Friday, August 13, 2010

A Word About World Class Talent 4/26/10

Silicon Valley was not my first time at the world-class-talent-rodeo.

Me as the bomb in 1972
In 1972 I was the bomb.  I was studying acting, planning on becoming an actor and a comedy writer.  I was a serious smart-ass and I thought I was pretty damn cute.

I hung out with some pretty talented kids.  All going to school and working and planning on becoming famous musical theater stars.

That was never my dream; I wanted to be Sally Rogers.

I wanted to hang out all day with a bunch of funny boys and write stuff that would make folks laugh.

No one had heard of Tina Fey yet, so Sally Rogers from the Dick Van Dyke  Show was my only role-model.  (Well, to be fair Tina Fey was only 2 years old when I was 18....she might have been a role model to other toddlers but she didn't have a lot to offer me). 

That semester I was taking a class that had an "audition requirement."  We had to audition for a number of productions to increase our confidence with the process.

I did not audition well.  I used "Itsy Bitsy Spider" as my audition song for musicals, hoping the cute factor would carry me.  I was not a very good cold-reader.   I was a zoftig girl who spent a lot of time holding her stomach my breathing was screwed up and I was much too self conscious.  I usually defaulted to improvising some nonsense and hoping they did not notice I was off-script.  Truth is, I just didn't take it too seriously.

But the kids I went to school with took it very seriously.  When the news came to us that a new musical was being produced in the area my school-mates went nuts.  They converged on the library, checking out the script and score to this offbeat (and remarkably bad) musical four weeks in advance of the auditions.

One of my classmates was a very talented young man named Ray.  Ray had a beautiful tenor voice and the lead seemed made for him.  Others of my cohorts were also good singers, trained dancers and accomplished actors.  They studied the score and the script, they researched the director and the musical team.  They prepared.  I went along to fulfill a requirement and hang with my friends, I had no illusions about my performing talents.  But I thought my friends were great.  I thought they were the best.

We all went to the audition and did the usual things: sing, read, dance a bit.  Then the director had us do it all over again.  Sing, read and dance a bit.  We were sitting around the theater waiting for her (the director was a woman, named Marilouise) to thank some of us for showing up (me) and ask some others to either stick around or come back (my friends).  But she seemed to be stalling.  We were waiting and waiting and she was conferring with her musical team and just letting us sit there.

We were beginning to grouse a bit when the door to the theater opened and a young man entered.
Several of my classmates started to whisper and fidget.  They apparently knew this thin, pale, sandy-haired guy.  He just looked like a skinny John-Boy Walton to me.  But, he was having some serious effect on the inhabitants of the theater.  Ray looked sick.

The director spotted him and jumped off of the stage and ran up to him.  Now, this director was a big girl, six feet tall and at least 275lbs.  So, when she jumped and ran, it was something to see and I have to admit I was mesmerized, so I was paying pretty close attention when she grabbed John-Boy by the lapels (who wears a suit to an audition?) and dragged him to the stage.

As they passed by me I heard John-Boy say, "Thanks for the note, Marilouse, but I forgot the audition was today and I did not prepare."

Note?  He got a note?  Like an invitation?  I had heard about this audition through the grapevine, others heard about it from our instructors at school and some had read about it in the papers.  But a note?  No one I knew had gotten an invitation to this audition.  What the hell was going on?

Marilouise was falling all over herself hustling John-Boy to the stage.  "Sing anything!' she said.
"Sing, Happy Birthday,"  she demanded.
"Really, I have been at work all day at Marshall Fields and I am tired and not in good voice," John-Boy said as he tried to untangle himself from Marilouise's grasp (but she had 135lbs on him and she was not letting go).

By this time, I had heard my friends referring to "Kem" and I realized that this was John-Boys first or last name.  They all seemed to know him.  I did not.  And I could not for the life of me figure out what was happening.  Why was he invited?  Why was Ray turning colors?  C'mon, my friends were the most talented people I had ever met.  What did Ray have to worry about?

Marilouise was not letting go and it was clear John-Boy was going to have to sing or get his arm wrung from his body.  So, as we all watched, he walked over to the music director and asked to see the score.  Why he asked to see the score I could not fathom.  What was he going to do with the score?  He had already admitted he had not prepared.  None of the songs from this musical were well known (for good reason, that musical sucks), so what was he doing?

John-Boy flipped through the score and then said, "Ok, I will do this one."
"Shall I play it through once?" the pianist asked.
And John-Boy said something so interesting.  He said, "No."
Again, what?  He has never seen the score before.  He is going to just pick it up and sing something from it?  Having never even heard it?  What was happening here?

The pianist began playing an intro that I recognized as the song Ray had been practicing all month.  The big emotional number, sung by the lead.  Ray had nailed the same song in his audition a couple of hours ago.

John-Boy opened his mouth and started to sight-sing that difficult, obscure piece of music.

I certainly remember that John-Boys voice was beyond beautiful;  it was the voice of a sexy, love-lorn angel.  He seemed to be making the song up.  He didn't falter or stall and as he approached the final high note, he bent his knees slightly, dropped his chin a bit and held onto that note without stress or strain or even apparent effort.  And I remember being stunned and amazed at the ability to make that sound while sight-singing.  But, what I most remember is the sound of air rushing past my ears.  Really.  I felt as though I was being pulled at an accelerating speed though a tunnel of music.  I could see John-Boy, but all I could hear was this whooshing by my ears.

And then I heard my friend Ray groan a little as he sunk down in his seat.

I realized then that I was in the presence of "the real thing."  My friends were talented, but John-Boy was something else.  He was a world-class talent.  It was my first exposure to "the real thing."

I was only 18.  I did not know that the gap between talented and world-class was so wide.  But, now I understood why Marilouise had sent him the note and why she had held on to him for dear life.  She knew what was coming.  She knew that heart-stopping-world-class-talent was there.  I did not know.  I was not prepared. 

When John-Boy finished singing he shrugged his shoulders as if apologizing for his performance.  "I told you I hadn't prepared," he said.

The pianist was applauding and shaking her head.  The entire theater of competing actors were applauding.  Something I had never seen at an audition.

Marilouise was frantically moving around the stage as though she had forgotten where she was or what she was doing.

"Oh!" she exclaimed.  "You need to need a partner to read with!"
She was panting, I think.

And she looked out in the crowd and her eyes landed on me, "You, girl with the long hair, come over here and read with Kem Hauge!"

And, as I climbed up on that stage to read (and pretend we were a machine), I realized that I was not and never would be a world-class talent.

But I also realized that just because I wasn't a world-class talent,  it didn't mean that a world-class-talent might not one day be mine.

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