I love to be on the stage; the center of attention. I’m fortunate to have found a career that fills some of that need. I’m a corporate trainer. It’s not surprising that what I enjoy most about my work is the part of being a performer. Enthusiastic teacher is probably a more accurate description. I’ve had my time on the stage and I get as much thrill from this as I ever did as a stand-up comedian. I spent about five years chasing a stand-up comedy career. Its hard work but I loved it. Eventually my wife said I needed a job withinsurance. That I ever would have had the desire to get on stage is a bit crazy. I didn’t get my start in comedy. My parents wanted well rounded kids so I began my performance career in song and dance. Good lord. I coulda been a star had I only had talent. My first two performance opportunities were humiliating disasters. It never occurred to me until now that maybe, just maybe, the humiliation of those first two performances instilled a need in me to confront those demons.
Catastrophe number one: Tap dancing. My father, at my mother’s urging I would imagine, convinced my brother and me that tap dancing would teach us footwork and be very beneficial to our football careers. He lied. Anyway, the year was 1967 or so. I had already begun to develop that adorable little paunch that I still carry today and I was costumed in a pink satin jumper with a baby blue satin cumber bun. The song was “A Spoon Full of Sugar” and the venue was the West Waterloo High School auditorium. Every prior performance had been in our dance instructor’s tiny studio. There was no dress rehearsal. If West Waterloo High School was known for anything, besides state champion wrestling teams, it was their huge stage and mammoth auditorium. The place sat 2,500 but to my seven year old eyes it looked like a million.
The closing choreography was for our little dance troup to circle the stage in a crack the whip exit to stage right. For some God only knows reason the leader of our dance line decided to utilize the entire stage. I happened to be anchoring the end of our line. By the time of the critical “crack” I was unable to keep hold of the hand in front of me. I was on a dead-arm-pumping-gasping-for-breath-sprint! That adorable blue satin cumber bun had slid down under my belly and was in serious jeopardy of falling further where it might trip me up. For some reason 2,498 audience members, I’m assuming my parents were hiding in shame, found this hilarious. The auditorium exploded in raucous laughter and I was all too aware of why. Sad. I was finished with my dance career.
My next performance came about five years later. I had been taking organ lessons at a local piano and organ store and they decided to showcase their students. My song was “Over the Rainbow” and I still recall my teacher pounding on the organ in frustration two days before the show. I just couldn’t get through the song without destroying it. She threatened to remove me from the lineup which would have been fine with me. My parents had invited family from out of town. They would have none of it. I came from modest means but you have to know this about my dad. He was a proud man when it came to his kids. If I was going to be performing in a musical recital I was going to look sharp. Part of that look apparently meant I would need a brand new pair of shiny black wing tip shoes for my performance.
The trouble was… anxiety began to get the best of me. I was sitting in the front row of the venue awaiting my turn to perform and I convinced myself I would not be able to feel the pedals of the organ in these new unbroken-in shoes. When it was my turn to perform I froze. My teacher called me twice from the stage before coming down to ask me what the matter was. I told her. She stood tall and laughed, explained my situation to the audience and told me to just remove the shoes. I did. And then I walked up to the stage in my stocking feet where again I was subjected to an amused audience. It got worse from there. The organ being used was nothing like the one I had at home and I didn’t know what to do about the presets. I froze again. The increasingly humiliated teacher ran up to the stage and again apologized for me explaining that I was not familiar with the instrument. Now there was nervous laughter from the audience. They were beginning to sense my pain. She adjusted my settings and signaled for me to begin. It got worse.
I misplaced my hands on the keyboard and my first notes were the most discordant conglomeration of misplayed notes in the history of recitals. The teacher bounded to the stage and although I hadn’t even noticed, grabbed my music and slammed it around right side up, glaring at me she curtly commanded, “Begin.” The audience couldn’t take it anymore and again exploded in laughter at me; the 12 year old boy in his stocking feet. And then a miracle happened. Through tear filled eyes from perhaps one of the greatest humiliations of my life I played that song perfectly. Beautifully. And I had found redemption in the audience to the point I earned the only standing ovation of the evening.
I guess I tell you all this as a means to encourage you to persist. No matter how much challenge and humiliation we face in life we must have hope that things will work out in the end. Have a great weekend!
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