Saturday, January 22, 2011

Nightmares on Broadway

10-12 years ago, I took musical theater workshop classes at a little studio that popped up down the street from my house.

I was in 7th or 8th grade when I started, and it was the perfect outlet for a dorky, Broadway obsessed shy kid.  We put on A Chorus Line.  We sang Christmas songs for senior citizens. We put on The Sound of Music.  We put on Godspell. We started to put on Cats...

...and that's where our relationship fell apart.

Actually, our relationship had been on thin ice for a while previous to that.  You see, despite being in musicals, there was one thing I never had going for me.
I couldn't sing.
I realized this, so at least I wasn't one of those show-off kids who tried to belt out like I really had pipes.  Nope.  I spent most of my time mouthing the words.
Now, unless you've actually been in my position, you need me to tell you: this is painful.  For a girl who really LOVES Broadway? The music and the dancing and the shows...to not be able to really sing?  To not be able to even dance?  (Uh, yeah, I couldn't quite do that, either.)  It really hurts.
So one year when everyone signed up for classes, I marched down to the studio and demanded solo singing lessons.   I knew I would be a challenge, but I was ready to work for it.  I really, really wanted to sing.  I had read an article in the paper (I had actually gone as far as to laminate it--I was a weird kid!) that said, "If you can breathe, you can sing!" and I was determined I was going to sing.

They told me no.

More accurately, they told me, "We are tentatively holding the last available spot for Paige.  If she doesn't take it, we'll give it to you."

I am pretty sure that was a line of bullshit.  (I had been there for three years--long enough to know they played favorites.)

So I reluctantly signed up for another music theatre workshop class instead.

I don't know what was different about this class, exactly.  But this year something was off.  First, we were putting on Cats, which I hated, but I grit my teeth and powered through it, learning all the words and steps to the Jellicle Cat song.  They even gave me a LINE to sing in it... "Have you been an alumnus of heaven or hell?"  I'll never forget it.
I remember when they asked me to actually SING a solo line my mouth fell open and everyone laughed.
But that hadn't been what I had in mind.  I didn't want a LINE in a song, I wanted actual solo instruction so I could strengthen my voice and learn how to use it.  Not speed through a line in baritone (and it really was in baritone, even though I'm an alto!) instead of gaining any instruction.

But anyway.  I sang it. Badly.

A few weeks later, with the show date fast approaching (and no actual work being done.  We still hadn't even gotten a script!) we were given our parts.  I was Bustopher Jones.

The other kids weren't familiar with Cats, so they decided to go around the room reading the "poem" that corresponded with everyone's character.  I begged Katie not to read mine, but she did.
Bustopher Jones is not skin and bones
In fact, he's remarkably fat

Now, at 26, that doesn't seem too bad.  Maybe they gave it to me as comic relief (I was often given comic relief roles) but the problem was, at 16 I had two problems:  I was overweight, which was a very painful struggle for me--and I had been taunted and called a lesbian (I was not.) by my classmates for years, and given MALE roles in plays for most of my high school career.  And the musical theatre teacher didn't think that it might be appropriate to take me aside first and say, "Alison, I don't want to upset you, but I think you could play this part funny..."


I saw this as the lowest of all low blows.  I was absolutely mortified, horrified, offended...I had begged my parents to pay for these classes.  I ate slept and breathed musical theatre, and at a time where I really needed to feel attractive and liked--the teacher basically was like, "Oh, Alison?  Make her the fat dude."

I was sixteen.  I wanted to be feminine and cute.

I couldn't handle it.  I went home crying and withdrew from the class that same day.

Some days I wish I had stuck with it.  That maybe I could have convinced them to give me singing lessons...but as far as I know, the entire school fell apart soon after that.  I could almost feel it's downward spiral--especially when we were weeks away from the show with no script.  Our venues went from the elaborate stage at my high school, to a splintering tiny monstrosity at a catholic middle school.

I bring this all up now because I just had a nightmare related to this school.  In a few words:  We were having a recital, but I had been very sick, so I never went to rehearsals.  The left me in the show, for some reason, but it was opening night and I just couldn't get my hands on a program to see WHEN I would be on stage.  I figured that I knew Broadway musicals pretty well, so the chances were I'd know whatever song they had chose for me.

When I finally was able to get a program, I learned not only was I on stage for the next song--I had NEVER heard it before.  Great.

(Then I woke up, laughing.)

(image from broadwayspace.com and pedanticalcats.com)

5 comments:

elenamarija said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
elenamarija said...

Haha, so I just deleted my old comment because I realized other people could read it. Here's most of the comment.


Seriously, that studio was fucked up, and so was everyone in it.
It was a dingy little thing with holier-than-thou people in charge.


Also, I took lessons (dance and voice) there and somewhere else, and I never learned a thing about singing or dancing from anyone at Stage Right.

Alison said...

I'm glad to know you didn't learn anything at Stage Right. Maybe I didn't miss out on much. Perhaps there is still hope for me...once I can save enough money and find a legitimate teacher!

I was so passive during those days that I just kind of went along with how the studio played favorites and never spoke up. It was all I knew at the time. I miss I had the same type of outlet in my life right now!

eDITORcHRIS said...

Sorry for writing a story but I connect to this blog post and hey, why not?? Thanks in advance for reading it all =)

Wow don't we all just want to know WHEN it's our time to just go out there and shine?! lol The answer is, in life, it is ALWAYS the time to shine and to be the best you.

When I was younger, (ok, maybe now, too), I wanted so badly to be in 42nd Street. They played the commercials all the time and I loved tap dancing, although I'd never done it. (Maybe I just loved that tap dancers were graceful, pretty and slim? Anywho, I was sad to hear when 42nd street ended...and before it did, I was envious of this girl I saw on television who got to go backstage and learn about it and learn some of their moves.)

I never took a dance class until 7th grade myself and although I had fun and made friends, I felt so awkward and fat when I did, not because I REALLY was but because of that comparison thing we somehow learn to do...truth was, that class even had people 5 years younger than me as it was an 8-12 class and in just a couple of months, I'd be 13. It sucks to feel shame about growing into a normal womanly figure.

I stayed at the school long enough to take 1 tap class, perform a recital at a nearby college's art building (some years later, my brother graduated h.s. in the same building, oddly enough) and then take 1 modern class. The tap teacher was pretty nice but the modern teacher was more mean..maybe it was bcuz she was older..idk but despite all that, she seemed to have faith in the fact that, with practice, I could improve on my pique turns...I never returned to show if I did.

My future of dance was just a little bit on my high school dance team until they ended it and then a little bit with friends or at home. That gave me much more freedom to dance, less expenses on the pocket and I didn't even have to take a bus to do it anymore.

I did try to take singing lessons back at that old dance school a year ago, the class was a birthday gift from my sister but I discontinued that, too. Too much was going on in my life. I really love singing but I don't because I feel like I can't. Then, when I had this class, we did so much in an hour and a half, just one day each week that, if I missed one class, I was screwed. I missed the first week and then, after going for two weeks, my mom was in the hospital. I needed her or my dad to drop me because I couldn't get there on time straight after work unless by car. So, I made that decision to just stop. They never even called me to find out what happened to me, why I never came back and I guess that is why they have been losing funding and had to end this free after school program they usually had for teens that I wanted my niece to go to.

I just rap now lol Check me out, youtube.com/1editorchris :-) and there's this blog, 5resolutions.blogspot.com that talks about fashion and media's impact on the perception of feminine beauty.
Stuff like this really makes me wanna just scoop up some preteens & teens & just show them love as a contrast to what they are receiving elsewhere. Y'know!?

eDITORcHRIS said...

Also, I'd wanted to go back to that art auditorium at the college for years so when I was able to for my lil bro, it gave me closure! I believe that dream was the same thing for you!!