Along for the Rye’d
By Annabel Monaghan
I almost never miss a high school play. In an age where our kids are stressed out about racking up scores and accolades for their permanent records, these productions feel kind of whimsical. Theater kids, who have a lot of other stuff to do, toil for months over lines and sets and costumes for a play that only runs for two days. The mad impracticality of this feels like a kind of fresh magic. The audience is drawn into the world of these kids’ creation and leaves feeling like they’ve shared in a secret. Lives are changed, truths are told, and it’s all over as soon as the custodians come in to sweep.
The quality of the performance is not graded or ranked. Kids don’t write on their college applications that they scored 95% in “The Music Man”. You don’t perform to win, you just work together to perform. It’s something they do for the experience of having prepared and shared a personal moment with whomever showed up. Once it’s over, who’s to say it even happened?
In this vein, I’ve noticed over the years that I feel a kind of joy and excitement when I write a speech that I don’t feel when I am writing an essay or a book. When something is published, there’s an implied rating based on how many times it was shared or how many copies were sold. It can be reread and rehashed and, maybe, misunderstood. Published work follows you around.
A speech is a moment in time, a performance where, by the time you’ve finished, it’s over. Besides the few thoughts that might stay with a few people, the whole thing disappears at the end. Like a taped message for Mr. Phelps in “Mission Impossible”; after you’ve said it, it self-destructs.
There’s a freedom to share a deeper truth in this kind of a setting. One of the hardest things about writing (besides the agony of sitting down and doing it) is the constant consideration of the details. Was this the right word choice? Am I semi-coloning these people to death? Worse is considering who might actually read what you wrote. I have stories to tell that I don’t necessarily want my relatives reading. I have stories to tell that I never want my kids hearing. When I am composing a speech, I know I’m going to say it once, to a closed room, and it’s not going to rear its ugly head later on Facebook.
An unrecorded live performance reminds me of those Buddha Boards where you paint something in water and then, in a few minutes, it disappears. In a speech or any live performance, you have a finite amount of time to say what you really want to say. You’re not trying to get it right, you’re just trying to get it out. This may be why I recycle essays like crazy, but nearly every time I’m asked to give a speech I write a new one. It’s the freest and most honest way to express my barest, truest truth.
Year after year, I am completely inspired by new crops of theater kids that get up and perform impossible dance routines and deliver complicated lines just for the art of it. It feels hopeful in a world where we need to document each sunset, each meal, each doggy Halloween costume. I hope they continue to do things in life just for the joy of having done it.