Pippin won the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival. That came as no surprise to me. Participating in that musical -- because attending it is truly a matter of participation and not just observation -- awakened me. I haven't stopped singing its songs since my daughter, friends, and I saw the show on Broadway last month.
I pour my morning coffee and belt out: "Oh, it's time to start livin', Time to take a little from the world we're given." Don't I know it. Yes, my yoga chants of "om" are a great way to connect to the moment, but it's ever so much more fun to imitate the tremendous (Tony winning) Andrea Martin engaging the Broadway audience as Pippin's grandmother. She instructs us to sing along with her, a good step to start living.
Similarly, (also brilliant and Tony winning) Patina Miller calls: "join us..." to the audience as the show begins. Who wouldn't want to join the acrobatic, fantastic, and idealistic troop as they aim to make the most of the life we're given? Pippin embraces the young spirit full of ambition, hopes and dreams -- a time before cynicism or inhibition may take over and constrain us.
My daughter both cringed and laughed while I sang along with Pippin from my seat, remembering lyrics from summer camp, lyrics I hadn't attended to for decades. Suddenly, there those lyrics were, with the force and desire of my buoyant and ambitious adolescent self. And with the lyrics came the effervescent feelings. Like the river that belongs where it can ramble and the eagle that belongs in flight, I had to be where my spirit could run free. I had to find my corner of the sky, wherever that was. I remembered summer nights at camp Naticook, my first kiss with Robby Brown, my role as Minnie Fay in my junior high production of Hello Dolly, and my first date with Magnus Ristorp, the handsome high school exchange student who stole my heart only to crush it later when he found a girl more willing than I to embrace the sexual freedoms the Swedes are famous for. The highs and lows of adolescence came rushing back to me as I sat next to my 13-year-old daughter, on the cusp of her own journey into the circus.
How do we hold on to that exuberance? How do we remember that it's "time to take time, time to take a little from the world were given"? The routines, responsibilities and demands -- both internal and external -- of daily life can weigh us down, hold us back from jumping onto the trapeze and soaring into the sky, risks and all.
I read a friend's blog about forgiveness and think there's a secret in there. He wrote about holding on to anger -- at others and at himself -- and the ways in which that anger penetrated him and held him back. It's certainly true for me. I often eat my own anger, turn it in on myself as something I've done wrong, weighing myself down with feelings of guilt rather than directly confronting a situation, speaking my mind, and letting it go. Turns out that yoga mantra of "let go" is important after all.
Even in 2013, restraints and inhibitions are pervasive. Women are taught to be "nice." I'm not alone in turning anger inward. As far as we've come baby, we still have a ways to go. Pippin embraces freedom, desire, and ambition. I know mothers who, even on the Upper West Side of New York City -- a place we consider relatively open and evolved -- perpetuate destructive messages to their daughters. Curly hair should be straight. Curves and softness should be tightened. Clothing that resembles what used to be worn for work on 42nd street may bring popularity. How can a developing girl soar when she's starving herself and changing her features to confirm with magazine guidelines?
As they say in theater, Pippin breaks the "fourth wall" -- it tackles the conventions of theater itself by engaging the audience. Soaring in life may also require breaking some rules. I want to encourage teenage girls to cast aside their mothers', their fathers', and even their teachers' constraints. Of course I don't want them shooting heroin. Heck, I don't even like tattoos. And I am among the stricter of parents when it comes to schoolwork, curfews, and respect. Listen to our guidance, girls, when it is wise. But I also want our daughters' spirits to run free. And sometimes, heeding traditional restrictions may inhibit flight.
A few hours before the Tony Awards, my daughter's dance school, the School at Steps, held its annual performance. The kids train rigorously for a year for this performance. Sometimes the dedication the school demands can drive a parent crazy. But then, the dancers get on stage and the magic really happens, as Pippin promises in its opening song. Watching my daughter shine onstage for a few minutes is a high that soars with the eagle. I'm sure many parents can relate -- I see friends' photos on Facebook of their children's cheerleading squads, soccer victories, and piano recitals and I know we experience a similar pride whatever the achievement of our child may be. Those exquisite moments when our children declare "here I am in my strength and glory" make you feel alive like a perfect dry clear sunny day when everything stands in sharp and beautiful relief.
After the Steps dance show, families crowd the stage door awaiting their child's appearance (it's actually an elevator door in this case). We have renewed our excitement about life, about the body's ability to move to music, and about the achievement that comes with hard work. Our hearts are full. Watching your children's steps, on whatever stage they may be (even the kitchen floor), reminds us of the wise lyrics the grandmother sings in Pippin: "Time to take time, or spring will turn to fall. In just no time at all."
Unfortunately one boy who attends my daughter's dance class couldn't make the final Steps dance performance. He stars in Pippin and had to perform at the Tony's.