The Great Ivy + Bean Tour, Week Eleven: Arizona, Colorado, New Beginnings and a Fond Farewell.

Well, here we are guys. It's the end.

Are you ready to say goodbye? No? Well, too bad. They aren't gonna pay us anymore after this week so we gotta stop.

This week has been full of feelings— fear, joy, excitement, love. We may have started off on a rough foot, but we are definitely going to end on a high note.

Let’s get all the rough stuff out of the way, shall we?

We were all very worn out by the time we got to Tempe, Arizona. Melissa woke up feeling worse than she had the day before, so much so that she needed to go to an urgent care clinic the morning after we arrived. A couple hours later, she was released with meds for a nasty viral infection. No matter, we’re gonna stuff her with meds and water and keep her in bed. She should be fine after a full day of rest.

Unfortunately, Mel wasn’t the only one under the weather that morning. Jake woke up with a fever and chest pain. Before I go any further, here’s a little something you may not know about Jake: he’s been performing with chronic appendicitis.

Yup.

So when he woke up with a fever and chest pain, he knew he had to seek medical attention quickly. Right after Melissa arrived back at the hotel, Jake hopped in the van and went to the ER. The rest of us played the waiting game. Would he need to go in for surgery? Would the tour be cancelled, or would Dan play Jake’s parts for the remainder of the tour?

Were we all going to fall apart right before it’s all over?

Hell no! Do you know who you’re talkin’ to? IVY AND BEAN WILL OVERCOME!

Jake returned from the hospital with meds for, wait for it… Bronchitis. While we were all happy that his appendix was still intact, it wasn’t much more comforting knowing that he was also very ill with a lung infection. No matter--just like Melissa, we're gonna stuff him with meds and let him sleep.

We were all a bit relieved the next day (Sunday), when both Melissa and Jake looked better. Granted, we had to drive to our next venue and load in, but the rest of us were ready and willing to take up their responsibilities so they could keep resting. Little by little, they were getting back to normal. They may not be 100%, but they would be able to perform our two-show day on Monday at the Mesa Arts Center.

Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona

Luckily, our only issues during the performances were mic-related. Both Jake and Melissa were wiped out after the shows and load-out, but we weren’t traveling anywhere until the next day, so they spent the rest of the day resting by our hotel’s pool. I joined them for a bit until I was ready for a nap, which felt so very nice after an early two-show morning. I woke up in time to get a sandwich and root beer float for dinner, and promptly passed out again.

Something woke me up around eleven that night. It wasn’t my phone because it was on silent, but I woke up just in time to hear it vibrate. It was a text from my brother.

“Claire’s water just broke, heading to the hospital now!”

The first thing I did was text my cast with the news. Everyone almost immediately responded with well wishes and love, and together all of us sent our collective love and light to San Fransisco, where my niece would soon be making her debut.

Four and a half hours later, the absolutely beautiful Serafina Elizabeth arrived. I leapt out of bed and began jumping up and down while weeping uncontrollably. My niece was healthy, my sister-in-law was healthy, and my brother has a daughter. I went to sleep and woke up a few hours later to photos of my niece, which of course got me sobbing again. She was perfect, and I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with gratitude and love.

Teary eyed and puffy, I shared her pictures with my tour family the next morning. More hugs and tears occurred throughout the day as we continued to send our love to San Fransisco, all while traveling seven hours to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’m not sure any of these guys had seen me so emotional (I know, right?!? Where the hell have they been?), but they were so wonderful. And despite still not being 100%, Jake and Melissa kept checking on me, making sure that my tears were tears of joy.

It didn’t matter how many hours I spent in the van that day. I was flying. And I would continue flying until we made it to Denver on Wednesday.

Our technical director Dylan’s parents live in Colorado and were kind enough to throw us a little shindig the evening we arrived. We dropped our luggage off at the hotel, changed into some nicer clothes, and headed to Dylan's childhood home.

We were welcomed by two extremely happy dogs, Finn and Rowdy, and Dylan's extremely kind parents, Marshall and Shayne. They had a full bar of liquor, different kinds of beer, fruit plates, chips and salsa, and all the crackers and cheeses any human could ask for. Dinner was spiral ham, corn on the cob and potato salad, and desert was berry pie with ice cream. We spent the whole dinner laughing, catching his parents up on tour life, and asking for embarassing stories about Dylan's childhood. Shayne indulged us for a bit and showed us baby photos and high school senior pictures, which I definitely took photos of using my phone.

You never know when a good blackmail photo will come in handy.

Dylan's family is full of musicians and so is my cast, so the majority of the evening was spent in the family's music room, complete with multiple acoustic guitars, an electric base, electric keyboard and full piano. Jake, Dan, Dylan and his father Marshall took turns playing while the rest of them backed them up on the other instruments. The rest of us sang and danced to the music.

The evening was exactly what we needed, and all of us had such a wonderful time hanging out with each other and Dylan's parents. They were so welcoming, so complimentary (and they hadn't even seen the show yet!), and just all around lovely. After a great evening, the crew piled back into the van (with our designated driver, Dan, that fantastic human) and we were back at the hotel around midnight. I chugged some water and slipped into a deep, restful sleep.

The next day we loaded in to our very last venue, the PACE Center. We had one show that evening at 6:30, and then two morning shows the following morning. And then... that's it. That's the end of the tour.

The PACE Center in Parker, Colorado

I felt myself going through the motions, because if I thought about it long enough, that this was the last time I was going to check everyone's costumes, set my props, make sure my wig looked okay, that I would cry. I knew the last three shows were going to be hard to get through, but I continued to shove my feelings all the way down where I couldn't reach them; I'll let them go, but not until it's time. We still had work to do.

Dylan's parents came to our evening show, which made us all very happy. Granted, I forgot that I was in Colorado, and even though we weren't as high up as we were three weeks ago, the altitude hit me pretty good, but beyond that the show went great. Shayne and Marshall stayed after the show to hug all of us and tell us how much fun they had, and we ended up talking and laughing with them for a bit before we all said our thank yous and goodbyes. They were a welcome distraction from our last day blues.

The next (and final) morning, I had to remind myself to breathe. Besides the obvious reason, that breathing keeps you alive, I realized that if I held my breath at all, I would start to tear up right afterwards. Just keep thinking about the show, I would tell myself.

Your emotions are getting in the way of you doing your job. Suck it up and do. your. damned. job. you. dramatic. fool.

The first performance of the morning was a blur for me. I remembered the slight altitude change so I wasn't completely out of breath, but that's all I can tell you from the first show. The second show I remember moment for moment. Almost all of us stayed in the wings to watch us perform for the last time, which made it hard for me to keep my emotions in check. I would be in the middle of a song and see McLean, sitting in a wing stage left, with Jake right behind her, eyes beaming and all smiles. Melissa and I could feel them very well, which made us both very happy and at the same time so, so sad.

Working with Melissa during my last show was extremely difficult. I remember us joking about it the night before, saying that we just shouldn't look each other in the eyes ever again and that would be how we would get through the show. Simple fix, right? The two leads just won't ever look at each other! That's kind of impossible, in practice, but I found myself avoiding eye contact whenever I could. I knew as soon as we would look at each other we would smile and slowly start to deteriorate into tears.

It didn't help that Jake's golf jokes during the song "Sports" were dedicated to us, where he turned Leo's golf putt into "The very last hole of the Pancake Court Invitational" and made Leo's last name "Oliveyouguys". It's usually a moment in the show that we have to stop ourselves from laughing, but I was fighting back tears. Everywhere I turned in the show I saw a smile, felt the love, and felt the connections to one another. All of this was always there, but I was letting myself swim in it this time, really swim in all their smiles and laughs.

The hardest part finally arrived. I looked at Bean, said "Well, it's getting dark. I should go home." I got up and started walking stage right, to Ivy's house, until Bean stops me and says "See you tomorrow, Ivy." I took a long, deep breath, turned around, saw Melissa holding back her tears as I held back mine, and managed to say "See you tomorrow, Bean." By the time we got to the moment where both Ivy and Bean say "And the day after that!" I was fighting sobs. I had officially said goodbye to Ivy, the quiet seven year-old that's full of ideas, and Melissa, my Bean, who I've had the pleasure of working with since September of last year.

Our last curtain call was very hard for me to get through. I was already crying lightly, but I still had to sing and dance and get all the kids in the audience dancing and clapping. Do your job for just a few more minutes, I said to myself. Just a few more minutes! All the smiles on the kid's faces were helping, and at the same time they weren't. I didn't want to say goodbye to that feeling, knowing that a kid's day was made by seeing some of their favorite book characters come to life with our help. Acting for children is not easy, but man, they can make you feel like a rock star.

I hugged everyone too tight, especially Melissa, who I didn't let go of for a while. I cried into their shoulders. I said muddled, sloppy I love you's. Still in my curly wig and polka dots, I openly wept the loss of our time together, which was quickly coming to a close. I felt a rush of anxiety, thinking that I took all this time for granted, that there was more I could have soaked up, more I could have taken pictures of or blogged about. The anxiety eventually faded away to relief, and I was able to function enough to sip some celebratory champagne (because Sydney knows how to close a show right, y'all) and finish my costume responsibilities. I loaded up the wardrobe road box one last time, said my goodbyes to Rhonda, the trailer that gave us so much trouble, and spent the rest of my day and night hanging out with my cast. My family.

After almost nine months, traveling through over thirty states and performing over eighty times to well over ten thousand children, the first National Tour of Ivy + Bean The Musical came to a close.

We flew back to New York the next day. It was time to go back to normal.

How does one “go back to normal” after an experience like this? I’m not sure that’s the right way of looking at it. After all, what’s normal, especially to an actor? In my opinion, there isn't one. What I do know is that my "normal" has been changed exponentially by this tour.

Cue the song "For Good" from the Broadway smash-hit, Wicked.

Just kidding. Don't. I'll probably cry. Shut up.

This experience has been a lesson in stamina, perseverance, and openness to the experience. Maintaining that openness is hard; it's a very vulnerable place to be for long periods of time, especially when one's environment is constantly changing. But I'm so glad I did. I'm so glad I allowed myself to take in what was happening, regardless of whether it was positive or easy. I'm so glad I didn't shut myself down when I was scared or exhausted or angry. I'm so glad I gave as much as I could to these people and allowed them to give as much as they could to me.

A few years ago, I saw a clown show performed by a former grad student at UT and all-around wonderful actor, Zach Fine. During his show, his clown character asked a couple people in the audience what they would take with them if they were going on a journey. One audience member said a knapsack for all your belongings; another said a map so you know where you've been and where you're going. Before I knew it, his red clown nose was pointed at me. I didn’t know what to say--everyone else had all these great answers, and here I was overthinking my response and wasting Zach's time and ruining his whole show (wow, that escalated quickly).

I didn’t realize it, but I had already answered him. My brain was too busy judging myself for my lack of imagination to register what I said aloud.

A big open heart. If I were on a journey, I said I would bring a big, open heart.

Zach's eyes lit up and started to tear, as did mine when I realized what happened. I will never forget that.

This tour was by no means easy. It was physically, mentally and emotionally strenuous. There were times when I broke down and wept out of frustration, when I wanted to punch the walls at our seemingly endless stream of bad luck. But there were times when I stumbled and picked myself back up, when I looked at my insecurities and told them to screw themselves because I was too damned busy to be hard on myself. There were times when I laughed so hard that I cried, and cried so hard that I started laughing. Opening my heart up to this experience and these people was the best decision I've ever made for myself.

To Melissa, McLean, Dan, Jake, Emily and Sydney, I am so incredibly lucky to know you. I am a better, more courageous person because of our time together. We may not see each other as often now, but all of you will be in my thoughts every day.

And the day after that.

To you, Lauren. Keep your heart open. Keep struggling. Keep learning. Keep listening. Be grateful. Allow yourself to just be yourself because that person is worthy of good things. Don't let fear or that critic in your head stop you from doing something you've never done. Who knows what could be waiting in the wings?

Leap, Lauren. The net will appear.

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