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....