The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

The show must go on

Posted by Ron George on September 13, 2009

"Geech" by Jerry Bittle, Aug. 20, 2001

“Geech” by Jerry Bittle, Aug. 20, 2001

I did some community theater once upon a time, and I was struck by the high level of discipline and hard work required to mount an amateur production of, say, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Eight weeks of rehearsals four nights a week, 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday afternoons backstage, building and refining sets. Hours of homework, learning lines and director’s notes. Finally, the pleasant exhaustion after each show, four per week for a month. A kind of sad satisfaction mingled with relief sets in at the end of a run as the set is struck and then all retire to a late-night eatery for a kind of last supper. It’s been 15 years since my last show, but the memories are vivid, rich and gratifying.

A theater cast and crew participates in something of a mystery. All are talented in ways that make them unique, but the show can not be about my talent or yours; it must be about ours, and so there’s some internal discipline required to let one’s self become part of a group effort to produce something far more than the sum of its parts — a work of art composed of a marvelously diverse but unified group of people. Ideally, all of this comes off without a hitch, but we don’t live in an ideal world, so it’s unlikely that any production, ever, gets from auditions to strike without a rough patch or two. Or more.

Theater culture has an apt saying for getting through the rough patches: “The show must go on.” I had a vague notion of what that meant before my first show in 1993, but it took on flesh I hadn’t imagined as I became part of a meaningful group of people dedicated to enriching the larger community, as well as themselves, with the pain and pleasure of creative experience. Murphy’s Law — “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong” — is always in effect, but the show must go on, and no one in the audience must ever sense that something is amiss.

The show must go on even if a cast member turns up so drunk he can’t stand. The show must go on even if there’s hardly anyone in the audience. The show must go on even if the lead actor has laryngitis. The show must go on even if a lead dancer is almost immobilized by a sprained ankle. The show must go on even if the lead actors are at each others’ throats. The show must go on no matter what, no matter how we feel, what we think or what distractions may be abroad in our offstage lives.

There’s a kind of objectivity at work in all this, an instrumentality of self that makes it possible to perform as rehearsed even when we’re otherwise distracted. Something happens when you walk on-stage, something not phony at all but powerfully real in a way that touches the soul. It’s no escape, no way of leaving troubles behind, but a way of letting one’s self be taken up into the larger purpose of cast, crew and production. There is good to be had simply by putting on the mantle of one’s role and letting the role take over. Letting one’s self be had by the larger purpose is a form of love, of giving up one’s self for the sake of others, especially those who have paid the price of admission. You can’t let them down, ever.

Having been through a rough patch lately, I can testify that there’s spiritual good to be had simply by showing up. In a sense, simply going through the motions turns out to be better than remaining immobile. God accepts whatever we offer, even if it isn’t all that we have. Some days, it’s just not possible for one to be spiritually present, full-bore; however, it is better to be objectively present no matter how one may feel. There’s nothing insincere about “going through the motions” when that’s all one has to give. There’s nothing insincere about participating in worship, even at a minimal level of commitment. God takes our scraps of presence and plants them as seeds in the soul that one day may flower into something graceful, peaceful, good and true.

The show must go on, despite personal crises. The show must go on, despite ridiculous egotism. The show must go on, despite bitterness and resentment. The show must go on, despite corrosive, unrepented sin. The show must go on, period.

And God will bless it, no matter what.


3 Responses to “The show must go on”

  1. Jan said

    How are things now?

  2. Bob Horner said

    Thanx Ron for your usual thotful commentary/confession or whatever..
    You have stated a great truth and I am reminded of the words of my fave theologin Woody Allen who said.”90% of life is showing up”..
    I quote this many times in response to questions how I continue to be faithful to ministry/service after 80 yrs(some 50 yrs of ministry)..god wants our best but takes all we have to offer and blesses it..thanx Ron for your steadfastness..

  3. Jim A said

    Thanks. And, as usual, this seems to be just the tip of an iceberg, the invitation into a conversation about your journey.


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