As many of you know, I had a belly dance show a few weeks ago. Like, a big one. $40 bucks a ticket, with Bellyqueen, in a theater.
I was not supposed to be in this show.
I did not want to be in this show.
(Okay, I kind of did, but I never expected to have the chance, and I was NOT prepared).
What I WAS supposed to do was be an understudy/warm body for use as a placeholder during rehearsals. In exchange for helping with formations (ie. filling in the empty spots of out-of-town-dancers to help the New York-based ones learn their blocking), I was to get the opportunity to learn all the routines, network with other dancers, and bask in the general excitement of preparing for a SHOW.
It did not work out the way I expected.
For one thing, no one had time to teach me the actual routines. Thus, instead of being a helpful, moving cog, I was a stumbling mess the other dancers had to trip over. The dancers did not appreciate this.
On top of that, I realized that once the show got closer, the twice-a-week rehearsals I had promised to be at were increasing to DAILY ones, from the hours of 10am to 6pm.
Um. You guys. I have a job. Not really possible.
By the time I saw this coming, I had already been named a “worm” in the show–not as an insult, as an actual role! The director was getting nervous about giving the undesirable yet crucial part to a dancer who was arriving in NYC just days before the show. Since being a “worm” involved lying on the floor wrapped in a piece of silk, and then being unwrapped, I didn’t really see a reason to say no. It seemed foolproof, and it was a way to be genuinely helpful after all the stumbling.
LOLOLOL spoiler alert: it was NOT foolproof.
Here’s a list of the ways this went wrong just in rehearsals (it went wrong during the performance in unprecedented ways):
1. I “unraveled” too far away from the group, ended up way on the other side of the stage alone (separated from the other worms), where the other dancers had to hop over me
2. My unraveler couldn’t find the end of my silk, and thus could not unwrap me
3. One of the other worms kicked me in the face, and I couldn’t get away from her because that was the direction I was being unraveled in
4. The end of the silk got caught around my neck as the dancers wound their ends of the fabric in a fast, tight twist, which was… scary, but let’s face it, also kind of hilarious in an awful, dangerous way.
5. In dress rehearsal, I discovered that the light reflected off the hood I was wearing under my silk which rendered me completely blind
(This blindness thing is important later, during the actual show).
So, the last weeks leading up to the performance were a disaster. Everybody was stressed out, under-rehearsed, and (it felt like) pissed off at me for never being able to be at rehearsals (NB: I took SO much time off of work to the point where I was barely able paid my rent last month, but, I get that it still looked like diva behavior to the other chicks that I rolled in for only half of a practice when everyone else was there all day).
And then I saw the costume.
I immediately realized why it was hard to find somebody already in the cast who wanted to do this: A tight, shiny body suit, with black tights, black plastic mask, hood, and of course, several yards of tightly wrapped silk that were hot and intensely claustrophobic.
The worms were set early: we had to lay on our sides during the “entr’acte” music, and then during the first half of the number before our “deaths” and unravelment.
To my great relief, I did NOT panic or throw up (even though my elbow was pressing directly into my stomach in the position I was staged on the floor in, and I was feeling hot and panicky and nervous). I was also unraveled without being strangled, and I hit my mark at the point of “death” like a champ.
Great! Time for lights down, where we would sneak off stage and I could relax for the rest of Act 1.
Except, the lights did not go down.
I waited an extra moment. They didn’t go down.
OH FUCK OH FUCK WHY ARE THE LIGHTS STILL ON.
I lifted my head a little to check the other dancers, but couldn’t seen them through my hood, which was bouncing the light from the spotlights that were STILL ON US.
Did I mention I was lying, ass-facing-the-audience, in a unitard?
After what felt like hours, I heard the music change for the next scene–still with no lights-down–and hopped to my feet, run-limping off stage.
I kept thinking, at least stay in character! But how does a dead silk worm leave the stage? So I limped? Kinda? While also running because I didn’t want people to look at my body in a shiny unitard?
It was a tough call.
Anyway, here’s what my ass looked like moments before everything went horribly wrong:
I wish I could say I learned something from this experience, beyond, “Go with it,” but really, that’s my takeaway.
The thing is, it’s show biz, and everybody’s having shit go wrong, and nobody cares what went wrong with your particular shit. To the worms, being EXTREMELY well-lit in shiny body suits was the worst thing possible. But, the rest of the cast barely raised an eyebrow, the audience noted and forgot it, and the lighting director probably didn’t even realize he’d messed up, because the next night, the exact same thing happened. This time, though, we were prepared, and we perfectly executive a back-up plan to crawl off in unison.
So I guess the moral of the story is, expect the unexpected, and laugh about shit you can’t control.
And if nothing else, trying wearing a mask and a unitard for all of your performances so you can deny it was you later!*
*this won’t work for pole.
Do you guys have any performance horror stories?
I was recently doing a few tricks outside for the 3rd Avenue Festival in Brooklyn when it started drizzling… and a wet pole=having to give up on a few moves, and sliding around a little. But overall, I have yet to TOTALLY embarrass myself on the pole. Please somebody share a story and make me feel better.