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.

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