Sunday, April 21, 2019

Singing and (wheeze) dancing over 50

I wrote recently about rehearsing a play, something I recommend for any man over 50 who feels his opportunities to wear makeup have waned since The Cure stopped touring. Applying full base, rouge and powder feels funny after a year off the stage. In high school and college doing shows constantly I got used to it. Now it feels like I'm a geisha but in a double-breasted suit.

The show went very well. I did not have a panic attack. I did not forget lines or trip over furniture, although I did find one chair briefly uncooperative. Not that anybody noticed. "Auntie Mame" is a fairly light, fluffy show, unlike the one I did last year, "Gatsby," which ends as bloodily as "Hamlet." My characters in that, which included a waiter and a cop, made it through unscathed, and a society dude I played had a beautiful suit. In middle age, a great suit, even one you only get to wear for five nights, is a pleasure.

Before Auntie was even done, I began rehearsing the musical "Big Fish," as a member of the ensemble. Ensemble is French for "take an Ibuprofin before trying to dance, you coot." It occurred to me only after saying yes that I had not sung and danced on stage in 40 years. The singing is O.K., I have a good ear and no solos, but dancing?

Friends, if I could show you a video of Day One, you would laugh so hard you would need to see a specialist for the gut you busted. The choreographer, after teaching us the roughly one-minute routine, a combo of fast knee-slapping, chest-thumping, heel-whacking and soft shoe, gently guided me to the back row of the ensemble, where I have remained. She is a humanitarian. 

It is disheartening to be bad at something. People my age do not generally go looking for new tasks, new challenges, new ways to fail. It's a shame. Getting better at something is a real pleasure. Notice I did not say getting good at something. See previous: back row. But I have mastered that dance, the one whose fast moves and transitions made me feel initially like offstage might have been more merciful than back row.

I can dance it now, practically without thinking. Add in the singing, though, and yeah. Not pretty. I just watched those Korean boy band heartthrobs BTS on TV going through their paces, and my first thought was "How can they breathe?" It was like serious calisthenics, too, fast stuff, and not one of them was wheezing. That was me, I thought to myself, back in 1978. 

Thankfully, most of this show if I'm singing I only just have to sway slightly, raise an arm, do a simple kick-ball-change, stuff I can sing through. There is just that one wacky dance. My head mic will be live to catch the singing, but I'd prefer it not catch the gasping. I need to review the song and find the moments when I can breathe. You take breathing for granted until you are slapping your thighs at high speed and doing elbows-high spins. Trust me on this.

There is no "I" in ensemble. But there is me in the back row. Look closely. I'm the one smiling and hiding behind my taller castmates to mask my panting. 

. . .


Here is a sample of another theater's rehearsal of the fast dance. Ours is different, each choreographer puts her own spin on it, but it has some similar moves. That first day I just could not remember what part came when. It took me repeated viewings of the recording of our own rehearsal to finally get all of it down.

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