This is a picture of me twelve years ago, standing in front of Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
This is a picture of me last night, trying to re-create the first picture. I once again visited Sight and Sound, for free this time, thanks to a miracle in a theater two weeks ago.
In the first picture, I was barely seventeen years old. I didn’t know that my life would, within a month or so, crash down around my ears as I battled West Nile virus. I was just about to start my senior year of high school, and was already dreaming of the great things I would do with my life.
Back then, I adored acting. I kept roping my friends into doing silly skits with me. But I almost never got the chance to see a “real” theater production, and knew very little about the acting world in general. I didn’t know if acting was an attainable dream.
Yet here I was, experiencing the most breathtaking play imaginable. The story of Creation and the Fall, brought to life in brilliant detail. And it was a Christian production. I knew that acting in a play like this would not go against my values.
I imagined myself as the star of the show.
Twelve years later, as I watched the story of Jesus unfold on stage, I again felt my imagination take flight. But this time, there was a subtle difference.
I didn’t imagine myself as the star of the show. I imagined myself writing and producing plays that could bless people, the way I was blessed that night.
I found this shift in my thinking interesting, because it reflects an enormous shift in the way I’ve learned to view myself in those twelve years between those two pictures.
I’ve always loved being the center of attention and the star of the show. You may notice this even if you read my old blog posts that sometimes get recommended at the bottom of my current posts, or if you read the book I wrote ten years ago. I was forever more trying to sound as interesting and unique as possible.
One of the hardest but most necessary life lessons I’ve had to learn since then is, you’re not actually that special. You’re not actually that unique.
Coming to terms with not being special is life-changing.
When I didn’t have to be special, I didn’t have to tell my unique and interesting stories, which meant I had time to hear other people’s interesting and unique stories. I got to watch them be special for a change.
Learning to step aside and let other people be special eventually bled into my acting work as well.
Besides a little bit of “real theater” in college, most of my experience with acting comes from someone–a school teacher, a VBS superintendent, a Kid’s Bible Club coordinator–wanting some sort of drama produced and happily handing the reigns of the project over to me if I wanted to take them.
I love every step of the process, from writing plays to crafting costumes and sets out of cast-off items to, of course, acting. I’ve been doing this kind of thing ever since I was about fifteen, and of course, in the beginning I often played a starring role. Usually the bad guy, actually. I was Goliath, with throw pillows from the nursery padding my shoulders under my Biblical robes. I was the wicked stepmother when my friends and I did Cinderella for Sharon Coblentz’s birthday party.
Now, though, I’m rarely even in the plays. I’ll step in if we need another actor, but I’ll play a minor character.
Because I discovered that shining a spotlight on myself feels great in the moment, but it’s nothing compared to the quiet satisfaction of creating a spotlight for someone else. Someone who wouldn’t normally see themselves as a star of a show, but who shines in the role.
Given the chance, the father of 6 from your church might pull out a winning performance as Nebuchadnezzar that leaves the audience in stitches.
The energetic troublemaker kid, when suckered into playing Jesus, might make you re-think your entire conception of who Jesus was. Maybe Jesus was funny and energetic with a wide grin on his face. Why do we always imagine Jesus so stoic?
Right now, just like twelve years ago, the world seems full of exciting possibilities. I dearly hope I’ll figure out how to incorporate writing, producing, and/or directing plays into my future.
But one big thing has changed: I no longer dream of being the star of the show.
P.S. I’ll have an announcement on Tuesday about some changes coming to my blog. Stay tuned!