I don’t believe I have had such a hard time writing anything in my whole life. Of course, you blog readers are very special to me. I feel like we have already come such a long way together. Me, telling you all the weird crap that comes into my head. You, reading it and then moving on to the other websites that you check when you are on the boring last 15 minutes of your lunch break.
As for me, it is a little tiny performance every time I write. I put on my tap shoes and do a little dance that I hope you enjoy, even if its because I slip and fall into the orchestra pit.
Something that you should know about me (which will probably surprise the people who have actually talked with me face to face) is that I have terrible stage fright. I know, right!? Totally crazy. Now, for those of you who have not had the pleasure of spending large amounts of time listening to me talk during every class, sing at the top of my lungs in every crowded bus, or laugh uproariously at every one of my own terrible jokes, hopefully you can use your imagination to see how weird this is.
Both of my parents are performers by love, if not exactly by occupation. My father was the star of almost every high school musical he was in, and began a barbershop quartet with a college buddy. While many things have changed since 1978, the coolness factor of barbershop quartets is one thing that hasn’t. Despite its obvious lameness, my young, good-looking dad loved performing so much that he spent every weekend for much of my childhood hanging out with guys who looked like they had learned to shave from Moses. They were also old.
My dad is the one who thinks he's John Lennon.
My mother had been performing much earlier than my dad, although not in the same way. My mother’s mother (Grandma Bev), is a performer herself. She owned a business in the late 50’s and early 60’s which was relatively rare for a woman. She sold pianos and organs, knocking her customers out with fantastic singing and playing skills. As a prominent member of the community (and a huge show off), she would have people over and then make her children perform tricks. My mother was not immune to this and was often asked to “Show (fill in the blank) your gymnastic moves, Gaylene.” Or violin, or piano, or singing, or whatever she happened to be doing at the time. My mother got used to this obviously, since she decided at a very young age that she wanted to become Barbara Streisand.
BTW, this is my MOM at my age in "I Do, I Do!"
So, I was destined to be on stage. It wasn’t that I didn’t love the attention. Oh goodness! I LOVE ATTENTION!! But, the thought of hundreds of people looking at me makes my stomach feel sweaty.
When I was 4, my mom and dad decided that I should be in the talent show that was being put on at the high school that my dad ended up teaching music at. It sounded fun to a 4-year-old whose favorite game was “Pretend.” I love performing, remember. At least, I loved performing for my Barbies. Problem is, they’re a really terrible audience.
I don’t remember much about what happened on the night of the performance, but I clearly remember when I found myself under the dazzling stage lights.
There were a ga-trillion ba-zillion people looking at me, hooting, stomping, clapping, shouting.
I started to cry.
Obviously, my timing was just as good then as it is now. The audience loved my miserable little whimper and cheered and shouted and clapped for me even more. My dad said, “It’s okay. They like you. They want to hear your song.”
He played the intro and cued me to sing…which I did not do. My mom came up to the stage. The crowd “Aahhhed” and clapped again. “It’s so sweet,” I imagine them saying. “It’s a whole little Von Trapp family!”
Mom asked me if I wanted to sing, and I shook my head, “No.” Dad started the music intro again, and Mom and Dad started singing.
You get a line and I get a pole, now honey….
You get a line and I get a pole, now babe….
Well, the people were clapping and laughing, and I realized that I was missing my big chance. The people were clapping for my parents, not for me. Without further ado, I belted out in my adorable 4-year-old voice.
You get a line and I get a pole
and we’ll go fishin’ at the crawdad hole.
Honey, Baby, Mine.
Dad played the intro again. This time I sang the whole song all by myself.
Who wouldn't clap for this adorable, toothless mess?!
The crowd fell to pieces, hollering and shaking the rickety wooden bleachers with their applause. The lights blinded me, but I could see the people standing up for me. I smiled and bowed. The lights went out.
I still look back on that time and curse my parents. I was terrified, and rightfully so. There is a reason that most people would rather die than speak in front of an audience. There is something unnatural about having so many people relying on you to entertain them, especially for a little kid whose previous audiences were mostly naked and without heads.
At the same time, there is something about it that is also intoxicating. It means (for people like myself, my parents, my grandparents, etc.) that there is this amazing possibility of touching someone else’s soul for a moment. It means that there is a shared experience that you give to the audience as a gift. And in return, the audience gives you their laughter, tears, and imagination.
When performers perform, we give up a lot of our life to create it. We do rehearsals, squeeze ourselves into costumes and makeup that don’t always feel good or flatter us. We deal with lots of other crazy people: actors, directors, singers, choreographers, musicians. It takes hundreds or thousands of hours to do, sometimes culminating in a single performance.
Obviously, this was one performance too many.
If I’m willing to give up so much to do it, how could I be afraid to perform?
What I’ve learned is that the more you love what you do and who you do it for, the scarier it becomes. For me, the more I want to make my audience happy, the higher the stakes are for me. This means that I do a lot of praying before I go out on stage, especially if my mom and dad are in the audience.
Even now, even though I have sung for thousands of people, even though I am pretty confident in what I do, I still have a moment of terror before every performance. There is always this moment as I am walking onto the stage where everything I have practiced and learned disappears from my mind completely. I suddenly want to run away, go back behind a dumpster and throw up the water and throat drops I had for dinner.
Although my mind is screaming, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know any of the words! I don’t know any of my lines! They’re going to find out I am terrible!” I still keep walking. This is the reason: Once I look into the faces of the people who are depending on me to “get the show on the road,” I realize that I know it all, and that I could never let them down by being afraid.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, stick around. I promise that the show will be interesting and entertaining. If we’re lucky, we will both laugh and cry, wonder and hope. If we’re really lucky, you will leave the darkened theater of my blog and be glad that you bought a ticket. And I will be glad that I got a chance to give you a piece of myself to take home.
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