I can see it now. I’m in college, and some of my theater friends and I are sharing stories about our high school glory days. Jerome with the fake hipster glasses just told us all about his trials and tribulations doing musical theater at an all-boys-school. (He played Maria in West Side Story. Twice.)
“Do you have any stories, Grace?” they ask me in choreographed simultaneousness.
“You don’t want to hear about my stories,” I respond, with a twinkle in my eye.
“No, we do! You’re the best, Grace!” (Again, this is entirely authentic dialogue.)
“Ok, ok fine. When I was in high school, I played Fanny Brice…” I say, pausing to create anticipation, “with laryngitis. “
Their laughter is obviously uproarious.
Yes, it is true. I played Fanny Brice with laryngitis. I woke up Monday morning with my throat on fire, and by Monday night I was in full-fledged panic. Unlike my dignity, the symptoms were not subsiding. After days of struggling to improve both my vocal and mental health, driving my mother crazy in the process, opening night had arrived and the curtain was going up whether I liked it or not. I had to get through the show by any means possible, even if that meant singing all of “Don’t Rain on my Parade” in my head voice. (If you are a theater nerd, you are cringing right now.)
Undoubtedly, I was disappointed. Going on stage without my full voice was like going skiing without a ski. All of the work that I had put into these songs proved useless—I basically had to improvise my way through each musical number, figuring out how to attempt each note on the spot. After my first show, I was devastated. I was having a very hard time accepting complements, as I felt as though I didn’t deserve them—I had let the audience down by not being able to give the best performance that I possibly could.
On the other hand, with the guidance of my teachers and family, I was somehow able to turn this painful incidence into a valuable learning experience. Not only did I have to develop my acting skills to compensate for my vocal issues, but I also learned about the institution of theater itself—the audience responded more to struggle than perfection. Theater is art, and the point of art is to reflect the human experience, not to glamorize it. Riffs and trills can be great, but authenticity is even more powerful.
Three performances later, I have come to peace with my imperfect portrayal of Fanny Brice. (It helps that on closing night, by an act of God, I was able to belt-out the final note of the show—a true finale.) Despite all of the crying, panicking, and dry coughing, the memory of Funny Girl will stay with me forever, reminding me once again to not let anything or anyone “rain on my parade.”