When she didn’t get the starring role in this year’s school musical, she was heartbroken, but not entirely surprised. She knew from the moment “The Sound of Music” was announced that, despite her talent and experience, there was a more obvious choice for Maria.
I was mad. Bratty and protective, I urged her to quit, to SHOW THEM. “Mom,” she explained, “that’s not how it works.” She resolved to spend the weekend processing her rejection — she chewed the available scenery around the edges of anger, jealousy, inadequacy, all the while reminding herself and me that’s not what it’s about.
“What is it about then?” I wondered. “Why would you make yourself so vulnerable (while being so worthy) and get nothing? And then show up anyway?” Because, in theater, that’s what you do. You show up. No small roles, the show must go on, blah blah blah. I narrowed my eyes at the clichés.
She was cast in a small but important role in the show: Sister Berthe, the disapproving, imperious nun. Lu was a natural. She was more commanding and compelling than anyone on stage (in my bratty, protective opinion). And, as I later learned, she lent her musical talent, behind the scenes, to writing and arranging the nuns’ harmonies, giving such weight and beauty to a large part of the show. She was a leader.
After the show, I loitered near the front of the auditorium, waiting as she said tearful goodbyes to the show, her theater family, her childhood, this moment in time. Many of the people I encountered remarked on Lu’s talent: the show-stealing, their wish to see more of her, why didn’t she have a bigger part. I felt proud (and vindicated, still stacking chips against her loss of the lead).
Then one of the directors, a friend, gave such sweet acknowledgement of Lu’s contributions to the show, her selflessness and leadership, that I found myself trying not to weep in a middle school auditorium. I watched the kids hugging each other and crying, so proud of what they’d made, so threaded together in their vulnerability and effort. I saw a new layer in their endeavor and Lu’s role in it.
Later, I tried to talk to Lu about what I’d observed, careful not make my praise be a reflection of what I saw from other people. But it was. Though I know her heart, the “selfless leader” is a different version of the grouchy mess that inhabits a quarter of this house.
Finally, we talked in earnest. She told me how thrilled she was to be part of the show, how proud of her role onstage and off. She entertained a small amount of bratty dishing on my part, but was quickly generous in celebrating the shared victory of the production. I heard this self-possessed, emotionally intelligent, powerful woman-child…and a burst of stage clichés, which I will spare you, flared in my brain. She is my hero.