When I was a senior in high school, I played Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof. She is the middle daughter who falls in love with a rebel and moves to Siberia after he was arrested. This was the first time I had a solo – a song called Far From The Home I Love. I sang the solo during a scene between Hodel, her love interest Perchik and her father Tevye.
Our early rehearsals were spent blocking scenes. For those non-theater people, that means you figure out how you will move throughout the scene. I was very excited to block the scene that included my solo. With my sister at college and both parents working, I was at home by myself before and after school. During that time I would play myself the starting note on the piano and stand in the middle of the living room and pretend that I was on stage performing. On the night that we blocked the scene, we got to the portion where the song was and the musical director said “We can skip the song”. My reply was “Well, actually I’ve been practicing the song. I can sing it a cappella – is that all right?” He said sure.
I proceeded to sing the solo for the first time in the empty auditorium. I sang with every ounce of emotion and passion I had. At the end of the song my 2 fellow cast members and the musical director stood in silence. And we all stared at each other. It was then that my musical director, Ron, told me one of the most important things I learned in theater. He said, “Natalie, I know you are used to applause, but no one is going to clap at the end of the scene. And if you perform it right, there will probably be silence”. In that moment it didn’t make any sense. After all, this was my senior year, my swan song – my time for a round of applause.
Dress rehearsals came to a close and we prepared for opening night. When my scene came, I once again sang my heart out. And there was silence. Not even my parents clapped. The same situation played out for the remainder of our performances. I’m grateful Ron gave me the advice he did. Because I knew to anticipate the silence, I wasn’t disappointed.
Small Town Leadership lesson: No matter your effort and despite your accomplishment, you aren’t always going to hear “you’re great”. You might give the best presentation or solve the hardest problem, yet you may not get any recognition. People will notice, but in that moment, it might not be appropriate or they might not feel compelled to acknowledge your work. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. Silence or lack of acknowledgement in those moments is part of your journey. It’s up to you to sing your heart out – even if there won’t be a round of applause at the end.