I’m backstage. Sitting on what might be the oldest wooden rolling chair on the planet, typing away on my mac. As all the action goes on behind me, I’ve carved out a teeny little office space upon on a 60 year old yellow linoleum kitchen table in between a gray rotary dial telephone with “Lewiston 338” written in the center of the dial, and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Actually, it’s a tin can with a piece of printed paper wrapped around it to make it look like a can of beer. It wouldn’t fool anybody up close. But this is high school, and a can of beer, even an empty can of beer, probably isn’t allowed. Even as a prop. This isn’t a flashback, by the way. As I type this, I’m actually backstage in the David Marr auditorium at U-Prep High School, being a stage mom, helping out during rehearsals for the fall musical, a production of the award winning “Bye Bye Birdie.” It’s about a 50’s Elvis-like singing idol who goes on the Ed Sullivan show to plant one last kiss on a teenage fan before heading off to the army, and my daughter plays Ursula Merkle, vice president of the heartthrob’s fan club.
Jeff Knott, the Technical Director for the production, said to me, “There are two shows. The one that the audience sees, and the one that happens backstage.” Truer words were never spoken. You wouldn’t believe the stuff that goes on backstage during a high school musical, especially during tech week. Those last few days before opening night, when the curtains open whether these 50 young actors, dancers and crew members are ready or not. I don’t know if there’s any super secret backstage code that I’m breaking by exposing the mayhem that transpires in the 8 feet of space on each side of the curtain during a high school musical, but I don’t think I’m talking out of class too much when I say that the 15 or 20 young people that you don’t see during the play are working just as hard as those you do see. Well, there’s a good chance that you might see some of them, scurrying about in the dark in between scenes, as they lug huge wooden platforms, ancient furniture and a piano on and off stage in a total blackout. Right now they’re just trying to find a way to do it in 60 seconds instead of 90 between the first and second scene. It’s not so easy. It’s total silent chaos. I’ve been watching Ariella, one of the lead techies back stage, pace back and forth in the dark, muttering into her headset as she puts everything she’s learned in geometry and physics classes to work trying to figure out where and how to store all the set pieces when they’re not on stage. I say, “How you doing?” She responds, “I’m fine. Just thinking is all.”
I’ve just been kicked off of my perch so that the linoleum table could be hoisted onto the stage for a kitchen scene, but a few feet away there are a couple of red, overstuffed wingback chairs that don’t look they’re going anywhere soon. I sit in one, and return to writing about the show behind the show.
Ariella’s difficult task has just been compounded by a gaggle of teenage girls decked out in a lot of P’s: pedal pushers, pink poodle skirts, and pony tails that stand in between the curtains, watching the action onstage, waiting for their cue to run out and faint at the sight of 50’s teenage sensation Conrad Birdie, the namesake of the play. She doesn’t have enough space to do what she’s gotta get done, she wants the other techies, especially Ali, to quit calling her Grandma even if they’re just poking fun, and she’s maybe freaking out just a little bit inside her head. There’s definitely some drama going on back here, stage right.
As I write this, I’ve had to move my computer to the top of an upright piano and I have nowhere to sit, because one of the kids just told me I needed to move my butt off of the overstuffed chair which is headed out onstage for a bar scene. That’s okay, I’d rather stand at this point, because I just backed into a metal fly brake – that metal rod that holds the backdrops in place – trying to squeeze through the 10 inch space between the pulley system and the wooden sets jammed backstage. I’ve got a knot the size of a lime growing on my left butt cheek that’ll probably be the size of an orange by the time I get home tonight. When I complain, another teenage member of the stage crew says, “Wanna see my shins? They’re purple.”
Every time the lights go black, the backstage crew runs out, grabbing wooden platforms and steps, rearranging and dragging pieces offstage. I’m a little lost here, trying to figure out how I can help get things done faster, more efficiently, so that the audience spends less time fidgeting in their seats between scenes. But I can’t go home. I feel an obligation to pitch in and do what I can, even if I’m just wandering around in the dark, bumping into things with my mom sized ass. Oh, the things a stage mom will do, right? I could tell you that I’m doing this as a selfless act to make sure my daughter’s high school play goes off without a hitch. But that’s not really true. I’m doing this because I missed out on doing some of the things I really should have done in high school, and participating during my own high schooler’s high school musical is a way for me to live out all those things I never did 30 years ago. Men my age buy motorcycles and convertibles, or shave their heads to pretend it was a choice to lose all their hair. Me? My midlife crisis is playing out backstage at my kid’s high school musical. Back in high school I was in the Drama Club, but I never had the guts to actually get up on stage. Or even work behind the scenes. I don’t even know why. Well, yeah I do. I lacked stage confidence. And I know exactly what you’re thinking right now….YOU? The gal who gets out there on stage at the Cascade Theatre and introduces all the shows?
There was a time, way back when I didn’t have what it took to get up on stage. I was afraid of making a fool out of myself. In real life I seemed completely self assured. Outgoing, spunky and full of gumption. But I was actually terrified of getting up on stage or in front of a microphone or camera.
Obviously I got over that. But it took a long time. And it wasn’t easy. So I really gotta hand it to any kid who’s willing to get up on stage and put it all out there for everyone to see. And I gotta hand it to all those kids who toil away backstage, making it look easy for the ones in the spotlight. Because this is the stuff I wanted to be doing in high school, but was too afraid to try. So I really relish in the opportunity to hang with these great kids for just a few days, helping them pull off two hours of entertainment for their parents, their friends, maybe even you.
Today’s streaming playlist is all about the show, I hope you like it. And by the show, I don’t just mean this show…I mean The Show. The spotlight. The curtain. The applause!
And don’t forget to check out Bye Bye Birdie….in the David Marr Auditorium for six shows this weekend and the next at U-Prep. All the info you need to know about it is right here. These kids (those on stage and backstage) are really kicking out the jams. And in the meantime, let’s get on with the show!
You can click on the arrow above to stream the playlist, or check it directly from Grooveshark.
- The Show Must Go On – Three Dog Night
- I’m An Actor – Phoenix
- The Audience Is Listening – Cut Chemist
- The Show – Lenka
- Center Stage – Capital Cities
- Applause – Lady Gaga
- Backstage Girl – DJ Shadow
- Jump on Stage – Girl Talk
- It’s Not The Spotlight – Rod Stewart
- Take A Bow – Rihanna
- Spotlight – Jennifer Hudson
- Song For An Actress – Hoodie Allen
- Cracked Actor – David Bowie
- The Show Goes On – Lupe Fiasco
- You Are The Music In Me – High School Musical
- Baby Center Stage – Iron & Wine
- The Show Goes On – Bruce Hornsby
- I Was Meant For The Stage – The Decemberists
- Behind The Scenes – Moodorama
- Spotlight – Mutemath
- Stage Fright – The Band
- When The Curtain Goes Up – Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns
- Places Everyone – Shawn J. Period
- The Telephone Hour – Bye Bye Birdie Soundtrack
Valerie Ing-Miller has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for nine years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She’s the mother of a teenage daughter and a 7-year-old West Highland Terrier, and can’t imagine life without them or music. Valerie wakes up with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.