Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Live! On Stage!

Going to the outdoor theatre and seeing Blithe Spirit last week brought back memories of the stage. It’s true: not all of them were happy memories.

Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

I think I mentioned once that I didn’t enjoy being a model. Even still in ruffled baby pants, I was pretty sure that boop-boop-ee-doo bending over to show that big appliqued valentine was funny for everyone except me. I didn’t like the attention. How could a three-year-old conclude that they were not giving me attention, they just liked the cute clothes on the little blonde girl. It was nothing personal.

I greeted my modeling days with the same joy I did sitting on “Santa’s” lap, that guy in the red suit who smelled like booze and tobacco. I didn’t like the Easter Bunny in the department store either.

Not that I didn’t try my hand at performing now and again. Dancing lessons were a flop, but, oh, that chicky costume! Mrs. T’s piano lessons were much better for the costumes than the music. I thought so at the time. Having learned grace under pressure as a runway—should that be toddleway?—model I was able to gut it out through bad fingering and crashing chords, curtsey, retreat to backstage. Only then did I faint. What a trouper!

I don’t know why I kept trying the stage when I hated it. I think in some ways it was a sense of altruism, volunteering to save some other child from the mortification and terror of being under public scrutiny for their entertainment, not one’s own. This form of self-sacrifice was mistaken for a craving for attention of the thespian variety.

It didn’t take me long to convince myself that I was not leading lady material. But funny girls can be sidekicks, supporting actresses, comic relief, “wing chicks.” And there I found my comfort zone.

Pressing still on my urge for creative expression was my consideration for my older brother. He played the part of the husband in the 9th grade’s production of Wait Until Dark. In spite of the fact that he was my brother, the one I had known all my life, through squirt guns, sandbox squabbles, he, the one who lost his pet mouse in his room, in spite of all that, he was pretty good, I had to admit.  He played guitar in a band. We had been so competitive all our lives but in junior high I became embarrassed about competing with him academically. We had both made difficult transitions moving from Florida to New Mexico. We found out quickly that our new school chums were critical of kids who made good grades. My brother ditched his grades purposefully to make friends; I would not, preferring to be hated for the truth than liked for a lie. Or, that’s how I saw it at the time. Junior high kids can be so…dramatic.

When he showed his flair for theatre and music, I postponed those activities until after he graduated from high school. In my senior year, I went hog wild. Literally.

I remember cringing once at a customer in the antique shop who was trying to be kind and chirped, “Oh, to be sixteen and beautiful again! This is the best time of your life.” I thought glumly, If it’s downhill from here, someone please just park me in the sand dunes and let me dry up. Then, the only consolation about having boys talk to my chest was that they weren’t inspecting my unreliable complexion.

In my senior year, I suddenly relaxed, no longer in fear of outshining my brother. He had gone on to college, even though the university was closer to the house than the high school. I had come into my own. I was the editor of the yearbook, something I had aspired to since 7th grade. I sang in choir and madrigals. Our high school went to All-State and I passed the audition to be in the All-State Choir. I tried out for the school play and won a part as The Maid; my hair, dress and make-up so “good” that I could hear kids in the audience asking, “Who is that?” Perfect, I thought, perfect.

I would later go on to be a newscaster for a radio station, citing my lack of nervousness as being my point of view. I wasn’t talking to 30,000 listeners. I was talking to a hunk of metal on a stand, a microphone, safe from stage fright by speaking earnestly to an inanimate object. I sang tenor with Sweet Adelines and was a member of a quartet, finding my safe zone to be the barrier that was the edge of the stage. After the performance, in hands of my octogenarian adoring fans I was once again terrified.

One performance, though, filled me with perfect ease. It was my senior year of high school, that moment when I was sure that I was bright with a brilliant future ahead of me. It was the All-School Program and there was a Show to put on. Super Bill, our choir director had some ideas about a few light-hearted acts to put on in between the sincere performances of folk song and ballet. There were costumes. There were microphones. We were going to sing and dance.

We were The Three Little Pigs.

Super Bill rightly assessed his performers. Kathy, Earlene and I actually did have the brass to dress up in pig costumes and sing and dance on stage. Brian, handsome, glib, dangerous, a wolf in real life with an endless string of attempted conquests in his reputation, was The Big Bad Wolf.

It was dress rehearsal night. We ran through the entire show in costume, with the band, the props, the sets, the whole enchilada. It was Pig Time and we were on. And suddenly I noticed that my microphone wasn’t there, no stand, no mike, no cord.

“Super Bill!” I wailed through my pink pig persona, “my microphone!”

“Aw, go ahead and sing,” Bill cajoled me back to pig performance. “We’ll get another one for you tomorrow night.”

So, in my best deep-breathing projection, I tried to compensate for the lack of electric amplification, belted out my Number Two Pig solo, sang and danced with my pretend-porcines and screamed and ran, perhaps with all too real horror, from Brian the Big Bad Wolf.

At the end of the Pig Performance, we awaited the assessment. Was it OK or do we need to do it again? A call came from the darkened back row of the theatre. Who it was I will never know, but he proclaimed what my brother had suggested for years.

The Queen of Wands is the life of the party. She is in her element not necessarily as the Star of the Show but in the thick of the energy. She encourages those around her to join in. She loves a crowd. She need not be the prettiest girl in the room. She’s on fire. She might be one of the most interesting people you’ll ever talk to, Dos Equis or not. She might wear you out.

“Marcia doesn’t need a microphone.”

Well. The show was a success. My microphone made a mysterious reappearance on the night of the performance. But I have since retired from the stage.

Best wishes.

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