This summer I met a tiny, elated, chimney sweep, and it’s the best damn thing I’ve ever seen theatre do.
When I took a job as Assistant Stage Manager for Zach Theatre’s summer musical, Mary Poppins there was a part of me that didn’t want to share the news with my peers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great position, and I am incredibly lucky to have had it, but a little part of me worried that perhaps I was “selling out”. In this school its very easy to find myself surrounded by Artists (with a capital A) who create Art (with a capital A) and deliver diatribes about the difference between Art (capital A) and art (lowercase a). Art (capital A) is Samuel Beckett, Jackson Pollock, Duchamp, while art (lowercase a) is Mamma Mia! the musical, or a painting you find in the Home Decor section of Macy’s. I feared that my friends and colleagues would chastise me for not working at some cool, hole-in-the-wall theater that was probably doing The Seagull, performed backwards, set in a post-apocalyptic sewer, which on some level paralleled the current political climate. Or, you know, something like that.
But I didn’t take that job. I took a comfy job at a regional theatre that was close to my parent’s house so I could live at home and mooch off of their groceries. I took it because I had spent my school year working on Art that was heavy and important and raw and hit you like a punch in the stomach, and I thought that maybe it would be nice to be in rehearsals that didn’t center around crack addicts or the eternally damned. I thought, perhaps I could try, just for a bit, doing something that wouldn’t send me home with a heavy heart every night, and deposit me directly into my tub of Ben & Jerry’s, which I sad-ate while I recapped my productive-and-succesful-but-depressing rehearsal to my roommate.
And you know what? It was awesome. I didn’t sad-eat Ben & Jerry’s once during the three months I worked on Mary Poppins. I met incredibly talented singers and dancers and actors and technicians who were all just as passionate about their Art as any Artist at my school ever has been. And yeah, it was still exhausting and stressful at times. And it had big ol’ corporate sponsors that took up glossy pages in the program. It was still interesting, and compelling, and meaningful, and important.
And it was still Art. Capital A. Art.
A few weeks after we opened, we had a special visitor. A young boy, probably about 9-years-old, was in the audience, and some of the actors had noticed him from the stage. When they exited to the wings they were gushing about his outfit. He had “soot”covering his face, a full chimney sweep costume, and even a tiny chimney broom. He was absolutely enthralled. As were hundreds of other children, and adults, and my proud-but-not-really-musical-people parents, and my cynical-Artist boyfriend, and people who had never been to the theatre before and people who had been going their whole lives. And these wonderful, beautiful people filled the house six times a week, ready to consume Art.
So, did I sell out? I don’t think so. I branched out into a world that touches people as deeply and as poignantly as any avant-garde, sewer Seagull ever could. Seeing the excitement on the tiny chimney sweep’s face when one of the ensemble members hopped off stage during a scene and shook his hand, or hearing my six-year-old cousin rave about “meeting THE Mary Poppins in the lobby after the show” makes it all more than worth it. The value of art doesn’t lie in how well-versed in obscure literature you have to be to understand it. If it moves people, and brings them together, and opens their minds and makes them feel something, then it is Art (with a capital A).