The Purpose of Performing
Ninety-five degrees. Outdoors. Tights underneath pants, wigs and an unbelievable amount of constant sweating. Singing, dancing and smiling. Always smiling. It was quite hard to continue sometimes, doing seven thirty minute shows a day, six days a week. Somehow though I never stopped, not only because I had signed a contract that said I couldn’t, but because of how often I saw her happy face in the audience, singing along with all of the songs that she now knew by heart. She must have dragged her daddy to come see our shows at least twice a week for three months, and she never grew tired. And because of her, I knew I could never stop.
Fiona is a typical eight year old. A playful and happy little girl with short brown hair and brown eyes, but who along with her father Joseph, is autistic. When I first met her while doing a post-show meet and greet she was so excited that she could barely finish a sentence. Her father eventually had to tear her away so that I could say hi to the other audience members. I never forgot her though and I always made sure to approach her and her father, as I had gotten my castmates to do as well. Much of the time, although she made painstaking efforts to express herself, I always understood what she intended to say. Our performances made her happy. Our smiles made her smile. And that was all that mattered.
I remember one particular show when a castmate was helping me do a quick-change backstage. We finally had an audience about the second week of performances because summer had officially started and schools were out. He said to me “Finally we get some applause! It’s so nice to feel appreciated. After all, isn’t that why we do this? To feel appreciated?”
I kept my feelings to myself at that moment as we were in the middle of a show and had about ten seconds until we were back on stage, but I couldn’t have disagreed more. I thought to myself “He just doesn’t get it,” and I desperately hoped that someday he would understand that it’s not about him, it’s about them. It’s about the people that gain because of what we have been blessed to give. Feeling appreciated may be why he does it, but it is certainly not why I do it.
I do it not only because I love to and I feel that it completes me, but because I know I’m touching someone in a positive way. For even the tiniest smile, and the shortest moment of happiness, it matters. In that moment I am given a purpose. It reminds me of a quote by yoga and meditation expert Jon Kabat-Zinn: “If I become a center of love and kindness in this moment, then in a perhaps small but hardly insignificant way, the world now has a nucleus of love and kindness it lacked the moment before."
In one of the final weeks of summer I was able to meet Fiona’s mother and baby sister. When her father was introducing us he said “Maria was the first performer to go up to Fiona, introduce herself and learn her name.” I knew then that my contribution affected not only Fiona, but her father as well. I gave Fiona my e-mail address and because of her excellent memory she remembered it without pen or paper. That was almost a year ago today, and we still keep in touch. I have learned that Fiona attends a new school, that she always does her homework and that she really loves her teachers and classmates.
I thank her father for his openness and kindness that he blessed his beautiful daughter with. And I thank them both for what they have given me. In any moment of weakness, doubt or despair I think of them and it all makes sense.