Friday, December 28, 2018

Tenth Anniversary

It has been ten years since I fell in love with musical theatre.

I've been trying to find a way to celebrate the milestone, if you can call it that, here on my blog – but as of late (and as I wrote in my previous Finnish post), the weight of the whole world has been pushing down on my shoulders so heavily that I haven't been able to mark such a happy, frivolous occasion.

But just now, I figured out what I want to write about.

I want to show you all what being a musical fan means to me. So, for this blog post, I'm inviting you to step into my shoes. In this post, you are me.

Let's step a while back in time and go see a musical.



You've travelled to see musicals many times before, but planning a new trip is always a pain. When travelling with friends, you always take on the role of a tour operator, and though you're very good at looking up schedules and searching for cheap hotel rooms with breakfast included, it's still just as annoying every time.

Except for this time, it's even worse! You've bought your musical tickets well in advance but decided to look for a hotel later... and now, searching for accommodation, it turns out everything's sold out. There's some touring musician visiting the town's arena the same night you're going to see the musical performance, so every single hotel, hostel and Airbnb is fully booked. There are no trains and no buses out of town after the show, either, so it seems you're stuck – until, by pure luck, you find there are still exactly three beds available that night.

Two in a cheap hostel room, and one in the distinguished Grand Hôtel next door, with twice the price.

You curse a little in front of your computer screen but place the bookings.

Now that that's settled, it's time to travel.

***

You don't have to go to the ends of the earth for your musical adventure (and as of late, heaven knows you've been wondering if any travel for pleasure can be considered moral while the ice caps are melting), but a little distance helps to make the occasion a little more special.

This time, you're going to a theatre in a mid-sized town in the neighbouring country. It's not a tourist destination by any means, but you're certainly not going to pass for a local, seeing you're not fluent in the language. You can understand a lot of what's being said, but when it comes to talking, despite taking lessons, ordering a burger and a coke to go with it is as far as your skills go. When it comes to the musical, though, the language is not a problem. You are going to see a piece you're very familiar with already.

You'll be taking the overnight ferry, and two of your good friends are coming with you.

On the ferry, you talk about pointless things – nothing too deep, and as of yet, nothing about the musical you're going to see either. Instead, it's mostly particularly silly chatter about a recent movie. Grabbing a bite at the ship cafeteria and talking nonsense, you're feeling all light and nice.

You've done it before, but even so, a trip like this is always a special thing. Something a little out of the ordinary.

You have some trouble falling asleep, chatting with your friends for half the night first and then the movement of the ship keeping you awake for the other half. Mercilessly, the ferry still docks at 6:30 AM.

It's a December morning, and it's a northern part of the world, so it's not going to be light for quite a while. Still, you trudge through the dark city, eat breakfast at that one café that's open at such an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning, and then all three of you fall asleep when your bus leaves the station.

In three or four hours, you reach your destination. It's all grey and rainy. You already know the town, seeing you've been there some months prior to see the exact same musical you're about to see tonight. Your traveling companions might have different reasons for coming back, but for you, it's a combination of love for the musical, love for this particular direction and love for the leading actor. Even before seeing it the first time, you knew that with this production, just once wouldn't do.

You check into your hotels, you in the Grand Hôtel and your friends at the hostel. A part selfish, part self-sacrificing move to pick the fancy but lonely room for yourself. Soon enough, though, all three of you gather in the compact single room to chill and to plan the evening.

It's starting to feel a little exciting. It is after all your favourite musical.

You don't go sightseeing. Instead, you just hang around at the hotel for a bit and then have a meal at a quiet restaurant. Or not so quiet, not anymore after the three of you enter! The food is good, there's lots of laughter, it's already dark outside again. It's all such a nice, warm feeling – and the best still lies ahead.

Walking to the theatre, you really feel a tiny little bit happier with each step, a little like you're about to open a present soon. No other musical but this one can make you feel such a special shade of anticipation.

***

You find your seat in the front row, the lights go down, and then, it's just three hours of love.

You know everything that's going to happen, every scene, every note, even most of the particular translation they're using... but even so, and just because of that, it still carries you away. It's not a happy story, but it's a familiar one, one that takes you on a cathartic emotional journey every time.

In short, this musical feels like home. Some productions more than others, sure – but this one is very much to your tastes and feels very much right.

A big part of the warm feeling stems from an earlier production that was very dear to you, a production you saw again and again that holds a thousand happy memories for you. This production is in the same language and features the same leading actor (that's something you've been hoping would happen ever since the production you loved closed, and you couldn't be happier about it), so it feels especially familiar, safe and good.

It's not only about nostalgia, though. You love seeing what just this combination of artists can do with the material, being surprised by details in their interpretations and the way the actors' performances have grown since the premiere. You love experiencing the story retold, same but different every time.

Sometimes, you think you're going to stop seeing this musical for good when the finale doesn't raise your heart rate anymore. Tonight is not that night. Hearing the last notes, there's again that familiar feeling of your heart beating faster. You feel at home. Your heart is happy.

***

After the show, you stagedoor a bit. In these northern parts of the world, it's not a common thing to do (and you'd be lying, claiming you're a very spontaneous person), so instead of popping up all spontaneously, you've let the lead know you're going to be there ahead of time. Sure enough, you meet him and some others and have a little chat. Afterwards, then, it's time to go back to Grand Hôtel with your friends, hang out in the little room and talk, talk, talk about what you just saw and what you thought about everything.

Next day, it's the same but backwards: waking up too early, leaving the town in a hurry, taking the ferry back home. Maybe seeing another musical on your way out, who knows – but that's already a different story.

Nevertheless, it's been a very good weekend.



This story is of course not all there is to being a musical fan. It's just about one aspect of it that I hold dear to my heart. Maybe the previous – and future! – entries in this blog will tell you about the rest.

No other medium speaks to me quite like musical theatre does. It gives me a lot. It connects me with other people, friends and performers and fellow audience members all in a host of different ways. It gives me stories and characters and songs to reflect on.

At its very best, it gives me a way of reaching another reality, if only for a few hours at a time.

It has been said that a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. I believe that one who goes to theatre gets to live more than one, too.

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