Monday, May 05, 2008

My triumphant return to the stage

One of the things I love about performances at On the Boards is that I never know what to expect. The show could either be brilliant or absolute crap. I could end up sitting alone or next to a chatty transvestite. I might be served a glass of wine, a traditional Congolese dinner, or an Oreo cookie. Take, for example, the Tonya Lockyear performance.

It was a lovely show, documenting the trials and tribulations of Tonya's life as a dancer. It ended on a "but it's all worth it anyway" kind of note and, to drive home the point, Tonya had a large group of children dance with balloons to close out the show. Some of the kids made their way into the audience to pass out baskets of Oreo cookies, and then one of the cookie wielding children invited me to come dance with them.

Now, it's important to note that this is the kind of theater where it's not uncommon for such things to happen. Quite often, the line between audience and performer is blurred, and this would not mark the first time OtB patrons have been invited into the dance. And this crowd - made up mostly of dancers and actors and other performers - tends to be severely stage fright deficient, making it highly unlikely that I'd find myself the lone audience participant. Plus, I was wearing really cute boots, and the audience deserved to see them. So I jumped up to follow her, happy to shake my groove thang in support of the arts.

I'm sure that on every other night of the performance, each little child pulled her assigned quota from the risers to the floor, and the night ended in a happy little dance party. But tonight was different. And as I took that first finely booted step on stage, it occurred to me that I did not sense the presence of other dance lovers behind me; did not hear the shuffling feet and nervous giggles that one can expect to accompany such a migration. I glanced over my shoulder to find the rest of the audience still obediently restrained in the safety of their assigned seats, and I knew that something had gone horribly, horribly wrong. But it was too late. I was already committed. And so there I stood in an unintended solo performance, my growing embarrassment illuminated by the hot stage lights.

A door opened stage right and a cake emerged, and the girl who lured me on stage with her siren song twirled around to face me, eyes wide with panic, finally realizing her mistake. And then a single voice began to sing 'Happy Birthday', the melody gradually growing louder with the additional voices of the dancers and the audience. And I sang along with them, partly because that's just what you do when someone starts singing that familiar tune, and partly because somehow I thought it'd help make my presence on stage a little less obvious. As the song came to a close, the cake was presented to Tonya and the audience applauded as if they'd all been in on the surprise.

I slowly backed my way off the stage, smiling and applauding, applauding and smiling. And the closer I got to the audience, the louder I clapped and the wider I smiled. As if that would fool them. As if my enthusiasm would convince them that I hadn't just been on stage. As if it would make them believe that I had been standing next to this perplexed man in the front row the whole time. The. Whole. Time.

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