Every performer is familiar with a similar dream- the one where you have to go onstage last minute. For me, in most of these dreams, the entire cast has already been in rehearsal for weeks and I am being added at the last second. I have usually learned the arias in isolation, but I am not sure where they fit in or how I am to find my starting note. Other times I am stuck into a musical theater piece and I tell them I haven't had enough time to memorize the lines or even to read the synopsis. They always tell me that everything is easy to follow and that I should just improvise the plot. Still other times I have a huge injury onstage and I have to try and bandage myself while singing or speaking.
The other night, I dreamed I was performing the role of "Moonbeam McSwine" in Lil' Abner. Moonbeam is not exactly a character that requires great wells of emotional depth or intense vocal preparation. She has a five line solo in the opening of the show all about how she sleeps out in the barn. Let me quote it here so as not to detract from the clever poetry of Johnny Mercer:
Howdy boys, I'm Moonbeam McSwine
Sleepin' out with pigs is my line
The fellas admire me but they don't squire me
Unless the weather is fine.
But I does alright when the wind blows the other way,
Which leads us to say it's a typical day in Dogpatch, USA
I know this solo because it was my very first role in musical theater in the eighth grade. It was my big singing debut in junior high school. I almost didn't get the role. The female characters in Al Capp's comic strip were infamously voluptuous, and, this may be a bit of a shock to those who know me now, but at age 14, I was not. I only got to sing my "big solo" because the girl who was originally cast dropped out. The choice of me as replacement was a move from looks to voice. In addition to the hot pants I wore and the pig tucked under my arm, I had to wear shoulder pads in my bra- (an undergarment I only owned out of sheer formality, definitely not out of necessity.)
My memories of that show are both vivid and poignant. I know this is true for everyone in that production and for a lot of people who saw their friends in it. You always remember the first show you did, even if you don't continue performing. Our tight knit group of friends from growing up often sits around reminiscing about the time Emma stopped dancing in the middle of the choreography, only to stare dumbstruck into the audience while the rest of the chorus floated around her, (we have it on video). Then there was the night several props were forgotten and people had to read from an invisible scroll, and the time Maura accidentally walloped someone in the face when she was supposed to be signaling a plane. I remember the feeling of when we had completed our first show and all the exhilarated screaming and hugging as though we had accomplished something completely impossible. It seems now that this happens rarely and only after the most exciting (and/or challenging) productions. My friends and I can still sing those ridiculous songs from eighth grade and we all remember not wanting it to end. After our first cast party, we had three more parties because we couldn't get enough of it.
In this particular dream from the other night, as in reality, I could belt out every word of this solo still, but in the dream, as in reality, I could not remember where it fit into the opening song. In my dream world I was again thrown in with a professional company who had been rehearsing the show for weeks. With every solo in the opening chorus, I became increasingly more agitated that at any moment my solo would be next and I would have to jump in with the orchestra- like catching a moving train. Then there were those lines from the middle of the show I was trying to remember all at the same time. I knew I was supposed to interrupt someone's dialogue, but with what? Where?!! Fortunately, I woke up before any catastrophe could happen.
I have this feeling that this dream has directly to do with my excitement and anxiety surrounding a big opera role coming up. For now it is exacerbating all of those doubts that I suspect I am not alone in. These feelings are usually fleeting though. Only once in reality, did a conductor hold us to such a high standard, that I considered running down the streets of Italy in my 19th century gown instead of walking on that stage. I walked on that stage though. Sometimes that's all you can do.