanted to be, so I cut off the cover and stuck it on my trapper keeper, but it was also the first and only playbill I ever destroyed. The rest remain in a large plastic crate in my basement. And not just playbills from Broadway shows but programs from Off-Broadway, the West End, and many a sundry college production. I give away books as soon as I read them, but play programs, apparently, are forever.
Recently, the Professor and I cleaned out the basement, and he urged me to get rid of my collection, or at least cull it down a bit. I never look at them, they're mostly advertisements, after all, but I refused, and when he asked me why, I simply said: the children may want them when they're older.
Which is a bald-faced lie.
My children don't want my playbills, and I'm afraid never will. I cherished that Cats playbill, because it represented my fantasy of living in New York, wearing big gold hoop earrings and working in the theater, a dream that in 1987 seemed as unreachable as Mars, as unlikely as singing cats. But to my children, New York City is that place they visit every year, that place where Mommy works. And the theater? Well, that's as ordinary as the mailman.
Lizzie saw her first Broadway show, Newsies, at age six, and when I asked her what she thought, she shrugged and said it "had too many boys." And when my friend, who was in Newsies, brought us onstage afterwards, I got a little thrill out of it, I admit, but Lizzie just whispered, "can we ride the carousel now?"
It's sobering to realize my dreams are not my children's, even when they're exceptionally cool dreams, like walking across a Broadway stage. I expected them to at least appreciate the wonder of it. I really thought one of my girls would unearth that crate of playbills one day and declare it a treasure trove, as I would have, but I'm afraid it's doomed to have as much special meaning to them as my Father's old Insurance and Risk Management Journals did to me.
My feelings are more complicated than merely wishing my children would share my love of theater, however, because what I really want is for my children to love the theater, to appreciate all their access, but have absolutely no desire to pursue it as a career. Like generations before, the Professor and I urge them, "Be an engineer, be a doctor, but whatever you do, do not become a philosopher! Do not become a playwright! Those paths are lined with heartache, despair and no benefits!" To Lizzie, who loves drawing as much as life itself, we say, "it's fine to be an artist but get a teaching degree as well!" We produce a river of sensible rhetoric in our home, thinking somehow this will shape them.
But of course this rhetoric is probably as useless as my crate of playbills in the basement. My children see that their father is a philosopher. Their mother is a playwright. These things are neither extraordinary nor magical; neither difficult nor unlikely. They are just ordinary, our everyday worksongs.
What do your children think about your life in the theater? What do you want them to think?