I am not so blessed. And, I’m not sure if this has more to do with the fact that I’m a woman, an American ... or both.
Either way, I have slowly come to realize that even in the most friendly, affirming and cosy of villages, there exist quiet enclaves of hurt feelings, however unintended.
On a walk in the bright sunshine of a crisp Autumn morning, I ran into my friend, Sally, walking her dog Poppy on the playfield. We haven’t seen each other for ages and took this opportunity to catch up.
Sally’s not been feeling well, so she missed our first Pageant rehearsal at church on Sunday. The “Nativity Pageant” is performed here in our village every five years, and it is a major undertaking. A huge, platform set is erected over the altar, and locals from nearby villages are invited to participate just to swell the ranks.
As with most “traditions”, there is a certain way of doing things. Of course, that is at the heart of what the word “tradition” means. Doing something repeatedly, in a particular way, at a particular time.
And this tradition is no exception. The major roles in the play (i.e., Mary, Herod, The Wise Men, etc.) all have a history. Once cast in one of these roles, the person playing it is ironclad to the role for life. Only death, relocation, or self-imposed retirement can release the role for someone else.
This year, with the sad demise of dear Chris Hayward, the role of Isaiah has a new occupant for the first time in over 25 years. This change has facilitated a shift for many of the male performers, and freed a new space in the role of Joseph. The D.E.B. has been asked to take on that role. Not bad for a “newbie”!
The selection process was very simple. Anyone interested in taking part turned up to the church and indicated their interest on a sign-up sheet. The directors then decide who goes where.
Knowing a longstanding tradition when I see one, I kept my expectations realistically low: women’s chorus/crowd. Sally, on the other hand, had her heart set on playing Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth.
Her disappointment and upset were palpable as we walked along the playing field. “I was told they wanted me for Elizabeth,” she said, sadly.
The irony of the situation was not lost on me. Here was Sally, a former professional stage actress, who has acted her way around the globe (several times) being passed over for a speaking part in the village Pageant.
On one hand, it’s laughable, and the other, heart-achingly sad. And, my heart did ache for Sally. I tried to console her by reassuring her that this turn of events surely had nothing to do with her, but rather everything to do with longstanding traditions, and the fact that there has probably been someone waiting in the wings, clomping at the bit, to play Elizabeth for the past 45 years!
I tried to soothe her by theorising that she, like us, has not been in the village for very long; and perhaps this is the curse of been a newbie, you’re left at the bottom of the artistic food chain.
But, if I’m honest, I share Sally’s pain. I was recently asked if I would consider directing a one-act play for the drama group. I said, yes, of course. And, then dutifully began racking my brain and spent hours upon hours scouring the library for a decent play to propose.
Probably not a surprise, given my professional background and tastes, I opted for a classic. Noel Coward, in fact. I found a little gem of a play called Ways and Means, and absolutely fell in love with it!
I submitted it to the ‘play selection committee’, and after just a few days deliberation, it was shot down like a turkey before Thanksgiving!
My selection was deemed ‘too old-fashioned’. I would be lying if I did not say my pride was more than slightly wounded. Like Sally, I have spent the better part of my life in the theatre, and have worked my way around the world doing so. Selecting plays and directing them was the way I lived my life.
So, a rejection like as this hits squarely, and rather foolishly, in a deeply personal place. Without a doubt, rejection is something artists live with everyday, and is nothing new to neither Sally or myself. As such, it does make me wonder why we have each taken these turns of events so much to heart?
Perhaps for me it is a bit of 'premeditated misery', as we have auditions for the Music Hall at the end of next week. Now, there’s a thing. My goodness, if I fail to be selected for the Music Hall, perhaps that would a sort of karmic pay back for all the scores of actors whose hearts I’ve broken over the years…
No discussion of hurt feelings would be complete without this clip from that fantastic musical comedy/ parody duo from New Zealand, "Flight of the Conchords":