“We are in the world to play the role that God assigns.”
That was the topic of the weekly spiritual meeting I attend on Saturday morning. It’s a fairly common idea within this group, one that I agree with. The person leading the discussion took it a step further and asked, “How do we know we’re playing the role God wants us to have?”
I leaned forward in my seat. This interested me, and I was curious as to what others were going to say.
People were sharing about how they moved to new cities without jobs but trusted God and things were provided. Or how even when things were hard they trusted God and knew, deep down, that they were doing the right thing, and how that was enough.
This has not been my experience at all. I’ve never been fully convinced that I’m playing the role that God wants me to play. I usually think it’s my stubbornness that keeps me writing and performing. If this is what God wanted me to do, wouldn’t he/she have made it easier? Lots of times I’m like, “Screw it, this is what God is getting from me whether he/she likes it or not! I’ve been doing it too long to do anything else.”
This past week I’ve done Stages in a Double Tree Hotel Meeting Room, and three shows at a little black box theatre at Furman University. The Furman shows are self produced, meaning I’m in charge of the production and promotion of the show. I’ve been self producing shows since 2006. Sometimes tickets fly off the shelf. You’re checking your sales every thirty minutes, feeling like those NBA players in the “Hulu Has Live Sports Commercials.” Money flying at my face!
Other times you feel like the guy in those old Maytag Repair man commercials. Alone in a dark room, praying that someone, anyone, will come purchase your wares.
Stages has had a little bit of both. Last summer, the Spoleto run sold really well. The next week in Asheville, I could barely give a ticket away. Back in March we did it with Prisma Health at Centre Stage, and 300 tickets were gone in a week and a half. This Furman run, however, tickets have been a bit of a challenge. Luckily the theatre is tiny, but as I headed to the theatre this Saturday night, only 14 seats were sold. Depression settled its way into my front passenger seat.
I called my sister, Anneclaire, and vented to her. She reminded me that it is a gift to be able to share this story with anyone. That the people in the audience were the people who needed to see it. That I had to have some faith that I was doing the right thing, and doubt is a part of faith.
If this was the right thing wouldn’t there be a hundred people out there? That was the thought that ran through the back of my head. I realized quickly that was just my ego talking. I thanked my sister for the pep talk and pulled into the Furman Theatre parking lot.
I went inside and chatted up the students running the show, and then at 7:15, 45 minutes before my 8pm curtain, I plug in my computer for the slide show. All the projection cues and sound cues run through a program called Q Lab. While no one would accuse me of being a “technical” person, with the time and patience of Miles Boinset and Adam Knight, I’ve gotten to the point where I know my way around the program. I can troubleshoot most things. So when I clicked the first slide of the play, and nothing showed up on the screen, I figured it would be a quick fix.
At 7:48, twelve minutes before curtain, there was still nothing coming up on the screen. If this was the role God wanted me to play, wouldn’t there be a picture on the fucking screen???
Luckily, I have the cues on a Powerpoint presentation. The sound cues, however, would have to go away. And the projections on the Powerpoint are ever so slightly different from the Q Lab. And some of the slides are meant to be funny, so the last thing we want is during a serious moment in my cancer play, for the picture of that book “Everyone Poops” to pop on the screen behind me.
Yes the play contains a picture of the book "Everyone Poops."
At 7:52 I told Aaron, the student running the slide show, that we were doing the power point.
“Don’t worry if anything messes up. We’ll make it work.”
We opened the house, five minutes before the play started, and I headed back to the dressing room for a brief pre show panic.
Now, there’s one thing about me you should know. There’s a good chance that I’m the best performer in the country for audiences of less than 20 people. I'm not kidding. I'd go up against anyone any day of the week. It’s a skill left over from my stand up days, having performed thousands of times for audiences of 20 people or less. It's a piece of cake walking out in front of 10,000 people getting them to laugh. Try getting 14 people in a theatre that seats a hundred on board. That takes skill.
(The secret is, pretending like you're having a conversation with your best friends. That's it. That's all you have to do.)
So while I wasn’t worried about the show going well, I was annoyed that this was a muscle I keep having to use over and over again. My bank account was annoyed as well. I’d really like to get proficient of audiences of say, 500, but my sister's voice echoed in my ear- the people out there are the ones who need to ear your story. You get to share your gift with them. Just because it’s not the one you want, doesn’t mean that it isn’t the role God is assigning.
At 8:05 I cut the music and walked out on stage. There were 19 people spread across the first few rows. 21 after a couple walked in a minute into the prologue.
I recognized a couple in the front row. I knew them from Charleston. They now lived in North Carolina, and this was their third time seeing the show. They had seen it in Charleston, Asheville, and now Greenville. They drove hundreds of miles to see me. That's incredible, I thought to myself. A wave of pride and humility swept over me.
As I started to tell my story, every fear and doubt I had magically slipped away. It was just me and 21 of my best friends, laughing and crying over this weird thing that happened to me and millions of other people. Over the course of the next hour and ten minutes I discovered the play a new. I found new moments, new nooks and crannies. These 21 people were laughing and crying every step of the way.
The slide show went off without a hitch, and the silence between the acts added a weight to the evening that I had never felt before.
After the show, I walked off stage and sat down in the dressing room. Maybe challenges, as opposed to being signs I’m going in the wrong direction, are signs I’m doing the exact right thing. It's not like Jesus' life was wine and roses. Siddhartha faced starvation before he became the Buddha. Not that I'm comparing myself to those two, but their lives are there for us to learn from and be inspired by.
That Saturday night, for those 21 people, was one of the greatest nights I’ve had in the theatre. If that isn’t proof that I am playing the role God wants me to play, then there’s no audience big enough to convince me.
I got dressed and headed back into the theatre, and chatted with the ones who had stayed behind.