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The Actors That Never Sleep

October 2, 2013

Two years ago, when I was studying theater and doing improv but had yet to actually make the leap into auditioning and scripted performance, I took one of my twin sons to New York for a quick trip to see a Broadway show, visit Ellen’s Stardust Diner, and have a theater-wannabe adventure. (My son also acts, though he’s not nearly as much as a late bloomer as I am!)

It was an amazing experience, as New York always is. And earlier this month, two years later, my other son wanted to have the same experience. (He’s a dancer, so we considered a ballet, but he wanted to see “The Lion King”.) Returning to the Mecca of American stage now that I have done some professional and amateur acting, my perspective was very different.

As with the first trip, I enjoyed watching professionals at work in the show we paid to see. But on this recent trip, I saw actors all around me. I saw a world of aspiration.

The singing waitstaff at Ellen’s are rightly famous, and I always go out of my way to stop there on my trips to Manhattan. (My son and I actually went twice on this visit.) They send performers off to Broadway regularly, and there were a few performing during our visits who I expect will make it to the big show soon. (One woman in particular, who goes by the nom de diner “Short Cake”, is the real deal.) But what really impressed me is how hard they work — all the time. They sing at their survival job, they take voice lessons and acting classes, they go to audition after audition after audition. From dawn til dusk, and beyond, they are pursuing their dreams.

I saw other aspirers as well. It would not have occurred to me that even the souvenir vendors at Broadway houses are probably actors in search of their big break, until I met someone who had done that job for a decade before returning to D.C. to start her own theater company. And then there are the people who work Times Square, handing out flyers for shows, sometimes singing a few bars. More aspirers, working all the time.

I left this latest trip to Broadway thinking how brave these actors are. Coming to performance later in life, my own goals are different, and I could not thrust myself so fully into the 24/7 actor life even if I wanted to do so. But I wonder — if I had discovered theater at 17 instead of 32, would I have been strong enough to do what these actors do, to devote every part of my life to my dream?

Peter Sig

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