Breaking a Leg at Mike’s Fortieth Birthday Party
And in the end, it’s not the years in your live that count. It’s the life in your years
~ Abraham Lincoln
Preparations were underway for weeks before the event. This is the only birthday party I know of which had last minute rehearsals before the guests arrived. Our job was to make sure Mike did not get to the bar a moment before five PM and the entertainment was ready.
Mike’s friends from high school, college, regional theater, Broadway, cruise ships, The Metropolitan Opera and catering arrived in twos and threes. Relatives and non-performing friends also showed up. The noise level grew with the excitement of the gathering crowd.
Old friends reunited and new ones introduced to each other, everyone settled down in the stage area. Under the musical direction of Maestro Joe, Herman lit up the piano. Andy and Jack jumped into their musical roast, followed by Gillian and Julia performing their satirical musical tribute. In the second act, Scott tickled the ivories while a chorus of Mike’s friends continued the festivities. Their performances completed, the players had a chance to come out of character and enjoy the party.
Everyone seemed more relaxed. Talking with the performers after their skits, I learned how nervous they had been before going on stage. It never occurred to me that professionals would be nervous about appearing at the birthday party of a dear friend. This was not just a gig but a chance to use their talent to show Mike how much they cared about him. They had more at stake than when they performed before hundreds of strangers.
I had met a number of Mike’s friends in the past, but didn’t realize how much he meant to all of them. They made it clear that he was a very special person in their lives and that they were honored to be at his birthday party. I also saw them use their talent to celebrate their friendship with him. I used to think that after a while performing was just a job. For some this might be true, but for many it is a way to express who they are through their gifts.
I remembered being invited to Alice’s penthouse a couple years ago. She hosted a party for Metropolitan Opera supernumeraries, “supers,” of which Mike is one. They are actors who do not have major roles but who give character and substance to the drama of opera. At the party, the supers were treated as royalty and celebrated for their contribution to the opera, often taken for granted by most of the audience.
I have a new reverence for performers and for everything they put into their roles. Seeing them in action before their peers taught me that there is more to performing than lines, music and stage direction. It is also their way of sharing themselves with others.
Life Lab Lessons
· Think of your favorite performer.
· Imagine his or her life when not performing.
· What roles do you play in life?
· What goes into the roles you play?
· Who are you behind your stage makeup?