Thursday, January 24, 2013

Life is a Cabaret

A few weeks ago now, I am sure it was the wine that made me do it, but I said yes, quite enthusiastically, I sort of remember, to making a stab at playing the drums on a project. Not just playing the drums in a smoky bar playing with my band of guys slogging through a blues number or an old rock basic as I have been doing fairly regularly over the past decade. This, yes, was different. For some insane reason at the moment it seemed fitting that I play the drums for the musical “Cabaret” that was being put on by our local community theater, the Cloverdale Playhouse.

My elder daughter happens to be one of the folks who makes, and has helped to make the playhouse happen, from its fund raising beginnings to its now starting its second season. She also happens to have been a long time ballet dancer, everyday, all day, for many years. So, when the decision was made to run “Cabaret” she cut her hair, changed its color, auditioned, and got the part of one of the infamous Kit Cat girls in the play. So, I guess it is really her fault for leading me astray and making me volunteer for that which I am no where trained to do. Led like a lemming over a cliff, once the words had left my mouth, the deal was forged, and there I was.

Pretty soon after the fateful words had left my mouth, I was presented with a large notebook and a cd  of the music to listen to. I opened the book and gasped. It was the entire score of the broadway play version done well after Liza Minnelli had made her mark of the movie version in the 70’s, and the bad news was that it was all scored out, each and every single beat, brush stroke, cymbal crash, Krupa tom rolls, stops, and drum rolls. I listened to the whole chorus play those incredible iconic songs and tried to play along, and was hopelessly lost in the process.

I sank in deep despair with that overwhelming feeling that I used to get as a kid when new text books were handed out and seeing the impossible. It had been years since I had read tablature  and I had not been great at it then. I am talking about pages and pages of little marks indicating where and when I was to hit a drum or not. It was overwhelming, the I-am-in-deep-dodo now, and how do I get out, desperate to be relieved of the burden, blood chilling terror. 

I pled my incompetence and sited their need for a “real” drummer, one who could read this stuff and play with any level of skill beyond mine. I was cajoled along being fed little pieces of “oh, we just want some color, simple and oh, don’t worry about that book. You will be fine”. This has gone on now for weeks with me sometimes believing them and halfway believing that I MIGHT be able to pull it off, all giving them time to not be able to find a replacement for me. These moments have been followed by practice times of things going so badly, that my stress levels were running higher and higher, and I simply could not hear the music I was trying to play for the fear of my ultimate failure getting in the way. I wanted out, and yet, yes, and yet, I did want to try. I just wanted to do it well. 

 I went to a rehearsal to see what they were up to and was amazed. These local actors were nailing the songs and dances, my daughter definitely included. I was impressed. On a break I was introduced to the fellow to plays the host of the Kit Cat Club, a thin fellow with a pony tail who had just done an amazing job on the opening number, not young but not nearly as old as I am, and he was told I was the prospective drummer. His face smiled and he asked how I felt. I said that at some moments I feel like I might be able to do it, and that on others, I felt like throwing my toe nails up. He doubled over laughing and said he felt the same way having spent the last ten years not doing any singing and dancing anywhere close to a stage. It brought some degree in comfort to know I was not alone in my trepidation.

This fear, this trepidation, this feeling of total inadequacy for the job at hand apparently is par for the course with most musicians, artists, and actors learning new work, regardless of their level. A recent visit by a friend, who happens to be a world class, internationally known violinist, further confirmed this. She was at our house practicing for an upcoming concert in town and was struggling with the new piece and was very frustrated. I said something about how freaked out I was trying to learn my part in Cabaret, and she said how nice it was for someone to understand about 90% of her life, a life of feeling like an incompetent most of the time. She however, spends the next 10% performing beautifully and flawlessly on stage to make up for it all.   

My learning curve began years ago when I was first handed a set of drums for Christmas one year by my husband. Early on we played in a band despite the fact that we didn’t know how, but that was beside the point. Pretty quickly somebody, who shall remain nameless, thought it might be a great idea to play Santana’s “Black Magic Woman”, only one of the greatest percussion songs ever played by one of the best bunch of drummers ever. Oh yeah, that was going to happen for me. I stressed and stressed over trying to learn some version, and did eventually come up with a distillation of the sounds for a drumming version that I could do, and it worked. At a cost of a load of stress and then some, I did finally manage to slay that dragon. 

I came away from last night’s rehearsal where the group did the first run through of Act 1. It filled in a whole lot of gaps for me about my role and what other sounds were going to be played and I came away feeling a bit more confident that in three weeks I might have a slim chance of not messing up and getting a stage full of dancers off beat. That, would not be well received. It is only a small playhouse in a not so huge community, but to those who are working so hard to make it happen, I owe them the best I can do. For the next three weeks until opening night, every day I will be practicing these fabulous tunes until they are stuck firmly in my head, and hopefully my hands and feet will follow. 

Among others, my eighty plus year old aunt visiting from Atlanta will be watching the show. She had always wanted to play in a band, had a huge bass drum that she walked around with as a kid banging away, and she knows more about the late night show drummers than anyone. It is hard to imagine what she will take away from the night, sitting in the dark watching her grand niece singing and dancing away, and her niece banging away on the skins up on stage, perhaps filling the part of her unfilled youthful fantasy.

My first time viewing of “Cabaret” was flying across the Atlantic on my first trip to England. It was very exciting to be going and to then be prepped for Europe by watching Liza and the Germans and the incredible dancing and singing, was icing on the cake. What I remember though, was, the drummer for the club in the movie was a woman, the first woman drummer I had ever seen. I had not known women could do that and it blew me away. Fast forward to now,  and here I am priming for the same spot in the show.  Life is full of circles and this one has taken a long and weird path but I guess it is some convoluted form of destiny for me to be here. 

Three weeks, and counting, we shall see.