12 June 2016
Tonight, I thought about all the kids who endured a news cycle about the shooting in Orlando, then watched the 70th Tony Awards, and will tomorrow begin their first session at Stagedoor Manor, and I wept.
Theatre is so intensely powerful, a holy, beautiful space, the thing that connects me to the soul of the world, a place of expression and acceptance and celebration. Tonight's Tonys shattered barriers and revelled in the plurality of experiences that feed every story that comes to the stage, begging to be told. It is in theatre that so many of us have found our home, and tonight, that could not have been more clear.
I spent the best summers of my life at Stagedoor Manor in the Catskills, a camp that was everything a theatre kid could dream of and more. This isn't a love letter to Loch Sheldrake; believe me, I could wax lyrical for page upon page about what Stagedoor means to me. The staff in full costumes greeting you with a "Welcome home!" on the first day of camp. The 8-part harmonies on "Happy Birthday" in the dining room at lunch. Crowding around any one of the scattered anyone-can-play pianos with the sheet music you just requested from the office, only to find 18 kids singing with you, silently agreeing on which parts they'll be doing.
moment of the first Harry Potter film, while the music swells under Harry's final line before leaving school: "I'm not going home... not really."
Watching the 70th Tony Awards the day after the horrific, hate-filled massacre in Orlando that took place in a place of sanctuary and acceptance, during a month dedicated to identity, belonging, and pride is, in itself, enough to produce a mess of emotions. The thing that really got me, though, was the realization that the next morning, 240 kids would descend on my theatre camp for the first session of the summer.
As a young actress, knowing my place was in theatre and my calling was to the stage, to be a part of this intense, unfathomable magic, watching him directly address me... well...
journal entry, 9 June 2013:
"I openly wept at this. 6 minutes in to the broadcast on CBS, and I started sobbing.
I’m tearing up, my throat is closing up right now, running his voice saying that through my mind. I can’t even express how much this simple 15 seconds spoke to me, down to my core, straight to the very heart of my being,
telling me that this is going to happen.
That this is me.
That this is why I exist in this world."
Tonight's opening number, three years later, brought me to uncontrollable tears. Watching James Corden's childhood self realize, in the balcony of a theatre, that the people on stage could be him, that he could do what those people were doing for a living is something that, as I re-run it through my mind and try to elegantly express the intensity of emotions I felt while watching it, is making me sob, teary eyes and rubber-band mouth, right now. I don't know what else to say. Maybe I will in a week or a month, when I've held it in my heart long enough to make some sense out of the cavalcade of feelings it engenders, but for right now, all I can really say is that I've tried multiple times to elucidate, and all I can come up with is that for this whole opening number, I saw the purest, most inarticulable representation of my heart and soul on stage. I saw someone put into words the things at the very core of my person. I will never be the same.
James Corden and every single Tony award nominee for a performance category spoke directly to me and to every single kid who wants to go into theatre, and said,
"THIS COULD BE YOU."
To hear that, and experience that, in the wake of the violence in Orlando, at this time of crisis, to hear from this community that means so much to me the enduring message of power and love and expression and pride that is the cornerstone of theatre...
My friends and I, watching this Tonys broadcast, kept clutching each other and weeping, overcome with the resolute power of community that theatre is for us.
Looking around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now, I was so overcome, especially thinking about the kids about to go to theatre camp for the first time tomorrow morning.
The ones Neil and James were addressing on national television. The ones spending tonight at the Days Inn in Liberty, NY, anxiously picking their audition song and worrying over the part they'll get, the classes they want to take, whether people will like them. The ones about to find out that theatre camp is like Oz, and the second you step off the bus, everything is suddenly in colour. The ones about to find out that the answer to "what time is it" is only ever going to be:
The ones who still have a few summers to go before they figure out parts of themselves, before they come to camp confidently embracing every part of their identity and their person. The ones about to find their Island of Misfit Toys and revel in it. The ones who might be going to the safest place they've ever been. The kids about to start their first session of the summer at a yellow hotel from the 1960s with forest green metal stairs and a pool almost no one uses in Loch Sheldrake, NY. The place I've written my resume and my name, my wishes and memories and messages, in every colour of Sharpie they make.
The love and openness and celebration that our community, the theatre community, has always been built on and thrived on and insisted on is waiting to envelop them, and will always be waiting with open arms. The unstoppable, immutable force of love that drives our art encompasses and emboldens us to shout our truths from the stages and from the rooftops is waiting to welcome them, and tonight, I felt so full of it that I wept. I wept when I thought of the kids about to embark on their Stagedoor journeys, the kids who are a little different at their schools or in their families or with their friends, who are about to discover the number of people like them in this world, the number of ways of being and expressing, the amount of unconquerable love that exists in theatre.
The Orlando shooting shook communities to their core. It was an act of terror, meant to suppress and separate, to subjugate and silence. I thought so much about impressionable young people, receiving messages of hatred about themselves or others, who have endured this news, who have seen and heard that no matter how far we have come, acts of violence that directly targeted a haven of expression and celebration in the LGBTQIA+ community during PRIDE month are still very much a presence in our world. But seeing the Tonys, the way the theatre community came together to nationally dedicate their biggest night to standing with those affected, and to sending a message of irrepressible love and transcendent strength, to look at every person affected by this and in our theatre community and to say YOU ARE NOT ALONE, AND THEY WILL NEVER WIN. I cannot think of single broadcast more necessary than the Tony Awards on the night immediately following that horrific, violent act. And then to think of the kids, targeted and terrified, who after seeing that broadcast get to spend their next three weeks in an oasis of acceptance and expression, finding themselves in the place that I and so many of my closest friends found themselves, is so indescribably powerful to me. From Orlando, to the vital expressions and outpourings of love and support at the 70th Tony Awards, to the safehaven so many theatre kids are about to experience tomorrow, was a microcosm of the enduring strength I and so many others derive from theatre and the theatre community.
These thoughts are so scattered because my emotions are, too. Part of me truly does not know what to say. I haven't processed Orlando. I don't know how to let it in and process it. I'm tired. I'm so tired and I want to be overwhelmingly sad and I want to be filled with righteous anger and I want to FEEL it but I'm not and I don't and I can't because all I feel is tired. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. But at the same time, the thing I and so many people I know needed tonight was what the Tonys gave us.
I'll let Lin-Manuel Miranda play us out with a 14-line articulation of the heart of tonight:
My wife’s the reason anything gets done
She nudges me towards promise by degrees
She is a perfect symphony of one
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda