One of my mom's favorite stories to tell about me as a child are the times I would stand on the vacuum cleaner, using it as my stage and sing using the cord as my mic. I've seen all the old musicals, many of them dozens of times and it was not unusual to hear me singing show tunes as I danced around the house. That time I was rushed to the ER because I swallowed a marble? I was being Eliza Doolittle. There were days I was Barbara or Judy or even Doris, depending on the play hat I was able to scrounge up. One of my favorite birthday moments was when mom took me to see A Chorus Line for my thirteenth birthday. We had seats in the second row and I remember sitting there mesmerized by every song, every dance. I walked out of that theater doing high kicks all the way to the car. I performed in musicals and plays in high school, but something happened around this time that dampened my Broadway dreams. I didn't fit the part of (what I thought) the typical stage starlet. I was not petite or skinny. I didn't have long flowing hair. I was goofy and often delegated to the laughable sidekick roles like Ursula Merkle because I wasn't afraid to scream like a crazed teenager and fall into a dead faint. I may not have lacked talent as much as I lacked ambition. I knew the odds of a small town girl like me stepping onto a Broadway stage for something other than a tourist thing was pretty slim. And though I have never lost my love of singing those tunes and seeing live theater, I did set aside the idea of performing. I did do a few things in college, but mostly just for fun. In musical theater scenes I was the stripper that did it with finesse in "Gotta Get a Gimmick" from Gypsy, but my days of performing ended there. Oh, I still dance around the house belting out show tunes and I have no regrets. There were two things that struck me while I was watching this year's Tony Awards. First where all the wonderful performers and performances. I noticed for the first time people on stage that didn't fit into my idea of the typical stage starlet. There were people of all shapes and sizes and they all held their own beautifully in those dance lines. I'm sure this has been the case for many many years. It's just...well...I suppose I got caught up in TV's idea of how a Broadway star should look. The TV shows that center around theater and Broadway starlets all portray them as thin and perfect. I never thought I fit the part because I am neither thin or perfect and in HS I for sure was neither of those things. It was discouraging to see that girls that got the lead rolls all had perfect lithe waists and flawless skin and a long flowing mane of hair. But have you seen the cast of Motown or even Bring it On?!? It suddenly dawned on me that the part that I didn't fit into was small town girl.
The second thing that got to me happened during the opening act when Neil Patrick Harris sang that line "We are that kid". I wanted to fist pump the air with a "Hell Yes!". And here comes the part of this entry where I stand up on my little soap box and preach about the importance of not just music education, but acceptance for those who have a greater appreciation of the arts then some. I am a perfect example of the benefits of music education. I firmly believe that nurturing that creative side of my brain makes me better at my job as a scientist. It gives me the ability to approach problems from different angles and develop new ideas for making things better. Most everyone I work with in my department studied music in high school and or college and I think they would agree with me. Studies show that kids who learn to read music are better at math and reading, but it goes beyond just playing an instrument. Performance art bolsters imagination and self esteem. I don't know if you've noticed this, but kids who excel or lean to the theater arts are often the kids who are picked on the most. Freak. Weirdo. Dork. Band geek. All of these are terms meant to be hurtful. Raise your hand if you were ever called any of those names. Congratulations. You are also that kid. You are that kid that embraced the idea of different, the idea that we are not cookie-cutter people. I've never understood how programs that teach a kid to be so unique are the ones cut first during budgeting problems. This is why most of the the projects I send my monthly donation too with Donors Choose are projects that promote the arts. I was that kid. I am still that kid. And I will always be that kid.