Top Weirdest Performances I have been in:
If you have the pleasure of talking to me about my performance days you will have the honor of seeing a entirely different side of me. My experiences as a performer have lead me to being the director and teacher that I am today! Those experiences shaped me and molded me but I would not trade where I am now for a second to go back to performing. I love teaching and inspiring people and although, I would like to believe that I inspired people while I performed there was the “teaching part” of me that was always missing. But all of my performances have shaped me into who I am and the facts that I wouldn't trade a single one, although many were weird, stressful, and honestly probably unhealthy. But that just goes to show how dedicated and determined (and thick skinned) you need to be, to be a performer.
I had the honor of being cast as Annie in “Annie” and although this was one of my first big time roles the thing that made it truly special was the fact that I got to share it with my best friend, Jenna Bullis. In our many performances (what felt like 20 - honestly it was probably 4 or 5) we traded playing Annie and an Orphan. Well, during our last 2 performances the Miss Hannigan got sick and there was no understudy. It was Jenna’s night to be Annie but she knew the part of Miss Hannigan and so in the 2 hours to curtain I went on as Annie and she went on as Miss Hannigan.
This is a huge part of performing. People get sick, accidents happen, unforeseen circumstances come up, and you have to be willing to adapt and change for the betterment of the entire cast and crew.
For those of you that don’t know I had the opportunity to tour America (twice actually) and I experienced so much on these tours and I hold these memories in my heart forever and look back on (most of it) fondly. But there were a couple performances in there that were interesting to say the least.
I remember we had one performance (on tour) that was in Missouri in the middle of July, outside in a parking lot. This is the hottest I have ever gotten performing- There was no shade just the asphalt and you. After the show many of the bottoms of our dance shoes had melted the ground was so hot. There was a breeze to “help”, sure we will call it that. We had a giant 8 foot backdrop that framed our stage set up with tripods. I will let you think about that just for a second- we were halfway through our third song and smash, our backdrop came crashing down on stage nearly taking out half the cast. The assistant director and director had to hold it up by hand for the remainder of the two hour show. Let’s just say I was glad for a cold shower and that I never had to do that one again.
Once again on tour in Missouri… I am really not smashing on Missouri, I actually used to live in Missouri, so no offense… we performed outside again, but this time there was a canopy, (super helpful!) but we were in a very large tour, downtown, in what must have been a bad part of town. I remember our director coming on the bus and telling us that we were not allowed to go anywhere without three buddies and we were never allowed to leave the performance space. During the performance I had a costume change so I was backstage by myself, I remember being assigned my own, well now I know, Bouncer, but at the time gigantic guy to escort and guard me during my change. During the performance I remember seeing “shadows” lurking outside the 4 foot chain link fence.
This is also a part of performing, you rarely get to choose where you perform or the
circumstances under which you do. They say that performers have to be tough as nails and have thick skin, it isn’t just about the critics it is about the “trama” you put your body through.
On my second tour we were a good two weeks into the tour and had really started to find our groove as a team/family/cast when one day on the bus one of our cast mates got sick they pulled her off the bus. My director came back on and said they needed my help. I was the oldest one on tour, so I was surprised but not too surprised until I got outside. Expecting to see my tour mate vomiting I was shocked when she was thrashing on the ground. A man in another vehicle, who was a doctor had stopped to help and helped us through her seizure. This was very traumatic for all of us but when my tour mate came to she explained that this was “normal” for her when she gets hot or tired. She rested the rest of the day and felt herself again. That night during our performance I was backstage performing a costume change by myself and her she comes from stage. I was surprised to see her as they were in the middle of a song. Immediately she falls into my arms and starts thrashing. I try to remember back to everything the doctor had said to do earlier in the day. At that time everyone else was coming off stage. I sent someone to go get the director and I took a breath and went out of stage to perform my role. During the performance EMTs came to carry her out on a stretcher, with the audience none the wiser, and we didn’t see her again for another 4 days.
Sometimes life happens. It does. You a human being- a person, so are your cast mates. We all make mistakes and things happen that are out of anyone’s control. Your character isn’t how you act when everything is good- it is who you are when everything goes wrong.
I had a very intra-goal part on my first tour and no understudy. I remember not feeling well one night after dinner and going to my director. She asked me if she thought there was anyway I could perform and do my part, I nodded knowing I had a runny nose and sinus head ache. (When you get sick on tour you just don’t get to be with the audience you have to stay on stage with your cast- because well we live on a bus so there isn’t helping that.) She took my vitals and gave me some cold medicine. That night they made arrangements for me to stay with the director, which never happens, come to find out I have a fever of 104*. Let’s just say I sweat it out.
Now, I don’t recommend this at all, this was very unhealthy and probably the most unhealthy things I have ever done… well… maybe- but performing you have to be a trouper. I remember seeing Wicked my third time and Galinda wiping her nose with a Kleenex every chance she got. Sometimes you aren’t 100% but the show must go on!
There was a show that we were doing and we wanted to add a little more flair to it. (Rivalry competition was coming up and we wanted to be the best) so we decided to add a bunch lifts to our big slow dance number. We rehearsed them to the nine and we get to our venue and it is beautiful! There is this huge pipe organ that takes the whole back wall and pine wood sides and this dark wooden cross hanging from the ceiling in front of all of it. One of the prettiest places I have been, so we are warming up and my cast decides they want to practice the really big lift, where they throw this one girl up and she stands on his hand. It was very impressive. Well, no one saw it coming or thought about it but they were right under the hanging cross and he tossed her up and she hit her head on the edge. Blood was gushing everywhere. Thankfully everything and one was totally fine and it was something we can look back on a giggle about how stupid we were but it could have been REALLY bad.
There is danger in everything you do, but performing is really hard on your body. Putting yourself through that much day after day of intense training and rigor can wear on you and can cause poor judgement and permanent injuries.
My last tour story involves one performance that was for only one person. It wasn’t that we had “no one show up” it was that the owner of the entire touring company was coming to preview our show, as well as the other tours, to see who was worthy to perform at the finals at the end of season. I don’t think I have been anymore nervous to perform for anyone. One soul in the audience with a clip board marking notes the entire time. Then after the show was over he came up and just shredded my tour mates apart, about wrong notes, wrong blocking, bad dancing, bad lines, my nerves grew as we came to my part. My tour mates had tears in their eyes. He hadn’t said one kind word to a single person, why would I be different. Being honest he said some things that were bad about my performance and it broke my heart. I remember talking to my director feeling like I couldn’t sing and that of he thought I was “so bad” maybe someone else should do it. But then she explained that he came to make us better not bolster our pride. It took some time but I decided to really work on what he said to. My wounds had healed by the time we got to the finale performance and when they were announcing the people that were going to get to perform I almost fell over when my name hit the list. And I thought back to what my director had told me and what I learned; just because someone gives you a note doesn’t mean that they don’t like you or even what you’re doing. They are trying to make you even better.
As I have said above. You have to have thick skin to work in this industry and you have to be able to take criticism without letting it tear you apart. One of my favorite sayings is, “it doesn’t bother me when my dance teacher corrects me because it means that she was watching me dance.”
One of my fondest performance memories is the chance I had to perform in Disneyland. Although, this was a once in a life time experience and I will treasure it forever, it was an odd, strange, and accelerating experience. Being whisked behind the scenes at Toon Town and put in a rehearsal hall where I warmed up for the performance and then driven through tunnels underneath the park and popping up on the complete other side was so confusing and awe inspiring for a Dis-nerd like myself. Literally standing backstage in a REAL green room and seeing the people before you performing then a guy dressed in all black with the ear piece (totally could have been a spy) say, “one till your on” then boom your on stage performing. People rushing to get where they need to go some stopping to watch “you” perform, then the GIANT confetti cannon goes off and your swept off stage and it is nothing but a memory.
Isn’t this the story for all performers. We work so hard to blink then it is over. There is so much hype for a split moment. Savor the moments because they will be a memory as soon as you blink!
The last show I want to share with you is one where I was actually an audience member. I was seeing Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella while visiting one of my friends. One of the quick change artists had gotten sick and couldn’t make it to the show. My friend quickly told them of my experience and before I knew it I was backstage helping Cinderella get in a ball gown.
Here’s the deal once you are part of this family you are always part of it. It is just like your real family, you can run away, you can get married, (multiple times even) you can change your name, but your DNA will always keep you with your family no matter what. - it’s in your DNA!