Stagedark 2015

The highlight of the summer for a camper at Stagedoor Manor, an overnight camp in upstate New York, is parents’ weekend. Throughout each three-week session, campers audition for, are cast in, and rehearse one amazing stage production, which can be either a musical or a play. The shows are performed on a 3 day final celebration called parents’ weekend.

Family members of campers arrive from all over the world to see their actor shine on stage at Stagedoor Manor. There are roughly 14 shows put on each session, and each show performs twice during parents’ weekend. Half the shows perform a Friday matinee/Saturday evening combo and the other half performs a Friday evening/Saturday matinee duo. In addition, a small group of selected campers are asked to perform in the annual camp “Cabaret.”

This past summer was my son Sam’s 5th at Stagedoor. He was cast in a production of “The Wiz” and was also asked to perform in the Cabaret. His show was performing Friday evening and Saturday matinee. We saw the show Friday evening and then again at the Saturday matinee. Craig and I then decided to go back to our hotel to rest until we returned to camp to see the Cabaret, which didn’t start until 10:30 p.m. Most of the hotels for parents of Stagedoor campers are about 45 minutes away from camp. We knew that Craig needed a nap if he was going to make it to midnight to see Sam’s Cabaret show. (I probably needed one too, but I am completely unable to nap. I am only able to sleep at times in which people want things from me.)

On our way back to our hotel, we got a call from Sam that there had been a bad car accident just outside of the camp. A speeding car had struck an electrical pole and all of the power at Stagedoor Manor was out. The power company said that it might take hours for it to go back on. With no power, there would be no shows.

Craig and I waited out the power outage from the comfort of our hotel. We were both concerned about the situation. Craig showed his concern by immediately falling asleep. I changed into my jammies and cozy socks and lay awake. I stared at the hotel walls and ceilings and wondered about the source of all of the stains. I attempted to read a novel that I brought with me, but ended up playing on Facebook and feeling the usual pressure I put on myself to “like” everyone’s statuses and pictures.

Then I went to the lobby and stocked up on candy and ice cream. (Just in case the power went out for us… you know… 45 minutes away and nowhere near the camp.) Around 8:00 p.m., we wandered to our friends’ room down the hall to await word on the camp and the shows. Our friends were just as stressed as we were. They had stocked up on cookies and chips.

We all sat together in that Courtyard Marriott hotel room and ate and wondered…would the lights come on in time to do the shows? Would we have to drive at 11:00 p.m. to go to camp to see shows that likely wouldn’t start until midnight? Would we have to remain awake until 3 or 4 a.m.? Could any of us physically stay up that late? We were all over 40 years old, for God’s sake! We should have been asleep hours ago! And most importantly, we wondered: would we soon run out of candy and cookies? We pondered starting an online rumor that rival camp French Woods was behind the power outage. We came up with the hashtag “frenchwoodsdidit. We were so proud of our knowledge of hip things like hashtags, and then we discussed summer movie camps from the 1980s. I got up and did my “It just doesn’t matter” monologue from “Meatballs.”

Back at camp, the kids grew restless. Half of these shows had only performed once, on Friday afternoon. Many parents were unable to arrive at camp until Saturday. If the power didn’t go on, they wouldn’t get to see their child’s show at all.

For many campers, it was their last night of their final session at camp before they headed to college in the fall. There were traditional award ceremonies and special moments for graduating campers that still needed to be held that night.

At about 9:00 p.m., someone at camp found a generator and fashioned a small light onto an outdoor stage. Slowly, campers made their way up to the stage to sing a song or tell a funny story. Family members and parents found spots on the ground to sit and listen. As the night went on, the entire cast from each of the 14 shows got up onto the stage and sang a few songs or performed a few scenes.

At about 10:00 p.m., awards began to be handed out by staff members. The Cabaret performed a few acts. Senior campers gave goodbye speeches. As the night went on, they sang and danced and held hands and cried. All of this was in the dark, with one small light illuminating the stage.

The power never came back on. At midnight, all shows were canceled. We received word back at our hotel that there would be no need to come. We went back to our room and Craig right to sleep. I took an Ambien and ate more cookies.

Many people left that night very disappointed. Several parents never got a chance to see their child’s show at all that weekend. Senior campers would never be able to perform their final show on the camp stages that they had loved for so many years.
Craig and I would never get to see Sam perform in the Cabaret that he had rehearsed so hard on for three weeks.

Such is life, right? Unexpected disappointment is everywhere. Not just with missed events that we flew hundreds of miles to attend, but with people who we thought that we knew, and with a world that we used to think was safe.

During times of struggle and sadness, we can spend hours, days, or weeks at a time wandering in the dark, wondering if the light will ever come on. I sit here tonight in the dark on so many things. I wonder how life can be so unnecessary cruel, and scary and unfair for so many people that I love. I worry all the time about everyone.

I want to get up and turn on the light. I want to be able to plug in the generator, put on some music and sing. I want to be able to freely dance, even though I can’t see where I’m going.

I want to be like those who were part of Stagedark 2015, Session 2. Those people who were able to find some joy amidst massive disappointment. Those kids who chose to dance and sing and celebrate in the glow of a small light.

Looking back, I wish we had gone back to Stagedoor that night to wait out the blackout. The parents who stayed and sat and watched said it was an unbelievable experience to see such hope come from such a hopeless situation. Many said it was way better than any show they would have seen that night. The word most often used to describe it was “unforgettable.”

It’s a lot easier to hide in your hotel room and wait out the bad times. But that’s not always how we should embrace the blackout that can surround us. We need to get out of our pajamas, put down the chips and cookies, and head towards the darkness. Don’t worry, the lights will come on eventually. We might not know how long it will take. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get out there and find hope and joy amongst the sadness.

We can learn way more about the wonder and beauty of life by embracing the darkness, instead of hiding from it.

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