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I Know Why the “Stage” Bird Sings MAG
The stage in my mind has been empty for years. It is still vacant, hollow with the exception of the suffocating air and strands of lighting. Haze hangs, weighed by hushed dreams carrying with it echoes of distant applause. Pulsing fog propels itself against the back of my eyes, creating tears that roll down to my lips. They congregate as I hum a nameless tune.
Shutting my journal, I look at the script. It was written simply, understated by the white letters on the cover: "Master Class: Maria Callas brought back to life."
"Maria Callas," I muttered, throwing the words away. I must confess that the name was foreign to me, and I was content with my ignorance. I had convinced myself that apathy to the arts was the only way to vanquish unwanted hunger.
Life to this point seemed dictated by my obsession with the theater - though it was not obsessed with me. I was the child no one took seriously as I stood there for auditions, so when my friend suggested I play the role of Maria Callas, an opera diva praised as La Divina, I was skeptical.
My friend shook his head and flipped through the pages. "No, really. Read it. I mean, you only have to do this for your in-class oral interpretation. It can’t be that bad, it won a Tony."
I began to trace random excerpts, patches of Terrence McNally’s work.
"I’m not very good with words, but I have tried to reach you. To communicate something ... we do as artists, as musicians, as human beings." "The only thanks I ask is that you sing ... honestly. If you do this I will feel repaid."
The words reverberated as my mind folded to reverie. My empty stage. I began work on the piece, and after reading the script, I was tangled in the image of Maria Callas. I saw her as a woman assured by her talent even when, in later years, it escaped her. I was in love with this stunning phoenix.
Through the months, I shared this adoration at different tournaments. Each performance allowed me to seep my soul through the skin of Maria. The determination, the isolation, the insecurities and eventually the triumph. By spring of junior year, I had the most dramatic interpretation points in my high school squad.
And yet, it was as if I were continually kept at bay, perpetually waiting in the wings. At each victory there was someone telling me to go no farther. Skeptics called my performances cheap tricks. Critics stared blankly. Peers gave me forged smiles.
Following one disastrous performance I huddled in a high-school bathroom and wept into my script. Droplets crowded Terrence McNally’s words, "I know they’re all out there in the dark ... the other singers. Smiling. Waiting for me to fail ... to think, there are actually people to whom beauty, art, what we do, isn’t important." Fortunately for me, Mr. McNally did not stop there. Maria Callas did not stop there.
Fervently flipping pages I came to the words that would forever frame my perspective, "Subjugate yourself to the music. Always the music." Maria was commissioning me - as an artist, as a human being who felt the longing - that is art. Her life served as a testimony that hunger can never be satisfied, nor can an artist ever be satisfied with mere hunger.
Through Maria Callas, I learned that fulfillment comes through surrendering. Concurrently, I came to understand that art (and life) is not to be catered to the disgusted critics and doubting peers, but rather to the reached audience member and the believing friend.
Two years ago, I finally stepped out from the wings and onto the stage as the audience rose to a standing ovation. "Ashley Gay, tenth in the nation in dramatic interpretation," came the announcement. The fog vanished and the haze of hushed dreams screamed with uproarious clapping. Maria’s spirit thrust itself against the back of my eyes, inciting tears. They congregated there as I hummed a boundless aria.