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Before and After

There are those Before and After moments in life — those moments when everything changes.

Some are universal and tragic, like 9/11; others are personal and profound, like hearing the desperate rush of your newborn’s first inhale.

Then there are those moments that fall into a category that Maslow would call self-actualization — when you have that rare opportunity to reveal to yourself and others the essence of the possible you.

Four years ago last night was just such a moment for me. A magical moment. Before a packed house of friends, family, and a smattering of curious onlookers, I performed the world premiere of my solo acoustic musical — my “one-guitar show,” Miss Isabella Rainsong and Her Traveling Companion.

Much of the evening remains a blur. But for me, the truly unforgettable moment was a private one.

The house went dark. I walked on stage to take my place lying on my back on a bench I had built for just this purpose. It was the only set piece on the stage that was to become the Anniston, Louisiana Amtrak train station for the next two hours.

I was cradling Dolly — the guitar debuting the role of Miss Rainsong — waiting for the first sounds of thunder and the attendant flickers of distant lightning that would forever separate Before from After.

Late at night in the empty big top I’m

All alone on the high wire

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no net this time

He’s the real death defier

— Buddy Mondlock “The Kid”

There may have been a technical issue that delayed the opening scene — one last reminder that so much could go terribly wrong. My 52-year-old brain had struggled to memorize the 45 minutes of dialogue that accompanied the twelve songs inhabiting the show. We had countless technical issues right up through dress rehearsal — so many issues that I never even got to DO a dress rehearsal.

Or maybe they were just waiting to be sure I was ready — giving me a moment to pull myself together before I dove into the first scene — introducing Miss Rainsong to the world and sharing that first magical strum of those strings inhabiting the space with me.

Or maybe hardly any time had passed at all. Maybe it was one of those seeing-your-keys-in-the-ignition-as-the-locked-door-swings-shut moments that used to happen before cars became smarter than us.

However long, there I was — suspended in the darkness. Few in the audience had any idea what to expect. I’m sure more than a few thought they might slip out during intermission if they found the experience particularly cringeworthy. Others would stay through the bitter end, perhaps out of loyalty or obligation.

But for that moment, I was experiencing the duality of feeling utterly alone while being cradled in the love of a host of supporters who gave of their money and time to share this moment with me.

I remember the feeling of being overwhelmed by a flood of emotion. Though I was supposed to be still, I heaved a huge breath as my heart pounded in my chest.

There’s no going back now. The Before is about to become the After.

Here’s the thing: no one said I had to do this. Okay, that’s not entirely true. A year before that night, my neighborhood book club had learned about this musical that had been rattling around in my head for about eight years.

Our book that month, The One Thing, was about taking practical steps to manifest our biggest dreams. We had a tradition of writing down questions on slips of paper, then pulling them out one at a time to stimulate conversation. Half of the questions, of course, were “What is your One Thing?”

When my turn came, I sheepishly told them about this idea for a solo acoustic musical. I had already written all the songs and had an early draft of the book, but it had been sitting in my hard drive for years. Waiting.

This show became the singular focus of the rest of the evening. “You MUST do this!” they said. They began employing all the strategies in the book to make “someday” become “as soon as humanly possible.” The most important of these strategies was to set a date. Not just a timeframe, but a “we will show up at your house to watch this show in your living room” date.

Six months later, I performed a one-act workshop version of the show for a dozen people. It was good enough to give a green light for putting it on for real.

Six months after that, I was there, on that bench — this time with 165 people in the audience, sharing the now-rarified air of an in-person performance.

There, on that bench, I knew this was a Before and After moment. I had performed in musicals before. I had written musicals and songs. I had even performed on that very stage before. But there was nothing in my life that so represented the clearest amalgamation of who I was as a human than the show that was about to manifest.

As it happened, the performance went really well. All the missed lines and technical challenges plaguing the Before politely declined to show in the After. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty damn good and far exceeded my “good enough” bar for that first show.

I’ve performed the show 18 times since (and, if you’re still reading, please, please consider hosting a performance this year — I’m really hoping to bring the refined version of the show to as many venues in 2022 as the pandemic and lovely people will allow). Each has had it’s own magic. None has been perfect.

But, for me, that night will always be the night of Before and After.

[If you’d like to watch a video of the world premiere performance, it is available on YouTube. Just click the link below!]

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