In 2004 as I was finishing grad school for opera performance, I had the great fortune of being hired to play Magnolia in a production of Show Boat in Arizona. Not only did this particular production bring about a sharp left turn in my career path (shortly thereafter, I moved to New York to pursue theater) but it was there that I met the tall, handsome fellow who is now my husband, and a beautiful, joyful girl who would be a forever friend of mine. And now, six years later, here we are, Jason Fleck, Jill Nyhan Zygo and myself, in this lovely little town of Sullivan, taking another trip on the Cotton Blossom.
It’s taken coming back to this familiar show for me to realize how much– and sometimes how little– has changed for me, playing opposite the same man, in the same show, with six years and (what certainly feels like) a whole lot of life in between.
The interesting and always exciting thing about theater is that a group of people are thrown together, and strive as a unified force to create art in two weeks, and then share it with an audience. Add in the factor of two people who are complete strangers acting as though they are deeply in love with one another, and things become infinitely more interesting and exciting! Thus, my first trip on the boat with Jason was charged with that thrill and uncertainty of uncharted territory: Can I put my hand here on your arm on this line? If I jump into your arms here in the music, will that disrupt your breathing? Can we hold this note for six counts instead of eight (this a particularly dicey, as no one wants to admit a weakness to a complete stranger, particularly one you have to be in love with eight shows a week)? And then off-stage, there is the time we spent getting to know one another as people, in order to make our onstage interaction more comfortable. It was very much like the first date or first kiss of a relationship – at times awkward, but thrilling and fun and unexpected at every turn.
That said, the flip side of that “thrill of the new” is that when I am onstage, playing a romantic lead opposite someone who is not my husband, I walk a fine line between giving myself over and dropping entirely into a character, and opening up my own personal self too much in that process. There is a certain amount of caution with which anyone must approach these roles. The beauty of this second trip I am taking on the Show Boat is that there is no part of me that must remain guarded, as the man I am in love with when the curtain goes up is the same man I am in love with when I step off the stage. And while there are fewer discoveries this time around, there is the knowledge that when we kiss, his hand will find the small of my back, and mine will touch his face, and we don’t need to discuss it beforehand. And if I have an off-day at rehearsal, I can go to him and ask for his opinion, one that I know I will respect, because over these past six years I’ve grown to respect him as an artist.
One thing that hasn’t changed? He can still hold that cursed last note two counts longer than I can, and while it’s no less maddening to me, he can read it in my eyes when I need to cut off, and he backs me up every time.