Friday, February 25, 2011

To Dream the Impossible Dream

          We all have them: those anxiety dreams where you didn't get that homework assignment done, or you have some sort of deadline but you are not sure what it is you are supposed to be doing. My mother says she still has this dream where she has to finish a paper with only a few minutes to spare. She has been out of school for nearly 40 years but still wakes up in a cold sweat.

          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.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

In my mind I'm goin' to Parker's Barbecue

          I am part Ukrainian, but I guess you could say that I am also part Southern.

          As an adult, when about to visit my paternal grandparents in Bailey, North Carolina, I would always envision myself ahead of time, sitting on the front porch of their little white farmhouse sipping sweet tea in the summer breeze. In actuality, there is very little breeze inland in July and I would sit on the front porch and inevitably, there would be dozens of gnats flying into my eyes. The only way to avoid direct eye contact with said gnats was to keep moving. So, it would be 98 degrees with 100% humidity and I would end up walking brisk circles around the house like the village crazy... and when that got boring I would walk around the fields. At least it was good exercise...

          As far as entertainments go, aside from the local movie theater, Parker's Barbecue, (the gold standard for eastern Carolina vinegar-based sauce), and a small but increasing number of chain restaurants, the area is not exactly hopping. A singer friend of mine coincidentally grew up in the area. She says that in high school she and her friends used to hang out at the Arby's for fun.

          This past weekend I flew unexpectedly to North Carolina. My Grandma Mavis passed away this past Friday. It was not a shock. She was 91 years old and had been in a nursing home since almost immediately after my grandfather died 3 years ago. I flew down and met my parents for the funeral, knowing in a weird way that the major ties to the place were now gone. Even though it may just become that place where I used to visit my grandparents, I still have this idea that I will visit there again. We do have some family there and my dad grew up there for a short time.

          It's a strange thing about places. I am very fortunate in that I have done a good amount of travelling in my days. The demands of pursuing a singing career have put my tourist travels on hold a bit of course. I distinctly recall though, that feeling of when you happen to find yourself falling in love with a place in your travels. In the back of your mind, you expect that you will one day get back there. So far, there have been many of these places for me, but I suspect that this is a bit like all the books I have fallen in love with. I often think that I will get around to reading certain novels again, but simply don't have time to re-read when there are so many other stories out there.

          My Granda Mavis's story was essentially a happy one I believe. Her mother died when she was only seven years old and as the only girl in that generation, she had to help in the care of her two younger brothers. At some point she suffered facial burns in the house but none of this hindered her from becoming a secretary for the FBI, an accomplished farmer, (even driving a tractor when that was seen as un-ladylike) and taking up painting in her 70's along with completing several art courses.

          She got married for the first time to a widower, my Grandpa Jack. They were married just a few months before my parents were. So no, Grandma Mavis was not my biological grandmother, but she was the grandmother I had on that side. It is pretty amazing that a woman married for the first time in her 50's should have 35 very happy years with her husband as well as inherit children and grandchildren. As a perpetual late bloomer myself, I find her picking up of the paintbrush a la Grandma Moses quite inspiring too.

          On this past weekend's trip, I think that in the rush I did a pretty good job of savoring the place where my grandparents once lived. My immediate family also savored the pork barbeque, hush puppies and slaw. At the repast, (at Parker's of course), Mavis's family was astonished that "those two skinny women at the end of the table, [my mother and I], could put back so much food".

          Well, you've got to savor certain things when you can, because you don't know when you will go back again.