There has been, of late, a paradigm shift in my life.
A week before I went into rehearsal for my last show, my father died. It was not entirely abrupt, but when it happened, I was changed. My whole life tilted on its axis, and when I went into rehearsals everything seemed frivolous and unimportant. Near the end of the contract, a friend of mine also died. She was my age at the time, and the news struck a part of me that I never knew was there.
The show I was doing was Mary Poppins and in the show, George Banks has a line where he says, "I have rediscovered the human race...and I do not apologize for understanding that there are more important things in life than making money."
The audience usually applauded. I usually rolled my eyes.
We all know this. Hallmark tells us. Movies tell us. At this point, saying so is almost cliche.
But then, one day, it clicked. Exchange the word "money" for "great performance" and I am on the other side of the divide.
Ever since I was a kid, I put my dedication to performance first. For the sake of my training, I gave up birthday parties and school trips. I often passed on sweets and celebrations. I gave up sleep. When I became a professional, I gave up a steady paycheck. I gave up living in one place for any amount of time. I gave up relationships and friendships. I gave up being with my family when they needed me, or maybe just wanted me. Whether or not I gave up my sanity is arguable.
But, since this shift, I have been re-evaluating this philosophy, and I no longer think it is healthy.
I'm not saying that we should give up on great performances. I'm not saying that we should not aspire to great art. I'm not saying that you should drop our careers every time our sibling has the flu. I don't even advocate working less: the shift is much more subtle, and much more incisive.
The difference is this:
I now want my art to be an expression of my human life, not my life to be an expression of the art I make. This is an important distinction because it makes me human first, and an artist second. In other words, I want my "Hello! My name is.." tag to read "Ashley (person with various loves and passions)" as opposed to "Artist (who makes beautiful work and does human-like things when convenient)".
My younger self would see this shift in priority as a proclamation of blasphemy (even writing it down now feels like heresy), but I now I know that "human first" is truly what I am, and perhaps, have grown to be.
And don't you know, I still think that I am becoming the artist I meant to be all along. I simply think that this realization is the next step in my process of maturation, and unfortunately, I don't think it is a step that every artist has the pleasure of experiencing. I am aware enough to be grateful for this, despite the circumstances that led me here.
So today I propose a toast, to full people, dense people. People who see and live and experience horror, love, terror, joy and fright. This one is for the humans, and especially the humans who, through their lives and creations, make their more enlightening experiences accessible to many more.
To all of the complex human beings, who happen speak of their vibrant lives in the language of art, we salute you.