My brother performed in his first stage production a couple weeks ago: “The Music Man.” I may have been a little eager to see the final product; I attended all four showings.
It’s not even my favorite musical. “The Sound of Music,” “Newsies,” “Tarzan” — even “The Little Mermaid” — all beat out “The Music Man” in my book. But I laughed at the jokes all four times I heard them. And now, days after the last curtain call, the lyrics to “Ya Got Trouble” still reverberate in my brain.
After the show, I talked with my parents and some of their fellow show volunteers. The woman across the table from me headed up the costume committee. Her group had designed (and redesigned) and fitted and stitched nearly 200 costumes for three days of performances. She told me about the parent volunteer who worked on a suit jacket that could be reversed, revealing a shiny band leader jacket on the inside. “She worked all 10 weeks on that jacket,” the group leader told me. She made the suit jacket, then made the band leader jacket, and finally hand-stitched the two together so they would perfectly match up.
That one jacket played a prominent role in all four performances, all thanks to one woman who spent over two months’ worth of volunteer hours on the same costume. Yet I don’t even know her name.
Out of the limelight
There’s something special about a production like this. So many people joined forces to make the show successful. Onstage, 76 actors (high school age and younger) knew exactly where to step during each musical number. That means teachers and directors played their part, too. Crew members covertly placed each scene’s props (gathered by parent volunteers) and wheeled on and off the stage giant set pieces (constructed by more parent volunteers). On opening night, ushers (more volunteers) guided guests to their seats, handing each a playbill (as you likely guessed, also designed by volunteers).
That playbill carried the names of many of the volunteers that made the evening possible, but there wasn’t enough room to list what each volunteer did. Even if I combed through every page, I couldn’t figure out who made the one-of-a-kind double-sided jacket.
As in every play, the actors in the starring roles received the biggest applause, while many behind-the-scenes volunteers, crucial to the show’s success, were never in the limelight. I suspect they’re OK with that. After all, they volunteered.
Am I OK with that in my own life? Am I OK with my contributions going unnoticed? To not get credit for weeks of work?
Just a stepping stone
Just over 400 years ago, about 100 people landed on the shores of the New World. Within months, over half had died. For all that sacrifice, all that heartache, think of how much the Pilgrims didn’t accomplish. They didn’t declare independence from Great Britain. They didn’t form a government that would last for generations. They couldn’t even sustain the few members they had left without generous help from nearby native tribes.
But the Pilgrims still played a crucial role in American history. For all their failures, they played their part well. They knew their actions were the first step for future generations.
One of their leaders, William Bradford, later said that their goal was to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. “A great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation,” he wrote in “Of Plymouth Plantation,” “though they should be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”
What about me?
I’m not sure I have that kind of humility. Do you? Are you comfortable being a stepping stone in a greater work? Consider these heart-probing questions:
- When you participate in something, do you make sure to point out your contribution? Do you disguise your attention-seeking with half-hearted, mock humility?
- Do you usually have to tell someone else about praise you received?
- If someone mistakenly credits someone else for your work, do you feel the need to correct them? (Of course, there are appropriate times to do this, but what is your motive for setting the record straight?)
- Do you bring up conversation topics that might naturally segue into talking about your role or success?
Somebody said once…
Years ago, I heard the famous quote: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” But when writing this article, I couldn’t remember who said it. Fitting, I think (it was President Harry Truman).
You and I may not be in the cast of “The Music Man,” but in a very real sense, we’re all playing different roles in the story God is writing. Are we willing to play our role — whatever it might be — without looking for applause?