Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Best Seat in the House

My degree is in Journalism & Creative Writing with a minor in Theater Arts. That wasn’t the plan. The plan was to get a degree in finance and go to work on Wall Street, but plans change. I spent my first two years in college slugging it out with intro to business classes only to get knocked out with the one, two punch of macro economics and statistics. Liberal Arts here I come.

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One afternoon in search of a quiet place to study, I accidentally wandered into an audition for that semester’s musical theater production. I apologized profusely and tried to exit gracefully. But since Baruch is a business school, auditioners were thin on the ground. The faculty members running the audition were very happy to see somebody, anybody, walk in — even if by accident — and were reluctant to let me leave.
“Can you sing?” they asked, as I was backing out of the room.

“A little, usually just in the shower.”

“Can you dance?”

I was almost to the door, when I stopped and said, “Yes!”
I was a great party dancer, of course, but my Mother had enrolled me in the Brown Sugar Dance Ensemble when she discovered me throwing myself around her living room in what I thought — at age 11 — was dancing. The classes were certainly cheaper than replacing broken furniture. I learned modern, jazz, African, tap and I can still time-step with the best of them.

And just like that, I found myself cast in “Guys and Dolls” as Hot Box Girl, Lola LeDare.

Musicals, turned into straight plays. Straight plays turned into theater history, play writing, and acting classes. I strongly considered changing my major, yet again, but I had a now hard to understand desire to “get out into the real world.”

Because the Theater Department was small, my professors insisted that everyone learn how to do everything. Behind the scenes folks had to do some acting. The actors had to learn how to build sets and run tech. The business majors got to put their skills to work in advertising, marketing and box office management.

I learned that while I may not be the person you want with a hammer in hand building a set, I’m a fabulously organized and ruthless Property Mistress. You may hate me, but by the gods you’ll know where your props are when you need them. But that was a long time ago, a little longer than I’m willing to comfortably acknowledge.

My Husband was recently in an acting showcase. The plan was to drop him off at the theater for his 2pm call, go get myself a manicure, then come back and see the show at 7:30pm. But I lingered. Standing in the theater, I was enjoying all the pre-show hustle and bustle: watching the actors assembling props, arranging costumes, running lines. I’m sure I’m romanticizing it a bit, but it felt homey and familiar. I perform all the time, but a comedy club is nothing at all like a theater. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it.

I lingered long enough to realize that all was not well. It’s theater. Something always goes wrong. The wrong in this case: they didn’t have anyone to run the lights. The Director’s plan was to do all the lighting and musical cues himself for 21 actors in 11 scenes and nine silhouettes. They needed a new plan.

The Director and my Husband both asked if I would stay and run lights for the show. So much for my plan to get a manicure. Thankfully, the cues were simple enough. We had time for one run-through and then it was lights up.

The house was packed. The tiny tech booth I shared with the Director was a billion degrees, but I was focused on my new job and enjoying it. It was a thrill taking the stage to black at the end of a scene, slowly bringing the lights back up to full, in conjunction with the music, and seeing the next set of actors in place, ready to do their thing.

I thought of how much my theater professors would have loved this. I thought about how much I argued and pouted about being pushed so far outside of my comfort zone. “When will I ever need to tech a show?” I whined. When indeed. The plan that night was to see a show. Who knew I’d be working it and seeing it from the best seat in the house?

Funny how plans change.

Join The Urban Erma on Facebook or follow on Twitter. You can listen to the podcast on Podbean or subscribe on iTunes. Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

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