Moving On After Les Mis

I’m not going to cry, I said.

It was the last day of our performance of Les Misérables at Rivertowne, and I wasn’t going to cry. Nope. No way. I was good.

That’s exactly what I said right before I watched the last episode of Friends with my best friend back in college. Did I cry?

Like a child.

***

When my husband, Patrick, decided to audition for the role of Jean Valjean back in December, I decided to go with him. You should do it, too, he said. It’s a big show — they need ensemble members. 

I hope I didn’t spit on him when I laughed uproariously in his face.

See, I’m a writer, not a singer. For me, the creative magic happens on paper when I’m completely alone, not when I’m standing in the spotlight in front of hundreds of people. I only sing at church (quietly) and in the car (like a rockstar), and I only ever jokingly sing with Patrick. And I’m most certainly not an actor — I’m highly allergic not only to the spotlight, but to the stage in general, and to ask me to not only sing, but act, dance, and emote as someone other than myself? Might as well ask me to cozy up to a tarantula. Ain’t gonna happen.

But a good friend of ours was also auditioning for the ensemble, and the idea of being among friends — not to mention my husband — was appealing. Still, I decided not to do it.

I did go with Patrick on the day of his audition, though. I mostly wanted to watch from the safety of the audience, where I wouldn’t be in the spotlight and Judy, the director, wouldn’t see me and make me sing against my wishes.

Except she did.

So I sang.

And that was it. I may have been in over my head, but I was in. So began the evening rehearsals after work and the Saturday rehearsals fueled by lots of coffee. It was a large cast, and we grew accustomed to bundling up and huddling together to practice in the dark, drafty theatre, fighting off the frigid January air with blankets, jokes, and lots of singing — even though we sounded like a gaggle of wounded geese back then. But as January rolled into February and February rolled into March, we grew more comfortable with each other and with the roles we were meant to inhabit for the show.

When we finally reached the week before the show (aka “hell week) in April, we were a mess. We were physically exhausted, vocally fried, and emotionally…lots of things. Frustrated, definitely. By that point we had become a family, and even though families always love each other, they don’t always like each other. On top of that, we still had so many kinks to work out within the show itself — wardrobe, lighting, sound, last minute blocking, devising feasible costume changes, and still, somehow, figuring out how to stop stepping on each other during our “One Day More” march, dang it!

Oh, and it seemed like we’d basically forgotten everything we’d learned about singing over the previous few months, too.

Almost every morning I woke up feeling like I could cry from exhaustion. Eighteen-plus hour days running on four hours of sleep and mostly junk food will do that to a person, I guess.

Even though we didn’t seem ready, Patrick assured me it would all come together. It always does, he said. He’s pretty smart, that guy, so I decided to trust him.

Our final dress rehearsal was so full. In every way, it was full — of exhausted singing, sweaty faces, ripped dresses, frustrated yelling (“EXIT STAGE RIIIIGHT!”), nervous tension, silly jokes. Of doubt and tears. Of excitement and hugs.

Of more coffee.

We weren’t ready. But oh, we were so ready.

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I want to say opening night didn’t seem real, but I was too focused to let any of it hit me. Hell, I just wanted to make sure I’d make it onto the stage at the right time in the right clothes. I figured I’d just wing everything else from there.

But as I stood backstage and heard the curtain open for the first time, my heart beat with such force I thought I’d throw it up and spit it out at my feet, not because I was scared, but because I was so freaking ready to get out there and do this story justice. I was so ready to be the farmer’s wife, the factory worker, the whore (yup, the whore), the beggar, the peasant, the wedding guest. I was so ready to stand there among these people who had actually become our family, who I’d laughed and cried and shared more lipstick with than some of my own friends.

Because let’s face it: When you crowd into a narrow “dressing room” hallway with 10+ women of all ages from middle school to near-retirement, and lace each other’s corsets and finger-comb each other’s hair and take endless pictures and give each other water and food and advice about life and be completely absolutely totally ridiculous — even in the throes of all that pressure, frustration, and exhaustion — then you know you’ve found family.

As unprepared as we felt, we opened the show to a packed audience and gave it everything. Everything. We really did. Every single time. We told this story that had become ours, and we told it with such ferocity that every show was packed with people who came to share it with us.

***

As we all stood in a circle and prayed together before our final show (just as we’d done before every show), I didn’t regret a single thing. Not the sore throats, the long rehearsals, the aching feet, the headaches, the late nights, the countless Red Bulls, the cancelled plans, or the last-minute granola bar dinners. I didn’t even regret that it was ending, because even the best things can’t last forever and retain their meaning. But as we stood there and sang and prayed and loved each other, I saw the meaning of Les Mis — the true heart of the story — come to life more than it ever did on stage before an audience: To love another person is to see the face of God.

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And as excited and invested as I was in the show, there was nothing more powerful than sharing the experience with my husband. To be in his element with him instead of watching from the audience? I don’t have words for that. He makes me proud literally every day for one reason or another, but his voice is a gift from God. There were no moments in this show more exhilarating for me than simply standing offstage and listening to him and losing myself in his gift. Every single night, it was all I could do not to jump up next to him after he sang “Bring Him Home” and yell, Did you hear that!? That’s my husband! Listen to him! And somehow he’s mine!

Jean Valjean Les Miserables
Photo Credit: His Glory Creations

It’s like taking a bite of the richest, most delectable dessert you’ve ever had and giving a bite to someone because you can’t keep the goodness to yourself. Try this, you’d say, handing over a forkful of warm, gooey, caramel-drizzled chocolate. You need someone else to know, too, because you can’t have something so incredibly sweet and not give it away.

***

Our last show was incredible. Unlike the first show when I’d been too focused to really take everything in, I finally let myself relax and be. Just be. I didn’t worry about whether or not my face was smudged enough or my hair was teased enough or what would happen if my shoe fell off again. I just got out there with my family and helped them tell our story.

And standing there on stage in front of hundreds of people and hitting that final note with everyone was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.

Now that it’s really over — when I stop long enough to let my mind go there — it hits me with a force so tangible that, for the slightest moment, I lose my breath. I feel like I’m sixteen again and sitting on the floor of my bedroom doing The Ugly Cry because some boy decided he didn’t like me anymore. Is this what it always feels like, ending a show? A loss so great that it seems wrong to answer emails or do laundry or cook dinner, as though the day’s most mundane tasks might erase it all like it never happened?

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I’m trying to look at the positives: I can paint my nails again, I don’t have to take my wedding rings off anymore, I can start replacing energy drinks with multivitamins, I can finally see old friends I’ve been neglecting over the past few months, I can get back in the kitchen instead of eating protein bars and gummy fruit slices for dinner, etc.

But I miss our new family already. I miss our camaraderie, and yeah, I even miss all of our hard work. It gave us purpose, this story. But just because it’s over doesn’t mean we let it go. Now we actually get to start living it out in the “real” world, not just in the safety and comfort of our theatre.

I’d like to think that’s where the real story begins.

<3

8 comments

  1. Susan Wittlake McDowell

    Absolutely beautiful. I’m in tears…again. And I wasn’t even IN this show. lol. <3

  2. Anonymous

    Wow are all the words I have as tears roll down my cheek. You were great on stage, but your words are beyond words!

  3. Anonymous

    Wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Jenne

    So beautiful! I was in an outdoor theatre production called “Worthy Is The Lamb” for 16 years and it was exactly like this every summer. It was my family and home away from home. I’m glad Eden got to experience a little taste of that with Les Miserables. 🙂

  5. judy

    YES!!! Beautiful!! TRUE!!

  6. Meghan Post author

    Thank you so much, Susan!

  7. Meghan Post author

    Thank you, Jenne. Eden was so sweet and fantastic. We absolutely loved having her little soul around! <3

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