by Elise Seyfried
My kids recently expressed sorrow that I finally stopped performing in our children’s theatre productions. Our theater group is called Family Stages; also the Rehoboth Summer Children’s Theatre. For some reason (wonder why?) they’d always enjoyed seeing their mother make a fool of herself onstage, fussing and fuming as the Wicked Queen in Snow White, “flying” and sword fighting as Peter Pan. I enjoyed it too, but now I’ve had enough at age 55. I’ve been playing these parts since 1979, when I was a mere slip of a girl, and it wasn’t quite such a stretch to imagine me skipping down the Yellow Brick Road.
Before I met my husband Steve, I never really considered being an actress (though apparently I was such an overly dramatic child that I was dubbed “Sarah Heartburn.”) I performed in the school plays, several of which I wrote. It was the writing much more than the acting that captivated me. But as Steve was a dedicated performer, and I was dedicated to Steve, I gravitated towards the theatre so that we could act together.
When Steve and I were young marrieds, it was just the two of us, hitting the road, and the stage, in hundreds of schools, libraries, recreation centers and theatres all over the Northeast every year. Looking back, I truly don’t know how we did it. We averaged 2-3 performances a day, nearly every day, with travel in between. The show went on, through fevers and broken wrists and laryngitis. Along the way, we acquired endurance (our record: 5 shows in a single day). We developed thick skins, when the kids were either rowdy or — worse — eerily silent throughout the show.
This often happened in Catholic schools, after Sister Mary Authoritarian, in her pre-curtain speech, warned everyone to be QUIET. Nothing quite as embarrassing as doing comic pratfalls and making jokes to pin-drop silence. We became flexible, as our venues ranged from huge auditoriums to a tiny space between library bookshelves. We learned to live and work together, 24/7, with a remarkable level of civility, even when my lousy map-reading took us three towns in the wrong direction when we were already late for a gig.
Eventually we settled down in Oreland, but continued to keep up our hectic performance schedule. When it was time to begin our family, I breathed a sigh of relief. Surely I could take a much-needed break! But no! What’s a little pregnancy anyway? No big deal! So it was back to work for mom, well into the second trimester. I became an expert at concealment, donning ever larger and looser dresses so that the viewers weren’t traumatized by the sight of Dorothy, six months along, waddling to Oz.
And I’d be back at it two weeks after giving birth (still wearing the larger, looser dresses). We’d often bring a babysitter along to the show so I could feed my infant backstage mere minutes before going on. No wonder none of the five kids has chosen acting as a profession … they’d all paid their theatrical dues by the time they were toddlers!
For years now, I have been gradually bowing out of the shows, citing the demands of my other job at church and my ever-advancing age. We’ve hired many terrific (and a few not-so-terrific) young actors, who have been handling the bulk of the performances. Yet I have remained the go-to actress when Steve was in a pinch, largely because of my scary-good memory (in the script area only; in all other areas, the memory is scary-bad).
With no rehearsal I could (literally) leap into “Toad’s Escape” and sweep into “Cinderella” without missing a beat. Little wonder, I guess, that my husband still depended on me to save the theatrical day. So, through my 40s and early 50s, on I trouped when needed. Our young audiences, bless them, never commented on the fact that, clearly, Alice in Wonderland was almost as old as their grandmas.
But now I am, at last, truly finished with performing. I always had church duties as a volunteer, but for the past 10 years I’ve been working 40++ hours a week as a paid staffer, so it’s been increasingly difficult to find the time to perform. Also, honestly, I never really loved acting … and I was feeling a bit ridiculous playing ingenues at my age!
I have hung up my crazy costumes for good and retired my ruby slippers. I have kissed a large and very important part of my life goodbye. It was a heckuva lot of fun (mostly) while it lasted; now it’s quitting time. Learning when to stop is one of life’s most valuable lessons. I pray, as I grow older, I can recognize all the other quitting times in my future. And make my peace with them.
Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. She can be contacted through www.eliseseyfried.com.