“The songs are completely pointless,” a classmate remarked as we discussed Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children. “It’s like musicals, they’re so random.” “Well, I don’t really like musicals,” my English teacher replied offhandedly, flipping through the pages of her copy.
There was a sharp intake of breath in the room and several eyes flickered in my direction. Behind me, my friend let out a soft moan. I sat in my Wicked t-shirt, stunned. How could someone not like musicals?
It may seem odd to say that I believe in musical theater – some might argue that this entire essay is pointless, for a true belief is in something like world peace – yet the worth of something is not necessarily the thing itself, but what it means to you. And to me, musicals mean hope.
If there is any doctrine preached by musicals at large, it is that of optimism, and in today’s society, is anything more important? In a strictly structured world, the ideas of love and happiness dancing across Broadway stages eight times a week are a source of sanguinity. While the Tony-winning musical Monty Python’s Spamalot at large seems like a buffet of inside jokes for the Python enthusiast, it also encourages listeners to “keep right to the end, you’ll find your goal, my friend. You won’t fail; find your grail.” As guidance counselors force feed the principle of ACT scores and GPA points, the concept of finding the real purpose of my existence, my “grail”, if you will, is comforting.
Acting is an unstable career. I have known this ever since I chose it as my “grail.” So, when the part I want in the school musical eludes me or a director disagrees with my characterization, I wonder if I’m really cut out for it. But I only have to hear Barbra Streisand sing “I gotta fly once, I gotta try once, only can die once, right, sir?” to know that if I don’t at least give it a shot, my life will become meaningless to me. The confidence I’ve gained through musical theatre has taught me that my enjoyment of something is not dependent on the praise I receive, but the fulfillment it brings me.
Too often people are thrust into lives they don’t enjoy simply for security. Success is measured by the size of a paycheck, a good home, a nice car, and glossy 8x10s of children on your office desk. I’ve been told my career choice is frivolous simply because it doesn’t fit the cookie cutter American dream. However, musicals such as RENT give a different look at life. “Forget regret, or life is yours to miss. No other road, no other way, no day but today.” Imagine living your life the way you want to live it, and only feeling disappointed if you didn’t live up to your potential. Not only can a musical fuel your desire for such a life, it can comfort you when you feel your ambitions are unattainable.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.