By Kat Edwards with contributions from Once cast members, Cora Grace Winstead and Kelly Winstead Miyake
We all need it. We all need someone to tell us that we are justified in our passionate pursuit of happiness. This applies to everyone, but it strikes a deep chord with artists. We sacrifice birthday parties and funerals. We sacrifice friendships for rehearsal. We don’t always start families because who has time to date or feed a child when they themselves can’t even find time to sit down and eat a meal?
Not only do we make these sacrifices, but we do so without the certainty of success. Art is subjective. We pour our hearts into something that we really believe in only to have someone tell us that it’s awful, not worth the trouble, and maybe we should quit.
Sometimes we do.
Once is about a musician ready to give up on music until he meets Girl, played by Cora Grace Winstead. She is the piece of hope that gives the right push at the right time. She encourages him. It’s funny because this is not the first time that Cora has done this for someone. The first time she did it was for the actress playing Baruška in this production, her mother both on and off stage, Kelly Winstead Miyake.
We caught up with this duo to talk about the journey that led them to this piece and, independently from each other, both told the same story.
Decades ago, in what surely was another life, I pondered a career outside the arts: a military academy, perhaps the Peace Corps, or maybe working as a nurse in some third world mountain village—anything other than what I considered the singular pursuit of vanity as a performer. Don’t get me wrong. I loved performing. I was an insecure introvert by nature and easily found my more socially confident self in front of a crowd, especially if music were involved. But it just seemed so… selfish. Then one day, someone changed the path of my life with these words: Anyone can join the Peace Corps, but only a few are given the gift of music. You truly serve the rest of us when you use your gift. For the first time, I saw this art as a way of serving others instead of myself, and I worked hard to do so with passion no matter the genre, venue, job, or audience type.
Going on a few years now, there has been great contention in my family that may never be healed nor resolved. My mom found a piece of notebook paper with “I LOATHE KELLY” written in a child’s handscrawling, and we cannot conclude which child wrote it and when. Personally, I believe it was my little sister, as she was the only one of us who had the gall to call Mom “Kelly”. Everyone else reasons it was me, because I was the only one who had the vocabulary to write “loathe.”
This blog will serve as my defense to prove my innocence.
The prosecution will present convincing evidence to you. They will tell you I called her “Smother” and “Momager” during my auditions for collegiate musical theatre programs. I will tell you the only reason I was even able to audition for, be accepted, and attend a respectable music school was because of her smothering mothering. They will tell you that as a kid I would cry when she gave me voice lessons. I will tell you 1) you have clearly never been in any voice lesson before, and 2) that I had and still have an insurmountable respect for her musical expertise and opinions. She’s the best singer and teacher I know.
Lastly, they will tell you that I asked her to stop performing so she could be home more. And I will tell you that is true.
Years later, while kissing my children goodbye before heading to rehearsal, my prepubescent daughter sighed and said, “Please let this be your last show, Mommy.” Ouch. The truth is, I hadn’t really done that much performing during her lifetime, but each rehearsal must have ticked by endlessly for this child waiting for her mom to come home for the night. As I kissed her forehead, the words of my old teacher echoed like an earworm. “At any given moment, there are hundreds of women ready to step into your role on the stage and no one will miss you. There is only one woman who can raise your children. Choose wisely.” I finished the run and never looked back once. That is, until Once.
You see, I missed her so much. I was a daughter desperately needing her mother, and selfishly I asked her to sacrifice a part of herself that she had passed on to me. And amazingly, she did, without hesitation. She ended her performing career so that I could start my own; and it is a burden I have carried ever since. You can imagine my joy when I finally* convinced her to audition for Once, and my utter elation when we were cast together. Seeing her back where she belongs makes me appreciate her sacrifice even more. This show and role, in particular, have been dreams of mine since its Broadway debut, and I am so grateful that the stars aligned so perfectly. But these stars weren’t aligned by fate: all my dreams were made possible by my mother.
*After days and days of begging and groveling
I hope the jury comes to the obvious conclusion: I couldn’t have written “I LOATHE KELLY”, because there’s not a reality that exists in which I don’t love and appreciate her more than anything.
Also, in direct address to my brother and sister: it couldn’t have been me because my handwriting has always been WAY better than both yours.
I rest my case.
My stage-free “normal” existence had continued contentedly until a few months ago when that same child persuaded me to “just try, Ma, try out” for the role of Baruška after she had auditioned for Girl. Cora was moving to NYC in the fall; the chance to perform together was the supreme siren’s call. What better way to serve the Song than to do so with my daughter?
I’m tempted to channel Paul Harvey here and say that now you know the rest of the story, but I would be leaving out the most important part. This particular cast and crew of Once is diva-free, a gathering of creative artists who collectively attend to the story, the music, the audience, and each other. It is a synthesis of tradesmanship and respect, generosity and gratitude —a hodgepodge family of musicians, serving you and each other by serving the Song inside us all.
Sometimes artists lose sight of the dream. Sometimes we decide that there are things and people more important than those dreams. Sometimes we need to be told that it’s OK to chase after the impossible.
Art reflects life. Kelly and Cora’s story is echoed by the story that brought them to this stage.
We all need inspiration. We all make sacrifices.
What sacrifices have you made in your life? Would you do it all again if you had the choice?