I think it was Charlotte's Web. I don't remember how old I was. Though not very. I can't recall details about the show but I know that I liked it very much. And then there was Little House on the Prairie. I was in elementary school, maybe second grade, and I kept the program, stuffed in a box under my day bed, for years. I'd pull it out and pour over the biographies of the young actors, remembering the scenery, the lights, the way it smelled, the sound of the children's voices as they delivered their lines.
There were many, many more shows throughout elementary school, junior high and high school. But it wasn't until my senior year that I saw a Broadway (tour) show. I was dating a boy called Jesse Tov and I just googled him and it seems that he turned into the big deal we all knew he would. If it hadn't been for the fact that he was a Jewish atheist--or maybe agnostic, I'm not quite sure--I might have made him marry me the day I turned 18.
But let me back up for a second.
I first met this boy in the eighth grade. He was in my history class and he corrected our ancient teacher. At least, he seemed ancient at the time. In reality he was probably 60. It turned out that Jesse was right. Our teacher was wrong. I loved my teacher so, naturally, I held contempt for Jesse. He was ridiculously brilliant. I found that annoying. In the 11th grade he aced his SATs. Perfect score. I never had a great deal of experience with Jesse until my senior year of high school. Before that year he just managed to annoy me from afar with his genius. In 12th grade, I found myself in AP Government with him. And it's because of him that I pulled a solid B up to an A- and saved my 3.98 GPA. Why he helped me, I may never know.
Why he asked me to go on a date with him is even more confusing to me.
It only dawned on me this very evening that we were exactly like The Big Bang Theory's Leonard and Penny. If Leonard was a lot taller and Penny was a lot less pretty that is. But that look on Penny's face whenever Leonard talks about his work, yeah, that's pretty much how it was.
I still remember trying to decide what to wear and wondering if it was some kind of prank. Harvard bound atheist/agnostic boys don't usually go around asking Point Loma Nazarene University bound Christian girls out on dates. I was really kind of positive that it was some kind of dare where he'd ask me intellectual questions I couldn't answer while secretly filming me as I squirmed.
As it turns out, somehow, it wasn't.
We spent a lot of the summer of 1999 together. And the reason I would have maybe married him on the spot if he'd believed in my Jesus is because that guy SERIOUSLY KNEW HOW TO TAKE A GIRL ON A DATE.
He introduced me to quaint theatres in San Diego. He taught me about gelato, a lesson for which I will always be grateful. He taught me about Indian food, a lesson for which I will always be not so grateful. And he took me to my very first Broadway show.
I had never before been in the San Diego Civic Theater and he not only took me inside of it, he didn't even make me walk up any stairs. Instead he marched me right through the Orchestra section and sat me in the seventh row. They were, to date, the very best seats I have ever had at any show ever in my life. Period. The end. I did not know then what I know now. Those seats were ex(stinkin')pensive. In the two or three hours that followed, the world may as well have melted away. Because I saw theatre like I had never seen it before. I saw it as an art form that was so grand, so huge, so remarkable, that the acting bug I'd already been bit by managed to burrow into my very soul and I had the single thought that I could not live without theatre.
I was dramatic.
Because OF COURSE I can live without theatre. But the question--more articulated in these passing of years--is, why would I want to? Creation. Suspension. Direction. Choices. Real. Make believe. Glamour. Guts. Talent. Sweat. Joy. How could I choose never to go back? I couldn't. Because the lights and the curtains and the thumping pulse of it all would pull me.
And, really, it was all there long before Jesse Tov took me to see Sunset Boulevard. I'd performed lead roles on my high school stage by then. He had little to do with my love for the theatre. But he had everything to do with opening my eyes to what the theatre can accomplish and what magic we can find when afforded the chance to see it.
For that, I might have married him. Except that we were both teenagers who would soon find themselves on opposite coasts. And all my attempts to reach him with evangelical Christianity were failed ones. I have a feeling that if I ever were to run into Jesse, he would still treat me as he did then, as though I were some kind of intellectual equal when that could not be further from the truth. I know that a professor at Harvard would never find himself reading the ramblings of a thirtysomething pastor's wife, but if, by some chance, he ever were to happen upon this corner of the Internet, I would like to thank him for treating me well in those summer months before we both left to become who we are. And I would like to say that my life is infinitely richer for what he taught me about theatre.
When my first child was born I can remember looking at him, when he was still quite small, and dreaming of introducing him to theatre. Small, low budget productions. Church plays. Soundtracks, even. And, one day, when he was not so very big, a grand, Broadway show. That day has come. Tonight, I will take my son to his first Broadway show.
He asked me a few days ago if it was at the same theatre that he saw a little children's production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The theatre was rundown with paint peeling off the walls, broken chairs and a stage fifteen feet from wing to wing. It was art. And I love that he still talks about that show and how wonderful it was. Because that's the incredible pulse of performance art. But tonight, my son will hear a full orchestra. He will see things unfolding before him that, until now, he hasn't dreamed possible. He will watch real people fly.
And it will seem like magic...