“I’m so proud that you’ve made your dreams come true!” My BFF told me after last month’s concert. I had to pause. True, the review was the warmest one we’ve had so far, and I was very happy with how the production turned out, and grateful to share the stage with kind, talented, and adventuresome folks. But is this what I dreamed about?
My infant dreams did involve performing – or more specifically, wearing a red dress and hearing everyone clap for me and feeling like everyone loved me. But little did I know that in order to perform, you first spend countless hours hashing out a schedule, pinching pennies over props, agonizing over a press release, and antagonizing your web designer. You have likely spent the day of the show schlepping costumes and set up and downstairs, you debate between a power bar and pizza for dinner, then wished that you had skipped it all together to sing some more or slather on more makeup. The time spent onstage is a happy consequence of all the work, but not by any means the first point of focus.
Of course, all these nuisances melt into the proscenium lights. As a stage-struck kid I could never have guessed that the appeal of performing lies in its visceral qualities: the physical delight of performing with people you trust (like driving a Porsche), communicating wordlessly, and defining the atmosphere in the room with your body.
I saw a dance performance last week that speaks to this paradox.Monica Bill Barnes brought an excerpt of her Luster to the Gotham Dance “Working Women” festival at the Joyce, featuring selections from some of the top female choreographers today. It’s reviewed somewhat curmudgeonly in the Times, and her work is described very curmudgeonly in the New Yorker.
The Luster excerpt began with a film, depicting a scene I can relate to: Bill Barnes and her longtime collaborator Anna Bass carrying the set out of storage, down the Westside highway, and into the theater. Oh, how many harpsichords have I dragged up and down stairs! They enter the theater with the set – a rinky dink proscenium – but don’t shed their overcoats until they’ve dustbusted the stage a bit and fluffed the curtains. Then the dance begins: lots of big smiles and happy gestures, clapping along with the music (Tina Turner), and high energy antics that leave you smiling too. You also get glimpses of the unglamorous parts of performing: they wipe sweat off their armpits as they scamper “offstage” and throw their own flowers when they take a bow. The message seems to be that performers must rely on themselves for everything, but darn it, putting on a show is still really fun!!!!!
(The reviewers gripe that these antics are simply crowdpleasers, but as a performer, might I offer that our job is to please the crowd, in one way or another? This doesn’t mean serving up bland fare that goes down easy, but funny, happy shows can be just as meaningful as their more serious counterparts.)
I couldn’t find a video for Luster, but here is another snippet that speaks to the fiction of the glamorous life of the theater. From the 1990 Lincoln Center broadcast of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, I absolutely adored as a starry-eyed teenager. Start at 4:03 for “The Glamorous Life,” or at the beginning for the arias, “Soon,” “Later,” and “Now,” which are then fit on top of each other for an impossible trio.