Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
Fingers at the ready. Arms at the ready. Feet at the ready. Stomach at the ready. Eyes at the ready. Keys, bow, steps, song, speech – all at the ready to create another person, another emotion, another world. This genesis, this nebula that hatches the brightest stars, is where I belong. Home away from home. I trace the cracks in your wooden floor; I take a deep breath; curtains open. The stage. My stage. The Jeanne B. McCoy Center for the Performing Arts.
On a Monday night, my feet take root in the risers and the stream of my voice joins the cascade of the choir, pouring into the ears of the audience. Maybe on a Tuesday or Sunday, as I draw my own bow across the cello, the warmth of the vibrating strings surrounding me wraps me in a blanket of sound. Any other day, I am burying myself in the skin of an intricate fictional character, bringing her to life from the inside out, while my friends bring theirs to life around me. These nights of grit and wonder are the reason this place exists – to become something bigger than yourself for the benefit of the faceless hundreds out in the dark. This is my sanctuary.
I am, and always have been, a performer. There is no greater rush than the thunderous applause that greets that astonishing belt at the opening of “Downtown (Skid Row)”, that impassioned monologue: “…to forswear the full stream of the world and to live in a nook merely monastic,” or that explosion at the finale of Dvôrak’s Symphony from the New World. Spectators can pay good money to escape their own lives. They are paying to forget the everyday, and to remember and witness the terrible and the wonderful. I, the performer, have a power that few others have: to create this visible and audible world in which people can submerge themselves. However, this power can only be wielded successfully if the world I summon is believable.
To ensnare those spectators and applauders, I must do more than simply act the part, play the music, or sing the notes. I must become the character, breathe the music, and feel the notes. If I do not believe it, the spectators will not either – and that is not all that is at stake. Every time I step onto the stage, I risk humiliating not only myself but also my fellow performers as well. Falling inflections, backward bowings, missed steps, and voice cracks endanger the reality we labor to create. However, if I can make myself believe I did not make a mistake, I can make the audience believe it as well. If my face says that it was on purpose, then it was on purpose. After all, mistakes in performance are very different from those in any other art.
Performance cannot be not painted over, cut out, erased, “Photoshopped,” or auto-tuned. It is its own life; the decisions made on stage are as irrevocable as those made offstage. A performance can only happen once – even the same production is different every night. Days, weeks, or months of preparation here in this sanctuary amount to one, two, or three spectacular nights of otherworldly creation that will never happen anywhere ever again. The world gets torn down, folded up, put away. Yet the ghosts of what happens on my stage will remain in the form of scratches and memories and paint flecks and bolts and bruises. I know every nook and cranny of my McCoy, inside and out. She is where the performer inside me was raised. She is the birthplace of Piper the cellist, Piper the actress, Piper the singer. I was there when each new side of me was born, and I hope I do not live to see the day that any of them die. Performing is everything that I am, and the Jeanne B. McCoy Center for the Performing Arts is where I became what I am.