There is a moment that almost every former actor has while watching a performance. While watching Moulin Rouge on Broadway, I had that moment.
When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an actor. I’ve shared that many times. Please indulge me once more while I take a trip down Memory Lane. Whenever I was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always responded, “An Actor.” I always dove into my characters, whether it was in a church play or a school play. And then when I graduated high school, I jumped onto various community theater stages and joined a traveling improv group. I was often told, “You’re going to be a big star someday.” And so, I plugged along and then decided I should go to college, where I studied acting. After college, I began doing community theater once again and loved my time with fellow like-minded people.
Then, I got married and my new wife and I moved to NYC, where she would go to law school and I would chase my dream of being an actor. I fully believed that it would take no time at all for me to be discovered. I jumped from acting class to audition to whatever retail job I was holding. As hard as it was, I loved the process. There is something about being young and hungry that makes the chase satisfying.
I learned right away that my journey to be an actor was difficult. On one of my first auditions, I walked into a large room and noticed everyone looked like me. Picture a huge room full of 30-40 Jasons. We all had the same build, same features, same hair, and the weirdest part, we walked similarly. So, I thought I should change things up. I tried to speak differently and act differently than everyone else in the room. I later learned that was a mistake. They chose me to audition for a reason. There was a type they were looking for. I was not giving them that type. And then there were auditions where I had issues with the directors or producers right off the bat and was deemed “difficult.” Still, I was told by people in acting class and at auditions, “You’re going to make it.”
As I sat in the audience watching Moulin Rouge and being fully entertained by the amazing performances, the dream that never came true hit. Which is strange when it happens while watching musicals because I’m not a gifted singer or dancer. But if the people who used to watch me were right, I was a pretty talented actor. Watching people whose performing dreams have come true is a hard reminder. I shook it off to indulge myself with a great theatrical night, and I had it. Everything about the show is fantastic. The actors were amazing; the story is a beautiful tale, and the show was funny and entertaining.
After the show, riding on the subway as I looked through Playbill and read the actors’ bios, it hit again. I’ve never had a Playbill with my name on it, sharing who I am, where I’m from, and what I’ve done. My subway ride home, which is usually 30 minutes, seemed eternal.
I gave up chasing my dream to be a stay-at-home dad. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it all over again. I don’t regret my decision to be an at-home parent at all. I never got to take the stage, but I’ve had a front-row seat to my children’s lives. I’ve never missed a thing. But during my role as a dad, my dream of becoming a Broadway star died. Even though I’m thankful to be a dad, that I missed out on being an actor is a little depressing.
Now, I’m in my late 40s and wonder, “Can you have new dreams during mid-life?” Because time doesn’t stop for a dream. I believed for a long time that my dream was on pause and once again I would take it back up. As I rode the subway home, I grieved the death of my dream. I pondered at how to memorialize my dream. Do I give a 21-monologue salute and say “goodbye?” Should I bury my headshots in the backyard with a tombstone that states, “Beneath this dirt lies ambition?”
The optimist in me says, “Yes, you’re never too old to dream a new dream.” The pessimist in me says, “No, you’re done dreaming. You’re awake now and should just wander through the rest of your days while staying the course. Don’t veer.” I don’t know which is right. Even if I were to gather my dream’s dust, it’s possible that I no longer have the abilities I once had.
Maya Angelou said, “A person is the product of their dreams. So, make sure to dream great dreams. And then try to live your dream.” By that logic, I am the product of a failed dream. My dream was great, and I didn’t live it.
When I put my head against the pillow, I wanted to drift off to sleep with visions of me dancing on stage in my head. It didn’t come. I wanted to dream about belting out a Shakespeare line, but nothing came. I was dreamless.
Maybe I need to see more shows to kick that passion for taking the stage again. Maybe I need to read plays again and think about how I would take on a character. Or maybe I should try a new dream. Maybe I should scroll through audition lists and see if there’re any parts for a balding skinny guy in his 40s. Or maybe I should stop saying, “maybe.”
Welcome to my mid-life crisis.