07 12 / 2012

(I wrote this a few years ago, but the blog we hosted it on is long gone, so I thought I’d share it here)

Dear Tulsa Ballet,

Thank you.  Over 25 years ago you gave me an incredible gift.  Your touring company came to my small Kansas town and I got to be in your Nutcracker production.  I was actually in the production twice – once in 1983 and again in 1985.  In 1983, I was 8 years old and I played an angel.  I loved the beautiful costume. I remember one of the costume crew pricked her finger on a pin while she was helping me and I remember the bright blood on the beautiful white gown.  She saw my horrified look, laughed, told me that “spit always gets out blood,” and sure enough, it came right out.  

But it’s really the second time, when I was 10, that I remember most vividly.  I played a little boy at Clara’s party (an upside of a really unfortunate haircut.)  I remember the audition, how nervous I was. I remember the day my mom called to find out if I had gotten a part.  And how she told me that the roles of the children were the “best” parts – because I had to learn a real dance, not just “look cute in a mouse costume.” In retrospect, she was probably, wisely, trying to head off any second thoughts I had about playing a boy in a show full of beautiful dresses. 

But I loved my part and I took it very seriously.  I remember the rehearsals in the big dance studio at the university, how professional it felt.  I remember my brown corduroy suit and my black ballet shoes.  I remember how tough the teachers were, how we had to sit with one leg crossed underneath and one knee up – at attention – while we were waiting for our turn.  I remember mastering the hand over hand grapevine.  I remember waiting backstage and being in awe of the professional dancers – real ballerinas.  I remember how hard they worked.  I remember the hush of the audience, the music, the smell and the aliveness of being on stage.

I learned so much from those experiences – about art, about hard work and discipline, about confidence and pride, and about theater magic.  Those things have informed my whole life and certainly the work I want to make in the world.

I’m not sure I realized how important and formative those experiences were to me, until this year, watching a beautiful production of the Nutcracker in Minneapolis, with my daughter sitting on my lap. Afterwards I told her, “you know, Mama was in the Nutcracker when she was a little girl”  “Oh,” she breathed, “I want to do that.”