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That Time Sir Ian McKellen and I Shared a Stage...

(This is a clip from the show. Not my show, mind you.)

Sure, it was many years ago (before he was knighted!), but I did get to be on stage with the man now beloved worldwide as Gandalf and Magneto and certainly known as one of the great theater, film and television actors of his generation.

And I did it all for love.

At the time I was seeing a young woman who, despite my being very lucky with terrific girlfriends past, was particularly sexy with the most perfect imperfections…and had an affinity for Shakespeare. She really was terrific on stage, even in amateur productions, and I had seen plenty of Shakespeare performed by amateurs and professionals, both good and godawful.

One day I found out that Ian McKellan was coming into town with a one man show called Acting Shakespeare.

What a coup! The perfect date for my perfectly imperfect woman! I bought tickets immediately.

Out of curiosity I went further and read a review that was not only full of high praise but described the show in detail, most importantly how he invited audience members to come on the stage to perform with him!

It was a magical evening really. McKellan delivered magnificently and was so charming and sharing of his love for his craft and the pleasure of performing Shakespeare.

Then the moment of truth arrived, McKellan asked if anyone would like to join him for a scene on stage. The audience murmured with excitement. Who would dare? I didn’t hesitate, knowing what was to come. I jumped right up and headed to the stage. I’d like to say I was the first…and I was! At least the first to reach Mr. McKellan. He shook my hand and asked my name. It was a moment I won’t forget, just as much for that moment of connection with such an awe-aspiring actor as for the look on my girlfriend’s face.

As for our scene, I believe I was excellent in my part. I played dead.

Yup. The gag was that McKellan would invite a few brave souls up on stage. Then declare he needed more. And more.

About 70 of us were on stage when he gathered us together in a huddle and told us on the count of 3 we were to drop dead and play those slain soldiers on the field of battle during Henry V as he went into Henry’s monologue.

Afterwards my girlfriend was thrilled. I confessed I knew what was going to happen but she was nevertheless impressed. This has been one of my favorite memories since.

At least it used to be.

As I get older and reflect on some of these moments, I realize that in my quest to impress, as many want to (and sometimes must) do in relationships, I may have been more selfish than giving. If I really thought about it, perhaps my girlfriend would have liked to meet one of her idols, however briefly. She could have shared the stage with a truly great Shakespearean actor, even for a second. Her own humility probably stopped her from following me to the stage that night, but if she knew what was going to happen…

This woman was as giving and loving a person as you could hope to be involved with, in spite of our knowing full well our relationship couldn’t last. The reason I share this part of the story is not so much as cautionary tale as a reminder to reflect on those people who are special to you in your life while you are in the moment. It’s not a matter of being more loving, I’ve come to realize, but of the awareness of how you love.

Huh. I think Sir Ian would be okay with that sentiment.

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