We had been chatting in animated fashion for almost an hour, my arms no doubt flapping wildly as I described my love for certain productions I had seen over the past year or so. If this had been a date, instead of a marketing discussion about the theatre-going choices of Torontonians (or non-theatre-going choices, as it is for so many), it would have been one of the better ones I had been on lately. I was in theatre-junkie heaven, comparing notes with two like-minded individuals who worked in the industry and who seemed a little perplexed by my unbridled exuberance – I imagine it’s probably rare to meet a middle-aged financial services executive who attends 50+ theatre productions in a single year. To them, I was like a unicorn that had wandered into their midst, requiring careful study.
Non-date #1 shakes his head slightly with humour and disbelief, signalling the question I knew would eventually arise. “But what is it is it that is driving your interest? Did you grow up attending the theatre?”
“No, not really. It still amazes one of my best friends that I only first attended a Stratford show a few years ago. I had never gone until then, not in school, not once.”
I suddenly feel as though I have to provide a more fulsome response to the puzzled looks on the faces around the table, and yet I know the answer I have isn’t one that I feel I should share with people I’ve known only for an hour, and with whom I would like to engage in a professional relationship.
“A few years ago, I decided that I should take advantage of the arts that we have available in the city, and so, I did.” The words are uncomfortable coming out of my mouth, because although they are technically true, they don’t feel honest. I sip my coffee and smile. Both non-dates smile and I know they are picking up on my discomfort. They nod, murmur, “that’s great” and move on.
As I walk home from the coffee shop, I wonder what would have happened if I had told them that the theatre saved my life.
No, really, it’s true.
The theatre saved my life.
I’ll try to explain.
I went on a blind date a number of years ago, very shortly after I split with The Ex, and although the date* was utterly forgettable and we were a terrible match, I had an epiphany during the date that ultimately changed the course of my life.
I realized that I was a horribly boring and shallow person. Or, that I was actually an interesting person, but leading a horribly boring and shallow life.
“I like to play tennis, ski, draft contracts and count my mountain of gold,” my date said. “What do you like to do?”**
In the harsh light of day (or, rather, the harsh light of the PATH), I discovered that I didn’t have much to say, or much that I wanted to say out loud.
“I have an active social life.”
“I go out and drink wine with my friends. A lot.”
“I like to write.”
“I used to write. Sometimes, these days, I get ambitious and send regrettable texts after I drink the wine.”
“I like yoga.”
“Everyone says they like yoga, so if I say it, he’ll probably believe it.”
I was sitting and sipping tea with someone who practically had “DUD” stamped directly into his DNA, but at least he was doing something. Tennis. Skiing. Stuff that Rich Guys do. All of my energy was being poured (literally sometimes) into treading water on a never-ending sea of regret and bitterness, clinging helplessly to one rapidly deflating rubber dinghy after another.
I said that I would go places I had never been, but I didn’t go anywhere.
I said that I would experience new things that I had always wanted to try, but I didn’t do anything new.
I realized in that moment that all I had to do was stop kicking, open my eyes, and look around. This is why I say that the theatre saved my life. It was the beacon of light that led me out of the dark and turbulent emotional waters and gave me new territory to explore. Today I know that as I discovered words and characters and performances I loved, I was really re-discovering myself. One experience led to another, and another, and…well, you get the picture. My world instantly expanded, and I was hooked. I wanted more.
“Everything is new to me,” I tried to explain to a friend. “I was born yesterday, so just assume I haven’t seen it before.” That’s how I felt, as though I had just been born. Or re-born, perhaps. And now I want to see it all.
* The “Date” took place at 10:30 a.m. at the Starbucks in the PATH/foodcourt underneath Brookfield Place. Let’s face it, the only good morning dates are the ones that continue from the night before.
** Note: I may be paraphrasing. But he did like to play tennis.
Legoland by Atomic Vaudeville starts this week at Theatre Passe Muraille! Legoland is the prequel to Ride the Cyclone – one of my all-time favourite musicals featuring a dead glee club contemplating the afterlife. Here’s a little taste of RTC: