Whose hand do you hold?

Today is April 3 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “whose hand do you hold?” Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well will most likely require you to hold someone’s hand at some point. No matter how successful you are, or how many dreams you have translated into reality, or how far you have traveled in life, there will probably be a time when holding on to someone’s hand is the best strategy to use.


Such was the case with the film The Greatest Showman. This 2017 American musical drama film was directed by Michael Gracey in his directorial debut and written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon. Cast members included Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and Zendaya. Featuring nine original songs from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the film was inspired by the story of P. T. Barnum's creation of Barnum's American Museum and the lives of its star attractions.


In a YouTube video released December 24, 2017, Michael Gracey, Director, and Keala Settle playing the role of Lettie Lutz, a bearded lady, recall one moment when they were trying to get FOX executives to greenlight the film. To get FOX to greenlight the film it took eight months to get everyone in the same room for a read through of the script. To accompany the script certain songs would be performed. Gracey told Settle that she would be performing “This Is Me” during the read through. Now, this was a new song that no heard before and, perhaps more importantly, no one had heard Keala sing live. Gracey labeled “This Is Me” as the anthem of the film so having Settle sign it was critical to the success of the read through and to getting FOX executives to greenlight the project.


For the first minute she stands behind the podium at the start of the workshop session. As the crescendo builds in the background her emotions start to appear on her face and in her movement. During the second minute she steps in front of the podium, and into what Gracey called “the metaphorical arena – the middle of the room in front of everyone.” As the song progresses other members of the cast join in and sing their respective parts. By this time most of the room is up dancing and singing, with Settle’s emotions on full display.


Towards the end of her performance Settle was, to use a phrase from fellow artist Marcus Mumford “living at the intersection of adrenaline and fear.” In the arena, balancing adrenaline, and fear, and managing her emotions, Settle needed to find a way to finish strong. At 3:54 in the video she removes her glasses, and grabs onto Hugh Jackman’s hand. He looks right at her and nods as if to say ‘you’ve got this’ and she lets go and belts out the final words.


The emotional look on Jackman’s face is one of admiration, awe, and appreciation as Settle finishes her performance. Reflecting upon that moment Keala recalled “There was a moment in that song when I so scared, I grabbed Hugh’s hand to have someone to hold on to.” The song "This Is Me" would go on to win the 2018 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Prior to that moment Keala Joan Settle was an accomplished actress and singer. Settle originated the role of Norma Valverde in Hands on a Hardbody, which ran on Broadway in 2013, and was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, and Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. In 2016 she was in the original Broadway cast of Waitress portraying Becky. In other words, prior to her performing for the FOX executives to have them greenlight the film, she was by all accounts a successful artist.


But here she was, performing in front of people, as she had done countless times before, but she was scared. She was ‘balancing fear and adrenaline’ and a host of other emotions. She needed to hold on to someone’s hand to get through her performance. But she did, and it was phenomenal. As Settle reflected upon the end of her performance, she said “all I could hear was deafening, deafening applause.”


Whose hand do you hold onto when you are trying to navigate the chaos?