Monday, April 30, 2007
If You Can Walk, You Can Dance
If You Can Talk, You Can Sing
I made my theatrical debut this evening, starring in my one-man show "The Memory Mill."
This was the culmination of the eight week class I took at the People's Improv Theater, or PIT for short. I can't believe how quickly the time went by.
And I can't believe I actually stood up before a group of people and did my six-minute piece.
Earlier in the day, I got an e-mail from a fiction magazine rejecting a short story I had sent to them several weeks ago. That meant I'd really have to do great things on stage.
I was nervous about the show, but not as much as I thought I would be. Of course, it's a friendly crowd and the venue is pretty small. Our class show began at 5:30 p.m. on a Monday night, so we didn't have to worry about overflow crowds.
But no matter--we did it and I'm very glad we did. I had been rehearsing every night for about two weeks, reciting my piece aloud after dinner. I was originally going to memorize the whole story, but I decided to bring a copy of the piece with me onstage just in case my mind bailed out the back of my head.
The constant practice helped. I felt comfortable with the words I had written and I was able to look out at the audience instead of staring down at sheets of paper.
It felt strange meeting backstage with my classmates before the show. Usually I enjoy theater from the audience, now I was getting ready to take the stage. There was a heavy bag back there, so, of course, I had to pound on that for a while to relieve some tension and show off for the women.
When will I grow up? Why, never, of course.
As I stood there, in a mild state of shock, I realized there was nothing in my experience to compare with this evening. I've never performed on stage, not even in school plays. I've always done my best work from behind the keyboard.
My memory searched through the files of my brain and then--poof!--I remembered the time I took the Cub Scout Oath in the cafeteria of Our Lady of Angel's Elementary School some 40-odd years ago.
I was a solo performer back then, too. Usually they swore a couple of Cub Scouts at a time, but on this night, I was going in on my own. For some reason I recall being blindfolded, like I had been kidnapped by terrorists, but my mind could be playing tricks on me.
I recited my oath perfectly and my parents were so proud of me. They both swore no one had ever done a better job and it didn't occur to me until tonight that they were probably just a little prejudiced in my favor.
But I still savored the memory. The fact is, I performed that night many years ago and I was a hit. And I would do the same this evening.
As we did our pre-show warm-ups, I looked to the back of the theater and saw a quote painted on the back wall reading: "Follow the Fear."
That summed up my reason for taking the class and being in this show. I was so afraid of doing it, I knew that I had to. It's good advice for life, too, whether it's going a better job or approaching that certain someone you think won't give you the time day.
On My Honor, I Will Do My Best
There were eight of us and naturally I was the last to go on. I don't know even why I mention it, because that's just how things work out for me. But I was okay with it.
I had invited my Aunt Marie, best bud Hank, and dear friend Paula, to come down and suffer through this with me and they were there, one row behind me. Big thumbs up for Paula for coming down after her first day on a new job and following the recent death of her mother. It did my heart good to see her.
As I watched my classmates perform, I found was enjoying their work tremendously. Perhaps it was the live, theatrical setting but everybody's piece seemed to really crackle with energy.
I was getting intimated as I watched some of the other people. They were professional actors, playing a part. I don't have those skills and I would look foolish even trying.
I decided that instead of being scared by their talent, I would get inspiration from it. I would feed off their abilities and enthusiasm and use that energy in my piece.
When the person before me went on stage, I started thinking that maybe I should walk out--just not do the show. What the hell? It's my money, if I don't feel like going on stage, that's my business.
These thoughts weren't serious, but there was a very powerful force in me that didn't want to go through this evening. Some part of me didn't want to follow the fear; this part wanted to run away from the fear, to give in to it.
Then Jen, our teacher, called out my name, and I went up on stage, got the podium, and proceeded to do my thing.
I found the bright lights helpful as they blotted out most of the crowd. I knew they were out there, but I could barely see them. And that was fine with me.
My solo piece is about living in my family's house by myself. I talked about what it was like when I was a kid, when it bustled with activity, and how it is now pretty much an empty building, as my parents are gone and my siblings have all moved out.
And you know, it felt pretty good. I was able to speak clearly, at a normal speed, as opposed to the over-caffinated hyper-drive I usually revert to when I'm flapping my gums. I stuttered once or twice, but it was nothing serious.
When it was over, people applaued, and then we all came up to take the class bow. I saw that my aunt was crying and--I hate to say this--but that's a good sign. It means I reached her with my words.
And, even better, one of my classmate's friends approached me and told me she really liked my work. Praise from a total stranger is very encouraging.
After that I said goodbye to my friends and we went out for a nice Thai pig-out dinner. I called my aunt later this evening and she encouraged me to keep up with my creative endeavors.
"Get a good night's sleep tonight," she said, "and then tomorrow is another day."
Yes, it is. But this was quite an evening. Maybe not as exciting as the night I recited the Cub Scout Oath, but it was damn close.