Sunday, September 6, 2009
Courage of a Sort
There are a many different examples of courage. Obvious ones like a fireman rushing into a burning building to save the inhabitants or a soldier protecting his comrades by putting himself in harm's way. The word "courage" evokes the picture of the young Chinese man standing in front of the tank in Tienanmen Square. I picture a schoolboy standing up to bullies or a young woman holding true to her beliefs against the onslaught of a cynical college professor. Wearing spandex.
I heard the absolutely best definition of courage by an elder at my church. He said, "Courage is the perfect balance between fear and recklessness". Think about it. We are apt to say that the opposite of fear is courage. But to not have any fear would encourage us to remove all the inhibitors and that could easily lead to recklessness - like those insane "extreme sport" guys who do quadruple flips on a motorcycle going 65 miles an hour and then, after the inevitable crash, looking slightly bemused, they pop their bones back into place and go again. Reck-less (dare I say, idiotic).
No, courage is doing a thing when you are truly afraid along with a measure of common sense thrown in to somehow keep you grounded and convinced that it's going to be all right.
I witnessed courage of a completely different sort this past weekend at our CAT auditions for our fall production of Annie Warbucks. "Auditions": the very word can cause your throat to tighten up, your heart to beat so fast you are certain it's going to push through your chest and bounce away and your knees to wobble to the point that you are certain that your legs will no longer hold you up and you are going to dissolve into a puddle of blubbering plasma. Not a pretty picture. For some people, just the thought of getting up in front a room full of strangers (or even friends) and singing is enough to induce a hurling response that would match the sort incurred when consuming a tuna and mayo sandwich that was left in the sun for 3 hours. (That's not a pretty picture either).
Last Friday night I watched 80 + kids get up in front of an auditioning panel and a roomful of parents and friends to sing their hearts out. They ran the gamut from laughable (with our responses hidden with monumental efforts behind a mask of tight smiles) to astonishment ("How did that incredible voice come out of that tiny body?") to pure mesmerizing joy: WOW!
Watching one child after the next pop out of their chair to stand in front of the panel of artistic team members to say, "My name is Susie Smith, I am 9 years old and I'll be singing, 'Part of Your World" today" or "Hi, my name is Jack Jones and I'm 8, I'm gonna sing 'Zippity Do Dah'" was amazing. Now I have been doing this for over 10 years and I can guarantee that it still holds tremendous entertainment value, palpable suspense and mystery, and pure, unadulterated courage. I love it.
It makes me wonder, though. At what point do kids lose that courage? I hear the parents every time talk about how they could no more get up and sing like their child just did than do brain surgery. Why? Why is it that an 8 year can screw up their courage and sing but that child's parent would rather pull out their fingernails than do the same?
It's one of those mysteries but I suspect that CAT is helping those kids, one audition at a time prepare themselves for adulthood. It's one of the intangibles that come with performance arts education. When these kids grow up and are confronted with a Job interview, a sales presentation, the management conference, they will, I fully believe, jump out of their seats and say, "Hi, my name is Susie Smith and here's what I have to offer your company...."