I saw Les Mis at the iconic Fabulous Fox Theatre last Friday. Les Mis is my favorite book of all time, and although I saw the musical as a kid, I couldn’t wait to see it again with this renewed appreciation for the full story—all 1,300 pages of it. One Day More, (the song right before intermission, but also the metaphor for my current stage of life) ended, everyone clapped, and the curtain came down. The crowd swelled, making their escape for food, drink, bathrooms, or cigarettes.
My friend, Melanie, a theatre major in college, was at the show with me and my husband this past weekend. When she told me she had to be somewhere early the day after this weekend’s show, I casually said to her, “Well, you can always leave during intermission.” She gasped and said, “I would NEVER!”
Confession: I sometimes leave plays during intermission (gulp). I’m not proud of it, but sometimes the plays are bad. And sometimes I’m just plain tired.
I’m with Melanie on this one, though. I would never leave during Les Mis!
Intermission. It’s not just something that happens in the middle of a play. It’s also how I would describe my current season of life. (But don’t worry—I’m not going anywhere!)
When the curtain came down on the show we were watching, the people and noise swirled around me. But just because the action on stage stopped did not mean the action backstage did. The actors and stagehands weren’t frozen in time waiting for the curtain to rise. Sets and costumes were being changed, lighting and sound cues were being reviewed, and everyone was getting ready for the curtain to rise again. In fact, there was probably a guy wearing a head set and dressed head-to-toe in black literally counting down the minutes until his big line. “Places! Places, everyone!”
And isn’t that how life is too? We’re in between things and from the outside looking in nothing is happening. You’re just “taking a break” or “out to lunch” or “on vacation” or “gone fishing,” but in reality you’re doing a lot of hard internal work. Networking and studying and updating the resume, and introspection, too, which looks like nothing on the outside but inside there could be loads of turmoil, as decades of regret and dreams left undone creep into the forefront of your mind.
Will someone ever call out, “Places! Places, everyone!” to you? You wonder….
But here’s what I love about intermission. Watching a play can be tedious. Even if it’s one you love (and Les Mis is one of my all time favorites), the intermission is a chance to relax and reset, and to talk about what’s happening with the people with you. When the lights flicker and everyone hurries back to their seat, you’re ready for the curtain to go up, for the band to come to life and for the action once again to begin. There’s anticipation in the air because you know the climax and resolution of the central story problem are imminent.
My Real Life
As I’m in the middle of ending one thing and moving on to what’s next, I know I have to pay special attention. I don’t want to be caught outside in the corridor when the curtain goes up.
Maybe you’ve felt like that, too. Here’s what you and I can do to make sure we’re ready for our big cue:
1) People will think you have time and will ask you to do things you do not want to do. You do not have to say yes. It doesn’t even matter what kind of reason you have. It’s none of their business. Don’t feel obligated to say yes, just because you have time.
2) You will be tempted to waste time. Resist! It’s easy to say, “I’m in between things. I’m just going to sit here like a frog and a log and stuff my face with bon bons and watch Netflix.” Don’t do it! It’s okay to rest, but give yourself a time limit, or you will surely be sucked into the great abyss. I bet you have a list of all the things you said you’d do “one day.” Now is the time to break out that list and pick something.
3) You may become dejected and sullen. You can grieve the thing that has ended, but you should also celebrate all the wins, as you anticipate what’s next. Look what you accomplished! Look what you learned! Take note of all the things you loved about your former work. Then find a place to volunteer that will help jump-start the very skills you both enjoy doing and want to improve.
4) And finally, always remember your WHY. It’s easy to get caught up in what people think of us, the accolades that come from doing good work well, but just because the work is good doesn’t mean it’s work that was meant for you.
My drama teacher used to say, “There are no small parts, only small actors.”
I used to think it was just something she said to us to make us feel better when we didn’t get the part we wanted.
But she was right. I was in a play once where I was literally just a piece of a wall. Yes, my body made up this weird wall with a bunch of other bodies. The wall was just a wall, though. We weren’t supposed to have any lines, but I really wanted a line, and so during this one part, I don’t even remember what it was, I let out a tiny gasp. That’s it; it wasn’t even a word. I wanted my own big moment. But you know what? It diminished the play. It wasn’t my line. It wasn’t supposed to be there. I was supposed to be a wall. That day, I became a small actor.
I don’t want to be a small actor. And my drama teacher taught me an important lesson that day I tried to hog the stage. It’s true that in a play every role is integral. That stagehands wearing the headsets and dressed in black—they actors would be lost without them. The guys in the orchestra—they matter. The chorus—they are so important. And the audience—what would a play be without the audience? But the stagehands don’t have lines, and the audience isn’t equipped to operate the lights. Know your role.
Intermission is temporary, but necessary. In life, intermission rarely lasts less than half an hour, but perhaps, if I’m lucky, this one will last only one more day. Just kidding. I’m a patient girl when it comes to this kind of thing.