Friday, May 13, 2011

Like a Novel, Only You're the Character

Broadway scene from Annie Get Your Gun.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be?

So I was browsing through an interview with an author, Hannah Moskowitz, on YA Highway, and they asked Moskowitz this question. Normally, I disregard questions like these as pertinent to my life because, like most writers, I get to have a second job as well! I say this with both sarcasm and truth. Most writers have two jobs - their writing and their salaried job. I don't like thinking of the "what if's" because, if they really did come true, that would mean I would be a different person than who I am on my present path. "What if's" belong to those uncommitted, perhaps unhappy, with their present conditions, and while both can be true for short periods of time, neither should be dwelt upon longer than those short periods.

But my mind betrayed me. It grabbed hold of that "what if" and crossed the finished line before I could wrestle it to the ground. I would be a performer, a singer, in musicals. If I didn't write.

Often, I don't like telling people that I sing. I feel like singing is like writing - everyone does it. Everyone sings in the shower or accompanies their radio in the car or plays karaoke. It's normal to sing, and it's normal to write. Everyone writes essays, everyone has stories, and almost everyone will admit to trying their hand at poetry. So saying to someone "I sing" or "I write" is almost nondescript. When it comes down to it, what matters is the quantity and the quality of the singing and writing, and that's much harder to gauge and takes much longer to explain. I've mentioned around the blog once or twice that I was in my choir and musicals in high school, but the truth is, choir and musicals absorbed my life.

When I was in high school, I competed at Solo and State Ensemble, did three musicals (didn't get in my freshman year), skipped a year into a higher level choir, did three cabarets, three jazz concerts, two madrigals, and traveled through Chicago twice and New York once with my choir doing master classes and workshops. But, even though I am in a choir in college now, what I miss even more is musicals. My college doesn't have a steady program for musicals, and, after deciding this college was my dream college, this crushed me a little. I love to sing, but I also love to act.  Last Saturday, I saw Annie Get Your Gun performed by the homeschoolers in my area of Michigan. My heart ached as I watched. Every costume change, every laugh elicited from the crowd, every facial expression rattled in my chest.

It was unfair. The drive home that night, I fought feelings of anger and depression. It seemed like everyone in college could dabble in their hobbies except for me. The semi-athletes have inter-murals, the actors have a student run theatre program, and the musicians have symphonic band. None of them have to be theatre majors or music majors. They just get to have fun doing what they love.

The reason why I love musicals so much more than just singing, the answer that my mind gave to the "what if" was that, in writing, you write the character and love them and create them, but in musicals, you are them. You have a script, with words on it that you must say and notes that you must sing, but you wear the clothes and make the faces and give the voice to your character. Every practice you learn more about your character by being them, exploring their emotions in a very concrete way - with your own body. Even performances teach you about the character, and the other characters you interact with. You also have the live audience, telling you what they liked by their laughter and claps and silence.

I miss all these things. A lot. But, the good news is, they are only my "what if's". I am not created to be a performer. My passion for musicals is not strong enough to support me through hours and hours of music theory. As much as I love musicals, writing is amazing because it can take all the things I learn from it and bottle them up in a permanent form. Musicals have taught me about emotions and character motivation and physically showing the audience how you feel inside. That's what life seems to be a lot about. "Show, don't tell." It's communication in its rawest form - the body.


  1. Keep it coming. Love, bored father.

  2. Allison, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I've felt similar about not dancing this year (although I am planning on auditioning for Zoe's feet ministries next year) I didn't know I could this year. But also like you, my primary passion lies elsewhere, so not being able to dance, although sad, wasn't the worst thing ever. Of course it gave me extra time to spend time with great people like yourself!

    Ha, but I'm glad you're a writer. I think being a writer is a really brave thing to do. It's a paradox, like being a mother. Seemingly simple from the outside, "I write" or "I'm a mom" or "I paint" but everyone knows the sacrifice demanded.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing :) I doubt Maggie remembers me, but say hi to her for me.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story--a very thoughtful and reflective post. Lots of dreams to pursue out there in the world.

  4. @ Dad - bored because of the post or a general statement? ^^ Miss you!

    @ Cristina - Oh, Maggie remembers you! I told her, "My suitemate says hello." Her answer: "Which one, Cristina or Mimi?" She's has an incredible memory! :D
    How come I didn't know you were a dancer??? I remember you mentioning Zoe's Feet before, but I guess I didn't realize that you danced a lot before. What is your experience dancing?

    @Paul - You seem to have balanced into your life a second passion, the wild of Alaska, along with writing. Do you ever feel the temptation to betray one for the other, or do they coexist peacefully?

  5. Yes sir, ha, I just did it for two years but I was going 4 to 5 days a week for hours at a time. It became a monster that took over my life, so because I didn't aspire to be a ballerina, I quit so I could have a normal high school life.