My favorite gift this holiday season did not come in a gift bag, it wasn’t wrapped in printed paper, and it wasn’t even under the tree this year. It didn’t even cost that much. The best gift this season was getting to sit next to my five-year-old cousin as he saw his first play.
There was some debate in the family about bringing him to the play at all because he’s five and the play ran just under two hours. But from the moment we got to the theatre, he was excited, engaged and had a million questions. No matter how many shows I work on and see, I still feel that same excitement inside, and to see that on my little cousin’s face when we walked in the theatre was so special. All through the performance, he was focused on the play, laughed with the rest of the audience at the genius moments of comedy, and repeated funny lines to me the same way the actors said them.
I loved answering his million questions, and when he found out I used to work at this theatre company, he had a hundred more. Our seats were right under the stage management booth, and he listened closely as I told him about all the jobs a stage manager does, and described the booth. “How do you get in there?” “Where is the stage manager?” “Is there a ladder?” “What else is up there?”
Then: “Can we go up there?”
When I was an intern, I loved giving tours of the theatre to school groups and families. It was one of my favorite parts of my job because of my own curiosity as a young person discovering theatre and how it works. Like me, my cousin wanted to know how everything worked, and he wanted to see it for himself. So after the play I took him and his ten-year-old brother up to the booth (the same booth in which I called my first show as a professional stage manager), and they got to see part of my world.
As theatre-makers know, showing is always more effective than telling. As important as it is to be able to speak about my work, I get tired of trying to explain what I do and why I do it. As the sole professional theatre artist in the family, it meant so much to show my cousins a small part of the theatre world. And in seeing a play together, I don’t need to give a lengthy explanation of what I do because they experienced it for themselves. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.”
Next time you go see a play, let yourself externalize all of these internal sparks of excitement.
Talk about what you see on stage and what might happen in the play.
Live in the moment.
Ask your million questions.