Monday, February 25, 2013

auf wiedersehn, a bientot...

......the drum roll slowly buzzed, building the tension, and with the crash of the final cymbal, the house went to black, and it was....The End.

I put my sticks down on my snare as the audience began its clapping and standing to honor the jobs that the now bowing actors and singers had just done. For a moment the emotion was overwhelming and there were tears just under my eye lids that begged for release, but would have to wait. We stood as the band together, and took a bow along with the cast through the now open doors of the set in front of us. The cast left the stage, the backstage lights came up, and just like that, it was over.

The run of “Cabaret” was spent, and I felt such a huge release of pressure that I had been under since agreeing to try to do this job.  The pressure I had placed on myself to get every thing right, doing it on stage before the crowds for the past two weeks,  and always under the ever watchful eyes and ears of Randy, the director, suddenly was gone. I felt that a enormous weigh had kindly been lifted away.

I packed my sticks and made my way to my waiting truck to carry me home. The now late afternoon was still bright blue, balmy, and lovely as I drove along pondering what the heck I had just been through for the past month’s duration of all the hours spent practicing and rehearsing, and then doing the performances. The whole thing had really been overwhelming at times, certainly great fun at some, but had put me in a place I had never been before and so the idea of making it back to some form of my personal reality was unclear. I drove along in a bit of a brain numbed daze.

I pulled off of the Interstate and headed south onto the two lane county road that heads due south towards our house in the country. I looked at a brilliant setting sun to my right, slightly obscured by a veil of wispy clouds. I looked to my left to see the opposite orb rising, a full moon, bright white against the still blue afternoon sky. I was in the cross fire of these planets and couldn’t help but feel their pull, their energy, and I felt better for them being there at that moment as though they were there just to give me an infusion of some sort, a celestial cocktail. I needed it and drank heavily. It was beautiful. When I got home I found a pathway of lovely pink petals which led me to a waiting shaker. Sometimes my husband is actually a very brilliant fellow.

We later attended a very sweet cast and crew party. The champagne flowed until the bottles were empty, and then everyone said adieus and were gone. This magical group that had put on that truly amazing show, was no more. That ephemeral bubble that it had been, floated no more and was popped.

 In a previous bit of writing about the play and my trepidation, I had mentioned that in some way the sound of the band for “Cabaret” would be a bit bullet proof due to the fact that it is supposed to be about a bunch of whores, drunks, and misfits playing the music semi badly, so adherence to playing something perfectly was not necessary and would be out of place and expectation. I certainly complied with that on my part, playing like a drunk whore in a seedy bar bumbling over this and that place in the songs. The problem was that there really was a score that was meant to be followed, and I had to know where to go, and when, and sometimes I just didn't or couldn't.

The other fellows in the band, who actually know how to read music and know how to make it happen correctly, on time, every time, have had to cover and ride over my mistakes and goofs. Not so bullet proof as I had hoped to have been, some nights in leaving I felt that I had been totally ripped to shreds. Maybe no one on the other side of the wall/set knew, but my band mates knew, and the director and I, painfully, knew the truth of my many mistakes.  

The playing style was very different from any I had done before, where the written score is hand work of the Almighty, and “it” shall not be moved, changed, or deviated from, with exceptions only by the will of the director who has a higher ranking in this case. By contrast the way I have always played before has been by ear, and by familiarization with a song, the framework being loose and very flexible. This differences were very hard for me to deal with and I made pages after pages of scribbled notes on what to play when and how. My job, I was told, was to just fluff up the sound, and so that is what I tried my best, inadequately as I was, to do.

This process of trying to learn the drum parts for this play has been the most challenging endeavor I have ever taken on. It has thoroughly challenged my brain, my hands, and my nerves to do things I have never done, and never really imagined that I could come close to doing.  What I wanted was perfection, to do a great job, to knock the home run out of the park, and my doubt and fear of failure to do this was stifling. So, why did I continue and not bail out earlier? I am not sure yet, and perhaps I should have. 

First, the whole idea was as a total lark. I thought it would be cool to do a play with my daughter. That has indeed been a great part, but lacking the chance to get to see her dance during performances, there was a down side to that. It was always so great though, to begin each show with her waiting for her cue, standing right in front of me, smiling, encouraging me, so happy to be in her element. She has done such a magnificent job in her role as a dancer, and has enjoyed rave reviews for it. I am so proud of her and am happy to have witnessed her hard work and success on the whole project.

Over the course of the performances the singers and actors have simply blown me, and the audiences, away. I have been amazed every time I have heard them work, the skill in their voices, the way they have given it up each and every night. To me, they are the fearless ones. I am told they all have their moments too, but I have seen little proof of that. 
So now it is over, the pressure is gone, the hours and hours of practicing have vanished, as have the hours spent on stage, leaving only the already fading memories in their wake. I wish that I had been able to get to know more of the cast better but am grateful for the kindness and new friendships of the ones who I did get to know. Theirs was an obvious and sweet camaraderie. 

I regret that ultimately I was not able to rise to the full height of my own expectations. It wasn’t without an enormous effort, and perhaps with more time, I might have come closer. The last night was certainly my best go at it, but that tiny question will never be answered. It is, what it was.

What I have learned through all of this, that in my self, there is a new awareness  of where my comfort zones are and where they can be pushed to, and beyond. While I didn’t do a great and perfect job, I did do it, and I did not quit.

I really did play the drums with my daughter in a fabulous production of “Cabaret” in a small and wonderful community theatre.  That, simply, is what I can take away from this, and is, what I can be satisfied and happy with.

“Auf Wiedersehn, a bientot”.......... and so farewell to the..... “Cabaret”.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Brain Farts

Yesterday we finished our first week’s run of four performances of “Cabaret”. These runs were preceded by four or five all the way run through practice nights. These nights were preceded by a month of my own intense practicing at home with headphones on, drumming for hours every day to the sound track. For the next two days we all get a break. I did not touch my drum sticks today and I somehow managed to allow my brain to ponder other things besides the constant loop of the tunes that has run through my head for a month. It is good to take a quick break, to relax, reflect, and ponder.

After having done the entirety of the play seven or eight times now, each time it begins  with every move, every gesture, every line delivered, all clocked out, measured and repeated the next night, I have begun to feel a bit like I am in the movie “Ground Hog Day” with Bill Murray, where he is trapped in a time loop and each day keeps repeating itself over and over. To a great extent doing the nightly repeats of the play are like that, but there are also so many variables that have made each night different that it is amazing, some subtle things, and some, are not so subtle. 

The audience, of course, always makes such a huge difference, whether they laugh, holler, clap, respond at all, or sit there like lumps. Thursday’s opening night was vividly alive and the audience was gracious and enthusiastic and gave a well deserved standing ovation to the actors and dancers. Friday night they were a bit less raucous but very generous in applauding and gave another standing ovation at the end. Then Saturday night the crowd was again even more alive and again sent the actors away with yet another ovation. The best though, was at Sunday’s matinee. These folks were flat out enjoying themselves, laughing at the jokes and sometimes laughing when it wasn’t a joke, but thats okay too. The energy put out on stage is reflected off these faces watching them and when the audience gives some of that back plus some, it sure does make it more fun for all.

From the get go my biggest fear about this whole project was whether I would be able to do the drumming sufficiently  and not screw up something which would cause a dancer to get off the beat or anything that would point the big finger in my direction. What I have learned is that I am not alone in this fear of an uh oh moment, and justifiably so. I think nearly everyone has made one or two uh oh’s so far, and some bigger than others. Sunday was special though.

Brain farts; a moment where concentration has fled from the brain, leaving a black hole of no thought and paralyzed action, and one is left totally blank for the time lapse of its duration. It can come at any time, unpredictably to any one, and does. It does not matter how many times you practice or rehearse, sometimes when you try to access your brain, and it simply isn’t there anymore. My usual moment for such is when I try to introduce someone I know, like my mother or someone, and I can’t remember her name, or the other person’s as well.

Definition by way of Wikipedia says: ‘a Brain Fart is slang for a special kind of abnormal brain activity with results in human error while performing a repetitive task, or more generally denoting a degree of mental laxity or any task related forgetfulness, such as forgetting how to hold a fork. Researchers have actually detected brain wave activity 30 seconds before they happen, suspecting it is the result of a brain attempting to enter a more restful state’.

 My biggest brain fart on stage I have had so far was yesterday during the performance, on a dance number, the one where the drum is whipping the marching the little Nazi’s into a frenzy. I have several points where there is nothing but a drum solo going with these dancers, and perhaps one of the key ones is at the end of the song. My job is to play a thingy that gets the goose steppers off the stage in some sort of fashion. All was going well, and then it happened. Blank.

I had discovered during an earlier part of the song that, wow, if I looked at the glass on the fire extinguisher box behind Randy playing the piano, that I could see his computer monitor that showed him what was going on on the stage. Mesmerized by this discovery and fascinated at finally watching the dancers instead of hearing them only, I dropped my concentration on my notes and where I was in the piece. The next thing I know is I am being pointed it at by the director, and God knows that I know I should be doing something.....but WHAT? Synapses had ceased to fire and rather than do further damage, I stopped with a thunk on the snare.  I cast a quick glance back up on my reflective fire extinguisher monitor to see some rather confused dancers quickly improvising a way to tactfully get their butts off the stage. I sat in deep self humiliation. As the saying of Homer Simpson goes, “Dough!”

I was not alone in this performance, or in others, in having a brain fart, a few of the actors had similar moments. It is a horrible feeling, helpless to retrace your steps very quickly, hanging in a  black void of uncertainty of what to do next. The audience had no idea as to my goof up thanks to the quick wits of the dancers, and probably had no idea at the other goofs, thanks to some quick improve by the actors on stage. There were probably even more brain farts that I didn’t even see or hear, but again, they got covered and all was concealed with the smoke and mirror of theatre, and by some great actors.

Despite my "moment", the afternoon play ended strongly with a enthusiastic standing ovation yet again for the marvelous acting and singing. This humbled drummer packed her sticks and  apologized to the director who waved me off with a smirk and a smile . I am sure he had survived much worse than what I did. The show must go on, and so it did, and  does, regardless.

Today was a nice day to clear the brain, rebooting if you will. I played in the dirt in the veggie garden and did other gratifying things like throwing old stuff out into the dumpster outside in a pre-spring cleaning effort. Tomorrow the headphones go back on, and concentration will be retooled, especially on that little piece my brain checked out on, and with any luck on Wednesday and onward until closing next Sunday, my little brain will remain, fartless. 

The eight performances have been sold out and so as to let others see the play they are opening up our brush up “rehearsal” on Wednesday night, and that too, has sold out. A high bar has been set by this performance by all involved, brain fart moments excluded, and so far, its a pretty fun gig to be a part of.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Opening Night

Opening Night.  These words are iconic in their meaning. How many centuries of plays have been performed with all of the time and work rehearsing and practicing until finally, that fateful night is reached when it is time to hit the stage ready or not, and to stand in front of an audience and deliver the goods for the first time? I am sure some historian must know but for me it was a unique experience to be a part of. As an observer and as a participant I am riding two sides of the fence. What I felt was that after it was done, there was a huge relief to have it safely under the belt and that now there was more breathing room. It, can be done, and done very well, not perfect yet, but damn good.

Dress rehearsal night was filled with a bit more energy than I had anticipated due to the unexpected, to me, crowd of invited guests there to sit in as a guinea pig audience. The feeling back stage was more tense and buzzy. All things considered it went well enough, with mistakes thrown in by nearly all, but the benevolent crowd was pleased and loudly clapped and hollered their appreciation for our efforts. It got some of the pent up energy spent and more things ironed out, another version of a practice but under some degree of scrutiny and with feedback.

Last night was Valentines Night and the house was brimming with faces and all of the seats were full. At long last, behind the Berlin Wall, the stage set wall that separates the band and back stage movement from the audience, we waited. The actors stood before me each into their own mental places delving into their characters, remembering lines, most of them prancing slightly like Thoroughbreds in the gate, and then the cue was given to begin.

I have never had much chance to worry with drum rudiments and things like learning to drum rolls. They just aren’t called for much in my usual stock of twelve bar blues and rock. So when I first tentatively stuck my foot into the shark infested waters of trying to learn the parts for this play, the drum roll was the first thing I felt I had to get down. Practicing fast and wrong has just as much input into your brain and coordination as slow, so slow it was to begin. “Momma, daddy, momma, daddy” is one of the mantras I was told helps get the pattern. If you say this as you let the stick hit the skin and let it bounce in natural course before lifting with each word, gradually you can speed it up until it buzzes and becomes the roll. It is not something you attack. You have to have a relaxation in your hand and in your mind for it to work well. With a  breath, I began the roll..........then, the crash to the cymbal, and the play was on. 

Once rolling it was like a train that is not stopping until the very end. It is amazing to me the perception of time during a gig, or in this case especially, the play, that I glanced at my cell phone to check the time and we were already into the play an hour when I felt we had only just begun. The opening number was a big hit, and the audience laughed, clapped, and cheered through the rest of the first act. Over all it flew pretty darned well. Intermission was called and then it was back to work.

The second act begins with a musical medley that drags stragglers back to their chairs out front and the story continues. The story gets a darker side and so the music reflects this militaristic push and so my drumming has to follow suit. Again a part of a drumming style I have never had to use, not being a product of a high school marching band, and yet another of the places I needed to begin at the bottom of a leaning curve. 

This whole project has been absolutely terrifying to me and yet somehow, the stupid competitor in me kept going only to see how far I could push myself to learn new skills in a very short time. I am glad that I did in many areas.  I have for one, learned new drumming skills, but I have met and have gotten to watch some marvelously talented people sing and dance and act in ways that have blown me away in awe. It is infinitely more fun to be a part of something than to simply watch, and the people involved with this have been so nice and supportive to my bumbling around back stage and I thank them for letting me be there.

Having never been through a series of the same performance before it will be interesting to see how it will evolve over the course of its run. It is a sad thing to think that the production will probably get really tight and even much better, and then it will be just a memory, when all said and done. Some of the actors will leave town, most move on to new plays, new projects, the entity of this group will go poof like a soap bubble popping when it can shine no more.

Opening night, done. Reception had, and the night was toasted. Tonight, we do it again, then again next night, until the matinee on Sunday afternoon. Repeat same thing next week for a total of seven more shows. Tickets for the remaining shows are at total sell out now, this with no advertising and no critic to laud our efforts. This is  no doubt due to the high standard folks are already coming to expect from this playhouse, that, and every one, loves a “Cabaret”. The house is opening the opportunity for folks to see brush up rehearsal night on Wednesday, with donations as ticket price.  

 So, “What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play...” 

 What fun this ride, this life, is. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

It's.......SHOW TIME!

I have now survived two rehearsals of “Cabaret”, the first was Sunday night, the first time for the musicians to meet and to play together, and the first for the cast to get to act, sing, and dance to more than a piano or a recording. Everybody seemed happy with it all, adjustments were made, mistakes were made, but I think the come-away-from-it feeling was happiness on the parts of the actors who now have more of a sense of it really happening. The second go was Monday night, a complete run through this time with costumes, lights, tech, etc. Each time things are tweaked, tightened, streamlined, and the excitement builds. Opening night looms and approaches soon.

 It must be mentioned that since this play is set in a time and place of tawdriness and debauchery and this is about a seedy little club with dancers of questionable virtues, their costumes reflect this and there is a lot of skin showing, lots of black lace, and thigh high fish net stockings. To wear these costumes is not for the modest nor for the faint of heart, but, having worked their butts off, literally, over the past few months rehearsing, the dancers look great and owe how well they look in them to what my daughter mentioned as the “Cabaret” Diet. There are few things that would motivate me more to get toned up and fit if I knew that I had to fit into short pants and fish nets and I shudder with the thought. 

My daughter, who rooked me into the drumming gig, looks absolutely fabulous, and is in her element once again. I have watched her dance in many a role from being a little drummer boy,  a gypsy, a swan, various classical pieces during her ballet career, but I don’t think I have seen her embrace a role as a dancer as much as this of being a Kit Kat Girl. As she told me not too long ago, that during rehearsal one night it occurred to her, that she was really and actually dancing in “Cabaret” possibly her all time favorite musical. To watch her now I see her channeling her inner Liza, with her flare, drama, with those signature gestures. This is her dream role and she is making it happen. My admiration and my awe for her increases.  

Most regrettably, I had my own version of a quick weight loss plan yesterday with a nasty acquired stomach bug, possibly from grand baby sitting over the weekend, who knows. I spent the complete day in a fetal cocoon on the sofa sipping tiny sips of water, slipping in and out of weird dreams or deliriums, completely unsure which was which,  all with the soundtrack of the play in loop running through my foggy, head. I was relieved of duty for rehearsal last night , no doubt to protect the not ill, and I am not sure whether I feel better or worse that my drumming was apparently not missed , but it does take some of the pressure off though that my drumming presence might not cause as much havoc and disaster with the dancers as I had envisioned possible.

Thankfully for all, the band is under no obligation to wear any form of revealing outfits as we are hidden from the audience behind a wall with doors, which are used for characters go through to enter and to leave the stage. I had really wanted to have seen my daughter, and the rest, do the play from a seat out front, but having joined on as drummer and being seated with the band, ours is a limited perspective on the performance out front. From this vantage point though, I am getting to see things that the folks out front do not. Not being an actor, I have really not been aware of the extent of the smoke and mirrors used to fulfill the imagination in the audience and make them buy in to this moment of fantasy and reality. It is impressive, too, the Herculean amount of work a massive amount of people do to put on a play and this one is no exception.

What I have found fascinating to watch from my vantage of backstage voyeurism, is the ballet of the actors as they go on to do their parts on stage, quickly move to a costume change, return, trying to not get in the way of another actor entering or leaving the stage, and all of this, in the silent darkness. I see the faces in quiet reflection as they delve into that place where they can tap into that character they are creating. It is mind boggling to me how much stuff they have to remember and bring to life between lines, songs, dancing, and where to be at what time, etc. It is beyond my scope, but fun to watch in action. I see too the sweetness between the actors, the support between each other. They are all hanging it out there and are all vulnerable, and each seems to comfort the others, some more playfully than others, and some with a touch of quiet unspoken affection.

One key element along the way that has helped make the decision for me to keep trying to learn the drum parts and to stay on board has been the strength of the leadership of the Director, Randy Foster. His vigilance to detail, his ability to make a decision, and demand it be carried out, and his control over what sometimes seems like a bunch of playful puppies has been impressive and a huge reason I think this play is going to be fantastic. He has been encouraging without coddling, cuts no slack with anyone, and has reminded me a bit of dealing with my father in my past. One might not always agree, but one doesn’t question the leader to lead. This performance is his canvas, a painting of actors, tech folks, stage sets, and downward to a bumbling uneducated drummer. Randy is making this one happen, and my hat is off to him.  

Tonight is the last rehearsal before opening night. Having made it back from my near death ordeal yesterday I will return to my tiny post next to my fellow musicians and try to do what I can to help. I am audaciously playing with real musicians, trained to read charts and follow measures and my own lack of education in trying to learn the complexity of the score there has been a challenge to come to this point, but, my years of playing slouchy blues in smoky bars perhaps will bring its own flavor to the mix in other areas. As my husband told me when I was stressing about the whole project was, that we as the band would be bullet proof in emulating a seedy little club bar  because the perfection would be in the imperfection of the songs, not the perfect orchestration of a classical piece. That’s an interesting and somewhat relieving perspective. Perhaps he is right, and I will try to keep that in mind as I bumble along in this fun adventure I have succumbed to.

The news was just posted that the first week's run is a sell out and the second week closing in. Very exciting news for this fledgling playhouse and all who have worked so hard to make it happen.

It is finally,  and almost....."Show time!”

photo credit for the nice shot of Emily in the chair goes to Edward Fieder. The rest go to Emily's dad, Mark Dauber.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


I put on my head phones and picked up my sticks and began to listen.

It all begins with the iconic drum roll. One first hears the orchestra tuning quietly, conversations of the crowd in a scene or perhaps a club, a low buzz lingers which slowly, gradually, finally builds into a roar, and then, crash, rings the cymbal. There is a pause, then the playful notes that are the signature rhythm of the entire score, comes in with a “bump ditty bump, ditty, bump. I listen to the orchestra coming to me through the head phones,  and then the singing begins. I play on my snare and my high hat, with occasional forays to the floor tom. With my eyes closed, I am playing along to one of my all time favorite songs from the play, “Willkomen”, and I am having fun.

This is insane, crap, I will never be able to pull this off. This Friday will be my first run through with the musician and cast for “Cabaret”. I am sure to be fired as soon as I start playing with them, having exposed my impersonation as a drummer. Two weeks now, or less really, and counting for curtain call, and if they don’t fire me on Friday, suicide. 

The last time that I recall having been on a stage for a play was sixth grade. I was the narrator for “Hansel and Gretel”. I remember it well because my mother made me, what I felt like was a vest more suitable for a man, as part of my official costume as the Master of Ceremony  of that story. I hated it, and felt rather self conscious about it, but I didn’t screw any lines up and the play went well enough. Hansel and Gretel’s characters actually got to pull some of the taped on candy off of the witch’s cardboard house and eat it right there on stage. As the MC, I could not join them. Not fair, and not my favorite role.

Other journeys into acting were, second grade I was the star as “The Saddest Valentine”, very high drama indeed. As the last valentine left forgotten in a store, purchased by no lover to another, neglected, and full of sadness, I pled my sad situation to the audience and to another card on the rack next to me. My father ribbed me for years about my stunning performance and regularly quoted my lines from it, with some thrown in exaggeration I have to say.

Third grade I was the patient mother hen of a young chick, Tim, who wanted to leave the farm to see the world. The little boy who was chosen for the part was not interested in learning his lines and it fell to me to teach them to him while the teacher taught useful stuff to the rest of the class. For hours we sat in the coat room tediously going over his lines, again and again until he finally got most of them.  Then apparently during the performance, I sat for some time giving the audience a clear shot of my big white ruffled underwear while I recited my lines, much to my mother’s absolute horror. I had noticed her efforts to tell me something from the audience but could not interpret her silent screaming and flagrant gesturing to me. My stage career pretty much was done after that, well acting, anyway.

Then the rock and roll band and drums thing happened when my silly husband gave me a set of drums. Not very long after that I climbed on the stage with my buddies and started to learn how to make that kind of show happen. It too is acting in a way. To be on stage is all about having the attitude that you can do what you came to do, with attitude, to be able to make the audience believe that you know what you are doing. It does take a bit of smoke and mirrors, bravado, support and help from the other players. Live performance is there, laying it out on the line, no edits, no bail outs, you are exposed and vulnerable to your mistakes. But, when it all works, the magic of the energy created in the moment, is magic, and it is an amazing and addictive ride.

Recently I have really enjoyed watching my daughter and the other folks practicing for their parts in “Cabaret”. While I did not come into the rehearsals at the beginning, each time I see them there is remarkable change in their performances. They have all tightened their lines, and are beginning to really become their characters and find their voices. The dance numbers are working and the kicks are all going in the same direction as a unit now. 

I have seen their mistakes as well, the forgotten lines, the misplaced prop, the loss of focus. I have seen their vulnerability and the places where doubt seeps in, but they are working so hard, they will all make it happen. I have  already seen amazing performances by all of them and opening night is still two weeks away. I can only imagine how well they are going to weave their magic by then. 

It has been interesting too to listen to the younger actors asking questions about the Nazis and what life was like in Berlin at the time of their rise to power. I forget that each generation must relearn the history of the events that happened there in Germany under Hitler’s reich. This play focuses on the hard existence of being there in those times and how the people escaped daily reality in the clubs and in pretty free liberality. Each character needs to know it and be able to make the audience feel it, and so they talk about the movies that they’ve seen on the subject, and books they’ve read trying to gain more insight into their parts. Again, it is preparation and practice, practice, practice, and then more practice, to make it real, to make it believable, to make the audience dive into the scene with them.

The problem which remains, is, me, and the cold fact that I am not at that place yet where I have feel confident to make all of the changes, rolls, solos, keep the beat and not knock the dancers off, and make the sound of “Cabaret” happen. That will probably resolve itself on Friday with our first run through, one way or another. Meanwhile, I will keep practicing with my little headphones and sticks, and hope. The meter clicks onward....