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Joy. That’s the word to describe my experience in the theatre Friday night. Simply joy.
During the well-deserved full-house standing ovation of Ray of Light’s opening night of Lizzie, I felt a little bit high. The show itself is incredible. It exceeded my high hopes. It was executed flawlessly from top to bottom—I cannot recommend it highly enough. But when I leapt to my feet in the final black out, there was something else happening. I have vigorously applauded many shows in my life, but Friday night was something different. It was more than just enthusiasm or happiness (which as we know can be experienced finding a pencil, or eating pizza with sausage.)
In 2012, I made a very difficult decision: I left New York City and returned home to San Francisco. As a musical theatre writer, this seemed to many (even to myself) to be about the most backward decision I could make. I got the question, “So what are you going to do in SF?” often. And my response, “I’m going to do musical theatre out there,” prompted many confused scrunched-face reactions. It was an insane gamble that looked a little like leaving The Garden and setting a course for the Wasteland—lost, crying in the wilderness…
The hardest thing about leaving New York was leaving the community. There are so many wonderful, talented, hilarious, fun people making (living, and breathing) musical theatre out there. I had never before known so many people sharing my passion, and that truly fed me. When I was first out there, I thrived. I blossomed like a musical theatre flower. But over time, something had changed within me. Something was not the same. Because of my insecurities as a writer, I became bitter. Cynical. I used to say, “I’d rather go to the dentist than to a Broadway show.” I had lost the joy.
I came to that realization one day suddenly: I read some very good news on Playbill.com about a friend getting an incredible development opportunity for a show she had written. This was a friend from grad school whom I had always encouraged. Reading the news, my first reaction was not elation for her accomplishment, nor was it pride. It was seething bitter jealousy and negativity. That reaction was so completely at odds with who I am at my core that it surprised me. Something had fouled the water.
I had to leave. It wasn’t New York’s fault. New York is wonderful. It’s just not where I belong. So I packed my bags, and I left for an uncertain future. This was my quest: to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far. Like the protagonist in many a musical, I came to town with a dream—FOGG Theatre. And I hoped there’d be like-minded people here who could make that dream a reality.
This year, FOGG has officially become part of the community of musical theatre makers here in San Francisco. That’s no small thing. This is an island where rivers run deep. More people—wonderful, talented, hilarious, fun people—are making musical theatre here than I ever had hoped. This week, listening to the TBA Award nominations, I started to feel joy again. It wasn’t just that my show had been nominated; it was that I felt part of something bigger. Musical Theatre is having a renaissance here. This is a movement.
Friday night at Lizzie, the feeling only intensified. I was elated and proud. To see a show that I’ve loved for nearly a decade completely nailed in production not by me, but by my talented colleagues—new friends who I’m just getting to know—and watching an audience be completely transported, filled my soul in ways I didn’t expect. It’s easy to feel proud of your own accomplishments, but to feel pride when others succeed is the true testament of community. That kind of support is the hallmark of Bay Area musical theatre. We’re all in this together. It wasn’t just one amazing show I saw Friday night. I saw a whole future of amazing shows. I saw future collaborations, and sold-out houses, and musical theatre transforming lives here in the Bay Area for years to come!
Thank you all for helping me reclaim the joy. This is where I belong. I am home.
Also, go see Lizzie. Immediately.
Tickets available here.
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