Wednesday, June 22, 2011


The other day it was labeling. Today, it’s packaging. I’m nothing if I’m not about externals.

“The blog writer you read. Is he deep?”

“He’s very deep about the surface.”

It’s a little story. Something I happened to notice. And I thought I would write about it today.

I knew this guy once who was working on – producing, directing, maybe both – an original musical about pioneers, employing traditional, American folk music. I mentioned to him that I was interested in both pioneers and musicals, and asked if I could take a look sometime.

As it turns out, they were having a Dress Rehearsal of the show that weekend, and the guy graciously invited me to drop by. He gave me directions to get to the theater. I looked entirely befuddled – he didn’t know “befuddled” is my default facial position – so he suggested, instead, that I come to his house, and he’d drive me there himself. I made a great effort to look less befuddled when he gave me directions to his house.

The drive turned out to be relatively easy. I only got lost twice.

Okay, so we’re at this little theater. I believe it was in a church. Or near a church. I have the distinct recollection of crosses. The guy sits me down in the empty “house” – “house” meaning the place where the audience sits, and “empty” meaning that, at that moment, I’m the only one sitting there.

Everyone else is in frantic motion, making final adjustments for the show’s first complete run-through with costumes. I sit there, enchanted, taking in this incomparable and magical show before the show.

People are hammering. They’re positioning the props. They’re rolling in the covered wagon – what’s a pioneer musical without a covered wagon?

The writer and director huddle over last minute changes. The actors are running their lines. The singers are vocalizing. The dancers are limbering up, doing things with their legs I couldn’t possibly do, but did not mind watching.

A few weeks earlier, a CD had been recorded of the complete musical score. The guy had given me a copy, and I had listened to it many times. I really liked it, particularly a haunting ballad, delivered by a pioneer woman who was about to die.

Suddenly, through the preparatory din, my ears caught the plaintive strains of that haunting ballad. This did not sound like the same voice that had performed the song on the CD. Though the CD rendition was good, the version I was currently listening to sounded substantially better.

I looked around to determine where the singing was coming from. Finally, I spotted a young woman in an oversized sweatshirt and overalls, hauling something onstage, I don’t remember what, but it appeared to be extremely heavy. As she transported this ponderous prop, the woman, for her own amusement, it appeared, was j“killing” with this song. I mean, this lady was knocking it out of the park!

Now I could be coy here and pretend to wonder why this clearly talented “Prop Girl” wasn’t performing in the musical. But it wouldn’t be true. I knew instantly why she wasn’t in the show.

The young woman was – please forgive me, but I am telling it the way it was – very seriously overweight. And that, as they say, was that. If they were doing Hairspray, maybe. In a pinch. But in this show, and almost any other you can think of, the young woman, whose abilities argued persuasively she should be “up there”, did not – excuse me, once again – fit. Everything about her said “Stagehand.” Nothing about her said “Actor in a musical.”

Except for her talent.

I had witnessed this phenomenon before. I recall a girl at camp who played piano for the shows. Once, during a rehearsal break, for reasons only she could explain, the accompanist hopped onto the stage and belted out one of the show’s signature melodies with an ability and verve the show’s performers came nowhere close to matching. But her “packaging” said, “Sorry.” And when rehearsals resumed, she was once again in front of the piano.

Is that just the way it is? “Type casting” for everything? Including life? No wiggle room? No chance to defy the mold? People look at you, and you’re pigeonholed? Actor? Stagehand?

I hated that I understood the young woman’s predicament so easily.

And I wished for her – and for myself as well, I imagine – that the situation were otherwise.


Rory W said...

Hi Earl,

So, I have a similar story but kind of reversed.

I was a stagehand at a summer theater and there was a very (I mean very) pretty young lady who also happened to be a kick-a lighting technician.

One day the artistic director comes by while we're all working on stage, sees this lady and says (in heavily Asian accented English), "You too pretty to be technician. You come be actress."

And, poof, she was gone.

Gram Kerrotid said...

I believe we are all pigeon-holed, at least in some respects. What's more unfortunate is that some of us will consciously accept it.

Mac said...

It's a bit depressing but it's true. Sometimes you see a musician busking in the street who plays and/or sings better than many who're on TV, but they don't have the "packaging."
Which is crazy when it's supposed to be about the sound they're making, but I suppose that's human nature.

Zaraya said...

Mr. Pomerantz; this is a sad story.