I’m on a bus. Well, half a bus. Half an imaginary bus that’s based on a real bus. You understand. You don’t?
Okay. I’ve been lucky enough to join the cast of The Number 14 for its 20th Anniversary Tour. That’s right, this show has been playing all over the world in one place or another for 20 years. In the words of Brian Fellow, “That’s crazy!” It’s sort of a sketch comedy show with masks and singing and lots of physical comedy. It’s a cast of six and we play over 60 characters over the course of two hours. We are running the entire time–except at one point during the second act when I have a bit of a break which I use to perform a backstage dance for my cast mates while I’m wearing only a bra, a pair of flowered stirrup pants and boots–and it’s a wild ride. A sweaty, exhausting, hilarious, delightful ride. I am so lucky to be in it.
I’ve never been a part of a show like this before; one that is so tried and true. Of course, every audience reacts differently and some audiences are quieter than others, filling us with doubt and self-loathing but, overall, this is a show that kills each and every performance. The show itself, no matter who is in it, is great. But on top of that, each of these cast members brings something of themselves, their own nuances and comedic style to the characters that takes everything just that much farther. It’s a great cast full of great actors and a great crew who all happen to be pretty lovely people and I feel very blessed to be traveling with them.
Oh, right, traveling. Yes, this is a tour. So far we have been to a bunch of BC places and will be going to Ottawa for a month, driving to a bunch of smaller Ontario towns, Montreal for a month, Whitehorse, Calgary…all over! But next week we start a run at the Waterfront Theatre in Vancouver and I can’t wait to be home for that time. Because this is hard.
Qualify, qualify, qualify, here I go with the qualifying…I love this show, I love this cast, I love hotel rooms, I love getting to perform for so many audiences and making so many people happy. Every night, at the end of the show, there’s a big finish and the lights go out. There is a second when all is quiet. Then the audience erupts into applause and cheers in the darkness before the lights come up on us for the curtain call. Every night I involuntarily burst into tears at that moment. That moment is everything. That moment is when everything in the world makes sense and I am where I am supposed to be and I am grateful and humbled and know who I am. I reach out for the hands of my cast members to take our bow and breathe in that moment with them. It only lasts a few seconds but it’s what I live for. If you’re a performer, you probably know this feeling. If you’re a plumber, I bet you feel that way when you turn the water back on and twist the tap and give someone a fixed sink and their lives are better for it and you feel good. I’m guessing. At least I hope that for you, plumbers. So that moment is the best and there are so many moments, both on stage and off, that make me happy. Enough qualifying? Okay, good.
It’s also hard. I’m not so good at the traveling. It’s hard to be away from my family and my cats and all that is familiar. It makes me generally anxious but I’m working on just being in the moment and appreciating it. But it’s hard. It’s hard on The Wife. She is doing her best and doing a great job but she would rather I be there to help with some hard stuff that’s going on. It’s hard for the kids. And, of course, because they’re kids, they make it hard for everyone else in return. That’s what kids do. So I wish I could be there to help rather than this trying to help from afar which feels awfully futile most of the time because I know I’m the cause of it being hard. I keep telling myself to enjoy this time, that there’s no point in everyone facing the hard times if I don’t live in this time fully, embracing it. It will not have been worth it. And I’m doing that as best I can. But it’s hard.
It’s hard to have time to think. I never thought I’d say that as I’m always dying for time to think. There is not enough time in my life (yes, yes, through my own doing, I know) and I often long for time to sort some things out in this tiny Winnie the Pooh brain of mine. But when there’s time to think, the thoughts come, and it’s hard. Most of these thoughts right now are of my mum. Being a parent without her around makes me think of her all the time but dealing with a teenager makes me long to be able to talk to her right now. To ask her how she felt, to apologize profusely, to tell her I get it now and to marvel at how she was able to let me find my own way. And everything seems to be conspiring to make my thoughts turn to her. Yesterday in the tour van we drove from Vernon to Valemount–about six hours. Scott (one of the cast–love him) had brought CDs and was playing DJ. Unbeknownst to him, he was providing the soundtrack to my thoughts of my mum and he was unknowingly trying to kill me. What a jerk that guy is. I could hear my mom’s voice singing along, off-key, not caring, to Simon & Garfunkel as we drove around town in her Fiat Spider. She was probably driving me to ballet or figure skating or rehearsals or one of the other opportunities she provided me with that I probably should have appreciated more. Scott put in a John Lennon CD and I could see my mum’s face, tear-streaked and angry as she slammed cupboard doors in our kitchen the day Lennon was shot. I remember being awed by her emotions, how strongly she felt about this artist that she didn’t even know but who had had such an impact on her with his music and his life. As I sat in the back of the van, trying to cry quietly so I didn’t have to explain, the tunes kept on coming and the memories kept on aching inside me. Thank God Scott hadn’t brought any Rod Stewart or k.d. lang or I might have had to throw him through the van windshield near Kamloops. It’s amazing how the words to all these songs, many of which I haven’t listened to since I was a kid, are still lodged in my brain. And how they trigger so instantly the sights and sounds and even smells of my childhood. Turns out thinking is an overwhelming thing when you have time for it. I’m finding it hard.
So here I am. Doing what I love. Grateful as all get out. Missing those I love–those in Vancouver as well as the one who is gone. I feel sad and overwhelmed. I feel guilty and apologetic. I feel like a bad mom. I feel like a bad daughter. Some damage I can never fix but I hope my mom knows I’m sorry. Some damage I’m trying to avoid and I just hope it doesn’t take my kids until they are 42 to know how loved they are and to appreciate what we are trying to provide them with. It feels important for me to model self-respect, passion, creativity, generosity, individuality and compassion for my kids. So I feel strongly about being here on this amazing tour, embracing this amazing opportunity, for myself but also for my family so that we can all know who we are as a family and as individual people with needs and gifts to offer. So I wouldn’t be anywhere else. And I AM grateful. But it’s hard.
And maybe that’s the lesson. Sometimes things are hard. We feel discombobulated. We feel alone. We feel scared. The trick seems to be to feel those things but to not let them define us. To choose to appreciate what is amazing at the same time as we are longing, regretting, fearing and doubting. I need to get better at this so that my kids can learn how to do it too. I’m trying. It’s hard. But it’s also wonderful.
It’s a wild ride.