Nia Peeples Discusses Family Gatherings and the Fame Family Reunion:
"Did you ever wonder why the holidays and family gatherings can be so stressful?
Last night we had our Holiday Family gathering. And by family, I mean, extended family: cousins, nephews and nieces, even an ex husband. We did the usual: over eating, story telling, and the infamous White Elephant exchange. Everything was as it’s been for years: The relatives who always show up 3 hours late, showed up 3 hours late. Those who can’t keep themselves from picking up other people’s trash, cleaned like little machines. There were the jokesters, the organizers, the whiners. You name it. We have them all, like every family. And like every family’s gathering, there can be feelings of pressure, expectation, judgment and at times, that horrible feeling of “not-enoughness.” The love is there, without a doubt, because everyone enters with it. But it sort of just bumps and bangs around rather than fitting together cohesively.
I think they call it “family dysfunction.” Not sure why, because somehow it does function; year, after year, after year. It’s not often that way for us, but we’ve definitely had our moments. And I wondered, “What is it about gatherings of people we love and have known for so long, that can simultaneously fill us with a sense of belonging and dread? “
I think there’s an expectation inherent in any relationship that has some history behind it, a pressure to be who you’ve always been. It’s as if you’re tethered to that person, those people in that position of relativity forever. Yet life is an ever-expanding experience. Sameness is impossible. So every year, every family gathering, with each person naturally expanding, that tether is stretched and stretched, becoming unbearably taught and creating intense pressure.
We feel it every year.
And yet there we are, gathered together, reaching for something.
I had a similar experience last month when 7 members of the cast of Fame gathered together in Italy to perform for the first time in 30 years. There we were, 7 stars from an Emmy award winning, international hit TV show of the 80’s, all of us individually having been on the covers or center folds of Teen Beat or Bop or Teen magazines along side the likes of Johnny Depp and Demi Moore. All of us having played to sold-out crowds at venues like Royal Albert Hall in London, or Irvine Meadows, or the Plymouth theater on Broadway and seen our faces plastered on the side of Tower Records or on billboards lining Sunset Blvd and The Champs–Élysées in Paris.
There we were, international teen stars of the 80’s, now in our early 50’s, some of us having remained in the industry, some of us not, but all of us now having experienced what 30 more years of life can bring: marriage, kids, mortgage, divorce, death and a plethora of successes and failures, joy and heartache. There we were, all grown up, being asked to deliver the same songs, the same joy, the same mojo to an audience whose lives had been profoundly impacted by all of that, by all we were, 30 years ago. Talk about dread. Yet there we were gathered together, reaching for something.
As I stood in the wings, awaiting my first entrance, I knew I had a choice: try and please the fans who had flown in from all over the world, by showing up as they expected and had known me to be all those years ago. Or simply stepping out as me, the person I’d become, and letting the chips fall where they may. My guess is every cast member was facing the same decision. Whatever the case, the show must go on. After only a day and a half of high octane rehearsals with a serious language barrier, of struggling our way through key changes and stage direction and new harmonies, the curtain went up, and once again to a sold out crowd.
So there we were, tether stretched to near breaking. The energy and expectation of the audience was palpable, the music and the lights intoxicating. The band was rockin. The dancers were charging. Everything was rolling along as planned. Then, amidst all that action, I had an incredible moment of clarity. There, standing at the piano, mid-song, looking out at the audience and my other cast members, I realized something very special was happening. We weren’t merely hitting the notes, finding the harmonies, and making the fans happy. There was a healing taking place, both for us and for the audience.
For us it wasn’t the revisiting of old, famous material or the adoring fans that brought about the healing, but rather, the revisiting of our relationships to each other in full unconditional acceptance. It was the releasing of that tether we created years ago.
And it was the beautiful storyline that weaved those songs together, a storyline emphasizing that as we find the courage to express ourselves along life’s journey, we leave drops of inspiration for others to pick up and expand upon. That storyline, alone, helped us understand the true value of what we’d accomplished as teenagers. No longer did we have to push those celebrated accomplishments away in order to make space for what we consider to be our more current and valuable accomplishments albeit uncelebrated by the multitudes. It allowed us to cut away the extraneous perceptions of value that we no longer held on to or identified with yet were defined by: the Platinum albums, the Emmy’s, the covers of magazines and the screaming fans. That storyline helped us extract and acknowledge the true nugget of our past as teenage stars:
We pursued our dreams and in doing so inspired others to pursue theirs. We expressed ourselves exactly where we were, as we were. And in doing so, inspired millions of people all over the world to understand that their uniqueness has incredible value, worthy of being honored and expressed, regardless of who’s watching or listening.We needed to hear that message as much as did the audience.
Back at my Holiday family gathering, as the evening rolled on, I sat back and noticed something was different. Yes, we were laughing hysterically most of the night, as usual. Yes the little ones were running around being chased by the new puppy that wasn’t supposed to be in the house. Yes, some relatives were three hours late and others were cleaning fiends. There were spills and falls, too much sugar and wine and caffeine, all at the same time. But this year was different. I felt no pressure. None. There was no stress or tension at all. Everything and everyone just seemed to flow.
And I realized, we’re ALL in our own little shows having our own performances, with the same intense pressure to deliver what others expect from us based on how we once were, who we once were.
But hit tv show or not, none of us want to be defined by our past. We’re all seeking the same thing: to be seen, accepted and acknowledged for the person we’ve become and to be allowed to continue becoming. That’s what we’re reaching for.
Looking back on both performances, the one on stage in Italy and the one at that family gathering, I knew that what had made the difference for me, was simply ME. Because the only way to get that acceptance from anyone else is to first give it to yourself.
When I relaxed into the truth of who I am, without the need to explain or apologize, or make others okay with it, people instinctively adjusted. The energy just seemed to flow.
And all the love that each and every one of us brought to those gatherings, seem to find it’s own space, fitting together cohesively. There was no bumping or banging around. No stress or feelings of pressure, judgment or not-enoughness. Just layers and layers of love."
More from Nia on her Beautiful by Nia Website.