There’s a lot of angst out there tonight. Has been for a while, but this week has been particularly bad. People are upset about a lot of different things. I was, too. Then I took Matthew to the Canteys.
Every year at the end of the season, Raleigh Little Theatre (RLT) has its annual meeting and awards ceremony — they’re called The Cantey Awards, after Cantey Venable Sutton, the “grand dame of RLT” who spearheaded the original theatre’s construction more than eight decades ago. Those awards are as much a tribute to humanity as to the humanities, celebrating the best the arts community has to offer.
Matthew and I weren’t up for any, but we went to show support for our friends who were, and to be part of the community. He and I acted in “Beanstalk! The Musical!” there together earlier in the season, followed immediately by him acting in and me working props for “Blood Done Sign My Name.” We love that theatre, and we wanted to be there for the awards. I’m glad we did.
One presenter opened with an imitation of a heartbeat before citing a study that found that audience members’ hearts tend to beat in synchronization with each other during a play. He went on to point out how iambic pentameter, the meter in which Shakespeare wrote his plays, emulates a heartbeat. And how all of us in that room already knew we were contributing to synchronized heartbeats with every performance, and that’s why we do what we do. And how a heartbeat says, in rhythm, “You, me. Me, you. We, us. Us, we.” And how we are all part of it.
An award-winner told us RLT has saved his life on numerous occasions, by allowing him to be part of its productions. Another gave an impassioned plea to use our voices to effect the change we wish to see. Several thanked RLT for its inclusive nature. The same themes repeated throughout the evening — we have important stories to tell, stories that bring people together and help mend society.
There was a lot of love in that room tonight. And warmth. And support. And camaraderie. Tears were shed, achievements were celebrated, hugs were given in abundance. And for a short time, cares were forgotten.
We stuck around the lobby for a while afterward, congratulating winners and catching up with friends and former castmates. It felt good, and it’s as simple as that.
As we were standing there, another theatre parent approached us. Her daughter is in Matthew’s grade, and like us, both of them act. I’ve seen her around over the years, but never formally met her. She approached Matthew to compliment him, which I thought was nice. She even included me. She shook his hand and told him she’d seen him in both of the plays he’d done, and that he’d done a good job. Then she shook mine, and said the same of me. We smiled and thanked her, and then the conversation went a little sideways.
“And I look forward to seeing more from…whatever this is,” she said, waving her arms toward and around both of us. I guess she meant me and Matthew doing plays together? I really don’t know. I took it as a compliment, but then she kept talking, and doubt presented itself.
She turned to Matthew among all the other noise in that crowded room, smiled, and said, “And I don’t know who your girlfriend is going to be next year, but we’re going to have to get you some stilts.” I scowled a bit at that, at first doubting I’d heard it correctly. She continued, “That, or we can cut her off at the knees.”
With that, she laughed and turned to go. I couldn’t see Matthew’s face from where I was standing, but I could well imagine it turning beet red. All of the boys in his class are older than he is, so most of them are taller. Some of the girls, too. For whatever reason, this mom pointed it out to him.
I thought I’d shock him into a laugh, so I leaned over and said, “Well, that was a shitty thing to say.”
He turned to me, shrugged, and said, “It doesn’t matter.” His face was fine.
Later, he would tell me he hadn’t heard all of it, but heard the words “girlfriend” and “stilts” and knew it was a remark about his height. He asked me what she had said specifically, and I told him it doesn’t matter. He was already handling it graciously. It was the one blip in an otherwise great night, and my 12-year-old taught me how to handle it with aplomb.
Who knows? Maybe she meant it as a compliment, as in, the girls are going to be after you now, but don’t let your height worry you. I may never know, so I followed his lead in shrugging it off.
We stayed a few minutes longer, sharing a few laughs, tears, and hugs with some of the other cast members of “Blood Done Sign My Name.” We left feeling pretty good.
So if you want my advice on how to park your worries, go watch a play. Or better yet, an awards ceremony. Celebrate the triumphs of the human spirit. Know that there are others who want to tell and/or hear these stories. Share your heartbeat with some other lucky people for a bit.
But please — don’t comment on their height.