I did not ask for this role.
I was approached.
I was faced with a choice: accept the position or let the program die.
When the high school asked me to direct their fall musical and spring play, I was a flurry of emotions: overwhelmed, nervous, and terrified. I barely knew how to turn on the house lights in the auditorium, and they wanted me to direct?
I know I was probably an obvious choice: my dad built the program, and I grew up watching him in action. In high school, I performed under his direction. As an adult, I helped him make a few costumes and I brought him a lot of Saturday lunches. I’m sure the school assumed that I could just step into his role as though I had been understudying him for the last 33 years, that this program was mine to inherit, that this was my legacy.
Legacy is a very heavy word.
It conjures thoughts of bequests, of traditions, of empires. And Dad had built a mini empire out of teenagers and masking tape and wood scraps. He is Aladdin’s Genie, Willy Wonka, Peter Pan, and MacGyver, all rolled into one superhero of a man. He made the job look easy, and I knew that it wouldn’t be. But there is a familial aspect to legacies, and I could not bear the idea of letting everything that my own father had worked to build just crumble and fall away.
So I said yes.
Well, sort of.
Two shows a year felt like too much. I wanted to keep my seizures at bay, so I agreed to do only one. I said I would give the fall musical a trial run. Thus, with shaking hands, I took that enormous torch from my dad, the Father Abraham of USC Theatre, and I prayed that I would not be the one to drop it and burn the auditorium to ashes.
I chose Annie Jr. as my first show, and I was literally offering money to people who brought boys along with them to auditions because I was terrified that there would not be enough. (I gave out a total of $3.00--$1.00 per boy. I did end up with enough kids, even though I had to rob the light booth to find a Daddy Warbucks.)
I prayed that the show would not be a disaster.
I did not have the technical know-how that this job required. I had a lot of help from an incredible technical director (a fellow USC Theatre alum), and, of course, Dad, who designed the set. But as we got into things, I found that my ignorance didn’t matter. The kids just needed someone who was willing to open the auditorium doors and sit with them. They flooded that space with their talent and light and energy and ideas, and something extraordinary happened as we worked together on that show: a beautiful interdependence bloomed among us. They relied on me, and I came to rely on them. We were the moving parts of this living, breathing show, and we became a family.
When I began this journey, I thought this legacy was merely the task of directing a show. I thought that it was about scripts and spotlights and choreography and microphones and costumes and sets, and it is all of those things.
But it is so much more.
Dad’s drama program was successful because he treated his students like they were his own children: he built a family for kids who often had little to none at home. He saw potential in everyone who came to audition, and he gave them the chance to be successful. He showed his students how to imagine an entire world, and then he gave them the tools to bring it to fruition. He balanced discipline with a sense of play, and high expectations with acceptance. He put his faith in God first and in his students second, and he trusted them to deliver a show that would bring laughter to a hurting world.
So I tried to do likewise.
I was so proud and pleased with the work those students--my students--had done. Their performances were polished and entertaining. Afterwards, I was overwhelmed by comments of praise and sighs of relief that the program was in new hands. It was gratifying and exhilarating. The kids bought me flowers and a gift and wrote me the sweetest card, and we had a fabulous time at the cast party. They basked in the afterglow, relaying compliments, hugging and high five-ing one another.
They were sobbing when the set was torn down and put away, and I bawled my head off on my drive home from that last performance.
I had a fantastic experience, and I thought the kids did, too. The wheels in my head immediately began turning with plans for the next fall musical.
But it turns out that I didn’t need to wait that long.
Within a week following the run of Annie Jr., a boy drafted a petition to reinstate the spring play, and 37 students signed it. They brought it to me and asked me if I would be their director.
I was flabbergasted.
Being asked by the school to direct was one thing. But being asked by my own students was another thing entirely. How could I turn them--my students, my children--down?
I told them that I would do it, provided that the school approved it.
So the kids took the petition to the Activities Director. They told him about their experience, about that feeling of family that connected us all, about wanting more of it, and I was not the only one moved to tears as they shared.
The Activities Director approved their petition, and I am already hatching plans for the spring play, which will be in April of 2019.
I discovered that this was my true legacy: creating a second family for kids who need one.
I did not drop my father’s torch. Its light burns bright within my hands.