It Means Something- Stephanie Blogs on Parfumerie

headshotslYou know that special time in October when the leaves change to bright autumn colors and everyone is gearing up for Halloween? Where everyone you know is going to the pumpkin patch, watching scary movies, planning costume parties, and eating massive amounts of candy corn? Chances are if you’re an actor in a Christmas show, amidst all the Halloween banter, you’re already cheering “Merry Christmas,” singing carols, or time-stepping away to Irving Berlin songs. As someone who already struggles with remembering what time or day it is, it’s highly confusing to my whereabouts to be celebrating Christmas starting in October (and for the proceeding three months). And yet, year after year, I’m performing at Christmas time. I’ve performed in countless Christmas choirs, done several holiday soloist cabarets, I was in “White Christmas” for two consecutive years, and most recently did a four-part harmony musical revue called “A Taffeta Christmas” last year.
WHY do I talk, sing, dance, and celebrate Christmas 3 months out of the year OVER AND OVER AGAIN??!
I often think: “Can I PLEASE just go through the seasons and holidays in their ACTUAL order? If I have to sing “White Christmas” ONE MORE TIME I SWEAR TO GOD…”
…and yet, I do it.
Again, again, and again.
Because it means something.
2016-11-21-parfumerie_0280Christmas time often has a glow about it. It’s the season of giving, connecting, gathering close to loved ones, and feeling joy. However, how much of that seasonal glow is actually rose-colored? I think it’s much easier to feel that warmth when your optimism hasn’t been obliterated. How do some people feel at this time of year that think they have nothing left to celebrate? An often overlooked fact is that the holidays can be an extremely painful time of year. Divorce, death, losing a job, struggling to make ends meet, declining physical health, fighting with loved ones, physical distance, feeling isolated, and mental health are only a few reasons why the holidays can be a struggle. And often the increasing feelings of sadness with these events can only be heightened with the adjacent surroundings of joy and oblivion to tragedy.
Three years ago I very tragically lost an immediate family member a few months before the holidays. That first Christmas was the worst I’ve ever experienced. It felt empty and at times completely numb. Acting joyful and excited about festivities felt inauthentic to my mental state and, in a weird way, disrespectful to the circumstances. Try as I might, my heart had a gaping hole that couldn’t be filled. And as irony would have it, this awful Christmas experience happened during my second season of performing in “White Christmas.” I have memories of standing on stage smiling my toothiest grin in my too-tight, too-short showgirl costume feeling like an absolute fraud, and then running off stage to cry in the dressing room. Here I was proclaiming Christmas spirit to the highest degree, when I, quite frankly, couldn’t give a shit.
Why does it matter?
Why perform?
Why do Christmas 3 months out of the year as an actor?
Because some people simply can’t generate their own joy at this time of year. Cheerfulness is a passing fad when you feel your whole life has changed for the worse. There are those in desperate need a happy escape because their real life feels weighty and dark. Surprisingly, the greatest connections I’ve made with audience members always seems to happen after a Christmas show; the gratitude, hugs, and tears speak for themselves. I’ve been thanked so many times for making someone smile when they felt they needed it most. Also, patrons aren’t the only ones benefiting from Christmas theatre. Looking back, I’m actually very grateful I had rehearsals and performances during months of my deepest grief. Despite it’s difficulties, it gave me an immensely supportive community that picked me up and loved me when I felt all hope was lost.
Perhaps this is why I was so drawn to performing in “Parfumerie” this season. The story at its surface is a lighthearted, Christmas-themed, rom-com that makes everyone giggle and feel good. However, the darkness and complexities expressed by the characters Hammerschmidt and Sipos felt especially poignant to me (especially when surrounded by so much goddamn happiness).
Reminding someone that they aren’t alone when they feel the weight of the world can literally save a life. And isn’t that why we become storytellers in the first place? Vulnerability, connection, empathy, reminders that we are never alone; actors are the truth-tellers of the human condition and experience, in all its joyful and tragic forms. This is what fuels us to perform again, and again, and again. This is why I’ve flap-ball-changed to “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” SO MANY EFFING TIMES. Actors generate joy, shine lights or mirrors into encroaching darkness, and remind us of what it means to be alive.
So, if your Christmas season is automatically filled with revelry or if you need a loving reminder that you aren’t alone, Christmas actors will always be there to make your season a little bit brighter.
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Stephanie Leppert
Ms. Ritter, Parfumerie