“Hey, Bob, would you be willing to organize this year’s talent show for the school?” The question was innocent enough, coming over the phone from Brent, one of last year’s organizers, who did an exemplary job. My boy Rusty had hammed it up in a comedy skit, and we really enjoyed watching all the singers, musicians and dancers who showed their stuff during the one-hour show. I did notice Brent (whose name I have changed to prevent a lawsuit) scrambling around during the show, running the P.A., wrangling kids, adjusting lights, setting up mics and so on. That guy’s crazy, I thought. He needs some help.
So when Brent called me a couple months ago to run the show at Aaron Burr Middle School, where both Rusty and Speaker are now students, I had my answer ready: “Oh, hell no, no way, no how. No can do. Don’t have the time. Don’t need the stress. Sorry buddy, can’t help you.” Unlike most people involved with school functions, Brent was cool enough to not try and talk me into changing my mind. He picked up on my resolve. He knew a quitter when he saw one.
You can imagine my surprise when Barb came home from work a few weeks after that and announced that she had volunteered to run this year’s talent show. I was horrified. Being a married person, I was immediately aware that this meant I had also volunteered to run this year’s talent show. Sometimes, in a successful marriage, you have to do things you don’t want to do, for no other reason than it’s something that will make your partner happy. Like not using the hand towels when I run out of toilet paper. So, after the requisite period of pouting, I jumped in with both knees.
The division of labor seemed fairly obvious: I, being a semi-professional musician, would run the sound. Barb would do everything else. We would need to recruit some help, of course, from poster makers to audition judges to stage hands and dozens of other tasks we couldn’t foresee. We had lunch with Brent and his wife, who had done such a great job with last year’s show. They met us at an Asian café downtown, and they brought along The Book. It’s a fat, ten-pound, three-ring binder full of forms, letters, notes, maps, drawings, programs, and all sorts of valuable information from talent shows over the years. It brought to mind that “sex bible” that was handed down through the years to horny young dudes in American Pie. Leafing through this massive tome, I hoped I wouldn’t run across any similar entries.
“You need to build a relationship with the janitor” was Brent’s first piece of advice. This made perfect sense to me, because I’ve discovered that the janitor at Aaron Burr Middle School loves to play a daily game of “guess which door’s open” after the final bell rings. He locks down the entire school, save for one door, no matter how many after-school activities are raging throughout the building. I figured Brent must have worked out some kind of signal or pattern to which door that would be, or perhaps he had something on the janitor.
So, armed with our book of knowledge, Barb and I launched our campaign. I started out by avoiding her, and not coming to the rescue when I heard her becoming overwhelmed by phone calls, meetings, scheduling conflicts and pushy parents. This was going to take some tough love, I thought. Maybe she’d lose interest and bail out. No such luck. She hand-lettered a big poster, made fifty copies, and then she and Speaker hand-colored the copies. Talk about doing it the hard way. I mean, they were beautiful and everything, but with all their chattering, I could hardly hear the TV. They distributed the posters throughout the school the next morning, and then Barb set about organizing the infrastructure.
There were tryouts, of course, and we asked three very cool parents we knew if they’d be willing to give up a couple of hours after school for two days, to help us winnow down the applicants to an even dozen. That’s all we’d be able to fit into the hour we’d been allotted. On the day before final applications were due, Barb was dismayed to find that only about six had been turned in. “Looks like we’ll have to cancel,” I said, giving her my most convincing disappointed look. “Better luck next year.”
Of course, true to middle school form, everyone waited until the last minute to turn in their shit. There were 23 applications, and the talent show was full steam ahead. I resigned myself to the fact that this was really happening, and set about planning the stage. To complicate things, I had surgery to remove a soft tissue tumor from my left pinkie finger, and to protect the stitches I had to keep it wrapped in a dressing the size of a corn dog. This pretty much turned me into a one-armed man for two weeks. I’m surprised I didn’t find the time to enter a motocross competition.
The choir teacher at Aaron Burr showed me the school’s P.A., a compact little unit that hooked up to some nice powered speakers. I fiddled with the knobs and scrutinized all the connections, and thought that I could probably figure this thing out. Then I thought, the hell with it, I’ll just use my band’s P.A., which I knew how to run blind drunk. Which was frequently how I ran it. This would mean schlepping the whole system around in my truck for several weeks, but it was worth it just to be comfortable with the system. Also, I’ve learned that the more self-reliant I am, the less I have to rely on other people.
The first day of auditions, I unloaded the P.A. into old gym, where there was a P.E. class playing dodge ball until the final bell. I piled all the speakers, amps, mic stands, cables and what not into a corner and sat on a monitor to read a book until the kids cleared out so I could set everything up. As I was reading, a ball whizzed past my head, missing by inches. The next shot was a bulls-eye, right in the little dodge balls. I dropped my book and doubled over in pain, trying to suck in some breath. I looked up and saw a seventh-grader across the gym, smiling at me. It was Dwight, a kid who’d played on Rusty’s soccer team during my ill-fated season of coaching their fourth-grade squad. I’d had many disciplinary problems with Dwight, and he’d spent a lot of the season riding the bench. I guess now we were even.
The bell rang and the kids all made for the exit. I wondered if Dwight shouldn’t have applied to be in the show, because he’d always had a talent for pissing me off. Grumbling and muttering, I set the P.A. system up again, and waited for the kids and judges to show. I sat back, laughing to myself as one kid after another tried to enter through the main door, which was locked. Only one door was open, of course, and it was at the back of the gym, near the teachers’ parking lot. Hah, I laughed to myself. The kids would never find that one.
The tryouts had been moved at the last minute from the new gym, after they had already been moved from the choir room. Then we almost had to hold the auditions in a music store because there’s no piano in the old gym. We solved that problem by marching the judges and three young pianists over to the orchestra room. Then they had to go to the band room because the orchestra room was locked. Ah, day one, running like a well-oiled machine that had been dipped in a bucket of sand.
The singers and dancers all did their thing, and the judges had all kinds of encouraging comments and constructive criticism, like, “Don’t sing to your shoes,” and “is that gum? Are you chewing gum?” On this day there were no divas, no losers, no posers or troublemakers. Just a bunch of kids who had the guts to try out for this thing. Despite my early reluctance to be involved, I found myself wishing that we could do a two-hour show so that no one would have to be cut.
Did I mention that I was on a lot of pain medication at the time?[Next: dress rehearsal, and a show for the ages. Ages 11-13, that is.]