I have apparently been on a reading spree this weekend. I finished 2 books entirely and have started a third. In fact in the last week, I have read all of 4 books and started a new one. Reading comes in fits and spurts at this point in my life. When I read, I devour anything in front of me. And then I don’t read for a while. It works for me right now.
So one of the books I read this week, Unnaturally Green by Felicia Ricci, really hit me in a way that I didn’t expect. The story is a memoir about her experience with being Elphaba (Wicked Witch of the West) in the musical Wicked – her first professional theater gig and how once she had the dream role, she started to question her choice of profession.
As many of you know, I once dreamed of Broadway and musical theater and ultimately didn’t go that route. I don’t regret it as honestly, I could not have lived that life. But a part of me will always regret that I didn’t try harder. I didn’t stick my neck out a little for that dream. And while I will always LOVE musical theater, in the end, my dad was right – it was a hobby that I sort of outgrew.
What is so interesting about this book to me is that I could see myself in Ms Ricci’s story. Let me explain.
She auditioned for the role of an understudy to Elphaba. That meant she would perform in the chorus of the show unless she was needed. But as an understudy, you are technically the #3 Elphaba in the show. She was then was “promoted” to Standby Elphaba. That means she would literally sit backstage and do nothing during the show in case she was needed as Elphaba and was the #2. Oh and by the way – her first night as a standby – she had to go on!
In total, she played Elphaba on stage 40 times before the show closed (this production was in San Francisco). And each time she had terrible anxiety, questioned her own ability to sing what she calls the “Death Songs” – seriously you have to be a wizard to sing those 8 shows a week – and by the end, she questioned her commitment to this being her life.
And that is where I and Ms. Ricci found common ground. I love to sing. I can’t tell you how it feels to open my mouth and let go. It is a form of expression that I can’t describe. I feel the most “myself” when I am singing. But it brings with it some side effects that I can’t let go of. For the last 10 years, I get terrible stage fright when I have to sing by myself (I will say I feel “safe” in some places but they are few and far between). I don’t have a lot of confidence when I sing most things (I know I can sing, but I doubt myself a LOT). And the worst part for me, the part that has always been the hardest, is I can’t stand to hear people talking about it after – and I can’t bear to think that no one cared enough to talk about it. It is a catch-22 I can’t get past. All of these things made me question my commitment to singing years ago and my ability to do this as a profession.
This, in part, is why singing at the church became my main place to sing. It was a “safe” place for me. A place where on your worst day, someone would tell you that you sounded beautiful. Where the smiling faces in the crowd were encouraging – not really just for you but because you were relaying a message to them they wanted to hear. For me, it took the pressure off me as they didn’t care who sang it – they wanted the Word. I love that about singing at church. It is not about me. It’s about Him.
The “it’s not about me” part is also what I love about Praise teams. I am not the focus. That is comforting to me. Ironically, I don’t feel that way in choirs. Not that it is about me there – but I don’t feel moved by the music as much and it is a lot of work for me to worry about blending (big mouth here has to really work at it), vowel pronunciation, cut offs and entrances, etc. I have a lot of anxiety about choirs these days.
So here I am – in my final months in Orange – with a LOT on my plate over the next few months. And I have to decide if I want to sing during this time. And that is where Ms. Ricci and I connect again. I have decisions to make about how this fits – or doesn’t fit – into my current life. Is this who I am or is it just a part of me that doesn’t need to do it to be happy? And what happens in the next chapter of my journey?