In recognition of Dan’s presenting sponsorship of the East Hampton Artists & Writers Charity Softball Game on August 21, we are giving local artists and writers a free rein to write whatever they want in this space for the summer.
Actors turn night into day. Our lives on the stage have this effect. This is a story of how I have used a showgirl’s wisdom—or is it madness?—to turn winter into summer.
In September 2019, I found myself overworked, and down with a painful case of shingles, having sung concerts all summer followed by autumn dates in London and Paris. I was aware of my good fortune in being able to sing, and I accepted every gig. The schedule also allowed me to be with my daughters—racing home to take care of them while switching rental gowns, rummaging through piles of sheet music, and throwing high heels into another rolling suitcase.
By a series of odd chances, I found myself seeking respite on a Greek island, with a stout, warm-eyed woman named Ifegenia, the owner of a charming coffee shop, for my landlady. The room was 10 by 10 with a minuscule balcony, heavy French doors and a view of a bustling harbor. It was so pretty I had to shake my head to believe I was awake. I was in a postcard. I got home at the end of September and felt I had salvaged a summer, with that mere week of alone time and sunshine.
As I write this, summer 2021 is beginning and I have July in my hand, turning it over like a stone in ocean water. Will I grasp this fall for my summer? Perhaps. Mine is an actress’ life that has already for decades turned most nights into days. I begin to wake, to prepare, as others begin to slow down mid-afternoon. When others go to bed, I am still on stage.
Last summer was the same—a summer I missed. I rented a house on the East End that could accommodate our three rambunctious girls. I call them “Little Women” after the novel—they were 11, 11 and 13—with some COVID-tested and quarantined friends, making something of a summer camp. I led art classes and we cooked and they took Zoom ballet. It was a robust summer in a blur of dirty dishes, loads of laundry and illicit (I don’t have a pass)trips to the beach. They were very tolerant when I asked them to read a scene from “Little Women” out on the grass. Rolling their eyes, they gave this Marmee a little pleasure.
By September, I heard of a cottage for rent, and I found time to come out for a few days at a time. It was Greece over a coffee shop all over again. I loved the empty bay beach, sometimes taking a bath in the largest moon I had ever seen, which sat right on its horizon. I rescued summer by grabbing at the leftover pieces of sunshine and pockets of warm water.
I stepped into the sea as I had in Greece—hesitant on stones, and glad, once I bought little plastic swim shoes. My wetsuit let me swim until December. I met a local fisherman and called him the “King of the Beach” because he kept his chair and fire pit there. That made him laugh. The sea and the faces of others who shared that sea stayed with me. I was in a kind of summer trance for the few weeks I used that house. I even made a music video by the sea, serving as my own cinematographer and audio engineer.
My children came out for a few weekends, and I was happy. I told them “See? This is really me. This is your wild mommy.” I got more cheap wet suits and they swam in freezing water.
Summer is now, again. Maybe I can remember before it becomes October. And maybe my true lesson to my daughters is a traveling performer’s lesson: day can be night, summer, winter. Seize on an impromptu offer to find your postcard-paradise.
Melissa Errico is a Tony-nominated actress and singer. She has written The Acting Life series of essays for The New York Times; the most recent was Back In The Girdle, and chronicled her return to the concert stage. She is currently working on a book, and an album of film noir-inspired music. Her Twitter is @melissa_errico.