I know back in March I promised I was going to be writing more, but something happened that prevented me from following through. What happened was that a small victory turned into a major accomplishment. Something that just months before seemed impossible, suddenly became possible. A single step turned into a journey that continues to this day.
On Tuesday, March 17, I auditioned for Fiddler on the Roof at the Cocoa Village Playhouse. The fact that I was able to show up and actually audition was a small victory. What followed was not small. Not for me at least. But I am getting ahead of myself.
For the audition, I prepared I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face from My Fair Lady, which was actually playing at CVP at the time. Before I sang, I was allowed to talk briefly about my connection to Fiddler, and why I wanted to perform in it. This is the story I told.
Fiddler on the Roof is literally in my DNA. My parents had bought the original cast album when I was around four, and I listened to it constantly. I remember handing the album to my mother and asking her to play it on the stereo. I also remember my father walking around the house singing If I Were a Rich Man.
The summer of 1970, the local community theater was putting on Fiddler, and they asked the local temple if any of the members wanted to audition to give the show some authenticity. My father got the role of the Rabbi, and I tagged along to play one of the children in the cast. I loved the rehearsals, the singing, the dancing, just being a part of it. The community loved it so much, we did it all again the next summer. It is one of the few really good memories I have of my father.
Another reason Fiddler is in my DNA is because my people come from a place very much like Anatevka. My grandfather was born in a small village in what was then Russia in the 1900’s. When he came to this country as a small child he spoke only Yiddish.
So this is the story I told on stage the night of the audition. I also told them that I was auditioning for the part of the Rabbi, to carry on the tradition of my father. Then I sang, and came off stage. One more thing, I had been growing my beard out since December, so I very much looked the part. As I came off stage, Staci, the director, held my hands and thanked me for auditioning and told me I would be hearing from them.
For me, just auditioning was a victory. I had been thinking about getting involved with the theater for a few years before this. Given my illness, I had never followed through. One thing I always told myself was that if CVP ever did Fiddler, I was going to audition no matter what. So last July, when CVP announced their 25th season was going to include Fiddler, I set myself a goal.
This was particularly ambitious, because I had just been in the hospital in June. I was in the hospital again in August. In October, I had surgery and spent nearly the whole month in the hospital and in rehab. When I got out, I had to use a cane just to walk around. While realistically I should have abandoned the thought of trying out, I held onto it. As the months passed, I slowly got better. Two weeks before auditions, I started practicing the song and working out what I was going to say. When the day arrived, I walked on stage, still using the cane. But I made it through. Victory.
A few days later, I received a call telling me I had be given the role of the Rabbi. I was also told where and when to show up for rehearsal. Now that I had the role, I had to face my biggest fear. Could I make it through six weeks of rehearsal and three weeks of performances and not end up back in the hospital. I convinced myself that the Rabbi is a small part, and I could rest between scenes, so I was going to put fear away and give it a try. I told myself that if I couldn’t make it through the first few weeks of rehearsal, I would drop out, but I have to be honest here. If I had dropped out, it would have been a terrible blow to my spirit.
Rehearsals were hard. No question. But I learned something. The people involved at CVP are truly amazing. From the actors to the director to the crew to everyone, they recognized my limitations, and worked with me to accommodate them. The woman who handled the props found me a cane to incorporate into my character. Others would allow me to sit when I needed to. Whatever I needed to get through a rehearsal or a show, someone was there to help me.
Through this process I found…joy. I rediscovered the joy I felt as a child of being on stage and developing a character and singing and being a part of an ensemble. Throughout my life, I have found other ways to be on stage from playing in bands to making presentations at work. But coming back to the theater was different. It was something I could still do. However difficult it was, it was still possible if only just barely. Work has been taken away from me. Playing in a band has been taken away. Most things have been taken away. This was something from my past that I could bring back and make a part of my life again.
I have also found a whole new group of friends. One of the most devastating things about chronic illness is that it is isolating. We spend so much time at home and in bed that relationships suffer. This group of people who had been strangers quickly became a source of strength and acceptance. I am not just talking about one or two, but all of them.
As I said, this was possible but just barely. My time away from the theater was almost entirely spent in bed. This put a burden on my family and they did their best to help me through. They recognized what making it through this play meant to me. They saw that this wasn’t a small victory. It was huge.
Ultimately, I did make it through. Fiddler on the Roof played at the Cocoa Village Playhouse on the first three weekends of May to sold out or nearly sold out audiences every night. It was a great success.
One more thing. Do you know what the motto of CVP is? “Victory!” Yeah, me too.
And here is the whole cast: