If you’ve been following along with me for a while you know that more often than not going to an opening, closing, or some other kind of theatrical milestone has a tendency to inspire me. I’m guessing it inspires all of us, I’m definitely not unique in this, but it always makes me see the community anew and I feel like I should put figurative pen to paper and mark it down. This way, on the difficult days, when we’re in the trenches, dealing with the daily grind, I can look back and remember WHY we do what we do. Or, as fans, why we love what we love.
Tonight we said goodbye to Big Fish and I had the privilege of being there for the end of yet another show I love.
As I sat there tonight, crying in my seat, I thought a couple of things. The first was how incredible Broadway is. This line of thinking started the other day with a video that circulated throughout the industry. If you can’t watch it right now, the short version is that this lovely mother received a ticket to Motown as a Christmas surprise from her daughter. To those of us who live here in New York City and see, or performer in, or work on shows daily–this may seem ordinary. But this woman was SO excited. She was SO happy. It was really one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a long time. It is a much needed and very poignant reminder that Broadway is SPECIAL. That everyone who participates in this in any capacity is helping to produce something important. Then, I’m brought back to Big Fish, watching a truly magical show unfold in front of me and the whole idea comes full circle.
What we all do for a living is unimaginably wonderful. The exact thing I thought while I watched Edward Bloom teach his young son to fight the dragons was, “Who gets to do this and call it a job?” I mean, truly, who? Of course, the performers I was watching tonight, Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin and Bobby Steggart (along with the outstanding ensemble) are some of the best in the business, but it’s more than their outstanding abilities. I thought about the fact that it’s ending and what that means. We’re losing another show that touched a lot of people, me included, but it DID have that impact. When other jobs end, what happens? Let’s just take an office job for example. I’m not knocking those jobs, everyone has to do something and we all make up the fabric of society, but just think for a moment. If an office closes its doors, the people who work there lose their jobs and their families are effected. Whatever this particular office worked on is halted or decreased. Ok, I realize the gravity of all that, but a Broadway show has a different KIND impact on people. An emotional one. Jobs are important, and in the grand scheme of things, performing arts might seem lower on the “importance” totem pole, but it’s about your soul and feeding it.
This is a community of entertainers, of storytellers and imaginative, creative people who can’t imagine doing anything else. I was a part of a very heated discussion with an actor recently and at the end, he looked up and finally said, “I can’t do anything else.” The other person with us, not understanding, said, “Why!?” And I jumped in to fill the silence with what I assumed to be the appropriate reply, “Because his soul would die.” And he just nodded. Those of us who work in the theatre, us crazy people with grease paint in our veins cannot imagine doing another damn thing.
But, when I looked around at the other audience members in the seats around me, I realized that it reaches SO far beyond our community. Of course, I always knew this, but it is really something amazing to see so many people touched in a different way by a piece of art. There are 1,445 seats in the Neil Simon Theatre. I don’t know if all of them were full tonight, but it certainly LOOKED full to me. That’s 1,500 people if you include the cast and orchestra moved by something in a really spiritual and intense way. I know not everyone was crying, but I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say that most people were. And probably all for different reasons. THAT is so cool.
Theatre like this can rock your world. It makes you examine your life in a new way. It makes you see the people around you in a different light. It makes you think about yourself and the way you want to live. It makes you FEEL things. There is a reason so many people in this community describe shows with the phrase, “all the feelings.” And it’s because it’s true! It is most definitely ALL the feelings. Different feelings for each person.
Logically I understand the idea of differing opinions, and I am a champion of opinions. I think they help make us better as a group of artists. However, I have a difficult time understanding how anyone in our community could not LOVE Big Fish. I’m not saying they have to, or even should like it, but I just don’t understand how this couldn’t last. This is a story about our people. Edward Bloom is one of us. He’s one of those people that sees a giant in place of a man who’s just taller than average. He’s the type of person who sees some flowers and imagines a huge field of daffodils.
He’s an exaggerator. He makes stories bigger than they actually are. He sees the woman he loves in every beautiful girl who passes him by. In his mind, he fights dragons and in actuality, he saves his community and upholds the lives of those around him when they need him most. He inspires, he loves and he lives.
“I used to think the world was small, now I don’t think that way at all. Time stops and dreams come true before you. Time stops when fantasy is real. She’s there and all you’ve ever wanted is nearer, clearer…There’s no one talking, but I can hear a thousand voices. What’s going on inside me?…But in this moment nothing scares me. What’s going on? I used to see what lies ahead, I thought my life might be a bore. Could be I’m bound for something more. Time stops and troubles are abandoned. Time stops the minute she arrives, I’ve seen the future in this instant. Subversive, sublime. I’d live forever in this moment, if I could stop…stop time.”
I love the theatre, you guys. I know that’s obvious. You’re probably reading this and rolling your eyes. Duh. No one would create something completely Broadway centric if they didn’t love it, right? But I mean, I REALLY love it. I live for it. I’ve said it before, but nothing describes me more than the best thing I’ve ever written, “When I am away from the theatre for too long, I feel like a piece of me is dying. And that’s the piece that most wants to live.” And it’s true.
Theatre is beautiful. It’s inspiring. It’s wonderful, it’s creative, it’s heartbreaking, it’s funny, it’s ugly, it’s crummy, it’s outlandish and far-fetched, it makes no sense whatsoever and it makes all the sense in the world, it’s cathartic, it’s weird, it’s crazy. It’s everything to me.
Maybe that’s bad. Maybe it’s strange, or pathetic. How can someone’s whole life revolve around one thing? Isn’t that sad?
But it’s not. My family brought the theatre to me. The theatre and its music brought me my friends. It’s my job, it’s my love.
Goodbye, Big Fish, thank you for joining the ranks of shows that, while short lived, HAD to happen. Shows that inspired, that helped, that healed and that lived. Thank you.