72: A Ham Is Born

72: A Ham Is Born

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

A Ham Is Born

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

~Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

My son Levi went off to college and never looked back. Yeah, I know, I should have been happy that he was independent and doing so well. But when even my very subtle reminders about the nineteen hours of labor I endured to bring him into this world failed to get him to phone home, I realized it was time to get on with my own life.

The day-to-day part of raising a kid was done. All that creative energy, all that passion, all that focus — they had to go somewhere.

And then.

Our family joke is that I have always been Lucy to my husband Bill’s Ricky — the wacky redhead who is always trying to get into her husband’s shows. Bill sings, acts and writes musical theater. Levi has inherited his gifts. I, however, hadn’t appeared on stage since my remarkable debut as Aunt Polly in my sixth grade production of Tom Sawyer. Whenever Bill produced or performed in a show, I pretended to campaign for a role. “Why can’t I play Othello? I’d be brilliant!”

Now that my days weren’t full of have-you-done-your-homework, have-you-written-your-college-essays, get-off-the-computer-and-go-to-sleep hysteria, I thought maybe I shouldn’t pretend anymore. Why not give acting a shot?

Bill challenged me: Our local theater, Curtain Call, was doing Waiting in the Wings by Noël Coward. Set in a home for retired actresses, it had a large need for “women of a certain age.” “If you audition, I will too and we can do it together,” Bill offered. It was put up or shut up time.

I’d given lectures and readings, and had always felt comfortable on stage. I’m pretty good at feeling a mood and getting an audience to come with me. But that was me as me, saying my own thoughts. Could I assume the role of someone else? Could this aged brain actually retain lines? I read the play and saw a teeny tiny part that lasted a whole three pages. I could audition for that. “Sure, what the hey,” I said.

Flash forward and guess what? I was cast. Initially I was sure they did so because they knew it was the only way they’d get brilliant Bill. (He made it clear that we were a package deal.) But I was cast in a much larger role than the teeny tiny one. I was Almina, an eighty-five-year-old obese former vaudevillian. Huh.

Bill and I were out together every weekday night at rehearsals for two months. When 7 p.m. rolled around, we both thought, “Uck, we’re too tired to go out.” But once we got there, we were energized by the creative process and the camaraderie of the cast. I felt as if I were back in college — making friends, laughing, discovering, and gossiping. I loved the inside jokes. I liked challenging myself to get inside someone else’s skin.

I had few lines but for some reason was on stage the entire time. I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be doing. “Do whatever you feel like,” said the director. “I’ll pull you back if it doesn’t work.” Wha? On the Internet, I found one review of a former production that said Almina stole the show every time she was on. Okay, I thought, she was doing something out there. It was up to me to find it and go for it.

At first I did a little mugging and sighing and eye rolling. The director said nothing. So I went broader: I hid food in my purse and pockets and stuffed my face constantly, actually making a bit of sorting through jellybeans. For the Christmas scene, I took a bird ornament and fashioned it into a barrette for my hair. (We were performing in a dinner theater in the round. During one performance, the ornament took a swan dive into a patron’s dinner. I turned around and asked, “Can I have my birdie back?”) By the final performance, I had become fearless. I was singing, dancing, pretending to sleep and snore, shamelessly scene stealing. This is what used to be referred to as “making stupid.” Directed to take a small drink of rum, I grabbed the whole bottle and pretended to guzzle it. I did everything short of roll on the floor and pull my dress up over my head.

A ham was born. (Did I mention that the bows were my favorite part? Yay for me! Everyone clap for me!) Was I great? No, but was I really kind of okay? Yes. And did I enjoy it? Oh, yeah. While seasoned trained actresses in the cast were practically throwing up before every performance, I calmly did crossword puzzles.

I no longer sit home, waiting for Levi to call to fill me in on what’s going on in the world. I am finding out for myself. Although I still can’t believe how fast parenthood flies, from the umbilical cord dropping off to your kid dropping off laundry on his way to somewhere else, I have learned that the empty nest can actually be a blessing. It gives me time to find out who I am when I am not Levi’s mom. And apparently, there are many different “me’s” who are waiting to make their entrance.

Do it again? I already have. (I believe audiences are still talking about my definitive Sarah the Cook in The Man Who Came to Dinner.) I have learned to sing and dance — at the same time, mind you — for Fiddler on the Roof. The head of the company has talked to me about upcoming productions that call for over-the-top comedy. Or as he so delicately puts it, “whacked-out nut jobs.” I’ve never been so complimented.

~Beth Levine

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners