The Only Thing Better Than Hairspray…
My old roommate Melanie, who moved to Seattle last year (refer to previous blog titled “S & M in the USA”) is a very talented actress, dancer, and singer. She was the star of several Spartanburg Little Theater productions, including Chicago, in which she had to jump off tables in lingerie and heels and do back flips and splits and other such feats that I could only attempt while drunk and in my twenties.
“Why don’t you audition for a Little Theater show?” she used to say to me while we were roommates.
“No way,” I used to say. “That takes talent. You have to be able to act and sing and dance and stuff.”
“You have talent!” she would protest. “You can act. And your singing is okay. And… yeah.”
Ah, Melanie. She’s such a supportive friend, but she’s only partially correct. My singing is fair, but Diana Ross need not fear any competition from me. My acting is pretty good, although I can’t contain myself when someone farts at rehearsal, and I’m fairly certain that being one of the few people over age 25 means I should be more mature than that. And as for dancing, anyone who has seen me dance assumes that I have a mental deficiency. I am simply not a dancer.
But Melanie was sure proud when I landed a couple of small roles in the Spartanburg Little Theater production of Hairspray, which opened Sept. 12.
See, the miracle here is not that I landed a role despite my dancing ineptitude and my uncontrolled laughter at rehearsal farts.
The miracle of my being in a Little Theater production is that ten years ago, my health was completely turned upside down by cancer.
At 30 years old, I had cancer in my throat, growing into my laryngeal nerve. I was told I might never talk again without a tracheal device, and I would certainly never sing. Over the course of the next several years, complications from that ordeal resulted in peripheral neuropathy on my right side. And then my cancer returned a few years after that, which is why I am such a health nut now.
Oh yeah, one other thing. Then I hit a curb on my bike in 2009 which resulted in retinal damage, and served me up a nasty loss of some peripheral vision, which is why I don’t like to skydive with more than two people at once (in case any of you skydivers are wondering why I don’t do big-ways).
But here I am at 40, skydiving and starring in Little Theater musicals!
Okay, not starring in, exactly, but I sing and/or dance in several numbers and I play the gym teacher who scratches her butt and the prison matron who scratches her crotch. And to think that doctors told me I’d never do those things! Morons. I should invite all of my doctors to this show.
Anyway, back to Melanie.
I called her frequently during the rehearsal phase of Hairspray because I knew she would have sound advice for my millions of questions. Are all rehearsals this long? How can I possibly change costumes in ten seconds? How can I get people to shut the hell up during rehearsal? How do I not laugh at farts? What if I get on stage and I freeze?
I’d never done a musical before. I hadn’t done any acting since high school. I was a little bit terrified. Melanie became known as The Little Theatre Hotline.
“What do you do before a skydive?” she asked as we were on the phone, about an hour before the opening night’s show. “How do you make yourself calm and collected?”
“I don’t need to. Skydiving is easy,” I said.
“But it wasn’t always easy, and most people would not agree with you.”
What do the two have in common, you ask? Several things:
Once you are out of the plane, there’s no going back in. Just like being on stage. Once you’re out, you have to play it.
Skydiving and live acting require immense amounts of mental focus. You can’t freeze up or you will die. One literally, the other figuratively.
People who are more experienced than you will give you unsolicited advice. It will usually be wrong.
Once they call “Places!” the same innate physical response occurs, just as when they yell on the loud speaker, “Five minute call for load 9!” You have to pee. Immediately.
When you do have to pee while on a 5-minute call, you must take off either a strapped-on parachute that’s already been gear-checked or a costume and wig that’s already been ok’d by stage crew. Getting out of these things to pee requires at least five minutes of your time, which leaves you debating for at least one of those minutes whether you really need to pee or whether it can wait until you land or after the first act is over.
There is always the fear of landing-off or hitting power lines while skydiving. Similarly, there is the fear of falling in the orchestra pit if you’re too far downstage. I almost did that during dress rehearsal.
You will end up calling these people your family, whether it be your Skydiving Family or your Theater Family. Something about those crazy experiences make you that close. You will be annoyed by many of them, just like your real family. But you will love them.
People from all walks of life will be part of that family. Black, white, Jewish, rich, poor, weird, drunks, doctors, or people fresh from prison. Kinda like my real family, except there are no doctors in my real family that I’m aware of.
Whether it’s Wig Hair or Helmet Head, your ‘do will be a bird nest after your show/skydive.
It’s the most work you will ever have to do, and the most fun you will ever have.
Now that the first weekend of shows is over, I can officially say that I made some Theater Family, I played it well on stage, and even got some claps when I did my Ella Fitzgerald-esque scats while playing the Prison Matron. Once again I can give cancer the finger because I won another round.
“Do you think you’ll do live theater again?” the Little Theater Hotline asked me hopefully after the first weekend of shows.
I’m not sure. Maybe. It was great fun, but jumping from planes is so much easier. Besides, I don’t have to work to control my laughter when someone farts in the plane.