This story is a little sappy. Go with me here!
Besides being a choreographer, I am also a performer. I have a B.F.A in Musical Theater from Emerson College in Boston MA. While I was in school, I never really saw myself becoming a theater educator or choreographer. Sadly, I think a little part of me thought I would rarely be out of work as a performer just because I wanted it badly enough so I never bothered to think about any other career path. Well, that pipe dream ended real fast. However, my inability to book a performing gig led me to find a passion for teaching and choreographing I never knew I had. So in some ways, I am thankful to everyone in the world for not casting me in their shows because now I found something else I love too.
In the fall, an opportunity presented itself for me to perform in a professional, local production of CATS as a role I have always dreamed of playing. This being my second professional performing job since graduation, I was over the moon exciting. The best part was that the rehearsal process and show fell at a time when I only had to miss a few rehearsals for the youth theater.
My kids were all pumped for me and supportive, as I always knew they would be when this situation came up. At this particular time, the older group of kids (my favorite group of kids) were doing Spring Awakening. A show that made me extremely uncomfortable to watch them perform but also gave me some of my proudest moments as a teacher. I watched a lot of them become adults during that show and it is an experience that made me adore them more than I already did. The show was also the best youth theater show I have choreographed but I will never tell them that.
The entire weekend of Spring Awakening I was in performances for CATS. Then it was Christmas and CATS closed the weekend directly before the New Year. As much as all the kids jabbered on about coming to see the show, I knew they wouldn’t. I secretly wanted them to be there, to show them that I can be a performer as well as a choreographer but I never expected any of them to get their parent to drive them to the show, spend the money to see the show etc.
Closing Night of CATS was electric. The house was completely sold out. ‘T’, ‘A’ were there. My best friend from college drove in from Philly to see me perform. I was losing steam though. We all were. I mean, 7 performances of CATS in 4 days… we were lucky we were all still standing. Unfortunately, all of my big stuff was towards the middle of Act 2 including the sexy, belty number I sang. Well, I am facing upstage while everyone else is running off and the second I turn around to begin the song, I see a familiar face towards the back of the audience. Next to that face, another familiar pair of glasses starring at me with a HUGE grin across his face. Next to him another one and another one and another one. I found whatever little energy I had left and threw it on stage. It was terribly awkward doing hip thrusts and body rolls knowing my kids were in the audience but hey, they were doing Spring Awakening. At least I wasn’t faking having sex on stage.
After the show came the screaming, the chanting, the general overwhelming excitement of teenagers. They all had a slight look of amazement on their faces, as if they had just seen Santa Claus go up the chimney. I am not one to get all warm and fuzzy with the kids themselves. I love them dearly and they know that but I try to keep my distance as best I can, as to not cross the line between teacher and friend. However, that night, when ten of them showed up to see me in CATS, when they chose to be supportive of their choreographer instead of going to the movies, or hanging at someones house, when they made the effort to drive a half hour to an hour to see the show, when they paid money (probably their parents money) and when they all proceeded to cheer for me during bows, yeah… then I was warm and fuzzy.
Then two of my kids pulled me to the side. They were the leads of Spring Awakening and two kids I have known for quite a long time. From behind one of their backs he pulls out this adorable orange and white stuffed cat. It was adorable and sweet. But I responded more to the looks on their faces than to the gift itself. They both had the biggest smiles on their faces, as if they were really proud of this gift and even more so, really proud of me. I looked at them and this perfect little stuffed animal and thought about all the teachers that ever touched my life in any way. All the teachers that made me think about my future, my life, who I wanted to be when I grew up. All the teachers that inspired me to work hard, to perform, to continue working towards a goal and to not give up for anything. We all have teachers like that. Teachers who we want to thank a million times over for all they did without ever knowing it. Looking at this little cat stuffed animal and the look on these kids faces made me think for the first time, Could I be one of those teachers? Do I actually have an effect on these kids besides the fact that I can teach them how to do a box step?
‘Jellyfish’ is the cats name. A little inside joke between me and the two wonderful kids who gave him to me. I am a little old for stuffed animals but I am not ashamed to admit that I sleep with him every night as a reminder to be a good teacher, a good person, and a role model for every student of mine. You never know the effect you are having on the kids you teach. You never know who is in the audience waiting to surprise you with a stuffed cat after your show!