WHAT I LEARNED AT SUMMER CAMP
In a weak moment about 3 weeks ago, I accepted a gruesome gig – 2 weeks playing piano for a new drama school’s Musical Theater Camp. The woman who called me is one of my former nemeses from the Gaslight Theater, where I had toiled and felt abused for 2 years. She’s a VERY talented performer, but she’d been a royal pain and made an otherwise difficult job a lot more so – so I really should have known better.
I DID know better, but I felt flattered and accepted anyway. Her pianist had wigged out with no notice and she “needed” me. And I needed the money – I just bought a new car – and these days, money is money, no matter how meager! And playing piano IS one of the things I do!
Heck – It was only supposed to be 2 hours/day for 10 afternoons. But it turned out to be MANY more hours than that, with no additional pay (which had been truly putrid to start with), so I felt more than a bit like a chump.
I began to immediately regret having said “yes” to this gig and I wound up “compensating” by buying food treats on the way home every day – something I’d done to survive my Gaslight gig. I’ve done this before – MANY times! I’ll do something bone-headed, beat myself up for it and then TREAT myself with goodies to compensate. You might call it “Beat and Treat”. Frankly, I wanted to forget I’d ever agreed to DO this gig and couldn’t WAIT until it would be over – I was kicking myself and counting the minutes!! WHY did I accept? WHAT was I thinking? HOW could I have been so stupid??
But then I kept getting ideas on how the school could improve – starting with proofreading their website, which was LOADED with typos (a real no-no if you’re selling “education” to parents!) – and other ideas on how they might interface better with the community and find more new students. I bought a used task chair at the Goodwill since they didn’t have a piano stool. I brought in poster suggestions for their newly painted walls, and lists of local theater folks who they might contact for referrals or guest lectureships. Every day I’d come across something that might help them succeed.
Now, one of the drawbacks to working on a show is that the songs get seared into your brain – even while the rehearsal is over, you’re still hearing the music in your head. So I had 2 weeks of YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN – which is not one of my favorites! And these kids were having real trouble learning the few songs they had to do – so we went OVER and OVER and OVER each song! Every one of them had visions of giving their Oscar acceptance speech – and yet they seemed to have ZERO retention of what we’d reviewed 10 minutes ago, let alone from yesterday!
Turns out I just don’t like kids that very much – which I already knew. I just didn’t know how MUCH I don’t like them – at least theatrical wannabes with A.D.D., which was pretty much the lot!
Even so, there WERE a couple of moments when I felt that I might have made a difference: one 11-year old kid was disruptive pretty much constantly and just wouldn’t follow directions. Partly because he’s extremely overweight and doesn’t move well but mostly because he’s easily bored and has NO self-control. Several times the director wound up calling his mother to come take him away mid-rehearsal because he was so unruly and uncooperative. At one point in the second week, I became as frustrated with the director as I was with him when he refused to jump up and down in place with all the other kids; he’d shuffle his feet, turn around, lean on the wall – ANYTHING but jump as instructed! So I got up from the piano and started bunny-hopping towards him, with all of my flab vibrating all over, saying, “I’m 60 years old, I weigh 250 pounds – 2 years ago I weighed 350 pounds – I have heel spurs, neuromas and hammer toes on both feet! – if I can do this, YOU sure can do it!” And it got him going! He didn’t disrupt any more rehearsals, either.
The other incident was when the kid playing Charlie Brown stomped off the rehearsal after his goofing around almost blinded another kid and he’d been called to task by the director and everyone else in the room. He became defensive and then mortified, refusing to come back for over 1/2 hour. This brought the rehearsal to a dead stop, one day before the big “show”! Even when threatened with the call to his mother, he wouldn’t budge but kept pouting in a corner.
After the director had left the room, I went over to him and whispered that “the reason they always say ‘the show must go on’ is that… the show MUST go on! With you or without you, the show keeps going on!! And I’ll let you in on a little secret… you’re gonna get your feelings hurt for the rest of your life – that’s just what happens – people point out your mistakes and wind up hurting your feelings! The faster you get over it, the more fun you get to have!” He perked up after that, came back to the rehearsal and…. the show went on the next day! Funny thing was that while I was telling him this, I realized that I was telling MYSELF this, too – and that I could apply it directly to the situation I found myself in with this acting school. Sure, they’d used and abused me, adding on to my hours and duties and not compensating me fairly – I figured out that between the extra hours and the daily commute, I was barely making minimum wage! They had dissed me and devalued me – but what else is new? The sooner I let go of it, the happier I get to be.
Not a bad thing to learn at summer camp!